When the matchup finally became official I decided to reach out to Editor of Lightning Shout, W.B. Philp. He has been covering the team for quite a while and has a wealth of knowledge on the team, which made for an easy choice went it came to this Q&A. He gave us the 411 we needed, in anticipation of this sure to be fun series.
Question: How concerned are Lightning faithful that Stamkos is out for an extended period of time?
Philp: Many Lightning fans threw in the towel when Steven Stamkos had surgery and was deemed out one to three months. Not so much because he was the captain and leading goal scorer, but because his absence was combined with the loss of top pair defenseman Anton Stralman, who broke his leg earlier. The team had dealt with Stamkos missing a large portion of the season in 2014 when he broke his leg, missing the last 45 games of the year. The Bolts fared well enough to make the playoffs and witness the return of Stamkos. But the loss of both Stamkos (Leading scorer) and Stralman (Power play QB) (45 goals, 98 points and over 41 minutes per game combined) have Bolts Nation very nervous and unsure about their team. Most are far more concerned that free agent to be, Steven Stamkos, may have played his last game in a Lightning sweater.
Philp: Very much so. Stralman’s absence has forced the Lightning to ask defensemen Matt Carle and Braydon Coburn to log additional minutes. Hedman has been paired with Andrej Sustr who has allowed teams to generate many uncharacteristic quality scoring chances, only to be denied by Vezina worthy goaltender Ben Bishop. It’s not just the absence of Stralman’s 22 minutes per game, but it’s the loss of the important minutes he logged that the Bolts direly miss. He plays the power play, the penalty kill and plays against the best lines every night. Stralman led the Bolts defensemen in goals when he got hurt and his calm demeanor on the ice is very much missed.
Philp: The Lightning will have an edge given that they’ll host the first two games and if necessary, the final two games. The home team won each of the four games these two teams played against each other this season. Although the Bolts offense will be slowed a bit by the absence of Steven Stamkos (seven goals and ten points in just 14 career games vs. Detroit), goalie Ben Bishop gives Tampa Bay the edge in the series. Big Ben boasts the best goals against average in the NHL (2.06), the second best save percentage (.926), 35 wins and a league runner-up six shutouts, while the Red Wings situation in the net has been a question mark with Jimmy Howard and Petr Mrazek both struggling at times. The Lightning aren’t at full strength and this is a big opportunity for the Wings if they can expose Tampa Bay’s lack of forward depth. Should Motown get a hot goalie in their net, the series could go their way.
Philp: The X-Factor for the Bolts is not one player, but three: Nikita Kucherov, Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat…”The Triplets.” If Cooper keeps this line together and they play like they did last season, the Red Wings are in trouble. The loss of Steven Stamkos will be lessened and the Bolts will go deep into the playoffs and may even hoist the Cup. Last seasons playoff run was special for “The Triplets”. They amassed 31 goals, 30 assists, 61 points, a +19 rating, 9 power play goals and 7 game winning goals. Look out for Johnson if he gets healthy and they get it going.