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Red Wings' smothering style frustrates Lightning

TAMPA, FL - APRIL 25: Joakim Andersson #18 of the Detroit Red Wings against and Jason Garrison #5 of the Tampa Bay Lightning battle for control of the puck along the boards during the first period in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Amalie Arena on April 25, 2015 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images) 548281241
TAMPA, FL - APRIL 25: Joakim Andersson #18 of the Detroit Red Wings against and Jason Garrison #5 of the Tampa Bay Lightning battle for control of the puck along the boards during the first period in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Amalie Arena on April 25, 2015 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images) 548281241
Published Apr. 27, 2015

DETROIT — Throughout this playoff series, the Red Wings have frustrated the Lightning by clogging up the neutral zone, getting away with their share of clutching and grabbing without an interference penalty called.

And that tactic has not been a surprise.

"There are 30 teams in the league and nobody does (interference) more than the Detroit Red Wings, hands down," coach Jon Cooper said. "The old saying is, 'If you ain't cheating, you ain't trying.' They do it to a 'T'.

"My message to our guys is you've got to suck it up, got to fight through it. And if they're bringing it, you've got to bring a gun to a knife fight. That's how it has to go. So to get on them, we have to be better."

Red Wings LW Drew Miller said Detroit's goal has been to neutralize the Lightning's speed, not give its skilled forwards time and space. Tampa Bay, facing elimination in the first-round series in tonight's Game 6 at Joe Louis Arena, has played into Detroit's hands with turnovers.

But Lightning D Victor Hedman said it's important for the Lightning to get pucks in deep, a staple of its success. How does it do it?

"It's character. It's will," C Tyler Johnson said. "It's also trying to adapt. Just because someone's taking something, that means they're giving something else up. You just have to find it.

"It's a matter of us trying to figure that out. We've done that over time. That's what's awesome about the NHL playoffs. It's an ever-changing chess match out there."

NOT ALONE: Much has been made of the scoring slump of star C Steven Stamkos, who has no goals in this series. But Cooper pointed out that several of the Lightning's 20-goal scorers are without one in the postseason. RW Nikita Kucherov, who had 29 in the regular season, and RW Ryan Callahan, who had 24, have zero in this series.

"We're all slumping," Cooper said.

Cooper said Stamkos is showing signs of coming out of it.

" 'Stammer' is on the right side of pucks. He's finishing his checks. He's backchecking. He's winning faceoffs. He's competing hard," Cooper said. "When you start adding all these things up, usually the puck goes in the net for him."

LINING UP: With the Lightning struggling to score often in this series, one would think it would help to have rookie LW Jonathan Drouin in the lineup. But Drouin, the No. 3 overall draft pick in 2013, was a healthy scratch in four of the five games, and he might be again tonight.

"We're putting the 20 guys on the ice who we think are going to win that night," Cooper said. "Is experience a factor? There's no question. You can look back and say, if we end up losing this series, I'll end up looking back and questioning probably a lot of things. Whether (not playing Drouin) will be one of them, I don't know."

FIRST COUNTS: The first goal tonight will be pivotal, if the game follows with the series' trend. The team that scored first won four of the first five games. The only exception was what Cooper called a "herculean" Lightning comeback in Game 4, in which it scored twice in the final six minutes of regulation to force overtime, then won.

During the regular season, the Lightning was 33-0-2 when leading after two periods but 3-21-2 when trailing entering the third. With a series as tight as this one, chasing becomes even more challenging.

"So getting the lead is definitely a plus," Cooper said.