The Lightning became the final team to advance to the second round. Behind 31 saves from Ben Bishop, they shutout the Red Wings 2-0 to take Game 7 at home. Tampa Bay completed a comeback from 3-2 down to best Detroit in a entertaining seven-game first round series.
Astonishingly, captain Steven Stamkos didn’t score a goal. However, in a scoreless contest his top line had an impact. In the third period, a strong forecheck from line mates Alex Killorn and former Ranger Ryan Callahan led directly to ex-Flyer Braydon Coburn scoring the series clincher with 16:02 left in regulation. Following a Stamkos dump, Killorn recovered the puck and Callahan came out and made a great diagonal pass for a Coburn one-time blast that beat Red Wings netminder Petr Mrazek.
The unlikely combo of ex-Ranger and former Flyer helped the Lightning advance to set up a great second round match-up against the Canadiens. During the regular season, Tampa took the season series 5-0. However, none of that means much in the playoffs. It should be a tougher challenge against Montreal with the Habs having home ice. The winner of course will take on the winner between the Capitals and Rangers. Game 1 is Thursday night at MSG. Fasten your seat belts.
For two periods, the Red Wings out-chanced the Lightning by a wide margin. They also nearly doubled them in shots holding a lopsided 23-12 edge. However, they were unable to beat Bishop, who delivered his best game of the series. Despite some great chances created by Pavel Datsyuk, Darren Helm, Tomas Tatar, Gustav Nyquist and Henrik Zetterberg, the Wings never could solve him. Even in the third, they had some close calls. They were a bit snake bit.
For the Bolts, they were able to put it together just in the nick of time. Amazingly, they only totaled 16 shots with 15 coming on Mrazek. That included four in the final stanza. Even after failing on a power play with Mrazek shrugging aside a Stamkos chance in the slot on a Tyler Johnson set up, the Bolts were able to find the one goal they needed.
Following Coburn’s tally, the Wings almost came back right away. On a perfect set up, Zetterberg was flat out robbed by a sliding Bishop who got across to deny him. Another opportunity to beat Bishop came in the closing seconds of the second period. A brilliant Datsyuk rush and pass had Helm in but his shot pass for a wide open Tatar with 2.1 seconds left just missed. If it hits his stick, it’s in.
That’s the kind of night it was for the Winged Wheel who might’ve played their final game under brilliant coach Mike Babcock. The soon to be free agent could leave Hockey Town. That would be sad but such is the business side of sports. He’s been a fixture there since leaving Anaheim following ’03-04. Babcock has a career record of 527-285-19. That’s a .627 win percentage. Behind the Red Wing bench, he’s 458-223-105 (.649) including leading the Original Six franchise to the Stanley Cup in ’07-08. They lost to the Penguins in a rematch the following year in seven.
While Babcock’s situation gets sorted out, the Lightning are still playing hockey. They did it the hard way rallying back to beat the Red Wings. Behind six goals from Johnson including heroics in Game 4 and Game 6 in Detroit, they will face the Canadiens.
For Tampa, all three ex-Rangers played roles in their win. Callahan’s imprints were all over the third. He was one of their most effective forecheckers setting up Coburn’s winner while doing a strong job on a late shift with Stamkos and Killorn in the final two minutes.
Anton Stralman was a standout. If not for Stamkos getting into it with Riley Sheahan, Stralman would’ve scored one of the prettiest goals of these playoffs completely undressing a Detroit player with a fake shot and then skating in and going backhand past Mrazek. However, ref Kevin Pollock got the call right. Both Stamkos and Sheahan wrestled each other down prior to Stralman beating Mrazek with Pollock waving the goal off. Ironically, Stralman would seal it with 1:18 left when his bank clear off the boards bounced down and in from Bishop. Very deserving for the strong two-way defenseman who had a whale of a game.
Brian Boyle also was solid doing yeoman’s work on the penalty kill which shutout the Red Wings in three chances. He also was noticeable on the forecheck outhustling players faster than him while playing responsible defensively. That’s Boyle. The man who steps up in the postseason. He and Stralman improved to 10-0 in Game 7’s. Most of which came playing for the Rangers with Henrik Lundqvist manning patrol.
So, the final eight are set. Tomorrow, the fun begins with the Rangers hosting the Capitals for Game 1 at MSG with a 7 PM start. At 10 PM, the Ducks play host to those Flames. Friday, it’s the Canadiens hosting the Lightning at 7 PM followed by the Blackhawks home for the Wild at 9:30 PM.
There’s a lot to be excited about. The Elite 8 should be fun. Every series has potential to go deep. After failing on the Blues and Jets in Round 1, I finished 6 for 8. However, Winnipeg and St. Louis was my Western Conference Final with St. Louis making me sing the Blues by once again folding. I doubt Ken Hitchcock will stick around. They’re out early a third consecutive year.
With eight remaining teams left in the field, here are my Conference Semi picks:
Canadiens over Lightning in 7
I know I took Tampa but something tells me Montreal is going to find a way due to Carey Price.
Rangers over Capitals in 6
This one could prove tougher due to no Mats Zuccarello. Plus the Caps aren’t just Alex Ovechkin or Nicklas Backstrom anymore. They’ll try to wear down our D by finishing every check. It could go seven but I believe Lundqvist is the difference. Expect bigger series from Rick Nash and Chris Kreider.
Blackhawks over Wild in 7
I wouldn’t be shocked if the Wild pull the upset. Zach Parise is on fire and Devan Dubnyk gives them an edge compared to Corey Crawford or Scott Darling. But the Hawks are so battle tested. Hard to go against Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews at this time of year. Plus Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook.
Ducks over Flames in 6
I know I said I don’t like Anaheim. But they impressed me in Round 1 coming back in the third period in the first three games against Winnipeg. Corey Perry feasted and Ryan Getzlaf was stellar. Also, Ryan Kesler showed up. If Frederik Andersen holds up, it’s hard to go against them.
I love the Flames. They are the most fun to watch. Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Jiri Hudler form the top line. Dennis Wideman, Kris Russell and T.J. Brodie form a strong back end. Michael Ferland hits everyone. I just think the Ducks ability to forecheck will prove too much for Jonas Hiller who’s facing his ex-team.
If it comes to fruition, here is what my Conference Finals would look like:
Canadiens vs Rangers
Pits best two goalies.
Blackhawks vs Ducks