Steven Stamkos (Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images)
The Tampa Bay Lightning sniper and captain has been uncharacteristically quiet in the series, but with Niklas Kronwall out for the Red Wings, Detroit better hope that its dangerous foe doesn't regain his touch in Game 7.
Is there anything less predictable than a Game 7 in hockey? Sometimes you get classics, sometimes you get blowouts, but it's very hard to figure out in advance what might transpire. I'm guessing there's at least a bit of trepidation in Detroit right now as fans of the Red Wings prepare to watch their boys take on Tampa Bay without the services of top defenseman Niklas Kronwall.
But there's another reason to be on guard if you're Detroit and it involves Lightning captain Steven Stamkos. Because the prodigious sniper has not scored yet in this series – and the Wings will be sunk if tonight's the night he gets off the Schneid.
A two-time winner of the Rocket Richard Trophy, Stamkos has gone through droughts before, but they never last very long and they don't come too often. It's been seven games now, dating back to the last match of the regular season against Boston. I'm not a math expert, but for a player that scored a goal every two games this season, I'd say he's due.
And that presents a big problem for the Wings, who have not been able to contain Tampa's kiddie line, led by Tyler Johnson, in the series. The whole reason Tampa Bay has been dangerous all year is because of that two-headed dragon of offense – both Stamkos and Johnson could kill you on different shifts.
On top of everything, Detroit must shut down both lines without the services of the suspended Kronwall, the Red Wings' best defenseman.
While Kronwall hasn't always been out there against Stamkos this series, he did play a decent amount of shifts against No. 91 in the past two games. When Detroit had last change at home in Game 6, Pavel Datsyuk was out there a lot against Stamkos, who played just 13:38 of ice time – well below his regular season average of 19:22 – on the evening.
In Game 5, Stamkos took draws against Datsyuk, but also a good helping against Henrik Zetterberg (as if he's any easier to face) and even bottom-sixers Luke Glendening and Riley Sheahan. Stamkos didn't score in that game either, so you could either say that Detroit dodged a bullet, or that the Red Wings had confidence in all their centers to contain the Lightning superstar – which they did, though Stamkos was a demon in the faceoff circle that night, winning at a 77 percent clip.
But it all comes down to Game 7 now. If Stamkos explodes, then the Red Wings are likely sunk. But Detroit can draw on a wealth of experience from players such as Datsyuk and Zetterberg, not to mention the goaltending of Petr Mrazek to balance out the equation.
You're playing with fire if you assume Stamkos will stay cold for much longer, but if his goalless streak hits eight games, it's the Bolts that may be in trouble.