One more game in the first round of the NHL playoffs. One last chance to catch a memorable duel between Tampa Bay forward Tyler Johnson and Detroit goaltender Petr Mrazek.
Johnson and the Lightning host Mrazek and the Red Wings in Game 7 of their seesaw series tonight (7:30 p.m. EDT, NBCSN). The winner then travels to Montreal for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals on Friday night.
”This is Game 7. We worked extremely hard to get ourselves in this position,” Tampa Bay star Steven Stamkos said Tuesday. ”No one remembers what happened in Game 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6. We have to be a lot better than we have been. They’ve come in here and beat us twice. We have that mentality we were the best team at home in the league for a reason, and we have to show that.”
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Detroit had a chance to eliminate Tampa Bay at home on Monday night, but Johnson collected two more goals to lead the Lightning to a 5-2 victory. Jason Garrison, Alex Killorn and Cedric Paquette also scored as the league’s highest-scoring team in the regular season got untracked after being held in check by Mrazek and the Red Wings for much of the first round.
But Detroit won at Tampa Bay in Games 1 and 5, and the teams have alternated wins in the series. Each team has scored 15 goals, as well.
”I’m not surprised in hindsight that we’re here,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. ”I thought we were going to be good in this series. I thought it was going to be competitive contrary to what the experts thought. I thought we were going to be a real tough out and we are, and I also think we’re going to win tomorrow. That’s just the way I think.”
The Red Wings will be without Niklas Kronwall after the veteran defenseman was suspended for the game by the NHL for charging Tampa Bay forward Nikita Kucherov late in the second period in Game 6. Kronwall knocked off Kucherov’s helmet with the huge hit.
No penalty was called and Kucherov took seven shifts in the third, finishing with three assists.
”I thought it was a good hit,” Babcock said. ”Kucherov was leaning back trying to get out of the way. Kroner’s foot was on the ice when he made contact.”
The last time Detroit played in a Game 7, it lost 2-1 to Chicago when Kronwall had a shot by Brent Seabrook go off his leg and into the net in overtime in the 2013 Western Conference semifinals. It will be the first Game 7 for Tampa Bay since it lost to Boston in the 2011 Eastern Conference finals.
Jimmy Howard was in goal for the Red Wings for that difficult loss to the Blackhawks, but Babcock has gone with the 23-year-old Mrazek against the Lightning. The Czech goaltender has two shutouts and a 2.30 goals-against average in his first postseason series.
Mrazek had 23 saves in Game 6, including a spectacular stick stop on Brian Boyle in the second period.
Six of the 15 goals allowed by Detroit have gone to Johnson, who is tied with Vladimir Tarasenko of St. Louis for the playoff lead. Stamkos, who was second in the league with 43 goals during the regular season, has yet to score in this postseason.
Babcock said Johnson has been ”the driving force” for the Lightning in the series.
”He’s a competitive guy,” Babcock said. ”He’s got good speed. He’s competitive defensively. He plays 200 feet.”
AP freelance writer Mark Didtler contributed to this report.
Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap