TAMPA, Fla. – It’s not ideal, but still not impossible.
If the Red Wings are to move on in the Stanley Cup playoffs, they’ll need to win a third road game against the Tampa Bay Lightning in their Eastern Conference first-round series.
The fact that it is Game 7 does not change the demeanor of the players or how the coaches will game-plan for Wednesday’s game at Amalie Arena.
“It’s do or die,” Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg said.
It’s that simple. The Wings haven’t advanced beyond the second round since they reached the Stanley Cup finals in 2009. Twice they didn’t make it out of the first round, falling to Nashville in 2012 and Boston last spring.
Traditionally, Game 7s are uphill climbs for road teams with the home squad winning more than 58 percent of the time in the history of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Overall, the Wings are 14-10 in Game 7s; and 3-5 on the road.
Detroit won Game 7 at Anaheim (2013), Phoenix (2010) and Chicago (1964). The Game 7 losses were at Chicago (2013), San Jose (2011), St. Louis (1991) and Toronto (1964, 1942).
The prior experience of playing in the 2013 series against the Ducks can definitely give some of the younger players a lift, guys like Justin Abdelkader, Gustav Nyquist, Joakim Andersson, Brendan Smith and Kyle Quincey all contributed in the ’13 series, and are still in their prime.
Meanwhile, much younger players like Danny DeKeyser, Luke Glendening, Petr Mrazek, Riley Sheahan, Tomas Tatar, Tomas Jurco, Landon Ferraro and others cut their playoff teeth with AHL Grand Rapids when they went to the brink in series against Houston and Oklahoma City during their Calder Cup stretch run.
“I think it can help for sure, just having the experience of playing in a Game 7,” Abdelkader said. “Obviously, you got to keep your emotions in check. It’s win or go home. It’s a lot of fun. Game 7s, there’s nothing like it in sports. We look forward to it. Fortunately, last game not the way we want to play for 60 minutes but if you’d have asked us before the series if we would take playing in Game 7 against Tampa, winner goes on, I think we’d take it. We got to fix a few things but it’s been a good series. It’s been tight. Both teams have played good at times. It should be a lot of fun.”
The Lightning were 32-8-1 at home during the regular season. What the Wings have going for them is that they are the only team that has beaten them twice at home (both in this series) and they’ve also had the largest margin of victory (four goals) at Amalie Arena.
Badly outplayed in Game 1, the Wings, who were out-shot 46-14, managed to steal home-ice advantage with a 3-2 win. After giving home ice back to the Lightning in Detroit, the Wings absolutely dominated the Lightning in Game 5. It was Detroit’s best-played game of the series.
If the Wings are to advance to the next round, they’ll need to play more like they did in Game 5 and less than Game 1 on Wednesday.
“The first game, you know, they were a lot better than us, and we kind of stole that one,” Zetterberg said. “But Game 5 we played a really solid game and that’s what we have to do tomorrow and come out and have a good start and go from there.”
Four times in their playoff history, the Wings have won three road games in a series. The last was in the 2010 Western Conference quarterfinals at Phoenix. Detroit also produced a trio of road victories at Vancouver and St. Louis en route to Stanley Cup championship runs in 2002 and 1998, respectively. The Wings defeated Toronto three times at Maple Leaf Gardens in the 1988 playoffs.
The Wings have to do a better job of creating havoc in front of Ben Bishop. The 6-foot-7 goaltender hasn’t really been overly tested in the series. The Wings have to make it hard on him in Game 7 by being relentless on the puck in the offensive zone, crashing the net, and firing shots from everywhere, regardless if it’s from bad angles or not.
“We need to shoot a little bit more,” Zetterberg said. “They’re playing really tight in front of him. They’re blocking a lot of shots, but a lot of pucks go through and there are a lot of pucks lying around the crease and we have to make sure we’re there before them.”
On the other end of the ice, the Red Wings are comfortable knowing that Mrazek is quickly gaining the reputation as someone who keeps an even keel win or lose.
“He has that mentality, nothing really fazes him, and he goes in and plays really good,” Zetterberg said. “He always gives us a chance to win, and we expect him to do that tomorrow.”