Welcome sight: Lightning should hope for an early playoff matchup vs. Detroit

Steven Stamkos (center) and goalie Ben Bishop congratulate each other after they beat the Detroit Red Wings on Friday night.

Kim Klement/Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

TAMPA, Fla. — The sneak peeks suggest a blockbuster result. The teases tempt blue-and-white wonder.

Tampa Bay Lightning in four games? How about five? OK, if we’re feeling generous, we’ll stretch it to six.

If everything about the Eastern Conference playoff picture holds its current form, if the Lightning meet the Detroit Red Wings in the first round next month, who with a thread of Tampa Bay gear in their closet wouldn’t pop some bubbly? Who wouldn’t welcome a matchup against the guys from the Motor City, a group that has served as the smashed Ford Pinto to the Lightning’s sledgehammer through three games this season, the latest example of this abusive relationship a 3-1 crushing Friday night at Amalie Arena?

"Obviously, we know that we might face them in the playoffs, and it’s kind of big to play against them now," Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop said. "We’ve got them one more time (next Saturday in Detroit), and then if we face them in the playoffs, we’ll kind of worry about it then."

Why worry?

Usually, it’s unwise to be so flippant about a possible postseason opponent, but an exception can be made here. Tampa Bay has Detroit’s number this season … period, end of story, fade to dark. Players can talk up about how games in the season series have been somewhat close — the Lightning won the first meeting in a shootout and the other two by a combined score of 8-2 — but it’s fine to cut through the flowery talk and tell it like it is.

Here’s cold, hard truth: Detroit would be the best possible matchup for Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.

If this happens, Lightning fans should dance down Channelside Drive with Steven Stamkos’ goal song, "Hammer Time," blasting on loop, dreams of waltzing into the Eastern Conference semifinals bouncing in everyone’s head. If this happens, Lightning fans should sing, "Hallelujah!" and thank hockey’s higher powers for allowing them to avoid the Boston Bruins or Washington Capitals or someone else.

The meeting Friday was supposed to be Detroit’s last scheduled appearance in Tampa this season. Can someone book them dinner reservations at Bern’s for mid-April, stat?

"Going into playoffs, it’s back to square one, really, and everything is wiped blank," Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman said. "But definitely, winning keeps you confident. The more we win, the more confidence we’re going to get."

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The Lightning exuded more confidence Friday in taking advantage of the Red Wings’ tired legs, after Detroit lost to the Florida Panthers by the same score on Thursday in Sunrise, Florida. Stralman, Alex Killorn and Steven Stamkos all found the net, and Bishop was masterful in securing 30 saves.

Frankly, it was hard to see how Detroit could have played much better given its circumstances in a breakneck tour through the Sunshine State. And still, its best fell short against Tampa Bay, which improved to 28-7-1 at home this season.

Think about it. If you’re the Lightning, wouldn’t the thought of facing the Bruins to open the playoffs give you the shakes, given the recent bruises that Boston has delivered against you?

If you’re the Lightning, wouldn’t you rather face a foe you know you can solve without much sweat, the matchup against the Red Wings is more favorable in about every way?

Oh sure, recent history provides some pause, because Tampa Bay went 3-0-1 against the Montreal Canadiens last season, only to see Carey Price and company sweep the Lightning in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.

But there’s one major difference between that situation and the prospect of facing Detroit in a playoff dance next month: The Red Wings have become Bishop’s personal voodoo doll. Big Ben entered Friday towering over Detroit with a 6-1 career record and a 1.59 goals-against average and a .939 save percentage.

If Bishop stays healthy, it’s hard to see Detroit cracking him.

If the most important piece of the Lightning’s postseason vision remains part of the picture, the Red Wings are likely toast.

"I think it’s confidence on one side to sit here and say, ‘We know we’ve got it within us to beat these teams," Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said.

In that moment, Cooper was standing deep in a small room at Amalie Arena, speaking generally about faring well of late against playoff-caliber teams. He could have referred to Detroit by itself, though, and his statement would have held true.

In a time when matchups mean everything, in a stretch where landmines are found everywhere within a grueling bracket, the Red Wings would be a welcome playoff dance partner.

Why worry?

The question is wasted space. For Tampa Bay, there would be no concern necessary.  

You can follow Andrew Astleford on Twitter @aastleford or email him at aastleford@gmail.com.