- Joe McDonald, Reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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Experience could pay dividends: Lightning coach Jon Cooper believes last season’s short playoff run (a four-game sweep by the Montreal Canadiens in the first round) was due to upheaval during the regular season. The trade of leader Martin St. Louis to the New York Rangers, Tampa goaltender Ben Bishop missing the postseason due to injury, along with his first coaching stint in the Stanley Cup playoffs, led to what Cooper described as a team in turmoil.
“We grinded it out and it was a little bit of a Cinderella regular season, and by the time we got to the playoffs we were just, it was almost like we were just happy to get there,” Cooper said. “Not that we weren’t going into the games thinking, ‘OK, we’re going to win.’ We thought we could beat Montreal, we honestly did. But it didn’t happen.”
Tampa’s series was over in a blink of an eye. Cooper also believes that experience will help the Lightning against the Red Wings. On the other hand, this is Detroit’s 24th consecutive trip to the postseason, so the Wings have experience on their side.
“It’s the playoffs and that’s why it’s so fun to play and be a part of it, especially to not play the first day and sit in your hotel room and watch games and get pumped up for your game,” said Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in 2008. “It’s a special feeling and we look forward to it every year.”
Masked men: With scoring likely at a premium in this series, it will come down to goaltending. Bishop will get his first taste of playoff hockey at the NHL level. He missed last season's series with a wrist injury. Along with his 40 wins during the regular season, Bishop posted a 2.32 goals-against average and a .916 save percentage in 62 games. He’s entering the postseason on a roll, going 4-0-1 in his final five starts of the regular season. Against the Red Wings, Bishop has a 7-2-0 record, including one shutout, a 1.68 GAA and a .936 SP in 10 career games.
“It should be a lot of fun,” he said. “They have a good team over there and the first game should be a lot of fun.”
At the other end of the ice, the Red Wings are going with Petr Mrazek. He posted a 16-9-2 record during the regular season, with a 2.38 GAA and a .918 SP in 29 games. Like Bishop, this will be Mrazek’s first NHL playoff experience. He has a 1-2-0 record in three career games against the Lightning, with a 2.64 GAA and an .891 SP.
Health care: The Lightning will have a relatively healthy lineup for Game 1 with defensemen Braydon Coburn and Andrej Sustr, along with forward Alex Killorn, back from injuries. Defenseman Jason Garrison (upper body) will miss Game 1 but is getting closer to a return. For Detroit, forward Justin Abdelkader is out with a hand injury. He did participate in the team’s morning skate Thursday but will not be available to play.
TAMPA -- The Tampa Bay Lightning host the Detroit Red Wings in Game 1 of their first-round Stanley Cup playoff series Thursday night at Amalie Arena. Here’s what to watch for: Experience could pay dividends: Lightning coach Jon Cooper believes last season’s short playoff run (a four-game sweep by the Montreal Canadiens in the first round) was due to upheaval during the regular season.