Cracking Petr Mrazek stands as Lightning’s mission for Game 2
BRANDON, Fla. — On the day after, there was no flashing siren. On the day after, there was no obvious concern. On the day after, there was no white flag unfurled from the ceiling above them.
Friday’s message from the Tampa Bay Lightning sounded a whole lot like Thursday’s takeaway after their Game 1 loss: That they would accept a similar effort in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinals series in a heartbeat, that they would welcome the prospect of playing at the same level against the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday.
All this with one major tweak: They must crack goaltender Petr Mrazek, who was a human Cryptex in Game 1.
"The one thing is, we did have 46 shots, but part of the problem was, we let Mrazek see a lot of them," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said Friday afternoon. "So we’ve got to do a better job of that and make it harder for him to find pucks."
It’s that simple.
What, did you expect him to say something else?
Why rewrite the recipe if almost all the ingredients were worthy of a win? The Lightning outshot the Red Wings 46-14. They all but pitched a circus tent near Detroit’s net. If not for the tightrope act by Mrazek, who faced 19 shots in the third period alone during his Stanley Cup Playoffs debut, Tampa Bay would have skated from Amalie Arena feeling good about starting the postseason in the proper way.
Instead, Mrazek helped Detroit pull off a late-night heist. Now, he’s a wanted man.
"Our compete level just has to be a little bit higher in front of the net there," Lightning center Tyler Johnson said. "But the good news for us is that the pucks are getting there. We’re getting a lot of chances there. The rebounds are laying there. We just have to get to them."
It would be a lot to ask of Mrazek to repeat his Game 1 show if the Red Wings can’t create more sustained pressure of their own. He has just 41 NHL appearances since Detroit drafted him in the fifth round in 2010. His skill is clear after winning his past two matchups against Tampa Bay, but it felt like Detroit played with fire Thursday. The Red Wings, without a more complete effort, could be burned when the puck is dropped again.
Plus, it’s not like Mrazek is Zeus on skates. The Lightning whipped him once this year, when they tagged him for five goals on 15 shots in a 5-1 rout on Jan. 29 at Amalie Arena. He’s vulnerable on any given day like all goaltenders.
Certainly, the Lightning have no room to become lax. A Game 2 loss wouldn’t roll the credits on their season, but the result would lead to more sweat as the series shifted to Detroit. Remember, they still haven’t lived a postseason victory under Cooper, despite all their gains the past two seasons under the young coach. Another loss at home would bring to life flashbacks of the sweep by the Montreal Canadiens in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals last year. Questions would grow louder.
"We’ve just got to go out and do it," Lightning center Brian Boyle said of solving Mrazek. "They’re going to try to keep us from doing it, and we’ve got to go out and do it."
Sounds simple enough. In reality, though, the task will be tough.
The Red Wings, after all, are trying to overcome their own bad postseason mojo. They have failed to advance beyond the conference quarterfinals in two of the past three years. They won Game 1 against the Boston Bruins in the opening round last season, only to drop the next four games by a combined score of 14-5.
The Lightning would love for recent history to repeat itself. Frankly, that seems possible if they maintain their Game 1 attack throughout the series. If that happens, eventually the sting will come.
"We’ve just got to have the same effort," Johnson said. "I feel like our team can even be better. So we’ve just got to keep going."
If they keep going, that should spell trouble for Detroit. Mrazek was strong Thursday, but the Red Wings can’t ask him to perform without much of a safety net again. The young goaltender did his duty in Game 1, but that’s a dangerous way to go about business.
So understandably, the Lightning’s concern is low for now. But one mission should drive them in Game 2: They can’t allow Mrazek’s magic to produce an encore.