Red Wings vs. Lightning: How they match up
LIGHTNING FORWARDS VS. RED WINGS DEFENSE
Tampa Bay has one of the deepest forward corps in the NHL. The star is Steven Stamkos, who had 43 goals and 268 shots. He has one of the hardest and most accurate shots in the NHL and is almost automatic on one-timers from the dot. What makes him an elite player, though, is his work ethic. Few star forwards back-check harder and as enthusiastically as Stamkos.
Keep an eye on the second line, with Tyler Johnson centering Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat. All three had 60 points, and Palat had 47 assists, Johnson 43. Johnson is an elite skater and terrific passer.
Former Red Wings standout Valtteri Filppula saw his points drop (48) but is a fine third-line center.
The fourth line is headed by former Rangers standout Brian Boyle, who scored 15 goals and is one of the best penalty-killers.
This unit generally played above expectations until a slip in the final six weeks.
Niklas Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson aren't what many consider an elite top pair, but can hold their own. Ericsson has been less consistent, and has been dropped to a third-pair on occasion. Kronwall hasn't had big open-ice hits.
The second pair of Kyle Quincey and Danny DeKeyser has been the most consistent pair for the Red Wings.
The inclusion of Alexey Marchenko will juggle the bottom two pairs. Marchenko replaces Brendan Smith, whose turnovers and untimely penalties forced him out of the lineup. Marek Zidlicky has provided a right-hand shot, playing with an edge, although his lack of quickness and speed can be exposed.
RED WINGS FORWARDS VS. LIGHTNING DEFENSE
Will coach Mike Babcock play Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk together?
Zetterberg was in a slump until being put on a line with Datsyuk and Darren Helm in the final week, and he responded with a goal and three assists in two games. Datsyuk was troubled by an ankle injury the final weeks and how he plays through the injury will be a determining factor.
Size is an issue. Already without Erik Cole (spinal contusion) and Johan Franzen (concussion), the Red Wings would miss Justin Abdelkader if he's unavailable.
A key will be the impact of young forwards Gustav Nyquist, Riley Sheahan and Tomas Tatar. None was effective against Boston last postseason, seemingly overpowered by the bigger, veteran Bruins.
Tampa Bay's defense isn't bad — when it's healthy. But injuries have decimated the blue line in the past few weeks.
Jason Garrison (upper body) was hurt March 28 and Braydon Coburn (foot) was injured soon after being acquired after the trade deadline. Andrej Sustr (upper body) was out the final week. Coburn and Sustr are expected to return for this series, Garrison is not.
The Lightning counts on 6-foot-7 Victor Hedman, who has developed into a top-level defender. Hedman has a great shot and covers a lot of ice.
Anton Stralman, a free agent signing, has played big minutes and been a key on both special teams.
EDGE: Red Wings
Ben Bishop followed a Vezina Trophy-finalist season with another outstanding year. He won 39 games (franchise record) and his goals-against (2.32) and save percentage (.916) were just outside the league leaders.
If Bishop falters, the Lightning has one of the elite prospects in Andrei Vasilevskiy, who was sharp in brief appearances.
Jimmy Howard's inconsistency, and a particularly sub-par game against the Canadiens late last week, spurred coach Mike Babcock to go with Petr Mrazek to start the playoffs.
The question is, will he be there at the end?
Mrazek, although possessing an 0.50 goals-against average and .982 save percentage in his last six victories, also has been pulled three times recently.
For all the skill the Lightning has up front, it was No. 14 on the power play (18.8 percent) and a source of frustration.
Steven Stamkos is dangerous if left open, possessing one of the best shots in the league, and Ryan Callahan is an effective net presence.
Anton Stralman and Victor Hedman have strong shots from the point, but Stralman is a good passer.
The penalty kill ranked eighth (83.7 percent) and is led by Brian Boyle, regarded as one of the best in the NHL. At 6-foot-7, he has size, a long reach, is good in the faceoff circle, and plays angles well.
The Red Wings had the No. 2 power play (23.8 percent) but it's prone to droughts.
Without Justin Abdelkader, the Red Wings would be missing a key net-front presence.
Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar have been dangerous on the power play, and Marek Zidlicky provided a spark when he arrived with his dangerous right-hand shot, but has cooled in recent weeks.
The penalty kill is No. 17 (80.9 percent), but along with schematic difficulties, goaltending was a major issue. Darren Helm, Drew Miller, Luke Glendening and Joakim Andersson are fine penalty-killers.