It’s going to be quite an exciting series between the Detroit Red Wings and Tampa Bay Lightning. The first ever meeting between the franchises will be one to watch for many reasons including the fact that two goaltenders will go head to head (at least for Game 1) who have never played a postseason game. Ben Bishop for the Lightning will look to build on a record setting season by carrying the Lightning to their first playoff win since 2011. At the other end of the ice, the untested Petr Mrazek will look to inspire a Detroit squad who, like Tampa Bay, suffered an early exit from the postseason last year, something Detroit fans don’t expect for a team who’s made the playoffs for 24 straight seasons. It comes down to several key factors for both sides and we’ll explore those as we break down what may turn out to be one of the most exciting first round series of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Tampa Bay Lightning:
After an amazing season last year, the Bolts were knocked out of the playoffs by the Montreal Canadiens in four straight games. A young, injured and inexperienced Tampa squad quickly found they had much to learn if they hoped to make a run in the playoffs this year. Fast forward to now and the Lightning may be ready to do just that. After adding several key additions on the backend in Braydon Coburn, Jason Garrison and Anton Stralman as well as key fourth liners Brenden Morrow and Brian Boyle, the Lightning are poised to strike. Goaltender Ben Bishop is healthy, something last year’s team was lacking, and the team seems ready in other departments. They’re the most offensive team in the entire NHL and their popular ‘Triplet Line’, comprised of Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat has been the best line in hockey this season statistically and have proven versatile at both ends of the ice. Lightning captain Steven Stamkos has had another outstanding year with 43 goals and all of Tampa’s lines are able to produce efficiently. On the back end, Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman have been a outstanding duo. Hedman’s offense and Stralman’s puck possession have been a gift to the Bolts. And as mentioned above, it doesn’t hurt to have a healthy Ben Bishop in net. Setting a franchise record with 40 wins on the year, Bishop has proven he can be a capable starter in the NHL. Backup Andrei Vasilevskiy has also proven capable and is no doubt a rising star.
How they can win it:
Tampa Bay needs two things to win: to stay healthy and to play at the top of their game. Injuries have plagued the Lightning late this season with Defenseman Andrej Sustr, Garrison and Coburn being out with injuries. Forward Alex Killorn is also suffering from an unknown injury. Sustr will likely return first, with Garrison likely becoming available in about two weeks. Lightning coach Jon Cooper said they’d be lucky to get Coburn back for their first round series. Health cost them the playoffs last year as Ben Bishop was not able to play due to a dislocated elbow (and he may not have been at the top of his game anyway with an injured wrist as well) and they’re determined not to let that happen again. In addition to staying healthy, the Bolts offense has to keep scoring like they have all season. Their ability to win games from their offense has benefited them greatly and with all four lines being able to score, the Lightning should be ready for the playoffs.
Detroit Red Wings:
After winning their first playoff game against the Boston Bruins last year, the Red Wings dropped the next four, resulting in a quick exit for Hockeytown. Detroit will look to make something of their 24th consecutive playoff berth. Just two years after they nearly defeated the Chicago Blackhawks for a ticket to the Western Conference Final, Detroit will hope to make easy prey of an injured Tampa Bay team. They’ve got no shortage of offense themselves with top forwards Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, a duo the team hopes can guide the younger players such as Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar to a Stanley Cup run. Detroit rested Datsyuk and Zetterberg on Saturday, a wise decision given the injury history of the two in recent seasons. Petr Mrazek will start Game 1 for the Wings after veteran goalie Jimmy Howard has failed to return to his form following a groin injury midway through the season. Nicklas Kronwall will lead the Detroit blue line along with Marek Zidlicky who has proved to be a valuable asset to Detroit since arriving at the trade deadline.
How they win:
Like Tampa, Detroit needs to stay healthy. When Datsyuk and Zetterberg are in the lineup, Detroit plays a solid game. They can when one or both of them are out as well but the line shuffling that Detroit head coach Mike Babcock has to do can throw the team off, an issue that could prove fatal for any team playing in the spring. Goaltending is also an issue that needs to be addressed. Mrazek can no doubt rise to the challenge, but if he falters, Detroit will have a tough time going. Without a good goaltending, Detroit will be dead in the water and an easy target for a highly skilled Lightning offense.
This playoff series will see it’s fair share of ups and downs for both sides. The Lightning may have taken the season series by going 3-1-0 against the Red Wings, but the regular season means nothing now and the Red Wings could just as easily return the favor. The two teams will battle hard and it’s anybody’s guess as to who can win the series. Listed below this are the predictions of Red Wings writer Chris Robbins and Lightning writer Brendan Hagen on who they think will take the series.
Chris Robbins - Detroit Red Wings in seven games
Brendan Hagen - Tampa Bay Lightning in seven games
Game Number: Date - Time - Location - TV Networks
Game 1: Thursday April 16th - 7:30PM - Amalie Arena Tampa Bay - FS-F, CNBC, SN, TVA2
Game 2: Saturday April 18th - 3:00PM - Amalie Arena Tampa Bay - CBC, NBC, TVA
Game 3: Tuesday April 21st - 7:00PM - Joe Louis Arena Detroit - FS-F, NBCSN, TVA, SN
Game 4: Thursday April 23rd - 7:00PM - Joe Louis Arena Detroit - FS-F, CBC, NBCSN, TVA
Game 5: Saturday April 25th - TBD - Amalie Arena Tampa Bay - CBC
Game 6: Monday April 27th - TBD - Joe Louis Arena Detroit - FS-F
Game 7: Wednesday April 29th - TBD - Amalie Arena Tampa Bay - SUN, CBC