This series really looks like David vs. Goliath at a glance. The Lightning, who are one of the strongest offensive teams in the league, will face a team who faded down the stretch, just limping into the playoffs. The Atlantic Division rivals have become accustomed to one another over the season, but have never met in the playoffs, as Detroit was just recently relocated to the Eastern Conference.
The Red Wings know all about the playoffs. In fact, they haven’t actually missed the playoffs since the 1985-86 season, meaning they’ve made it to the big show in every single season that their opponents, the Lightning, have even existed as an NHL franchise.
The Lightning have looked poised to break out and establish themselves as a legitimate Stanley Cup contender, and perhaps the cream of the Eastern Conference, but while somewhat inconsistent this season, Detroit still boasts a strong and experienced group capable of doing damage in the playoffs.
Let’s take a look.
The Wings and Lightning know each other pretty well, as the division rivals met four times this season, including two games towards the end of the season.
Tampa won the first game the two teams played back on Nov. 9 by a score of 4-3 in the shootout. Ben Bishop only had to face 20 shots, while the Lightning threw 30 on Jimmy Howard. The next game was in late January, resulting in the Lightning winning 5-1 and chasing Mrazek out of the net after two periods. The two teams then split their two games in late March, with Tampa coming out on top 3-1 and Detroit winning 4-0.
In short, aside from the one blemish, Tampa has absolutely owned Detroit in the season series.
Special teams are likely to be a factor in this series, as the Red Wings were the third most penalized team in the league this season. They received an average of 3.51 power play opportunities against per game last season, while the Lightning were around the middle of the pack, averaging 3.13 power plays against per game. Unsurprisingly, Detroit allowed 55 power play goals, which was the sixth most in the league due in part to their mediocre penalty kill and the volume of penalties they took, meaning they’ll have to find a way to stay out of the box.
While the Wings took a lot of penalties, they somewhat made up for it by having the power power play opportunities and power play goals of any team in the league. It’s tough to say if that’s luck, or that they’re wizards at drawing penalties, but I would suggest that it’s a combination of both. The Lightning, who were relatively disciplined and boasted a strong penalty kill this season, will have to maintain those characteristics to stop Detroit’s potent power play from giving the Red Wings an advantage this series.
The moral of the story here is pretty simple: both of these teams have good power plays, so stay out of the penalty box if you want to be successful. No kidding!
The Wings relied quite a bit on their power play this season, which doesn’t bode well heading into the playoffs. In fact, 29.8 per cent of their goals came with the man advantage. The Lightning, on the other hand, were one of the most dominant teams at even strength this season, finishing second behind only the Rangers in even strength goals for.
One reason for Tampa’s success, and Detroit’s lack of success at even strength, could be attributed to puck luck. The Lightning had one of the highest shooting percentages and PDO of any team in the league at even strength, while the Wings were in the bottom third in each category. Obviously I don’t want to discredit the Lightning here, but when you have the highest shooting percentage in the league and you’re only middle of the pack in shots on goal, there’s going to be some amount of skepticism.
Regardless, both teams finished in the top five in Corsi For Percentage this season, meaning both teams tend to control the play. The Lightning did manage to score quite a few more goals than Detroit, though, and they boast a handful of players who scored the majority of their points at even strength. For example, Nikita Kucherov scored 50 of his 65 points at even strength, while Detroit’s leader, Pavel Datsyuk, had 41.
If the Lightning can maintain their high shooting percentage, they appear have the advantage at even strength, otherwise, underlying stats would suggest it’s actually pretty even.
Detroit allowed 10 more goals than Tampa Bay did this season. Interestingly enough, these two teams have the exact same team save percentage this season.
Detroit is rolling with Petr Mrazek in net, while the Lightning come back with Ben Bishop. Bishop is obviously the more polished, experienced goaltender in the series, and he had a pretty strong season, putting up a 0.916 save percentage and 2.27 goals saved above average. Mrazek, on the other hand, managed 2.55 goals saved above average in only 29 games to go along with a 0.918 save percentage. It’s difficult to say who has the upper hand here because neither goaltender really has any playoff experience. History says Bishop, but those are only based on regular season figures and Mrazek has looked good in his showing this season, but I would still give Tampa the upper hand.
At first, yeah, this does look like David vs. Goliath. At a deeper look though, it really isn’t. The key for Tampa is maintaining their strong game at even strength and staying out of the box so Detroit doesn’t get chances on the power play. But the biggest key for each team, and the fate of the series, is which young goaltender can step up and help their team the most. Both teams are strong offensively with potent weapons, and both teams play a good possession game at even strength, but they’re both also coming in with inexperienced goalies. I think Tampa wins this in six.
Thanks to Hockey Reference for the stats.