DETROIT — Unable to score a goal for a sixth game in the series with Tampa Bay, one of the most proficient goal scorers in Red Wings playoff history, Henrik Zetterberg, is on the verge of being shut out for the first time in his career.
Averaging just two shots on goal per game coming into Game 6, Zetterberg has been uncharacteristically quiet thus far in the postseason. His shots on goal spiked Monday night, sending five pucks in the direction of Lightning goalie Ben Bishop as the Wings had a chance to eliminate their opponent up 3-2 in the best-of-7 series. Held scoreless again, a 5-2 loss at Joe Louis Arena would pull the series even heading back to Tampa Bay for a Game 7.
“It’s the playoffs,” coach Mike Babcock said. “In the series except for Game 2 and Game 6 tonight, there was no space, period. In those two games, I thought we gave them opportunity. They haven’t done that for us.”
While top lines have a tendency to cancel each other out in the playoffs, Zetterberg has not been one to be held down for long stretches. Ranked third all-time in Wings history with 56 career playoff goals, Zetterberg had scored at least one goal in each of his past 22 postseason series. Dating back to the 2002-03 season, Zetterberg’s streak of postseason success began as a rookie when he recorded his first playoff goal in his first playoff series against the Anaheim Ducks.
Much attention in the series has been put on the Wings’ ability to blank the offensive powerhouse in Steven Stamkos, keeping him without a goal in the series after scoring 43 goals in the regular season.
With Zetterberg struggling in a similar fashion, the Lightning has been successful in eliminating the Wings captain from offensive production as well.
“We’re not that type of team anyway, we don’t create separation like they do with speed,” Babock said. “So there’s not a lot of space for Z. He’s been very good, very determined, played hard, hasn’t scored. But good thing about him, he does lots of other things we don’t have to worry about that.”
While Tampa has been able to limit Zetterberg’s time in space, the inability to produce in the postseason is a bit of an anomaly for the Wings captain.
A Conn Smythe trophy winner as most valuable player of the playoffs, Zetterberg once prduced 13 goals in the Wings’ run to a Stanley Cup in 2008. Some time has passed since then but he has never been so limited as he has in this series with Tampa.
“Two good teams playing, it’s a good series,” Zetterberg said. “Not a big surprise for us in here that it goes to seven. Maybe it’s a surprise for people on the outside but we’re looking forward to going and playing Game 7. You don’t have that many opportunities to do that and we have that.”
The end of the regular season may have hinted at potential playoff struggles, as Zetterberg has had a tough go of things since being injured in a game against the Dallas Stars on February 21. In that game, Stars captain Jamie Benn punched Zetterberg in the head not once, but twice, in an altercation that sidelined the Wings captain for the next four games.
In the 25 games since returning to the lineup, Zetterberg has managed just two goals and has struggled to produce despite remaining the first-line center and working on the first power-play unit.
Wednesday will be the 34-year-old’s seventh career Game 7 and his teammates will look to Zetterberg for his experience. Seven Wings have never experienced the stresses of a Game 7 in the NHL, making the need for Zetterberg to contribute even more important. He has recorded three goals and nine points in six previous Game 7s and will need to be involved if the Wings are to win a third game on the road to advance to the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
“We’ve done it before,” Zetterberg said. “We just gotta go down and prepare ourself here tomorrow. A travel day and then we’ll be ready to go for Game 7.”