Friday, May 1, 2015

Round One Review - Round Two Preview. Back with more baseless predictions!

It’s May. The sun is out, the rent is paid and the Tampa Bay Lightning are still playing hockey.  What a beautiful thing it is. Having survived the seven-game slogfest with the Red Wings, the Lightning advance to face the Montreal Carey Prices Canadiens. Price has had an unbelievable season. The only thing he hasn’t done yet for the team is learn how to score goals.

I’m a sucker for the easy narrative and this series is all about revenge. Last year the Canadiens unceremoniously swept the Lightning out of the first round by shutting down their scoring and taking advantage of the Anders Lindback-sized hole in the Tampa net.  Now, after battling for first place in the Atlantic Division all season long the two teams match up for the right to go to the Eastern Conference finals.

Before we get to that, let’s reflect back on the series the Lightning just finished. And by that, I mean let’s look at how my predictions turned out.

Lightning win in six games - I was close! It took the full seven, but the Bolts prevailed.

Top Goal Scorer - Stamkos - Umm, yeah, about that.  Not so good.

Top Point Getter - Tyler Johnson - Winner, Winner!

Number of OT Games - 2 -I was off on this as there was only one.  Although it looked like Game 7 was going to OT

Most Penalty Minutes - Mark Barbario - Sadly he did not get a chance to compete. Stamkos with 14 is the surprise winner.

Dumbest Penalty - Nikita Kucherov - Let’s not talk about penalties in this series

Odd Man Rushes for Detroit -6 - I watched about 10% of this series and saw at least 3 odd man attacks for the Red Wings so I’m going to say I was off on this one.

Goals off Odd Man Rushes - 2 - I saw at least one.  I think I saw a highlight of another so I’ll say I nailed this one.

I also mentioned that five on five play was going to be more important than special team play. Penalties normally called in the regular season tend to go unnoticed during the playoffs. Well, that wasn’t exactly how it turned out. Lightning fans complained that not enough calls were being made as the Red Wings, hooked, held, obstructed, and interfered with the intrepid purveyors of hockey’s Beautiful Game. However, on the occasion that the refs remembered they had whistles and that they could use them, the Lightning’s power play was largely impotent.   They scored twice, as a team, in other words 2 fewer than Tom Wilson scored all by his lonesome for the Predators.

So, that wasn’t great. Luckily for the Lightning they were only third worst in power play percentage. The team that was behind them?  The Montreal Canadiens.  So I don’t expect much to happen in the special teams area in round two (ed note - bet the over on power play goals).

It was one of the odder series I watched. Every time the Lightning lost I felt like there was no way they would pull the series out. Yet when Tampa won I thought they broke the will of the Red Wings and would waltz away with the series. There were times that the Lightning totally dominated the ice and then times when they couldn’t get the puck out of the zone even if they were allowed to pick it up and throw it out.

How did they pull out the series win?  By out-Detroiting Detroit. They changed their game enough to adapt to the Red Wings clogging of the passing lanes and aggressive checking. They stopped trying to make pretty goals and just threw the puck at the net.  If you notice (and every Red Wing fan noticed) on Brayden Coburn’s series winning goal, Alex Killorn is treating Kyle Quincy as a human bean bag chair.  Alex was a little tired chasing after the puck so he had himself a little rest on top of Quincy which prevented the former Lightning property from getting in front of the net to block Coburn’s butterfly slapshot.

Illegal, sure. Fortunate? Also sure.  We take what we get from the refs. If they’re going to ignore Kronwall bouncing Kucherov’s head off his shoulder why should I be embarrassed that they let a little interference go on the most important goal of the series? The Lightning adapted and they won.

Oh, and having Kronwall and Zidlicky miss Game 7 helped.

The Hopeful Chase Three Stars of the Series:

3. Ben Bishop - his stats overall, pretty ordinary. But a 36-save Game 7 shutout earns you a star.

2. Alex Killorn - Two goals and two assists were nice, but his energy level and physical presence were a big factor in the Lightning pulling out Games 6 and 7

1. Tyler Johnson - No doubt that this kid is Good At Hockey. With Stamkos struggling to find the net, the littlest man on the ice played the biggest games of his career. Johnson scored six of the team’s seventeen goals.

So what do the Lightning have to do to avenge their loss from last season and advance past the Canadiens?  Pretty much more of the same.  The ice should open up a bit more, but they can’t get sucked into trying to score tiki-taka type goals.  Get the puck on Price, crash the net and put home the rebounds.  Of course, try not to even come within six inches of the goalie, because he may Rule 69.3 ya!

Stamkos has to score.  The beauty of the Lightning attack is that everyone can threaten to put the puck in the net.  When Stamkos (and his linemates) disappear, now the balance is lost. He hasn’t scored a playoff goal since Game 1 of last season’s match-up. While he’s tried to chip in physically he needs to be a threat.

I’m not sure how he breaks out of his slump other than shooting the puck more. Maybe Coach Cooper bumps him to a line with a playmaker like Valterri Filppula? Ryan Callahan and Killorn are great line mates for crashing the net and grabbing rebounds, but they aren’t exactly noted playmakers.

Speaking of playmakers.  Are we going to see a renewed use of the #FreeDrouin hash tag? The rookie only appeared in one game and with the offense sputtering there was talk that he should be seeing some ice time instead of Brandon Morrow.  I don’t necessarily disagree with that, although in his one appearance, Drouin wasn’t exactly a factor on the ice (one shot, one penalty and a -2).

It will be interesting to see how the series works out with a pretty much healthy Lightning line up going against a rested Canadiens team. Will Bishop be the difference?  I think so, and the Lightning win in another seven-game thriller.

Prediction Time:

Does Stamkos score a goal?  - Yes, he breaks the slump with an empty-netter at the end of Game 2

Does Jo Drouin play? - Yes. He suits up for 2 games

Does PK Subban do something that pisses off the national media? - No. Other than score a couple of highlight reel goals.

Does either team break double digits on the power play? Nope. They both still suck.

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