2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Red Wings vs Lightning Series Preview

The playoffs are upon us, so here's a look at the series ahead of us, and the keys to success against the Lightning.

After a snakebitten month in March, the Red Wings have managed to finish third in the Atlantic Division, a spot they have spent most of the season in. As most of us could have anticipated all year-long, Detroit has drawn the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round of the NHL Playoffs.

Visual by @omgitsdomi. Follow him, and read his stuff. He rules.

Lightning GM, and Red Wings alumni Steve Yzerman has managed to do some extraordinary things with his club down in Florida. They are the highest-scoring team in the NHL, and it's been that way pretty much all season-long. The Lightning ended their season with 2.77 GF/60 (On-ice goals for, per 60 minutes) at even strength, while Detroit finished with a paltry 2.07 GF/60. Tampa has a tendency to put teams away simply with the ability to score seemingly whenever they want. The reason they have this ability is because they roll out a very deep team. Long story short, every line they deploy has the ability to score, so this matchup is not a "shut down Steven Stamkos, and you've got them" sort of situation. Tampa has players like Tyler Johnson to add to their scoring arsenal.

Special Teams are a key matchup

Despite having one of the best goal-scorers in the league, Tampa struggles on the power play. At the end of 82 games, they were ranked 14th in terms of PP% (18.8), while Detroit stood among the best with a 25.3% power play efficiency. The Wings PK had a hot-start to the season, but cooled off considerably and was a huge contributing factor to their issues in March. So, if you look at both teams in teams in terms of PP/PK efficiency, they're about even. Detroit has a lethal PP, but a lackluster PK, and Tampa has an underachieving PP, with a top-ten PK.

Let's talk goalies, baby.

Seems like we just cannot get enough of goalie banter here in Detroit. As of now, we don't know if it's going to be Jimmy Howard or Petr Mrazek starting in game one, but I have a gut-feeling that it's going to be in favor of Mrazek after coming off a shutout against Carolina in the last game of the season. This is, as expected, Detroit's kryptonite. Simply put, we're not going to have odds in our favor if either net-minder cannot find consistency. I'm not saying that they have to be completely lights out, but whether it's Jimmy or Petr, they need to show up and play with confidence. Tampa's starter is going to be Ben Bishop, no surprise there. He's had an incredible stat line against Detroit, but I'm not too worried about that. You see, Bishop is built like a semi-truck. The dude is huge, at 6'7" tall. The key with a goalie of this size is to get him out of position. Detroit's ability to cycle the puck is going to have to be on-point. Get Bishop moving side to side, and you will find ways through him pretty easily.

Jimmy Howard GP W L OTL GAA SV% SO
Career vs. TB 7 3 2 2 2.11 .930 1
Petr Mrazek GP W L OTL GAA SV% SO
Career vs. TB 3 1 2 0 2.64 .891 1
Ben Bishop GP W L OTL GAA SV% SO
Career vs. Det 10 7 2 0 1.68 .936 1

Player Deployment and Usage

We know the song and dance all too well with Mike Babcock's player deployment tactics. He has a tendency to match his bottom-six against top-six to create a better matchup for his scoring lines. Sometimes it works, other times it fails in an obvious fashion. I fully expect Babcock to stay the course with those strategies, but have no reluctancy to "fire up the blender" and make changes as the series progresses. Do I agree with it? No. Why? Because Pavel Datsyuk schools Steven Stamkos, and has for quite some time.

Visual by @omgitsdomi. Follow him, and read his stuff. He rules.

We've already heard rumblings for the Diggers (Detroit beat-writers) that AHL call-up defenseman Alexey Marchenko will be in the lineup for game one. Part of this has to do with Babcock wanting to right-hand shots on his blue-line, and the other part is Brendan Smith just being downright mediocre as of late. Since Marek Zidlicky is already a right-shot, and pretty much a lock for the third pair, I suspect some changes to the way Babcock's defense is going to look. It wouldn't make much sense to have to right-handers on the same pair, at least if you think in simple Babcock-isms. If it were up to me, Jonathan Ericsson would likely be taken from the top-pair, where he has been dreadful all-season-long, dropped to the third-pair, and Danny DeKeyser or Alexey Marchenko would be paired with Niklas Kronwall. Remember, this is just my opinion. Who knows what actually happens, but I think the fan consensus is that Ericsson should probably not see primary usage going forward.

It's going to be an interesting first round. Most analysts and writers are picking Tampa Bay to come out on top in this series, and that's to be expected. I think Detroit has a real shot, though. Special teams and goaltending are going to be the biggest keys to success or failure for the Wings in the postseason, so it's critical that Detroit can get whoever starts in net, and the PP/PK squads to hit the ground running.

As always, I want to hear your keys to the Red Wings success in the first round.. Especially if they're different than mine. Let's hear it, gang!

Game Broadcast Schedule

Game 1: Thursday, at Tampa Bay, 7:30 p.m. (CNBC)

Game 2: Saturday, at Tampa Bay, 3 p.m. (NBC)

Game 3: Tuesday, at Detroit, 7 p.m. (NBCSN)

Game 4: Thursday April 23, at Detroit, 7 p.m. (NBCSN)

Game 5: Saturday April 25, at Tampa Bay, time and TV TBD

Game 6: Monday April 27, at Detroit, time and TV TBD

Game 7: Wednesday April 29, at Tampa Bay, time and TV TBD