The Red Wings rode a pair of power play goals from Riley Sheahan and Pavel Datsyuk and a 28-save performance from rookie Petr Mrazek as they beat the Lightning 4–0 in Game 5 on Saturday. The victory gives Detroit a 3-2 series lead with Game 6 scheduled for Joe Louis Arena on Monday night.
Here are three thoughts after a game that put the heavily favored Lightning a game away from elimination:
1. There's no such thing as a perfect 60-minute hockey game.
But the Red Wings came pretty close in this one, didn't they? After wasting a 54-minute effort with a meltdown in the closing minutes of Game 4 on Thursday night, Detroit bounced back with a nearly flawless performance in Game 5 on Saturday afternoon. The Red Wings absorbed the punches thrown at them by the Lightning in the opening 10 minutes, then slowly strangled the life out of the Bolts and the game with a clinic in committed defensive hockey.
After an opening salvo that saw Tampa Bay take eight of the first 10 shots, the Wings shut the Lightning down for the next 20:14, preventing a single puck from getting through to Mrazek. While Detroit did an excellent job of taking away the middle of the ice, there were just five blocks during that stretch. This wasn't about a tangle of bodies preventing the Bolts from getting pucks to the net. It was more about Detroit’s relentless pursuit of the puck and the carrier that killed Tampa’s attack before it ever had a chance to get into the zone. The Wings took full advantage of the official's hesitance to call interference and basically took every liberty they could to derail the Lightning before they could build up a head of steam. It made for an ugly, 90‘s-style game, but it worked.
The key to Detroit's plan was shutting down Tyler Johnson, who had three points in Game 4 including the OT winner, and has proved far more dangerous than Steven Stamkos. To his credit he consistently got to the dangerous areas, but he either just missed on connecting passes or had to deal with Pavel Datsyuk stuffed inside his jersey. The Magic Man didn't crack the final trio for the Selke Trophy, but he proved again on Saturday that he’s one of the best defensive players in the game.
2. Big gun is firing blanks.
It’s not like Stamkos isn’t trying. But when one of the best scorers in the league goes five playoff games without a goal while his team falls behind 3-2, well, trying doesn’t cut it. The Lightning need him to light the lamp in Games 6 and 7 or they’re going home early for the second year in a row.
Stamkos has had some good looks in this series. You know how it is with players like him. As long as he’s getting the looks, it’s just a matter of time. And he led the Lightning with 15 shots coming into Saturday’s contest.
But he got nothing in Game 5. Stamkos managed just two shots on the afternoon. Neither qualified as a scoring chance, and neither came during the final 30 minutes of the game when the Bolts most needed something from their captain.
The frustration is fairly radiating off him at this point. It finally caught up to him in the closing minutes of the game when he took a lazy hooking penalty in the offensive zone. It took all of 15 seconds for Datsyuk to capitalize at the other end of the ice and put the game out of reach.
There have been whispers that Stamkos is playing hurt, and watching him in this one that certainly seems possible. Take a look at how coach Jon Cooper is utilizing him on the power play, planting him down low instead leaving him to lurk in the circle where he has more space to unleash his patented one-timer.
Or it could just be that the Wings are doing an exceptional job of taking the high-percentage chances away from him. Seemed like any time the puck came near him on Saturday there was someone in a white jersey planted on his hip and measuring him up. Tough to make anything happen under blanket coverage like that.
Still, Stamkos has faced that kind of defensive commitment before and found a way to light lamp. Considering how far Tampa Bay could go this year, this is a lousy time for him to go ice cold. Hard to imagine them surviving this series if he doesn’t snap out of it.
3. Mrazek Hates Puppies.
At least if the sign that was held up behind the Detroit bench for most of the game is to be believed. What’s not up for debate is that the 23-year-old rookie has become the story of this series. The shutout was the second in the past two contests for Mrazek, who also was the only goaltender to shut out the Lightning during the regular season. Take away the two-minute overtime in Game 4 and he’s now blanked the highest scoring team in the regular season in nine of the past 10 periods.
Despite getting first star honors, this wasn’t a game where he had to stand on his head. Mrazek had that long breather between shots by Brian Boyle in the first and second periods, but he earned that goose egg with some excellent work down the stretch when he robbed Ryan Callahan in tight on a late power play bid.
The question now is, can he hold serve? Mrazek followed up a win in Game 1 by allowing four goals in Game 2. Game 3 was a shutout, but then came the disastrous conclusion to Game 4 that saw him cough up three goals on the final four shots he faced as Detroit blew a late two-goal lead and lost in OT.
Inconsistency is to be expected from a kid who is getting his first taste of NHL playoff action, especially when he’s up against a team as explosive as the Lightning. He can expect to face a much tougher test from them in Game 6.