There are a lot of stories to come in the series between the Detroit Red Wings and the Tampa Bay Lightning, but perhaps the most compelling is that Steve Yzerman will be cheering against the team that he built his career with. Stevie Y took the front office job in Tampa in 2010 after spending 22 seasons on the ice in Detroit and four seasons in the Red Wings’ front office.
Yzerman’s Lightning had a franchise record year by netting 108 points, good for second in the Atlantic Division. Detroit, meanwhile, finds themselves in the post-season for the 24th consecutive season. They hit 100 points in the regular season, good for third in the Atlantic.
One of the interesting factors in this series will be the coaching. Mike Babcock might be in his last season with the Red Wings, but there’s no doubt that he’ll be in demand no matter how things end. He’ll be facing Jon Cooper, Jack Adams Award finalist in 2014 and former defence attorney. Cooper’s rise through the ranks has been one for the books and he’ll make an interesting foil for Babcock.
The Red Wings will have some question marks in terms of lines, but they’ve still got an awful lot to bring to the party. Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg will probably start together if Justin Abdelkader isn’t in the lineup. He’s questionable at this point and time, which could see Babcock bunching things up. If Abdelkader is in the lineup, he’ll be with Zetterberg and Gustav Nyquist while Datsyuk will skate with Darren Helm and Tomas Tatar.
If there’s an issue here, it’s one of size – or a lack thereof. The Red Wings will miss the services of Erik Cole, who may have seen his last NHL days thanks to a spinal contusion. Abdelkader, too, offers size and he chipped in for 23 goals in the regular season. Having him back in the lineup would be a blessing, to say the least.
As for Tampa, they’re a deep team with nine players scoring a dozen or more goals in the regular season. Steven Stamkos is the man no matter who he plays with and he popped in 43 goals, 13 of which were on the power play. He took a lot of shots, too, and was able to make the most of his chances. Stamkos was paired with a number of different linemates, including Alex Killorn, Valtteri Filppula and Jonathan Drouin.
The Lightning can also strike with their second line of Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov. Johnson had 72 points, Palat had 63 points and Kucherov had 65 points. All three were tops in plus-minus, with Kucherov a league-leading plus-38.
Brian Boyle is an ace in the hole for Tampa, whose three shorthanded goals have certainly come in handy. He’s the fourth line centre, but he’s more than capable of making his presence felt in big game situations. He had a surprising 15 goals on year, five of which were game-winners, and he sees an awful lot of ice time on the penalty kill.
Detroit will take the ice with Niklas Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson as their top pair. Kronwall had 44 points in the regular season and is capable of lining up opponents for big game-changing hits, while Ericsson chipped in for 15 points and will need to learn to control his mistakes. They’re still a mostly accountable pair and they can physically alter the course of play.
Dan Dekyser and Kyle Quincey are the second pair and they’re a good combination. Dekyser is in his second full year with the Red Wings and he managed 31 points in 80 games. His skating has improved steadily and he’s rarely out of position, which is certainly something Detroit will need in the post-season. Quincey is a tough stay-at-home workhorse and he brings the pair some nice balance.
Tampa has been hit by the injury bug as of late. Braydon Coburn and Andrej Sustr are both expected to return to action for Game One, which is definitely a good thing. Coburn has been out over a month with a foot injury, while Sustr was out the last three weeks with a finger injury. The only defenceman that is not expected to be in the lineup for the opener is Jason Garrison.
The injuries have meant that the Lightning have had to lean on others like Anton Stralman and Victor Hedman. The latter will log heavy minutes and will show up on all the special teams. He led all Lightning defenceman in goals with 10 and he’s got one of the best shots on the club. Matthew Carle is another consideration and he’ll see time on the power play.
It looks like Petr Mrazek for Game One for the Detroit Red Wings. He’s gone 16-9-2 in the regular season with a 2.38 goals against average and a .918 save percentage. Mrazek had to cover for Jimmy Howard when the starter went down with a groin injury in January and he proved himself capable in that time span. Howard hasn’t been the same since the injury, which indicates why Mrazek will be the guy for at least the opening of the series.
Ben Bishop will be the man for Tampa and he’ll have to be. He’ll be making his playoff debut, having missed his chance last season and giving up his slot to Anders Lindback when the Lightning faced the Habs. That didn’t go well. This year, he’ll be ready to take advantage of his opportunity. He won 40 games in the regular season, with a goals against average of 2.32 and a .916 save percentage.
This has all the makings of a physical, emotional series. Yzerman has a lot to prove against Detroit and his Lightning will have extra incentive to gun for the win. If there are holes for the Red Wings, they’ll be exposed if any of their top players take injuries. As for the Lightning, they’ll be backing Bishop’s big chance with all they’ve got.