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Noel: Speed, skill of Lightning showed in Game 6

by Mike G. Morreale /

For additional insight into the Eastern Conference First Round series between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Detroit Red Wings, has enlisted the help of Claude Noel to break down the action. Noel will be checking in throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Noel was coach for the Winnipeg Jets from 2011-14 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. In addition, Noel, a former forward, had 138 points in 353 regular-season games in the AHL and played seven games in the NHL with Washington Capitals in 1979-80.

The Tampa Bay Lightning rediscovered their offense against the Detroit Red Wings and center Tyler Johnson was the beneficiary when he struck for his third two-goal game of this best-of-7 Eastern Conference First Round series in a 5-2 Game 6 victory at Joe Louis Arena on Monday.

Claude Noel thought Tampa Bay's speed and intensity from the opening faceoff was evident.

"Tampa Bay had more room, they were able to create and they proved why they are such a dangerous offensive team and one of the top scoring teams in the League," Noel said.

The Lightning led the NHL with a 3.16 goals-per-game average during the regular season.

The line of Johnson, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat, which was one of the most productive in the NHL, has been great against the Red Wings. All three had more than 60 points and a plus-30 rating or better in the regular season, and they have combined for seven goals, 14 points and a plus-10 rating in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Johnson is tied for the League lead with six goals.

"Johnson was impressive; his compete level and his finish are fantastic," Noel said. "Look at those two goals he scored [in Game 6]. He got two great opportunities and didn't miss.

"But I thought Tampa Bay's skill and speed was way more evident. I didn't think that Detroit played the way they played the previous two games in the series when they gave Tampa Bay no space."

Part of the reason for that was the Lightning built a 2-0 lead in the first period to put the Red Wings in comeback mode almost immediately. When they opened up to become more creative, there was significantly more room for the crafty Tampa Bay forwards to operate.

"I thought Detroit's gap spacing by its defensemen was really good in Game 5 but it wasn't quite there [in Game 6]," Noel said. "There were some uncharacteristic mistakes made by Detroit that led to Tampa Bay taking a 3-0 lead. I thought they might have been playing back a little farther; it was just evident to me that there was more space for the Lightning to make plays and get up and down the ice."

After the game, Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said the difference Monday was the Lightning skated with authority and pucks were going tape-to-tape. Even when Detroit pulled within 3-2, there was a sense Tampa Bay was still poised to pounce.

Alex Killorn, Jason Garrison and Cedric Paquette also scored for the Lightning, Kucherov assisted on each of the first three Lightning goals, and Ben Bishop made 22 saves.

"I thought Bishop was really solid through two periods, he was really good," Noel said. "I thought [Detroit goaltender] Petr Mrazek gave his team a chance with some huge saves but it wasn't to be."

Tampa Bay center Steven Stamkos, who has no goals and three assists in the series, earned just 13:38 of ice time in Game 6 as the Red Wings had seven power-play opportunities (1-of-7).

"Stamkos has not scored yet but he's working and has played well; Mrazek made a huge save against him," Noel said. "He's not getting the bounces right now."

Game 7 is Wednesday in Tampa (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports 2, FS-D, SUN).

Noel feels that in order for the Red Wings to have a chance in the series finale, they will need to revert back to the playbook that helped shut down the Lightning 4-0 in Game 5.

"Detroit is going to have to get back to their checking game," he said. "That's what you have to do against the Lightning because they've got skill and speed and they can finish, so Detroit has to get back to that same kind of game; controlling their gaps, taking space away. They've got to take Johnson and Stamkos out of the game. If they can't, it's going to be tough if Tampa Bay then gets that space to finish. It won't matter how well Mrazek is playing."

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