Tampa Bay GM Steve Yzerman was once a Red Wings Game 7 hero, but he’s on the other side tonight as he’ll hope to watch his Lightning move on to the second round with a seven-game series victory. Anyone can be the hero, but here are five players that stand out.
Heading into Wednesday night’s contest between Detroit and Tampa Bay, there’s a chance for one Red Wings player to get his name alongside Lightning GM Steve Yzerman as one of Hockeytown’s Game 7 heroes.
Yzerman, some may remember, scored one of the most iconic Game 7 goals, not just in the history of the Red Wings but in the history of the league. Yzerman’s 1995-96 Game 7 winner, a slapshot blast that found the top corner past St. Louis Blues goaltender Jon Casey in double overtime, has been featured in commercial spots and recreated by many a Red Wings fan since then.
For the Lightning, no player has ever had as much an impact in Game 7 as Ruslan Fedotenko. In the 2003-04 Stanley Cup final against the Calgary Flames, Fedotenko scored twice, including the game-, series- and Cup-winning goal in a 2-1 victory that won the first and only Stanley Cup in Tampa Bay’s history.
In tonight’s game, there’s the opportunity for a new hero to be made, and here are five players who could make the difference in Game 7:
As THN’s Ryan Kennedy noted Wednesday morning, if there’s anyone for the Red Wings to worry about, it’s Stamkos. He hasn’t scored yet in the first-round series leaving some to question whether or not he’s healthy. But, even if he’s not 100 percent, it’s only a matter of time before Stamkos finds the back of the net. Detroit just has to hope that if it happens, he scores once and that’s it. If Stamkos goes off in Game 7, it could be a write off early for the Red Wings.
The scariest thing for Detroit is that all it takes is one shot, too. If Stamkos can get ahold of one puck, especially should the Lightning go to the power play and he sets up shop in the left-wing circle, then it will take less than half a second for Stamkos’ blast to go from stick to net.
In 28 career post-season games, Stamkos has eight goals and 20 points, but he’s only found the score sheet with three helpers in the first round against the Red Wings. Stamkos has some Game 7 experience, but he hasn’t exactly been the most productive player.
Game 7 statistics: 2GP, 0G, 0A; Record: 1-1
The ‘Magic Man’ is definitely starting to show some wear on his tires, but that hasn’t kept him from being one of the most dazzling players in the league when he turns it on. In the series against the Lightning, he’s already made a few otherworldly plays, including his Game 1 “assist” – let’s be honest, it was as much Datsyuk’s goal as it was Tomas Jurco’s – that came seconds after the puck was dropped for the second period.
His entire career, Datsyuk has been a tremendous two-way player, so he doesn’t even necessarily need to be the hero by scoring. If he can help shut down the depth of the Lightning, that might be enough of a heroic effort for him to solidify his position as an all-time Red Wings great.
Sure, he’s 36 and he’s lined up across from Lightning stars that are at least a decade younger than him, but that doesn’t mean Datsyuk can’t still outproduce. If there was ever a time for him to come up big, Game 7 of a series few had Detroit winning would be it.
Game 7 statistics: 7GP, 4G, 1A; Record: 4-3
Nyquist has been as surprising as any player in the past few seasons, so to see him come up big in Game 7 would be yet another moment in his career where he made believers out of those who thought he may have just been a flash in the pan.
The 25-year-old burst into the league last year with 28 goals in 57 games and followed it up with a 27-goal, 54-point performance in 2014-15, but he has only managed one goal and two points in the six games this series. In his 29 career post-season games, he has three goals and seven points, but Wednesday could be the night he solidifies himself as part of the next generation of Red Wings.
If nothing else, expect Nyquist to strike fear into the Lightning at least a couple of times Wednesday. He’s mustered the fourth-most shots of all Detroit players so he’ll make Lightning goalie Ben Bishop work to stop him.
Game 7 statistics: 2GP, 0G, 1A; Record: 1-1
Has any player opened as many eyes this season as Johnson? The 5-foot-9 center scored 24 goals and 50 points last season before quieting any talk of a possible sophomore slump with 29 goals and 72 points in 77 games this campaign.
Three times in this series he has scored twice — Games 2, 4 and 6 – and he has been in on the offense at nearly every turn. The line that puts Tampa Bay over the top in many minds is Johnson’s line with Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat, and don’t be surprised if the Red Wings have a tough time defending the three-man unit without Niklas Kronwall and Marek Zidlicky in the lineup.
Johnson is getting his first taste of Game 7 tonight. Don’t put it past the small pivot to come up big.
Game 7 statistics: 0GP, 0G, 0A; Record: 0-0
Helm became best known for an outstanding shift in the 2008-09 post-season against the Chicago Blackhawks when he almost single handedly killed the final 30 seconds of a penalty while somehow mustering a shot attempt in the process, but he’s been that same hard-working pivot for Mike Babcock’s Red Wings since arriving in the NHL.
While he’s had his share of injury problems, when Helm is healthy there are few centers that defend better and fewer that skate faster. His ability to turn the puck back up ice in three quick strides makes him a constant threat and his three assists in the series have shown he can find the score sheet. Now, he just needs to find the back of the net.
He has 10 goals and 20 points in 76 career playoff games. If point 21 comes tonight, it could be the one that puts Detroit into the second round.
Game 7 statistics: 4GP, 1G, 0A; Record: 2-2