At the start of the 2014-15 playoffs, fans and media alike compiled lists of who would be the most valuable players of each series. When it came to Detroit against Tampa Bay, the answers were fairly standardized. From the Lightning, the MVP would be Steven Stamkos or Ben Bishop, while from Detroit it would be one of Pavel Datsyuk, Nicklas Kronwall or Henrik Zetterberg.
Introducing A Two Man Show
Instead, we got Tyler Johnson or Petr Mrazek. Johnson led the Lightning with six goals, scoring almost all of Tampa’s important points. On the nights Johnson didn’t score, Mrazek took hold, shutting Tampa Bay out two times and holding Tampa Bay under two goals in four games. No players had more effect on a playoff series than these two. When one player is on, they lead their team to victory. If they falter, the other plays to near perfection.
This trend continued in the 2015-16 playoffs. After letting Nikita Kucherov take over the roll of hero in Game 1, Tyler Johnson came back to his old ways, scoring two goals in route to putting Game 2 away. Detroit responded by replacing Howard with Mrazek, and he went back to his old ways, shutting out the Lightning. While there are times that players can steal a series for their team, what is going on right now feels unique. Rarely will the success of one player so directly reflect in another’s statistics. But in this case, when Mrazek plays wells, it means Johnson is shut down, and vice versa.
Coincidence Or Expectation?
Now this is not saying that the success of these players is solely their own doing. Detroit played exceptional defense in Mrazek’s shutouts, and Tyler Johnson is sharing a line with the exceptionally talented Nikita Kucherov, Alex Killorn and Andrej Palat. But there is something to be said when statistics are so favorable for one match-up. Out of Mrazek’s nine career shutouts, four have come against Tampa with three of those in the playoffs. For Johnson, eight of his sixteen-playoff goals were against Detroit.
So with the series at a critical point in Game 4, it will be interesting to see if trends continue. For the Red Wings, they need Mrazek to continue his excellent play to come back and win this series. For the Lightning, they need everyone else, not just Johnson, to start scoring in order to win the series. Either way both Johnson and Mrazek will look to continue their dominate ways in the budding rivalry.