Time: 1:00 PM EST
Place: Amalie Arena
TV: BSSUN, BSDET+
Radio: 97.1 FM The Ticket/1270 AM
Lightning Blog: Raw Charge
The Red Wings square off with the Tampa Bay Lightning today for the first half of another weekend featuring back to back afternoon games. This marks the fifth meeting between the clubs this season. As you can imagine, Tampa has largely handled Detroit in the season series, taking the first three games. But the Wings did manage to take the last contest, when they had an outburst of six goals.
The Wings come into the series with Tampa after finishing a trip to Sunrise to take on the Panthers. Detroit lost both of those games, albeit the second game in overtime. Detroit finds themselves in a battle for position with other lottery teams near the bottom of the standings. Buffalo looks to have a lock on the bottom spot. But Detroit, Ottawa, and Anaheim are neck and neck for the next three positions. With Seattle to be added to that mix come lottery time, the Wings could be picking anywhere from 1st to 7th at the moment.
Tampa meanwhile just snapped a rare three game losing streak by beating Columbus on Thursday. Tampa remains atop the Central Division but is in a dogfight with Florida and Carolina to keep that spot. So they won’t be taking these critical points for granted.
The Wings may welcome back either or both of Bobby Ryan and Sam Gagner, with Blashill noting both players would be game-time decisions today. Jonathan Bernier also looks close to returning but will likely remain out through the weekend. As for other roster updates, Tyler Bertuzzi travelled with the team but is still not practicing for whatever that’s worth. Lastly, we’ll find out at noon today if Svechnikov went unclaimed on waivers after after being placed there yesterday to many fan’s disappointment.
Tampa’s roster is largely intact with the only significant roster player on the injury list being Erik Cernak who is day to day. Of course, they remain without Nikita Kucherov who will be returning for the playoff run and the push to repeat as Cup Champions.
When the Wings play a powerhouse like the Bolts, they need every player to be at their best. Even then they likely need Tampa to falter in order to come away with a win. Last time it was the goaltending of McElhinney that gave Detroit their path to victory. The Wings may get a shot at him again on Sunday but Tampa’s Vezina calibre goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy is expected to start today. Detroit will need Thomas Greiss, assuming he gets the start, to do his best to go toe to toe with the Russian netminder. Greiss looked good on Thursday against Florida stopping 33 of 36.
Tampa ranks near the top of the league in most significant categories. That includes 2nd and 4th in GF and GA, respectively. That compares to Detroit’s 30th and 25th rank in the same categories. This is clearly a David and Goliath matchup, there’s no avoiding that. But in a year with such a tight schedule, we’ve seen that anything can happen.
The Larkin line with Fabbri and Zadina has looked poised to bust out in a big way, looking dangerous often. At some point, Zadina’s puck luck has to turn, and why not against the defending champions. Anthony Mantha has gradually looked better after a tough start to the season. He potted a nice goal, his 10th, against Florida last game showing good hands on a partial breakaway putting the puck in off of the bar.
For Detroit to have a chance in this one they’ll need to jumpstart their powerplay once again. After a near record goalless drought earlier in the season, the powerplay looked at least average for a little while. But it has cooled right back off as of late. Maybe a powerplay goal or two from the stick of the aforementioned Zadina could be the medicine this team needs.
For whatever reason Detroit has played Tampa well enough so far this season, with the exception of their first meeting at the beginning of February. They’ll need to find a way to keep it close again. In order to put one in the win column today though, they’ll need season best type performances from players like Zadina, Larkin, and certainly Greiss.