Where: Amalie Arena, Tampa, Florida
When: 7:30 PM EDT | Tickets: Check availability
Media: Fox Sports Florida, CNBC (cable) | 970 AM WFLA (radio) | Twitter Live Stream
Opponent Coverage: Winging it in Motown, Abel to Yzerman
Of all the pomp, circumstance, pretentiousness and grandeur that I would love nothing more than to write to lead in the game-day preview for tonight's Atlantic Division semifinal (or Eastern Conference Quarterfinal) match between the Lightning and Red Wings, instead I'm going to bring up a subject matter that doesn't get focused on too often leading in to big games. It gets brought up time to time, sure, and sometimes the situation proves to be dire - there are stories from league history about the playoffs and a complication on the very basis of this sport.
I'm talking ice.
The Who, the legendary rock'n'roll group, performed last night at Amalie Arena as part of their 50th anniversary tour while Joan Jett and the Blackhearts were also part of the night of music. There were a lot of people in the building, a lot of weight on the event floor. Even with insulation put down over an ice sheet. I don't know how long things were in concert configuration at the Amalie either.
The point here is that one of the storylines that may not get much attention is the fact the ice may not be so nice. It's usually an ignored factor for games played at Madison Square Garden because the arena in New York City is one of the busiest venues in the world. In the case of Amalie Arena, ice quality is usually written off as a concern because of climate anyway. To cut to the chase, just keep it in mind tonight when the two clubs get going that weird bounces might be by way of You Better, You Bet and the other rock classics that filled the arena last night.
This opening round series between the Bolts and the Red Wings are the third Original Six club the Bolts have faced the NHL playoffs; Tampa Bay has faced the Canadiens twice (2004, 2014) and the Boston Bruins once (2011).
While the Red Wings are division rivals with the Lightning now, it's a lop-sided history between the two clubs. First fact is that the history doesn't matter right now; we're playing in an isolated tourney. Forget the number of rings the Wings have, the number of Stanley Cup wins and banners hanging from the rafters in Detroit, the number of octopuses tossed on the ice at Joe Louis Arena and all that jazz. We're at zero. That being said, the all time record for the Tampa Bay Lightning against the Red Wings is a horrid 12-27-2-3 in the 22 seasons of Lightning hockey. But the record facts of lop-sided go both ways with this. Tampa Bay's all-time record against the Red Wings with more games played in the past two seasons (9) than in the previous ten seasons (2002-03 through 2013). Detroit has owned history but the Lightning has owned recent history as Tampa Bay has gone 7-2-0 against Detroit since realignment went into effect in 2013-14.
(Let me make something clear right now though; the current third-column of "OTL" is a complication that changes a loss into something else. The record the past 9 regular season games from the Red Wings perspective is changed to 2-4-3 with thanks to it. A loss is still a loss though, even if NHL GMs think a third-column and loser-point is fairer. Oh, reminder: loser points no longer exist and the shootout is only going to be invoked if a penalty-shot is called... Sudden death reigns supreme with overtime for the playoffs.)
Braydon Coburn is doing what he can to get back into the fray on defense. The defenseman's been out since March 10th with a lower-body injury. He's returned to practice and morning skates since the Lightning returned home from their season-finale road trip through the northeast. If Coburn is indeed back tonight, he'll be paired with Matt Carle on the Bolts second defense pair.
Andrej Sustr, who has been out of action since March 28th against this same Red Wings team indicated Lightning beat writer Bryan Burns that he is go for tonight; he'll be on the bottom defensive pair with Nikita Nesterov.
While Nesterov is a playoffs rookie, Lightning Shout pointed out that Ben Bishop happens to be one as well. He'll be making the start in net for the Bolts which isn't a surprise. If you don't remember, Bishop fell down, went boom against the Toronto Maple Leafs in April 2014 and missed Tampa Bay's series against the Montreal Canadiens. He had never played in a playoff game in Ottawa or St. Louis.
While there are other rookies of note (Cedric Paquette, Vladislav Namestnikov) circumstances got them time with Tampa Bay during last season's fizzle against Les Habs. The one notable rookie who has not been mentioned here is Jonathan Drouin... and right now it's looking like he could be scratched tonight along with Mark Barberio? Huh?
If Andrej Sustr says he's playing tonight, if Braydon Coburn is back, and notably Jason Garrison was skating third pair in morning skate, could head coach Jon Cooper be invoking an 11-forward, 7-defenseman roster split? Garrison has also been out since the loss to the Red Wings after taking a painful hit from Justin Abdelkader
Cooper does have a habit of trying to keep opposing coaches guessing what things will be. The only certainty that this writer is going to lock in on is expecting to see the TKO Trio together. Drouin playing is still possible, Coburn being scratched as well.
What you can expect tonight from both clubs is an attempt to set the tempo and send a message to each other. If it turns into a grudge of hate would be beneath both clubs; they know they can top each other and don't need to lose emotional control to do it. As Kyle Alexander pointed out in his piece, Petr Mrazek gets the start for the Wings in goal and he's on record as the only goalie to shut out the Lightning during the 2014-15 regular season... but it's not a good sample to hitch expectations on.
Other Game Coverage:
- Tampa Bay Lightning official team preview
- Full coverage on SB Nation
- Live stream of Tampa Bay Lightning coverage on Twitter