Tampa Bay Balance Returns
Class was in session on Saturday afternoon as the Tampa Bay Lightning did to Detroit what some expected them to do in Game 1. The bounces had to go Tampa’s way at some point and then they just kept coming in the 5-1 win. Not only did that even the series at 1-1, but it made some Detroit Red Wings fans wonder what is next.
What people saw was not a pure demolition, but it was thorough. Petr Mrazek was pulled out of mercy after 40 minutes and four goals given up. Tyler Johnson scored twice and probably could have had a couple more. Even the first line for Tampa helped chip in on a couple goals also. It was the balanced effort probably missing over the last two weeks or so.
— Erik Erlendsson (@erlendssonTBO) April 19, 2015
Even Ben Bishop looked like himself stopping all but one shot. Will it go this smoothly every playoff game? That answer is no. However, is there reason to believe that Tampa could be even better? That answer is actually yes.
What Tampa Really Has Done To Detroit
A weird feeling that seems awfully familiar set in on Saturday evening for some Detroit fans and it was an eerie refrain.
“This feels like last year.”
Although it may be a bit early to say that ultimately, this was one tough to argue assertion. Detroit stole a game in Boston last year in round one on a late Pavel Datsyuk goal and a brilliant Jimmy Howard performance and then Game 2 saw the Boston Bruins dominate and the series was over.
This may or may not happen again. Granted, Detroit has home ice advantage now and maybe they learned something from last year. However, when the Lightning are playing well, the Red Wings do not have an answer. At times, it is not even close.
Consider that Tampa Bay’s road record is around .500 in the regular season but the playoffs are a different animal. Would it surprise anyone if the Lightning waltzed in and took both games from Detroit? Probably not. What they would be surprised by is if Detroit won both home games. Then we would be talking some seriously shocking news.
However, Game 2 more than likely set the tone for the rest of this series and though there will likely be a good bit of fight in Detroit left, do you see them winning this series, honestly? That is a no or at least it should be.
If Detroit’s Core Was Younger…
Now that would change things. Tampa is still young enough that the right team can stage the upset. If Detroit was three or four years younger and Johan Franzen was healthy, how much could this series change? This is quite the question to ask. It really may even be a tipping point to the Red Wings and this is why.
Even a younger Jimmy Howard would have less fear. Howard, mentally, is just having a tough time right now but earlier in his career, the fear was not there. Okay and Nick Lidstrom was there too, but let’s take him out of the equation. The bottom line is Detroit would be able to field a healthier, more dynamic team.
All those little differences and intangibles might just be enough in getting the job done. There is however one problem Detroit would still have. That is the following.
Anton Stralman: Shutdown Defenseman
When he came into the league, Stralman was more of an offensive defenseman. Gradually his game would morph in Columbus but the opportunities never seemed to be there. His tryout in New Jersey was an eye opener and the potential could be seen yet the Devils went in a different and regrettable direction. Even the New York Rangers did sign him and he prospered but let him ultimately go to Tampa where now the defenseman has sharpened his game even more.
He is the key reason why a shutdown defenseman like him is so vital in the playoffs. Just use the eyeball test on the ice and you notice Stralman quickly. Also, your average shutdown guy is not what he used to be these days. They have an ability to pick their spots and play well offensively. If Detroit had a player like this, this series would be different.
In Game 1, Stralman was actually a little off at times and a few high danger chances got by on his watch. Game 2 was a textbook clinic on how to play defense and Tampa won easily. Simply he taught Detroit a lesson that defense wins championships but it does not hurt to have a little offensive upside too.
The key in this series is not only how well Bishop holds up but how his main defenseman does as well. That will be the key going forward also.