For additional insight into the Eastern Conference First Round series between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Detroit Red Wings NHL.com has enlisted the help of Claude Noël to break down the action. Noel will be checking in throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Noel was coach for the Winnipeg Jets from 2011-2014 and interim coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2009-10. He also coached many years in the minor leagues, including the American Hockey League. Noel, a forward during his playing days, had 138 points in 353 regular-season games in the AHL, and he played seven games in the NHL with Washington Capitals in 1979-80.
The Detroit Red Wings appeared to have the perfect formula in place against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 4 of their Eastern Conference First Round series at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit on Thursday.
The Red Wings were again shutting down the League's most prolific offense in the regular season behind goaltender Petr Mrazek for almost 55 minutes before Red Wings forward Luke Glendening sustained a hand injury to open the offensive floodgates for Lightning forward Tyler Johnson.
Glendening had been playing a key role with linemates Drew Miller and Landon Ferraro in shutting down Tampa Bay's electrifying line of Johnson with Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov. When Glendening left the game with 7:28 remaining in the third, the Red Wings held a 2-0 lead. The Palat-Johnson-Kucherov line would ultimately combine for three goals and two assists in a 3-2 victory to even the best-of-7 series 2-2.
Claude Noel felt it was a tale of two games, one the Lightning suddenly took over in the final six minutes of the third period.
"There's 5:26 to go in the game and you're about to head back to Tampa Bay with a 3-1 lead in the series, but Tampa scores two quick ones in regulation and in overtime and now it's 2-2 and you have to deal with the best team in the League at home [in Tampa Bay]," Noel said. "It was really a well-played game by both teams, especially by Detroit for almost 54 minutes. They checked, won the battles, did all the things they needed to do. They looked like they were in complete control and then came the goal by Tyler Johnson after the 4-on-4 had just ended."
Noel felt Mrazek did all his could to give his team the victory.
"Mrazek was real solid and then the turn of events," Noel said. "Detroit's checking game didn't go as it had the first 55 minutes and that was a storyline for me. Neither team made it happen on the special teams, but it was a great hockey game. It was two teams battling hard and then, boom, five minutes left and a couple of errors turned the game around."
Noel didn't think it was completely fair to blame Red Wings defenseman Jonathan Ericsson on Johnson's first goal at 14:34 that pulled the Lightning within 2-1. Johnson cut in off left wing and beat Mrazek from the bottom of the left circle. Ericsson seemed caught between staying with the man in the slot and taking away a shot attempt from Johnson.
"Ericsson had the middle lane but Johnson got that free shot [from the bottom of the left circle]; he buried it top shelf from a bad angle," Noel said. "Maybe Ericsson should have boxed him out before he got to the net, but again, it seemed to me that checking game for Detroit just wasn't as effective. Hey, that's the way sports goes sometimes, fair or not. On the tying goal [by Palat at 15:51], nobody picked up the goal scorer.
"In the overtime, it seemed like some players were caught out of position and enabled Tampa Bay to come down 3-on-1."
On the OT winner, Johnson scored from below the left circle off a cross-crease pass from defenseman Victor Hedman at 2:25. The pivotal Game 5 is Saturday in Tampa Bay (6 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports, FS-D, FS-F).
"The difference heading into Game 5 is the fact Tampa Bay will have the last line change at home now," Noel said. "The other thing is the status of Glendening, because he has done such a good job on the Johnson line. As great a player as Pavel Datsyuk is, he finished a minus-3 when coach [Mike] Babcock had his line against Johnson after the Glendening injury."
Still, Noel said he wouldn't expect Babcock to make many adjustments unless Glendening's injury is more serious than first thought.
"I thought Detroit played a really good game but lost it in about six minutes; but the matchups have been really good for two games and Mrazek has been excellent," Noel said. "For Detroit, it's all about recovering from that loss and going into Tampa Bay and getting it done. It'll be interesting to see which Tampa Bay team shows up."
Noel also said the momentum the Lightning gained in the late stages of Game 4 could propel them the remainder of the series.
"Game 5 is huge, and Detroit was in control, but now it's a best-of-3," Noel said. "Tampa Bay has life and energy and they are headed back home tied 2-2. That's a big difference than being down 3-1, and their fans will provide extra energy."