After the Lightning won Game Six on Monday and evened up the series at three games apiece, many wondered what would happen in Game Seven. Nobody pretended to have any idea. The series had taken so many different, unexpected sharp turns already. How would Game Seven unfold?
As it turned out, Game Seven didn’t resemble any of the previous six. Through 40 minutes, the Red Wings looked as good as they have at any point in the series. They built a large shot advantage, enjoyed the majority of the puck possession and, if not for goalie Ben Bishop, would have taken a lead into the third period. While the Red Wings had played some strong defensive games earlier in the series, they had never looked as consistently dangerous as they were through the first two periods.
The reason? I believe some of it came down to experience. The Red Wings, as a group, had more experience than the Lightning playing in a Game Seven, which can be nerve-wracking. While the Bolts were calm, poised and sharp in Monday’s Game Six, the Red Wings looked to be the more poised club through the first two frames in Game Seven. Afterwards, Lightning coach Jon Cooper conceded that some of the Lightning players might have been battling nerves, especially early in the game. Fortunately for the Lightning, though, Ben Bishop was on his game. He made 10 stops in the opening 10 minutes, including a terrific skate stop on a Justin Abdelkader rebound. In all, he recorded 23 saves through the first two periods, keeping the Red Wings off the board.
The Lightning’s best moments in the first two periods came in two different situations. First, their power play, despite not recording a goal, was dangerous. They had two full power play chances in the first two periods and generated some good looks. Second, when the Lightning were able to get pucks deep in the Detroit end, they enjoyed some sustained offensive zone time, even though many of their attempted shots didn’t reach Petr Mrazek.
Still, that formula – dumping pucks in and pursuing – yielded the all-important first goal, which came early in the third. Alex Killorn and Ryan Callahan chased a puck behind the Detroit net and teamed up to win the ensuing puck battle. Callahan stepped to the left circle and slid a pass back to Braydon Coburn at the right point. Coburn’s one-timer was a fluttering end-over-end shot that floated over Mrazek’s right shoulder.
That goal, which came with 16:02 left, settled the Lightning’s game. The Red Wings made several pushes to tie the score, but they didn’t have the puck as much as earlier in the game. The Lightning battled effectively in getting pucks out of the d-zone and ended up spending more time in the offensive end. There were some scary moments along the way, (including an open chance for Henrik Zetterberg on a three-on-two, which led to a great Bishop save), but for the most part, the Lightning played with tremendous poise in those final 16 minutes.
With just over seven minutes left, following another good puck possession shift for the Steven Stamkos-Callahan-Killorn line, Anton Stralman cut from the right point to the slot and back-handed a shot past Mrazek. The goal was waived off, however, because matching penalties had been called on Riley Sheahan and Stamkos. It’s a good thing that disallowed goal didn’t affect the outcome, because the timing of the call was mind-boggling. So much shoving in this game – and throughout the series – had been let go. Sheahan and Stamkos were simply battling for position and their contact had no effect on what Stralman was doing.
But that play didn’t affect the outcome – and it was fitting that Stralman iced the game and the series with an empty-netter. He chipped the puck from his own d-zone off the glass, then off the glove of Jakob Kindl. It ricocheted down the ice into the middle of the net.
Through six games in the series, Mrazek had garnered most of the media attention. His two shutouts tied an NHL record for most shutouts in a series by a rookie. He deserved those accolades. But in Game Seven, Bishop stole the show. His 31-save shutout helped propel the Lightning into the second round.
On Thursday, I’ll be writing a full recap of the series in my weekly Mishkin’s Musings column. By Friday, the Lightning will need to be ready for Montreal in Round Two. But for now, they’ll enjoy this series triumph. As we all should.
Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
Coburn’s GWG in the third period.
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
1.Ben Bishop – Lightning. 31-save shutout.
2.Anton Stralman – Lightning. Goal.
3.Braydon Coburn – Lightning. Goal. GWG.