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Krupa: Wings crush Lightning with smothering defense

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News
Riley Sheahan and Tampa Bay center Tyler Johnson battle for the puck in the first period.

Stringing together arguably their best three consecutive games since they beat the Sharks, Predators and Rangers consecutively, from Feb. 26 through March 4, the Red Wings seized control of the conference quarterfinal series, and will play the Lightning in an elimination game Monday in Joe Louis Arena.

The Wings defense is so strong, they have shut out the best offense in the NHL during the regular season in eight of the last nine periods of regulation.

Their attention to detail was so unblemished, they committed only three giveaways in Game 5 — none, after the first period.

Petr Mrazek is so solid in the net, he recorded his second shutout of the series.

Their resilience is such that they bounced back from a bitter defeat Thursday night and a tough first eight minutes in Tampa on Saturday to dominate the next 32 and eventually prevail in a hard-fought third period.

They shut down The Triplets: Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov.

The scoreless Steven Stamkos is so frustrated his undisciplined penalty deep in the offensive zone in the third period gave the Wings the power play that led to their third goal, in a 4-0 win.

Beginning to play some of their best hockey in seven weeks, the Red Wings will have to withstand what may well be the Lightning's best effort in Game 6.

But these Red Wings, who have improved throughout much of the series — absent the few mistakes late in Game 4 —seem equal to the task.

Shutdown defense

There was great back-checking and attention to detail so disciplined that the neutral zone was often shut down for the speedy Lightning.

Gustav Nyquist, Luke Glendening, Henrik Zetterberg, Drew Miller, Landon Ferraro and others all covered puck carriers so well through the middle of the playing surface, they bottled up the potent offense that was shutout only once in the season – also by the Wings.

After the first several minutes of the game, when the Lightning held sway offensively and geographically and built an 8-1 shot advantage, the Red Wings prevented another shot on goal for the next 19 minutes.

At times, they were stultifying.

Gone were the few mistakes that cost them a victory in Game 4.

The Lightning not only was unable to speed through the middle, when they got in the Wings end the defensive deployment repeatedly denied chances.

The six defensemen all had good games, including combining for seven blocked shots.

And the penalty kill appears to have returned to the performance that kept it in the top five in the league for long stretches of the first half of the season.

The Lightning is now 2-of-24 on the power play.

Stamkos, the second-best goal scorer during the season, is scoreless in the series.

Hitting turns tide

Especially if it is true that home teams get more of their hits counted than road teams, the Red Wings hit the Lightning like a Florida hurricane

The score sheet put it at 32-26, in their favor.

The Wings might have had more.

And with the Lightning controlling the puck for the first eight minutes and peppering Mrazek with shots, it helped turn the tide.

Hitting the puck carriers allowed the Wings to regain possession of it, and at least get it back up ice, in the early going. When the defense clicked in and the Red Wings began to carry the play, the hits helped them control the Lightning's attack.

Instead of relying on deft stick work to take pucks, the Red Wings are separating puck carriers from it.

With no points and no shots, Justin Abdelkader may have been the Wings most valuable player, regardless.

His nine hits led them, and his willingness to stand up to the Lightning's rough stuff, especially once the Red Wings' defense utterly flustered them, protected his mates.

Jonathan Ericsson was a force, at times, physically, with four hits and two blocked shots.

Not only is a sizeable Lightning team unable to physically intimidate the Wings, the Detroiters, in fact, are the aggressors in his series.

Mrazek masterful

Mrazek is a much calmer, more effective presence between the pipes than big Ben Bishop, for the Lightning, that it clearly affects his mates.

At the start of the second shutout of the series, it was Mrazek against all comers.

The 8-1 shot differential for the Lightning could easily have resulted in the first goal of the game. But Mrazek did not allow it.

They had five shots on goal, two minutes into the contest. An early goal, with no offense mounted, might have been devastating to a team so disappointed about their costly late-game blunders Thursday.

But Mrazek stopped the puck.

And he carried on without committing a mistake.

At the start of the third period, the Lightning started showing signs of their offensive explosiveness again. They were suddenly so dominant on the attack and geographically that the Red Wings were held without a shot for 6:40.

But Mrazek was stopping everything, including Ryan Callahan at point-blank range and Valtteri Filppula with a fine glove save.

The stop on Filppula was perhaps the best evidence of Mrazek's outstanding ability to anticipate the play, all evening long.

He seemed to stop several shots he may well not have seen, through screens. And, with Filppula moving up on the right wing, and Mrazek standing far to his right in the crease, he was lightning fast to his left and all of the way across the crease to make an outstanding glove save that kept the game 2-0.

Shortly thereafter, the Wings recovered their better play.

Mrazek is the third rookie goalie in the Red Wings long history, and the first since World War II to author two shutouts in a playoff series

Secondary scoring

Riley Sheahan put them out 1-0 on the power play in the last minute of play in the first period to send the Wings into the dressing room with the lead after a bad start.

The fact that Sheahan's goal looked like something Steven Stamkos does with frequency, from the same position on the ice, could not have been lost on the Lightning or their fans.

Drew Miller scored even strength to put them up 2-0, converting a strong shot by Luke Glendening from the sideboards that momentarily handcuffed Bishop.

Danny DeKeyser iced the win with long shot into the empty net.

Unexpected scoring from unheralded sources. It so often wins series in the Stanley Cup Playoffs that it has become a cliché of the game.

The Wings are proving the truth of it.

Sheahan has two in the series, and so does Glendening.

Miller has one.

DeKeyser has one

Joakim Andersson and Tomas Jurco both have one.

Unexpected scoring from unheralded sources.

Miller time

He scored the goal. But over the next several minutes of play, Miller also stopped a Lightning drive up ice with a fine back-check and, amid a flurry in front of Mrazek, blocked a shot close in with which his goal tender might have had some trouble.

The Lightning castoff and Wings' grinder finished with a goal, plus-one, two shots, one hit and two blocks.

It was a Grinders' Hall of Fame performance, in what may prove to be a pivotal game in the playoffs.