The Tampa Bay Lightning got a pair of goals from white-hot center Tyler Johnson Monday and beat Detroit 5-2 to win Game 6 of their first-round series. But if you think you know what’s coming for Game 7 Wednesday, think again – very little of this series has gone as expected.
The Red Wings were hoping to shock the NHL in Game 6 of their first-round series against Tampa Bay by eliminating the Lightning Monday at Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena. That didn’t happen – the Bolts got a pair of goals from white-hot center Tyler Johnson and built up a 3-0 lead before winning 5-2 and forcing a Game 7 Wednesday – but to categorize the Lightning as the favorites to move on to the second round against Montreal is to deny the unpredictability of this series.
No team in the series has been able to win two games in a row. Each team in the series has lost two out of three games in their own building. Both teams in the series have come out with flat efforts, and both have had their captains – Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos and Detroit’s Henrik Zetterberg – fail to score a single goal in six games.
If you’re sure you know what’s coming next in Game 7, I’m sure you’re fooling yourself.
Now, that’s not to say there aren’t some sure things heading into Wednesday’s deciding game. If the showdowns leading up to it are any indication, Johnson is going to score again. His two goals in Game 6 tied him with St. Louis Blues sniper Vladimir Tarasenko for the post-season scoring lead, and Johnson needed only two shots Monday to score twice. (Contrast that with teammate Alex Killorn, who scored his second playoff goal this year, but needed a game-high seven shots to do it.) Johnson is taking all the heat off Stamkos – who chipped in an assist in the win, but still has only three points in the series – as well as Bolts goalie Ben Bishop, who stopped 22 of 24 Wings shots Monday, but still looked shaky more than once.
In addition, the Red Wings are right to expect another above-average game from star Pavel Datsyuk, who had an assist in Game 6 to give him five points in six games in the series; and it’s safe to imagine head coach Mike Babcock will have them ready to compete in Tampa Bay.
But beyond that, your guess is as good as anyone’s as to what we’ll see in the second Game 7 of this post-season. The Wings/Bolts series has been as unpredictable as any this year.
Detroit’s Mrazek has two shutouts in the series, but in his three losses, the 23-year-old has posted a save percentage of .897 or lower (including a .778 SP in Game 2) and his pressure threshold will be tested like never before. Similarly, Bishop will be playing his first Game 7, and his first-round SP of .904 doesn’t bring to mind visions of Patrick Roy in his prime. Both goalies have shown the ability to play well, but both have to know the outcome of Wednesday’s contest could have major consequences as to their futures as No. 1 netminders with their current employers. Detroit has the more experienced backup option in veteran Jimmy Howard, but if Bishop falters and Bolts coach Jon Cooper turns to rookie Andrei Vasilevskiy, more than a few hockey people are of the opinion the 20-year-old is capable of giving Tampa Bay the goaltending they need to win at this stage of the season.
In sum, fans on either side of the advised not make too many wagers on what will shake down at Tampa Bay’s Amalie Arena. Both teams have shown enough at times to make you believe they’ve got what it takes to win – and at other times, each side has shown enough warts on its game to make you question why anyone picked them to win a series at all.