DETROIT – The Red Wings have been at this Game 6 crossroads before.
As was the case two years ago against Chicago and three years before then versus Phoenix, the Wings would rather close out the Eastern Conference first-round series tonight at home than roll the dice with a Game 7 at Tampa Bay.
“We know this is a great opportunity for us to close out the series, and we definitely don’t want to go back to Tampa and play in a Game 7 with them actually having an advantage,” defenseman Jonathan Ericsson said. “That matters. So we just have to do whatever we can to win this game tonight.”
The Wings haven’t had tremendous success in Game 6s at home, where they have a 9-9 all-time record, including a 5-4 mark at Joe Louis Arena. Detroit has squandered its last two chances to finish off an opponent at home after building 3-2 series leads.
The Wings lost Game 6 to the Blackhawks in the 2013 Western Conference semifinals before Chicago advanced in the playoffs with a Game 7 win at the United Center. The Wings also dropped Game 6 to the Coyotes in the first round of the 2010 playoffs, but rebounded with a blow-out victory in the desert.
“We’re just focusing on tonight,” center Luke Glendening said. “You can’t think ahead like that, but at the same time they’re going to be ready to play and we have to match or have more intensity, more desperation than they do.”
The Wings seemingly had victory in their grasp in Game 4 before a late implosion cost them an overtime loss and a shot at taking a 3-1 stranglehold of this series. But the players aren’t dwelling on the past – win or lose. The way that they lost that game does not drive them to succeed, it’s too counter-productive.
“I don’t think you want to think like that, it kind of puts negative thoughts into your head,” Glendening said. “I think you want to stay away from (Game 4). You try to build off what we did in Game 5 and just put our best foot forward here.”
Instead, all of their energy is set on tonight, and clinching a playoff series on home ice for the first time since 2009 against the Blackhawks.
The Red Wings will look to build off Saturday’s 4-0 win, their best all-around performance of the series against a Lightning team that lead the NHL in scoring during the regular season, but have been shut out twice in the past three games.
In Game 5, the Red Wings were tactical, relentless, opportunistic and physical, while shutting down and shutting out the Lightning’s top scorers – again.
“Hopefully we can build off Game 5 with the way we played that way,” forward Justin Abdelkader said. “Obviously knowing that there are no safe leads and we can’t sit back. We just gotta put the pressure on these guys and come out with a good start and use this home crowd to our advantage.”
For a team that averaged more than three goals per game during the regular season, the Lightning is a disheveled bunch against the Wings’ disruptive defense. Steven Stamkos (43 goals), Tyler Johnson (29), Nikita Kucherov (29) and Ryan Callahan (24) scored a combined 125 goals this season. Yet, against Wings rookie goalie Petr Mrazek, the foursome has been held to four goals – all by Johnson.
Defensively, the Wings have done an outstanding job, limiting the Lightning’s time in space, especially Stamkos, who hasn’t scored in eight straight postseason games. Still, Stamkos is the defense’s No. 1 target to shut down.
“We obviously recognize him and respect him and know how dangerous he is,” Wings defenseman Kyle Quincey said. “We’re happy that we’ve kept him off the goal-scoring sheet. If he gets going, we know we don’t want that. We’ll stick with our gameplan of making sure we know where he is. We give him the outside. When he’s shooting on the power play we try to keep him out of the middle so he’s less dangerous.”
Still, holding down the league’s second-leading scorer is a bit bewildering to the Wings, who hope to continue the trend in Game 6.
“We have a lot of respect for him and that line,” Quincey said. “We know we can’t turn the puck over even in the offensive zone when he’s out there. We know he’s a good player. We’re not taking it for granted. We know tonight going in he’s still our No. 1 target. He’s going to shoot. We’ve got to make sure we just make him shoot from the outside.”
NO ROOM, DEAL WITH IT: Come playoff time, space in the offensive and neutral zones gets squeezed and forwards have to fight for every inch of ice they can get while trying to creating scoring chances.
But when it comes to perhaps bending the rules or getting away with a little something extra, Lightning coach Jon Cooper believes the Red Wings are interfering with his forwards in this series.
“There are 30 teams in the league, and nobody does (interference) more than the Detroit Red Wings, hands down,” Cooper told the Tampa Tribune.
Following Monday’s morning skate at, Cooper clarified his earlier comments, saying “there are eight playoff series, I’m sure what goes on in our series is going on in the rest of them. Fight through it, boys. … And the guys in stripes could call one. But, other than that, you have to fight through it. It’s the playoffs.”
Through 44 games in the 2015 Stanley Cup playoffs, referees have called 36 interference penalties against 14 clubs. If the Wings are cheating, as the Lightning coach has alluded, then the numbers don’t pan out.
Detroit has been called on six interference penalties, more than any of the 16 playoff teams. St. Louis had four interference calls, followed by Chicago, Vancouver, Montreal and Ottawa with three each.
Glendening (twice), Pavel Datsyuk, Darren Helm, Danny DeKeyser and Henrik Zetterberg have been called for interference in the series.
Asked about Cooper’s comments, Wings coach Mike Babcock didn’t take the bating, saying, “I don’t know I just think at playoff time there’s no room. The most determined team fights through. If you’re not determined, you can’t fight through. I don’t know.”
Goalie - DET
GAA: 1.91 | Sv%: .937
Mrazek is the only goalie in the 2015 playoffs with more than one shutout in the first round.
Should he earn another shutout against the Lightning, he’d become the 14th goaltender in NHL history with three shutouts in a single playoff series. No goalie in Red Wings history has ever achieved that mark.
The 23-year-old would become just the third youngest to reach three – New Jersey’s Martin Brodeur (1995) and Toronto’s Felix Potvin (1994) were younger – and second rookie behind the Maple Leafs’ Frank McCool, who was 26 years old when he blanked the Wings in the first three games of the Stanley Cup finals in 1945.