Wednesday April 22nd, 2015

After allowing four goals on just 18 shots and getting pulled from Game 2, Detroit goalie Petr Mrazek rebounded with a stellar night in net, making 22 saves in the Red Wings’ 3-0 win over Tampa Bay Tuesday night. Buoyed by three goals, including an empty netter, Detroit took a 2-1 series lead.

Here are three thoughts from Game 3 at the Joe Louis Arena:

Game recap | boxscore

1. Justin Abdelkader’s return to the lineup had an immediate impact for Detroit

The rugged winger, who missed the last six games with a hand injury, may not be a slick and shifty scorer, but he nonetheless plays an important role in the Red Wings offense. Lightning coach Jon Cooper even went so far as to call him “the straw that stirs the drink [for the Red Wings]” before Game 3. With his heavy and physical game, Abdelkader brings the workmanlike effort to balance out Detroit’s highly skilled top lines. And having him back in the lineup allowed Detroit coach Mike Babcock to again split up his all-world centers, Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk.

With its veteran stars on separate lines, Detroit has pick-your-poison scoring balance. And well, Tampa Bay got hemlock. Midway through the first, Detroit struck when Datsyuk and Tomas Tatar connected on a quick give-and-go play. Taking a pass from Datsyuk as they broke into the zone, Tatar took a shot from the point that deflected off the right skate of his center driving hard to the net while tangled with Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman. It also created matchup problems for Tampa Bay, namely Steven Stamkos. The Lightning star had 11 shots in the first two games. On Tuesday, he had just two. The matchups matter, particularly when the coaches of both teams are cerebral like Babcock and Cooper.

2. The Lightning’s squandered power play chances are—again—a problem

Tampa Bay went 0-for-7 on the power play in its Game 1 loss and again in Game 3 the PP seemed to doom the Lightning. They went 0-for-6 Tuesday, including a 56-second two-man advantage in the second period. Tampa Bay did generate chances—Tyler Johnson notably hit iron with a one-timer—but the Lightning’s inability to finish and some inopportune turnovers minimized their quality scoring chances. In Game 1, though they were held silent, the Lightning had 12 shots on the power play; on Tuesday, they managed just six. Detroit, meanwhile, converted on a third-period man advantage when Riley Sheahan flipped in a nifty pass from Abdelkader by a sprawling Ben Bishop. The goal provided cushion for the Red Wings, not that Detroit really needed it. In the regular season, the Red Wings led the league in shot attempt differential (56.26%) in close games.

3. Detroit’s physicality made a big difference in the game

The Red Wings outhit the Lightning nearly 2-to-1 Tuesday. Though they were not by and large punishing, crushing checks, per se, the stat was indicative of Detroit’s battle for 50-50 pucks, for keeping tight gaps on the Lightning’s speedy forwards. By staying aggressive on the forecheck and skating with purpose in the offensive zone, Detroit kept Tampa Bay from triggering its strong transition game cleanly. 

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