For the second straight season, the Detroit Red Wings will face-off against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Last season’s outcome wasn’t what Wings fans wanted to see as Tampa defeated Detroit in seven games and advanced, while the good guys were sent home packing. We know the intensity level will be at the highest it’s been all year, and Detroit will be looking for a little redemption.
Let’s take a look at the upcoming Eastern Conference Quarterfinals match-up between the Winged Wheel and the Bolts…
Tampa Bay will have home ice in the series. Amalie Arena will host a possible 4 of 7 games and Joe Louis Arena will host the other 3. The season series saw a split between the two teams with the Bolts winning two games and the Red Wings taking the other two. That has all the makings of that famous “something’s gotta give” phrase and what better way to have it come full circle than in the playoffs.
Jimmy Howard will get the nod and start his first playoff game since 2014. How far the Red Wings advance in the playoffs will depend largely on his and Petr Mrazek’s play, and whether they can find the peak of their game and stay at it.
Tampa Bay will be without their best scoring threat. Steven Stamkos won’t see any playoff time whether the Lightning end up defeating the Wings or not. He is out 1 to 3 months due to a vascular issue. The Lightning have other guys who can put the puck in the back of the net, but not to the level of Stamkos. Another big blow for the Lightning was when underrated defenseman Anton Stralman went down with a fractured fibula. Those two names are big pieces gone from the Lightning roster. The Red Wings on the other hand are relatively healthy. Other than Drew Miller‘s absence, the Wings have managed to stay away from the injury bug a portion of the season.
As it stands, Detroit will only be without the services of Drew Miller, who’s been on LTIR since the beginning of January with a torn meniscus. He only played in 28 games this season, suffering a broken jaw on December 3rd and playing in only two games after that before suffering the lower-body injury that ended his season. It’s a big hit to the Red Wings’ penalty kill as Miller is easily one of the best defensive-minded forwards on the team and perennially leads Detroit forwards in shot blocks. Joakim Andersson will likely be looked on to pick up the slack on the PK.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Ben Bishop, plain and simple. The guy is clearly a Vezina candidate and we all know that you need good goaltending to win in the NHL, especially in the playoffs. The Lightning have their guy in that regard and with all the injuries Tampa Bay has, Bishop is going to need to be a brick wall.
Detroit Red Wings
This was a tough one for me, but I’m going to go with Dylan Larkin. He was considered at the beginning of the season, and at various points throughout, as one of the front-runners for the Calder Trophy. Larkin fell off a little the second half of the season. We know what the kid has to offer and if he can regain the success he was seeing at the beginning of the season, it will surely be beneficial for the Wings.
The Red Wings’ defense is the big question mark in my eyes, but with Tampa being so deflated by the injury bug, if they can play solid and not hang Jimmy Howard or Petr Mrazek out to dry, I think Detroit can do just enough to slip past the Lightning. Whether it’s Howard or Mrazek in net, (Howard will at least start Game 1), I think either one has the capability to match the play of Bishop. Mrazek has shown he can be thrown into the fire and deliver; look no further than last year in the playoffs. Howard has stepped in for a struggling Mrazek and has played great, so whomever Jeff Blashill decides to stick with down the stretch, I think the Wings will be okay in net. My prediction is Red Wings in 6.