May 22 – Day 159 – Final round: Wings v. Bolts

With three unanswered goals in the second period, the Nashville Predators earned their first and only win over the Los Angeles Kings this season in yesterday’s Game of the Day.

Third Star of the Game James Neal waited until 27:37 had ticked off the clock before scoring his wrister (his 28th tally of the season), assisted by Second Star Ryan Johansen.  5:40 later, First Star Mike Fisher took advantage of a too many men penalty to double the Preds‘ lead, assisted by Neal and Johansen (his 38th helper of the season).  To close the period’s scoring, Filip Forsberg connected on a backhander to give Nashville their third and eventual game-winning goal, assisted by Craig Smith and Roman Josi (his 41st helper of the season).

The Kings must have gotten a stern talking to from Darryl Sutter during the intermission, as they scored only 32 seconds after resuming play on a Drew Doughty wrister (his 14th tally of the season), assisted by Rob Scuderi and Anze Kopitar.  7:28 later, they pulled within a goal with a tally from Alec Martinez, assisted by Tanner Pearson and Kopitar (his 43rd helper of the season).  Nashville got back to scoring at the 11:45 mark of the third period when Johansen connected on a tip-in, assisted by Shea Weber (his 29th helper of the season) and Calle Jarnkrok.  The Predators‘ final goal was courtesy of Josi on an empty net with only 29 seconds remaining in the game, setting the score at the 5-2 final.

Pekka Rinne earns the victory after saving 28 of the 30 shots he faced (93.3%), while Jonathan Quick takes the loss, saving 24 of 27 (88.9%).  He was replaced after the second intermission by Jhonas Enroth, who saved only one of the two shots he faced (50%).

After Nashville‘s win, the DtFR Game of the Day series now stands at 71-41-17, favoring the home squads by 31 points over the roadies.

If you like days with lots of games, this is the Tuesday for you.  10 games will be played tonight, starting with the first two at 7 p.m. eastern (Buffalo at Carolina [BELL TV] and Philadelphia at Columbus), followed half an hour later by three more (Anaheim at Montréal [RDS], Washington at Ottawa [RDS2] and Detroit at Tampa Bay [TVAS]).  8 p.m. eastern brings with it the beginning of the Vancouver at Winnipeg contest, which is trailed 30 minutes later by two more (Los Angeles at Minnesota [NBCSN] and Dallas at Chicago).  Edmonton visits Arizona at 10 p.m. eastern, and this evening’s nightcap, St. Louis at San Jose, drops the puck half an hour later.

Four of tonight’s games are divisional rivalries (Philadelphia at Columbus, Detroit at Tampa Bay, Dallas at Chicago and Edmonton at Arizona) and three are between teams currently qualifying for the playoffs (Detroit at Tampa Bay, Dallas at Chicago and St. Louis at San Jose).

In addition for the reasons listed above, the DetroitTampa Bay game is also a rematch of an Eastern Conference Quarterfinal from a season ago, so we’ll head down to Amalie Arena.

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Tonight’s game will be Detroit‘s 11th in our Game of the Day series, where they own a 6-3-1 record.  Their most recent showing in such a game was last Tuesday, when they fell in Philadelphia 4-3.  Tampa Bay has been featured 14 times before this game, and own a 9-3-2 record in the series.  We last focused on them March 8, when they fell 1-0 in overtime to the Bruins on home ice.

The 36-25-11 Detroit Red Wings currently sit in fourth place in the Atlantic Division and eighth in the Eastern Conference, good enough for the second wildcard spot.  To get to that position, they’ve played the 15th best defense, paired with the 10th worst offense.  A more in-depth analysis of the Wings‘ game can be found within last Tuesday’s article.

Detroit is currently riding a two game winning streak, with their most recent being Saturday’s 5-3 victory at Florida.  While a win tonight would pull the Red Wings into a tie with the Islanders for the first wildcard (a tie they lose on games played), it could, more importantly, expand the gap between themselves and the pressing Flyers to three points, but the Wings will need some help from Columbus this evening for that to happen.

The 41-26-5 Tampa Bay Lightning currently occupy second in the Atlantic Division and fifth in the Eastern Conference.  Defense has been the name of the game in Tampa, as they’ve given up the fourth fewest goals, and have scored the 13th most to boot.

Led by Victor Hedman’s 126 blocks, the Lightning have allowed only 2071 shots to reach 30-19-4 Ben Bishop and co., of which they’ve collectively saved 92.5% for only 171 goals against, the fourth fewest in the league.  The Bolts‘ penalty kill has been especially strong, neutralizing 84.09% of their infractions for only 35 power play goals against, the fifth best rate in the NHL.  Further improving on that tough defense, the Tampa Bay has also scored seven shorthanded goals, two more than the league average.

The offense has been only a step behind.  Even with Steven Stamkos’ team-leading 197 shots, the Lightning have fired the puck only 2091 times, but 9.2% have found the back of the net for 196 goals (led by Stamkos’ 33 tallies), 13th most in the league.  The biggest hole in Tampa‘s game is most certainly their power play, as their 16.32% success rate, good for only 39 extra man goals (led by Stamkos’ 13 power play tallies), ranks fifth worst in the NHL.

Tampa Bay‘s most recent game was Saturday, a 2-0 win in Arizona.  With a win tonight, the Bolts would reclaim the Atlantic Division lead (even if only by a games played tiebreaker), but a loss leaves the door open for the Bruins to take over second place should they beat the Rangers in tomorrow’s game.

Detroit leads the season series 2-1-0 going into the final game, but it was Tampa Bay who earned the 3-1 win last time these squads met, which took place February 3 on the very surface they’ll meet on this evening.  Of course, this season’s regular season series carries extra weight, as these squads met in the first round of last season’s playoffs.  It was a tightly contested series, as the Bolts needed the full seven games to finally knock off the Wings.

Some players to keep an eye on include Detroit‘s Petr Mrazek (.924 save percentage [tied for sixth best in the league] and 2.21 GAA [seventh best in the league]) & Tampa Bay‘s Bishop (2.02 GAA [leads the league], .928 save percentage [second best in the league], five shutouts [tied for second most in the league] and 30 wins [tied for seventh most in the league]) and Stamkos (33 goals [tied for seventh most in the league]).

Both of these teams are playing on even rest, with the minor exception that the Lightning traveled home over the weekend versus Detroit just making the drive across the Sunshine State. Frankly, Tampa Bay is the better team in this game, both offensively and defensively, and I expect them to play as such.

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