Ben Bishop gives Tampa Bay a clear advantage here, making a case for the Vezina Trophy with a 2.06 goals-against average. It was his shutout of the Red Wings in Game 7 last year that propelled the Lightning into the second round of the playoffs. Detroit has used 22-year-old Petr Mrazek (27-16-6) more this year — he played all seven games against Tampa Bay in last year's playoffs — but could turn to 30-year-old Jimmy Howard, who has been sharper of late despite having a 2.80 GAA on the season. EDGE: Lightning.
A close call with the Lightning's goals leader, Steven Stamkos, out after surgery to address a blood clot near his collarbone. But Detroit ranked 23rd in the NHL in scoring, with rookie center Dylan Larkin leading the team with 23 goals. Left wings Tomas Tatar (21 goals) and Henrik Zetterberg (37 assists) are strong, but if the Lightning has everyone else healthy — Nikita Kucherov and his 30 goals, Ryan Callahan and especially Tyler Johnson — we'll call it even. Without Johnson, this goes to Detroit. EDGE: Push.
Statistically, the Lightning is much better, ranking fifth in the NHL in goals allowed, while Detroit is 17th. Some of that edge is gone with Anton Stralman's leg injury, but Victor Hedman — a team-best plus-21 this season — is a key for Tampa Bay. Detroit doesn't have a defenseman who is better than plus-2 in 2015-16. EDGE: Lightning.
Tampa Bay's power play is a major problem, converting on just 15.8 percent of opportunities, the third-worst rate in the NHL. Detroit ranks 13th by comparison, a good challenge for Tampa Bay's penalty-kill unit, which ranks seventh in the league, stopping 84 percent of opponents' power plays, compared to 14th for the Detroit PK unit. EDGE: Red Wings.
Tampa Bay's Jon Cooper and Detroit's Jeff Blashill go way back, with a shared history in the USHL and as recently as 2013 in the AHL when Cooper coached Syracuse and Blashill had Grand Rapids. Blashill is still a rookie NHL head coach, while Cooper now has three full seasons and the experience of last year's extended playoff run. EDGE: Lightning.
Tampa Bay won last year and has home-ice advantage, still important as the home team won all four regular-season meetings. But with the injuries to Stamkos and Stralman, there's uncertainty for the Lightning, and the Red Wings have the motivation of facing the team that eliminated them a year ago. This is a close one. EDGE: Red Wings.
Greg Auman, Times staff writer