NHL Playoff Preview: Detroit Red Wings vs Tampa Bay Lightning
Playing 22 seasons with the Red Wings from 1983-2006; Steve Yzerman will always be known as “the Captain” in Hockeytown USA, leading the Detroit Red Wings to Stanley Cup victories in 1997, 1998, and 2002.
On Thursday the Detroit Red Wings will officially make their 24th Stanley Cup playoff appearance against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round, whose GM is none other than the Red Wings’ former Captain, Yzerman.
The Red Wings and Lightning play similar styles of hockey, which should make for an entertaining series as both teams are built on skill and puck possession, with players who can change a game with the flick of a wrist. For the Detroit Red Wings there is the dynamic duo of Pavel Datsyuk and current Captain Henrik Zetterberg. On the blue line Niklas Kronwall is always dangerous with his shot, and not afraid to lay a hit on an opponent if his head is down. Newly acquired Marek Zidlicky provides Detroit with a strong right-handed shot defenseman the Wings were missing before the trade deadline, and former Western Michigan standout Danny Dekeyser joins him to help anchor the blue line. Forwards Riley Sheahan and Justin Abelkader will be pests in front of the net.
Outside of seasoned veterans; the Red Wings have quite a youth movement. Hard shooting forward Teemu Pulkkinen, and defensemen Alexey Marchenko, and Landon Ferraro are expected to make their playoff debuts. Ferraro, who’s first goal was also the game winner against the Carolina Hurricanes, is just another example of the strength of the Red Wings farm system that has produced talent such as Tomas Tatar, and Gustav Nyquist who are dangerous when given the opportunity to light the lamp. Alongside veteran Darren Helm, the young players have made Detroit a much faster team.
For the Detroit Red Wings, the first question will be the starter in goal. It could be veteran Jimmy Howard, who has struggled since coming back from an injury, or rookie Petr Mrazek, who shut out the same Tampa Bay Lightning team the last time he was between the pipes and finished the Red Wings season of with a 2-0 shutout against the Carolina Hurricanes. Mrazek has had the 7th highest save percentage in the NHL since March 1 according to The Hockey Writers website.
If Howard or Mrazek can steal one of the first two games in Tampa Bay, Detroit will have a chance to upset the Lightning in round one. Outside of goaltending, they will need to shake off a March and April that almost cost them a playoff spot, and will have to take advantage of an inexperienced Tampa Bay defense that has endured injuries.
Detroit is led by Head Coach Mike Babcock, who has been in three Stanley Cup Finals, winning once in 2008. He also won Gold with Team Canada in 2010 and 2014 and, since joining the Red Wings in 2005-2006, has led Detroit to 64 playoff victories, six more than any team in the league according to NHL.com.
For the Tampa Bay Lightning; they are led by their Captain Steven Stamkos, who is always dangerous on the ice with his goal scoring ability. The Lightning also rely on two-way forward Ryan Callahan, who will be a constant thorn in the Wings side, and former Red Wing Valtteri Filppula, who provides the Lightning with experience and leadership, having won a Cup with the Red Wings in 2008. He played in the finals the following year when the Red Wings fell to the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009.
To win the series, the Lightning will need to stay out of the penalty box, avoid a potent Detroit Red Wings power play, avoid deadly turnovers and get strong goaltending from Ben Bishop. The Lightning may be a little light on defense. Veteran defenders Jason Garrison and Braydon Coburn are both hurt and may have to sit out the first round, while defenseman Andrej Sustr is expected to play on Thursday despite an upper body injury. Tampa Bay’s top defense pair of Victor Hedman Anton Stalman could log major minutes to make up for a a lack of depth.
Tampa Bay is led by Head Coach Jon Cooper, who was a finalist for the Jack Adams award in 2014 for the coach of the year. According to the NHL website, Cooper was a practicing lawyer who first started coaching at Lansing Catholic Central High School, which is about 90 miles from Detroit.
Overall this series should be exciting for fans to watch. It would come as no surprise if it stretched to six or seven games.
Detroit Red Wings in Six!
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