Something about this series feels oddly familiar… once again, the Detroit Red Wings and Tampa Bay Lightning will take each other on in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, though it appears that what would have previously been a battle of powerhouses will be a stumble across the finish line. Let’s take a closer look at how these two teams stack up.
It’s hard to tell where this series is going if you’re going to go solely by their matchups throughout the year. If you did that, you’d find a pretty even matchup; Detroit won the first two games in relatively close fashion (3-1 with an empty netter and 2-1) in the first month and change of the season while Tampa picked up a two-goal victory in November and a 6-2 blowout in March.
The latter of those games, of course, looked the most lopsided, though it’s worth noting that it came with big appearances out of Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman. Stamkos has all but certainly played his last game of the season and possibly as a member of the Lightning while Hedman is rushing back from an upper body injury and might not be at 100%. If nothing else, the other three games show that the teams can play some close hockey, much like they did in their seven-game series last year.
As mentioned above, the Lightning have lost one of the best powerplay options you could have in Steven Stamkos. This is a catastrophic event when you consider that Tampa Bay are already one of the league’s weakest powerplay teams, firing at just 15.8% this year. Detroit, sitting 3% higher at 18.8, have the upper hand in this regard, though are still right around the league average (13th).
That’s also right about where they sit (14th) with their 81.5% penalty kill, which under previous coaching staffs and shuffled different rosters has been known for turning it up in the postseason. Tampa Bay are a bit more efficient with a 7th-ranked 84.0% rate though losing Anton Stralman is a blow too. Basically, if you’re an impact player on the Lightning, you might not play in this series.
Both teams are above average on the possession front, with Tampa being ranked 6th highest in Corsi-for percentage (52.2%) at even strength while the Red Wings are in a very respectable 9th spot (51.7%) after finishing the year on a very high note in this regard. Both teams are on the opposite ends of the shooting percentage spectrum (Tampa Bay in the top third, Detroit in the bottom) while just four seeds separate the two in save percentage in the upper-middle portion of the league.
Where this is particularly interesting, in my eyes, is goal differential. Detroit has the lowest of any playoff team at -8 at even strength while Tampa ranks 5th at a +23.
As far as individuals go, the Lightning will probably hope that rate-production wizard and oft-maligned prospect will have learned the lesson of his trade-requesting, assignment ignoring ways and lead the team’s offense in the playoffs. So far, so good; including the before and after (21 GP), Drouin’s points-per-60 minutes ranks above all other regular Tampa forwards, including the likes of Stamkos and “the Triplets”. With that said, Jon Cooper will look to Ondrej Palat, Nikita Kucherov, and Tyler Johnson to help push his team forward without their biggest name.
Meanwhile in Detroit, the hope is that Dylan Larkin’s cool-off point is just a cold streak and not evidence that he’s out of gas after a longer-than-usual season. Pavel Datsyuk has had less-than-stellar production despite great possession numbers in the regular season and many will hope for him to have one last hurrah before his permanent vacation in Russia. Andreas Athanasiou could be a guy to watch; he has only 12 even strength points in 37 games but plays extremely limited minutes.
Ben Bishop has, once again, reminded anybody that ever doubted him that he’s a real deal top-end goaltender. The 29-year-old Colorado native played 61 games this season, won 35 of them, and did so with a relatively consistent 0.926 save percentage, his highest in a full season to date. Bishop had a spectacular run next season, which showed he was no stranger to big games, and it’ll be interested to see if his improvements carry over into this postseason.
Detroit’s situation is a bit trickier. Petr Mrazek, a 24-year-old on the last year of his RFA contract, looked to be a slam dunk finalist for the Vezina trophy for the bulk of the season but fell back to earth with a bunch of ugly games in the final week. Even still, he should be a safe bet between the pipes moving forward; he’s over a 0.920 in his 101 game NHL season and playoff career. Starting in Game 1, though, appears to be Jimmy Howard. This is a result of him going the opposite direction, shaking off the cobwebs and bad vibes and pulling his numbers out of the graveyard to finish the year. Not that 0.906 over 37 games is spectacular, but it beats having the worst goalie contract in hockey.
|Wednesday April 13th||Detroit @ Tampa Bay||7:00 PM EST|
|Friday April 15th||Detroit @ Tampa Bay||7:00 PM EST|
|Sunday April 17th||Tampa Bay @ Detroit||7:00 PM EST|
|Tuesday April 19th||Tampa Bay @ Detroit||7:00 PM EST|
|Thursday April 21st||Detroit @ Tampa Bay||7:00 PM EST|
|Sunday April 24th||Tampa Bay @ Detroit||7:00 PM EST|
|Tuesday April 26th||Detroit @ Tampa Bay||7:00 PM EST|
Normally I’d take the Lightning to walk over the Red Wings in this series, seeing as Detroit stumbled their way across the finish line, are relying on a group of more-exhausted-than-most core players, and appeared to get what they wanted out of this series; merely showing up.
But being without Stamkos and Stralman and losing Hedman’s full capabilities is a huge blow for the Lightning. It’s hard to envision a scenario where the Wings don’t win with that considered unless Bishop stands on his head. Amazing, given the fact that the Red Wings might not even deserve to be here, but I’ll take them in six games.