Petr Mrazek’s demeanor doesn’t change whether the Detroit Red Wings have won or lost, which is part of the reason they’ve done more of the former than the latter.
They head into Monday’s Game 6 against the Tampa Bay Lightning within a victory of advancing out of the first round, buoyed by health and happiness. As Mrazek put it after his second career Stanley Cup playoffs shutout in five tries, “you just want to enjoy every game you have. You don’t want to go home sad.”
Closing out a series is tough, and so far, neither side has won two games in a row. But the Wings have played very well for three straight games, save letting up for a six-minute stretch late in Game 4. They’ve won two of three games held at Amalie Arena, but if they build on how they played Saturday, it seems unlikely they’d have to be back there.
The Wings just have to keep playing the way they’re capable. They largely contained the Lightning’s speed through the neutral zone in Game 5, rendering the regular season’s top offensive team ineffective. The Lightning have impressive depth up front, but it’s the Wings who have used theirs to greater advantage.
Where Tampa Bay’s Tyler Johnson has four of his team’s 10 goals and sniper Steven Stamkos has none after a 43-goal regular season, the Wings’ scoring has been spread from greats to grinders and everyone in between. Superstar Pavel Datsyuk has three goals, Riley Sheahan and Luke Glendening each have two, and five other forwards also have scored.
Everything started going much better when Justin Abdelkader returned from injury in Game 3, just the latest example of how health is vital this time of year.
“At the start we weren’t very deep just because of the way our lineup was, but you put one guy in and you move people around,” coach Mike Babcock said when asked about his team’s balanced scoring. Sheahan stopped struggling and started scoring as soon as he was moved from the second line to the third line. Gustav Nyquist became visible after gaining Abdelkader as a linemate. Of the 18 skaters who have played at least three games, 15 have at least one point.
“That’s how it is in the playoffs,” Babcock said. “You score by committee. You use your team, not just the individual, you try to find a way to get yourself touches and get yourself looks.
“We’re pretty comfortable with our lineup and the way we play. We just have to continue to execute. We know each game gets harder and harder. We’ve got to get our mind right and get ready for the next game. You’ve got to find a way to do it when you get the opportunity.”
The Wings showed Saturday that they learned from their previous game, when a 2-0 lead ended up as an overtime loss. When they had a 2-0 lead in Game 5, they kept skating and shooting. That’s the right mindset going into Monday.
“We just have to have the same approach, and we’ll have our home crowd,” Drew Miller said. “We have veteran leadership. If we just play the way we’re capable of, the way we know we can, we’ll be fine.”
Teams facing elimination often play with a desperation that’s hard to match, but this is where Mrazek’s personality should help. He doesn’t celebrate victories any longer than he laments losses. Minutes after Saturday’s 4-0 victory, he made sure to note “this game is over, now just think about next game.”
The Wings have earned the upper hand in this series on the strength of playing as a team. They said after Game 2’s lopsided 5-1 loss that there were positives to build on, and they did. They kept that mindset after the disappointment of Game 4. Keep that thinking going, and the Wings should enjoy Game 6.