Off The Draw
You know how Game 7s are. Sometimes they deliver a hard-fought battle to the bitter end, like the one we saw on Monday night in Washington's 2–1 win over the Islanders. And sometimes they spiral quickly out of control, eliminating all suspense in short order, like we saw last spring when the Rangers lit up the Capitals, 5–0 in the first round two years ago.
In other words, who really knows how tonight’s final showdown between the Red Wings and the Lightning will play out? It could be another road win–the visitors have won four of the six games played so far. It could feature a goalie duel or a goalie meltdown. A team could be carried on the back of an unlikely hero—think Max Talbot for the Penguins in Game 7 of the 2009 Stanley Cup finals. Or it could be exactly the player you’d expect to step up, say Steven Stamkos or Pavel Datsyuk.
All we know for certain is that one team is moving on to tangle with the Canadiens and the other can start making plans to open up the summer cottage. But here are some indications of how this game could unfold:
Tampa Bay, the league’s highest-scoring team during the regular season (3.16 goals per game) hasn’t quite hit its stride in this series (2.50), but it has that breakout potential. Tyler Johnson has emerged as the Lightning’s offensive dynamo, scoring a team (and league) leading six goals. He’s set a franchise record with three multi-goal games in the series, all of which were won by the Bolts. Nikita Kucherov is coming off a three-assist performance in Game 6. Stamkos has been held without a goal in eight consecutive games, his longest drought of the season, but he’s been getting good lucks. Is this the night he finally breaks through?
The Wings have had nine different goal scorers in this series, including three tallies by Datsyuk. The Magic Man is their potential gamebreaker. Henrik Zetterberg has yet to dent the twine, but he leads the team with 15 shots on net.
The Bolts are allowing just 22.8 shots per game so far in the postseason. Only St. Louis (22.7) has been stingier. Detroit is giving up 30.5, ranking 10th in the league. The loss of No. 1 defenseman Niklas Kronwall (suspension) could hurt that stat, but maybe not as much as commonly thought. Kronwall has been a possession disaster in this series, registering a 39.37 Corsi rating according to War On Ice. His expected replacement for tonight, rookie Alexey Marchenko, is worse at 31.25 but has seen limited use so far. The Wings announced this afternoon that veteran Marek Zidlicky will also miss the game with an upper body injury. Jakub Kindl will dress in his place.
Both bluelines have chipped in 10 points each during the series.
This Game 7 will be the first for both Ben Bishop and Petr Mrazek, arguably the two most important players in this showdown. Both have three wins this series. Neither has won two straight. Bishop has the lower goals-against (2.18 to 2.29). Mrazek has the higher save percentage (.924 to .904), but Bishop has been more effective at even strength (.944 to .906). Mrazek has pitched two shutouts, both in the wake of losses.
Going by the eye test, Bishop has appeared to be shakier. He’s struggled visibly with his technique, particularly his positioning and rebound control, and has been victimized by more questionable goals. Mrazek has been steadier with moments of true greatness, like that desperation stick save on Brian Boyle in Game 6.
Edge: Red Wings
Mike Babcock has never won a Jack Adams Award but he’s probably in line for some sort of lifetime achievement recognition. He’s widely regarded as the best bench boss in the game, a man who has won championships with topflight talent (two Olympic gold medals, one Stanley Cup) and has coaxed lesser groups to exceed expectations. His teams are just 3-4 in NHL playoff Game 7s, but he’s been there before, which is more than can be said for Jon Cooper. This will be his first rodeo, although he has both a Clark Cup (USHL) and a Calder Cup (AHL) on his résumé. He also has the advantage of the last change by virtue of home ice and can get the matchups he wants.
Edge: Red Wings
Amalie Arena jam-packed with rabid Lightning fans should provide an advantage to the team that posted the league’s best home record during the regular season, but the Wings already have won two games in this building. If they score early (teams that tally first in Game 7s are 116-41 all time; home clubs are 92-65), the crowd could become a non-factor. The Red Wings boast more Game 7 experience. Their players have skated in a combined 41 such games compared to 33 for the Lightning. Tampa Bay has the burning motivation to erase the sting of last season’s first-round sweep at the hands of the Canadiens. They also have a potential game-changer in Stamkos who seems unlikely to go an entire series without making an impact.
If you're a betting man, go with the Lightning.
The numbers game
• Tonight’s Red Wings-Lightning showdown will be the 35th Game 7 since the start of the 2009 postseason (a total of 98 series), making seven the most frequent series length during that span (7 games: 35; 6: 30; 5: 20; 4: 13).
• A total of 39 of the 157 Game 7s in NHL history (25%) have gone into overtime with road teams winning 20 of them.
• The team that has scored first has won eight of the past nine meetings between the Red Wings and Lightning during the regular season and playoffs.
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