The Detroit Red Wings are very good, well-coached hockey team.
The Tampa Bay Lightning found that out the hard way on Tuesday night at Joe Louis Arena, as the Wings dominated from start to finish en route to a commanding 3-0 win and a 2-1 lead in the series heading into Game 4 in Detroit on Thursday.
Detroit came out with a strong push early in the first period, with their home fans behind them for the first time in these playoffs. Tampa Bay did well to manage the early pressure, but were basically holding on, chipping pucks out and dumping them in while Detroit carried the balance of play. The Wings were rewarded about halfway through the first with a deflection goal from Pavel Datsyuk after a long slap shot from Tomas Tatar found Datsyuk's stick in front.
It was an earned lead, as throughout the first and the entire game, the Red Wings controlled the neutral zone real estate, routinely attacking with control and forcing Tampa Bay into an ineffectual dump-and-chase game.
The Bolts weren't without chances, getting 5 power plays in the first two periods and one more in the third, and they had a few decent scoring chances on Petr Mrazek that skittered wide, missed the net, or were saved. But ultimately, the power play was impotent, coming up 0/6 after going 2/4 in Game 2 (a win) and 0/7 in Game 1 (a loss).
With the Bolts holding on and hoping for a bounce to tie things, it was the other special teams unit that doomed them -- Riley Sheahan got completely lost in Tampa Bay's penalty kill coverage off the rush and he potted a backhand from right in front of Bishop almost totally unhindered and undefended.
Tampa Bay mustered a meek counterattack in the game's final minutes, but couldn't pull Ben Bishop as early as you'd think with a 2-goal road deficit and gave up an empty netter to Luke Glendening to seal their Game 3 fates in a 3-0 Petr Mrazek shutout.
- Mrazek was quite good on his 22 saves, but this is definitely an area the Lightning need to improve to challenge the Red Wings netminder more. He's very aggressive challenging puck carriers and shooters, so looking to the back door might need to be stressed in the future.
- Clare Austin on beating Mrazek moving forward:
The solution isn't to simply shoot the puck. The solution is to get multiple attempts forcing Mrazek to reset, make 2nd, 3rd saves.— Clare Austin (@Puckologist) April 22, 2015
- Mike Babcock and his staff made some critical adjustments to their gameplan that Tampa Bay had no answer for; Justin Abdelkader's return let him split Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, who can both shut down opposition lines (and they did).
- The Red Wings also did a fantastic job in the neutral zone -- this really cannot be overstated. They played the speed/possession game perfectly and relegated the Lightning to a long night of slogging through bodies and stick checks in neutral ice, or corner battles with they then lost.
- The game looked a bit like what Michel Therrien did to the Lightning in the four-game first-round sweep a season ago. That's disconcerting, considering the end result of that series and the fact that Tampa Bay's only major adjustment last year was inserting BJ Crombeen into the lineup.
- Jon Cooper has options -- Jonathan Drouin still sits as a healthy scratch while the third line of Vlad Namestnikov, Valtteri Filppula, and Cedric Paquette got eaten alive. One has to wonder if the kid will finally draw in now that Tampa Bay faces a series hole and lacks home ice advantage.
- One would think Drouin could help the Lightning power play and their issue with neutral zone navigation; the kid is stud puckhandler. Special teams has been a major issue all season long, however, that has still yet to be properly addressed.