We thought that the Detroit Red Wings had too much experience, too much talent and too much previous success not to succeed in getting revenge against the San Jose Sharks. We figured that their year-in, year-out playoff berths, common Stanley Cup appearances and stacked lineup would all factor in to making Detroit a major Cup favorite yet again.
We thought that the Washington Capitals had overcome their past playoff woes by becoming a shutdown defensive team, with, finally, a strong, young goaltender and a lineup capable of keeping control of a game. We figured the inexperienced Lightning, which have been rare visitors to the postseason since the lockout, only got past the Pittsburgh Penguins because of Sidney Crosby's and Evgeni Malkin's injuries, and were sure to fall this series.
Yet, we were wrong.
So what can the suddenly defeated-looking Wings and Caps change to turn their series around and eventually advance to their respective conference finals?
Well, they can certainly focus on the positives. Ignoring the Bolts' empty net goal in Game 1 of that matchup, all four games in the two series have been decided by one goal, with one of the two games in each series going to overtime, as well.
Detroit can look at how they've only allowed four total goals to a Sharks team that was sixth in the NHL in scoring this season (2.96 goals per game) and averaged 3.0 goals per game during their first round series.
Washington can see that they've been facing a Lightning team that was, oddly, much tougher on the road than at home in their Penguins series, and also that they've put up four goals in two games themselves on a hot goaltender like Dwyane Roloson (still, we're not quite sure if two goals per game is really positive).
However, they'll need to change a lot, too. Here are some things to watch out for as the Wings and Capitals look to turn things around from Game 3 on.
In return for their new defensive outlook, Washington's power play also moved into the mediocre range this year, finishing the regular season ranked 16th with a 17.5-percent conversion rate.
They've been far worse than that even, in their first two games of this series; in total, zero for 11. The Lightning's strong penalty kill (eighth in the league this regular season) has been denying entry many a time with their 1-3-1 scheme, and, in many cases, Washington has failed to even set up anything close to resembling a scoring chance.
Detroit's man-advantage units remained among the best this year, ranking fifth in the NHL during the first 82 games of the season with a 22.3-percent mark. Nonetheless, they're one for eight in the two games in the Shark Tank.
As proven by the small deficits we've seen deciding games in both of these series, just that extra spark and, eventually, that extra goal by the power-play team can really make the difference. Expect both teams to target the PP as a major problem and hope to use it to their advantage over the rest of the series.
On the other end of the power-play scale is discipline; in addition to failing to convert on their opponents misdemeanors, the Wings and Caps are both headed to the penalty box a good deal already, too.
Detroit has committed 11 total penalties in their two games, while Washington has given up nine. With all of the opportunities flowing in one after another, the Sharks and Bolts have used the continuous advantages to score a power-play goal in every game in both of the two series. This isn't the penalty kill's fault, however; that's still a reasonable 80-percent kill average between both of the teams. It's just a discipline problem.
For something as simple as this, both coaches, Bruce Boudreau for Washington and Mike Babcock for Detroit, should be having fits over these costly mistakes made by players. For both teams to recover from their 2-0 margins, a lot less time in the "sin bin" and more time on the ice needs to happen for stars, as well as depth players, on both sides.
Detroit: Contributions from Everyone
While they only have two goals in total to work with, all of the points on those two tallies have been by top-grouping players (Pavel Datsyuk, Nicklas Lidstrom, Henrik Zetterberg and Tomas Holmstrom only).
The Wings, as we all know, have a ton of talent that stretches far deeper than just the top offensive and defensive lines. If you need a reminder, I think names like Brian Rafalski, Johan Franzen and Todd Bertuzzi will do the trick. More ice time and most definitely more offense from these lower, but still very capable, lines will help immensely.
Washington: Force Tampa to Rely on Top Line
While the Stamkos-St.Louis-Lecavalier line is about as dangerous as a top line can get, it seems as if Washington is paying too much attention to them. As a result, the Bolts are beating them from all across the lineup. Through Game 2, 13 different players have recorded at least a point for Tampa Bay, including players as inconspicuous as Randy Jones, Adam Hall and Matt Lundin.
Even if they still surrender a goal a game to the top grouping, increased defense and attention on the lower lines could cut down a lot on the Bolts ability to keep the attack coming from all sides in the offensive zone.
Detroit: Stiffer Defense to Prevent Shots
Despite going 0-2 in the series, Jimmy Howard has had save percentages of .957 and .946 percent in the two appearances. Obviously, the losses aren't Howard's fault.
A big problem is the fact that, as good as Howard is, he's going to give up some goals. Since he's faced 46 and 37 shots in the two games, respectively, you have to figure that a few will trickle through.
A key component in converting those great save percentages in wins and shutouts is to cut down on the Sharks constant peppering of shots on goal, which nagged Jonathan Quick and the Kings in Round 1, too. Yes, taking a lot of shots is just San Jose's style, but Detroit may need to really pick up the shot blocking and the tighter defense to help Howard pull out some victories for them.