2016 NHL playoffs: Red Wings vs. Lightning series preview
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Regular season recap
Oct. 13: Red Wings 3, Lightning 1
Nov. 3: Red Wings 2, Lightning 1
Feb. 3: Lightning 3, Red Wings 1
March 22: Lightning 6, Red Wings 2
Red Wings: RW Johan Franzen (concussion-like symptoms, out indefinitely), LW Drew Miller (torn meniscus, out indefinitely)
Lightning: D Anton Stralman (fractured fibula, out indefinitely), C Steven Stamkos (blood clots, out 1-3 months), D Victor Hedman (upper-body injury, day-to-day) , W Ryan Callahan (lower-body injury, day-to-day), W Nikita Kucherov (undisclosed injury, day-to-day), C Tyler Johnson (undisclosed injury, day-to-day)
Keys to a Red Wings victory
The Red Wings’ goaltending situation is enviable, to say the least. While both Petr Mrazek and Jimmy Howard have struggled at times this season, coach Jeff Blashill has been able to play the hot hand en route to the franchise’s 25th straight playoff berth. The smart money is most likely on Howard getting the nod against the Bolts, having posted a 2.14 GAA and .925 save percentage against them this season, while Mrazek mustered atrocious 3.74 and .854 stats.
In front of them, Detroit’s young guns must take up the mantle in order to make some noise in the playoffs. Up front, that means it’s time for Gustav Nyquist (17 goals) and Tomas Tatar (21) to shake off disappointing seasons and find their games to complement wunderkind Calder candidate Dylan Larkin (23-22-45). On the blueline, 25-year-old Danny DeKeyser is now a de facto leader on an aging core that lacks a big gun. While inimitable veterans Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk (in possibly his last NHL hurrah before returning to Russia), along with graybeard defensemen Mike Green and Niklas Kronwall, will be up for a go at the Cup, it’s time for Detroit's next generation to take the torch and run with it. In the historic words of Rage Against the Machine, “What better place than here, what better time than now?”
Keys to a Lightning victory
Losing a Steven Stamkos would be a death knell for most teams, but if any squad can turn it into a positive, it’s the Bolts. The roster void means Jonathan Drouin, recalled from his exile to AHL Syracuse, is now gifted the chance he wanted when he demanded a trade earlier in the season. What he does with it will go a long way in a series that projects to be on the low end of the scoring spectrum. Tampa Bay will also need contributions from the Triplets, Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov, who must improve on their breakout 2015 Cup Final run. A matchup with Detroit could jumpstart the NHL’s 13th-ranked power play(18.8%), which fired at a 28.5% clip in four games against the Wings.
With Anton Stralman out, the weight on the blueline falls to Victor Hedman, who has established himself as one of the NHL’s elite defenseman, and veteran Matt Carle, who’s averaged over 21:00 of ice time since Stralman’s injury. Coach John Cooper will keep a keen eye on goalie Ben Bishop, who despite a Vezina-worthy regular season with a league-leading 2.06 GAA and second-best .926 save percentage, allowed three-or-more goals in almost a third of his starts (19 of 61). If he falters, Andrei Vasilevskiy is ready to take the reins, and he might not give them back.
Overcoming the loss of either your top forward or No. 1 defenseman would be hard enough, but missing both them is potentially fatal. After falling to Tampa Bay in an epic seven-game series last time around, the Red Wings get their measure of vengeance. Red Wings in seven.