Saturday April 18th, 2015

The Lightning got two goals from Tyler Johnson and chased Game 1 hero Petr Mrazek in a decisive 5-1 victory over the Red Wings. Here are three thoughts on the lopsided contest that sends the series back to Detroit tied at a game apiece:

1. Not as good, but better

No one who watched the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday afternoon would say they matched the dominance of their Game 1 performance. They allowed Detroit more time with the puck. They tested Mrazek less frequently. They allowed more chances against their own goaltender Ben Bishop.

NHL
2015 NHL playoffs: Lightning vs. Red Wings first round series preview

But in every way this was the type of effort that could carry them deep into the playoffs this spring. The Lightning did less but were better all around.

Coach Jon Cooper asked his team to make life more difficult for Mrazek, who made 44 saves in the opener. They did that, not only by getting bodies to the net but by changing the angle of attack and using their speed to challenge his positioning.

Cooper wanted a more physical effort and the Bolts responded by dominating along the boards and in the trenches. Ryan Callahan was credited with just five hits, but each incident of contact was measurable on the Richter scale. Brenden Morrow and Ondrej Palat reveled in wrecking everything wearing white. Even Steven Stamkos was more noticeable for the punishment he inflicted with his shoulders (four hits) than his stick (two assists).

He wanted to see something more from Ben Bishop and the goaltender responded with his first career playoff win. He wasn't tested often, but came up big when called upon. The only puck that got by him changed direction twice, first off the stick of teammate Andrej Sustr and then the leg of Red Wings forward Tomas Tatar six minutes into the third. Seconds after that, he was tested twice from in close by Kyle Quincey. A goal there might have given the Wings hope but he slammed the door shut. Detroit never threatened again.

They set the tone and forced Detroit to play their game. This was a ruthlessly efficient home effort from the league's best home team.

1. Bolts control the most valuable real estate

This shot plot from the folks at War On Ice captures what the Bolts did exceptionally well in this one: control the middle of the ice.

Check out the screen on the left. The Wings attempted 28 shots in the medium to high-quality scoring area from the top of the circles and between the dots on down to the crease. On the face of it that's a good number, certainly one that would make the Corsi kids happy, but just nine of those shots, a piddling 32%, actually made their way to Bishop.

By contrast, a whopping 16 of Detroit's bids died in the tangled thicket of sticks, legs and other body parts sacrificed to the block. Shot attempts may look great on paper but in real life they don't mean anything if they're not getting to the net.

Now take a look at the screen on the right: Just from the dots on down, the most dangerous area, the Bolts landed 13 shots on Mrazek and his third period replacement Jimmy Howard. Four of those had to be fished out of the back of the net. A good deal of that falls on the defensive failings of the Wings, who repeatedly double-teamed the wrong player (Filppula on the Sjustr goal, for instance) or couldn't match the speed of Tampa's forwards (poor Jonathan Ericsson on the Filppula goal).

Mike Babcock has plenty to address heading into Game 3, but you can bet that earning and capitalizing on possession in the middle of the ice will be his primary focus.

NHL
Petr Mrazek, Pavel Datsyuk lead Red Wings over Lightning in Game 1

3. Another goaltending controversy in Detroit?

The Wings entered the series mired in a goaltending controversy, so no surprise that it bubbles to the surfaces again five periods in with Babcock's decision to bench Mrazek after 40 minutes.

Objectively, four goals allowed on 18 shots isn't going to get it done against the Lightning, but there's no hanging this loss on Mrazek. The only one he might have had a play on was Johnson's first of the game, and even then he did a good job taking away the bottom of the net as he slid post to post. The others were clear defensive breakdowns.

That said, benching him in favor of Howard the third period made sense. Getting the veteran some touches there could pay off if he's needed later in the series, but that's all it was. Expect the rookie to be back between the pipes for Game 3...although the leash might be a little shorter than it was Saturday afternoon.

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