Where: Joe Louis Arena, Detroit, Michigan
When: 7 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
The most daunting task of the 2014-15 NHL campaign lays before the Tampa Bay Lightning this evening in game 6 against the Detroit Red Wings. Seriously, can you name another game all season (regular and playoffs) that carried more weight? Everything before the playoffs wasn't black-and-white, win-or-lose... Games did have their behind-the-scenes and image-wise importance, but this game is the most crucial since... Well, since April 2014 when the Bolts played game 4 of the Atlantic Division semifinals against Les Habitants de Montreal, losing the game and the series to the Canadiens. The difference in that one was the fact the goalie situation was one marred by doubt as Anders Lindback played in place of the injured Ben Bishop. That doubt dominated the series, and a team led by young players only tasted the briefest taste of NHL playoff hockey.
The Lightning are in a bind, not the literal one of being down 3-2, but the figurative one those points toward the offensive capabilities of the club and how they're not being met. The 5-1, game 2 outcome was what we expect from the Lightning, the 3-2 overtime win of game 4 displayed only a limited capability (but did highlight the intensity that the club can display). The game 1 loss was the common downside of a Lightning game - close, but no cigar.
Games 3 and 5, the shutouts by Petr Mrazek and the Wings, were the head scratching contests that send everyone into a tizzy. "Where is the Lightning? Who is this club participating in the Bolts uniforms?" Tampa Bay had been shut out all of once during the 2014-15 regular season... by Petr Mrazek and the Detroit Red Wings.
The common narrative that's come to light regarding these losses has been intensity; certain players need to step up and it's a narrative left as static as that in the press and among fans: Hey, Steven Stamkos?! Step up! Hey, Nikita Kucherov? Having fun? Step up! Bring you're A game, etc!
Sports isn't static though, there are two truths that need to be accepted - one from the fan angle and one from the coaching angle:
1. There's the high possibility that Stamkos, Kucherov, and other players are playing through pain and injuries that are limiting their abilities to play, stick handle, pass, shoot, and overall contribute.
2. If that's not the truth, if players just aren't clicking right now, it might be time for Jon Cooper to shake up the lineup instead of leaving it in the same line combination as he has for a good swath of the season.
Is it impossible to put Nikita Kucherov on Stamkos' right-wing in place of Ryan Callahan? Is the effort of Vladislav Namestnikov or Cedric Paquette so vital on the third line that they don't see more minutes elsewhere or perhaps even scratched in favor of getting Jonathan Drouin into the lineup? Heck, what about moving J.T. Brown on to the second-line right-wing spot with the tandem of Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat?
You have got to spark that offense and make an adjustment in this situation. Keeping things exactly as they are with minor roster lineup changes (as has been the case during this series) is not trying to find a way to find a spark; it's just waiting for things to click. Waiting, waiting...
Only one player - Tyler Johnson - has more than 1 goal scored in the playoffs (4). Everyone else -- Palat, Brian Boyle, Andrej Sustr, Valtteri Filppula, Alex Killorn, Kucherov, and Nikita Nesterov - have a single goal scored in the games of the Atlantic Division semifinal
To win this game, the Lightning needs a spark and coach Cooper needs to consciously seek to create one. Tampa Bay has the ability to force a game 7, but the odds they do is kept much lower if line combinations and overall attack is left same-old, same-old. Individual efforts aren't working and need a spark. The status-quo will not do it. If things remain static, then prepping for the off-season is something we'll likely have to accept... Wondering what could have happened and what's to come in the off-season. The alternative is winning game 6 and achieving a series win with a game 7 victory, starting fresh and over in an Atlantic Division Final against the Canadiens.
Other Game Coverage:
- Tampa Bay Lightning official team preview
- Full coverage on SB Nation
- Live stream of Tampa Bay Lightning coverage on Twitter