1. There's a new coach in town
The biggest change since last year's series starts at the top: coach Mike Babcock left Detroit to lead Toronto's rebuilding project. The Red Wings replaced perhaps the best coach in the game with Jeff Blashill (above), whose rise mirrors that of his good friend, Lightning coach Jon Cooper. Like Cooper, Blashill coached in the USHL and eventually jumped to the AHL, where he led Detroit's Grand Rapids affiliate to the 2013 Calder Cup.
2. Goalie remains a question mark
Petr Mrazek starred against the Lightning in last year's first round, stopping 172 of the 186 shots he faced and recording two shutouts in his first postseason series. But the 24-year-old (above) struggled late this season, allowing 28 goals in 10 games last month. Jimmy Howard, who lost the starting job to Mrazek before last year's playoffs, regained it for the final five games this season. Howard, 32, is expected to start against Tampa Bay.
3. Pavel Datsyuk is on his way out
The 37-year-old center told the Detroit Free Press that he plans to skip the final year of his contract to return home to Russia after this playoff run. The three-time All-Star has spent all 14 of his NHL seasons with Detroit and won the Stanley Cup in 2002 and 2008. His 604 career assists are seventh among active players, and he led the Red Wings with five points during last year's series. Detroit fans chanted "One more year" at him last week during the regular-season home finale.
4. Detroit's history remains rich
The Red Wings extended their playoff streak to a remarkable 25 seasons — the longest active run in the four major North American pro sports leagues and tied for the third longest in NHL history. The last time the Red Wings missed the playoffs, neither the Lightning nor current points leader Nikita Kucherov were born. That history extends to traditions. Detroit fans are still known for throwing octopi onto the ice in a decades-old ritual where the eight tentacles stood for the number of victories necessary to win the Cup. An octopus made its way onto the ice at Amalie Arena during last year's series.
5. Dylan Larkin is the future
The 19-year-old forward was one of the NHL's top rookies this season. He led Detroit with 23 goals and a plus-11 rating while adding 22 assists in 80 games. Larkin, a Michigan native, showed his speed in the All-Star skills challenge when he became the fastest skater in the history of the event. The last Detroit rookie to play in the NHL All-Star game? Legend Steve Yzerman, who is now the Lightning's general manager.
Contact Matt Baker at [email protected]. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.