Here's what you need to know for tonight's NHL playoff games:
Tampa Bay faces elimination in Detroit, where the Red Wings faithful are probably thankful team management came to its senses when dealing with Petr Mrazek. Despite his strong play, the standout goalie was sent to Grand Rapids of the American Hockey League on Feb. 17 when fellow netminders Jimmy Howard and Jonas Gustavsson returned to full health. Less than three weeks later, Mrazek was back in Detroit to stay after Gustavsson suffered another injury.
The Red Wings are a Monday win away from advancing to the Western Conference semifinals, thanks in large part to Mrazek, who has owned Tampa Bay, the NHL's highest-scoring team in the regular season. The Lightning have been shut out three times this season in 87 games, all courtesy of Mrazek, who was a key piece in Grand Rapids' Calder Cup championship run in 2013.
How do you silence a potent offence? If you're Detroit, you rely on the defensive prowess of veteran blue-liners Niklas Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson, toss in some strong play from your goalie and stretch the rules a bit by running some interference in the neutral zone against Tampa Bay forwards. The Lightning scored an NHL-high 262 goals in the regular season but have just nine in five games in this series while Mrazek has posted two shutouts. During one stretch in the Red Wings' 4-0 Game 5 win, he didn't face a shot for 20 minutes 14 seconds.
Steven Stamkos has scored with the best of them in the NHL, exceeding 40 goals four times in seven regular seasons. But he's hardly been a sniper in the post-season, having found the back of the net just eight times in 27 contests. The Tampa Bay centre enters Monday's game in Detroit without a goal in the first five games of this year's playoffs and his last eight post-season outings dating to last season. The Red Wings have taken away Stamkos's time and space and held him to two assists after a 43-goal regular campaign, but his 17 shots ties Tyler Johnson for the team lead. Maybe he needs to unleash a shot like the one seen below.
Where have good times gone?
When Tampa Bay hired Jon Cooper in March 2013, a lot was made about him being a winner. He had coached St. Louis to back-to-back North American Hockey League titles in 2007 and 2008, won a United States Hockey League championship in 2010 with Green Bay and guided Norfolk to a Calder Cup (AHL) championship in 2012. Should Tampa fall Monday night in Detroit, it would be Cooper's second consecutive first-round exit in the NHL playoffs. He needs to work quickly to find the winning touch.
In 2013, Detroit had a chance to close out the visiting Blackhawks in Game 6 at Joe Louis Arena but lost, and then fell in Game 7 in Chicago in overtime. "I haven't even thought about it," Red Wings defenceman Nik Kronwall told reporters. "What happened in the past is in the past."
Winner-take-all Game 7
It seems fitting the New York Islanders and hometown Washington Capitals would go the distance in their Round 1 series, considering they each had 101 points in the regular season and have scored 14 goals apiece in the first playoff games.
But if Game 7 should be determined by goaltending, many would say Washington has the edge. Braden Holtby sports a 1.75 GAA and .945 save percentage in the series while New York's Jaroslav Halak, fresh off a 38-save performance in a 3-1 Game 6 victory, has 2.34, .926 totals. However, the Capitals are only 3-9 in Game 7s and 1-4 at home in that scenario since 2008.
The Islanders probably will need a better showing from a power play that is 0-for-13 in the series to advance to Round 2 for the first time since 1993.