Each Wednesday throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Kevin Weekes will be offering his pluses and minuses for the teams competing in the game that intrigues him most that night. Weekes will also be assisting fans with three must-watch elements of the game.
Detroit Red Wings. Tampa Bay Lightning. Amalie Arena. Game 7. Game on.
The first-round capper should be a dandy in Tampa when the Red Wings take on the Lightning on Wednesday (7:30 p.m., NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports 2, FS-D, SUN).
No need to dawdle now. Here is my breakdown:
Pluses: There's no real pressure that I can think of on the Red Wings. They aren't expected to win this series, now that it's gotten to Game 7 and now that they don't have [defenseman] Niklas Kronwall, who was suspended for the game. So, hey, just go out and play, lay it on the line, see what happens.
It's a heck of a lot easier to be yourselves when you aren't the team under the most pressure. The Red Wings no doubt have pressure on themselves because they want to move on, but they can play loose in this game and they should.
The other plus is they have the experience with guys like Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk leading the way. They'll miss Kronwall, but that just means they'll need Zetterberg and Datsyuk even more.
They have to lead every shift, which they do. Don't get me wrong, they do, but I'm just emphasizing their importance.
So they're going to have to lead every shift, they're going to have to make plays, and they're going to have to relish matching up against the 'Triplets' line or against Steven Stamkos and keeping him scoreless.
Those guys can not only neutralize you, but they can sting you. And they're going to have to be great in this game.
The other plus is this has been a series that's been kind to the road team. Four of the six games in this series have been won by the road team. The Red Wings have won twice at Amalie Arena. They're clearly comfortable there.
The Lightning looked very comfortable playing at Joe Louis Arena in Game 6, so now if you're the Red Wings you need your guys to feel comfortable going into a building that you've won in already this season.
Minuses: The Red Wings have to protect the middle of the ice better than they have so far in this series or they will get burned.
The Lightning want to use their speed. That's their game. They're a faster team than the Red Wings through and through. Sure, Detroit has guys that are fast, but [as far as] team speed, it goes New York Rangers, Dallas Stars and Tampa Bay as the fastest teams in the League.
The Red Wings gave up way too much easy access through the middle of the ice in Game 6. I mean way, way, way too much. Tampa was able to score some of its goals by having so much room in the middle of the ice. When teams give the Lightning room, they will take it.
Don't give them room. Close off the middle of the ice. Please, Red Wings, you're killing yourselves if you give the Lightning room in the middle of the ice.
It starts with a good F1, a good first forechecker. Everybody reads and reacts off of the first forechecker, so if he does his job, the second and third forecheckers can do their job, and in turn, the 'D' can do their job. When that's not the case, such as when Detroit's first forechecker doesn't angle well to force Tampa's 'D' to go wide or at least cut the ice in half, then what do you expect.
The Lightning are, well, lightning fast. The Red Wings are allowing the Lightning to go 'D' to 'D' or to the wall and then back to the middle of the ice and either way the Lightning are coming through the middle. It's way too easy.
You can beat the Lightning when you force them to try to beat you with wide speed. Hey, if they beat you wide and they're shooting wide and they're scoring on your goalie, then you can kind of look at your goalie and say, 'Uh, hello, we took away the middle of the ice and he still beat you on the wall. That's not on us.'
In saying that, another thing the Red Wings need to do better is boxing out around goalie Petr Mrazek. There are way too many easy looks for the Lightning in front of the net. Mrazek is coming across the crease and making amazing saves, but he's having to make these amazing saves because nobody is home and nobody is boxing out.
The Red Wings 'D' and low centerman have to come low and box out better than they have been doing.
Pluses: I like that the Lightning are playing their style and not deviating from who they are. They're playing a speed game. They're playing a skill game. They're getting shots from their blue line, at least shot attempts, and a lot of those guys shoot BBs from back there.
They're getting point shots. They're getting traffic. I already mentioned Detroit not doing a good enough job boxing out.
Overall, the Lightning are playing their game. Their transition is crisp. They're changing the point of attack. That's what the Lightning do, and they do it well.
There have been times in this series when watching on television when I've wondered if the camera was just frozen on the Red Wings' defensive zone because the Lightning have played a strong puck possession game.
Now, yes, there have been times when they haven't gotten enough shots on net with the puck possession game they've had. That's a challenge for them, to shoot even more, get 35 to 40 shots on net.
But I'll go back to it again, the Lightning are getting chances because the Red Wings are allowing them to play through the middle. If that continues, the Lightning will be in good shape.
Minuses: The great Steven Stamkos hasn't scored yet, but let's be fair here, it's not for a lack of trying and on the whole, playoffs are different and more difficult for skilled players who are marked men like Stamkos.
Stamkos did a great job of finding his offense through the rhythm of the game and the team during the regular season. That's a huge and difficult adjustment to make when for so long you've been the guy the team has solely relied on, who had the lion's share.
Doing that in the playoffs is harder. And it's a tougher adjustment for Stamkos.
The good thing is Stamkos is still going to the net and he's still getting at least three shots on goal per game. He's getting to the net, staying there too. He's willing to do it. But this is a big adjustment for him. It's not an indictment, but it's a big adjustment to know that the team isn't as dependent on him as they once were. He did a really good job of adjusting to that during the regular season, but it's harder in the playoffs because of the way guys mark you.
That said, all of you and I know that Stamkos can turn into a plus very quickly in this series. If he does, look for the Lightning to move on.
THREE THINGS TO WATCH
1. Will the Lightning try to put on a show?
This tends to happen to the home team in a big game. The crowd is revved up and the home team wants to put on a show for them. The Lightning need to play their game. If they do, it'll be a good show. They don't need to do anything fancy to make it one.
2. Can the Red Wings possess the puck?
They have the ability to do it, especially when the puck is on Datsyuk's blade. They need to have the puck, force the Lightning to play a game they don't want to play.
3. Goalie matchup
Who will rise to the occasion? Will it be Mrazek, who hasn't allowed a goal in games after a loss in this series. Or will it be Ben Bishop, who has struggled in games after a win in this series with a .897 save percentage?