Ten questions for this year's Lightning prospect season...
The kids remain alright.
Ben Bishop stopped 26 of 28 shots for the victory.
Tampa Bay had goals from Tyler Johnson (power play), Richard Panik (shorthanded), and got the game winner from Nikita Kucherov (power play). Assists were contributed by Kucherov, Ondrej Palat, and Martin St. Louis in the victory.
Not to point out the obvious, but it would seem foolish not to keep the Palat/Johnson/Panik line up at this point.
The Lightning's final preseason game is Saturday.
Game recap from Tampabaylightning.com.
The most impressive win of the preseason.
7:31 TB Sergeev, (Filppula )(PP)
15:25 STL Steen, (Backes)
14:10 TB Connolly, (Filppula, Killorn)
15:12 STL Shattock, (unassisted)
15:59 TB Palat, (Johnson, Panik)
05:39 TB Labrie, (Filppula , Brewer)
07:28 STL Oshie, (Bouwmeester)
You don't want to overblow the importance of this game. It was, after all, a preseason game. But, in fairness, St. Louis pretty much iced their NHL side and the Lightning iced their third and fourth lines and a whole lot of prospect defensemen. To pull off the victory is an impressive case of a team fighting above its weight class, and at 3-0-0 so far in the preseason we're seeing, perhaps, that a different culture is rising up.
If you follow the ice time tonight, it was Mark Barberio's big showcase, garnering 22:22 in the match to lead all Lightning defensemen. Barberio was even on the night against, pretty much, the top weapons of a pretty good playoff team, so that's not a bad showing on paper for the young d-man. It's probably the minimum he needed to make sure he kept the upper hand in the fight for one of the last 2 defenseman spots on the roster. Artem Sergeev, surprisingly, also topped the 20 minute mark at 20:24, besting both of his Eastern European Soul Machine bandmates, Dmitry Korobov and the soulful Andrej Sustr.
Up front, the Lightning again got production and solid play from Brett Connolly, Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson, and Richard Panik. These four, honestly, may be giving the Lightning the luxury of being able to take their time with young Jonathan Drouin. And, certainly, the Lightning have to be pleased with their $5M per investment, Filppula, getting helpers in triplicate against what really amounts to the Blues' opening night d-corps and goaltender.
Box score from Tampabaylightning.com.
Players reported for camp today and most spent it taking care of various chores: a gauntlet of paperwork, photos and media inquiries. The only players scheduled to hit the ice for a (private) practice were those from the recently completed rookie camp squad.
Amid all of the bustle, Bolt Prospects was able to catch up with some of the staff and players. Here are some takeaways and select quotes:
All good things...
Grand Rapids Wins the Series 4-2
Grand Rapids Wins the Calder Cup
Cedrick Desjardins allowed 3 goals on 23 shots in a game that encapsulated the Finals for Desjardins. Brilliant at times, he allowed a goal through him on the eventual game winner by Evans that he surely wishes he had back. It will be interesting to see how Julien BriseBois retools between the pipes for next season, because you can make the argument the difference between Desjardins and Mrazek was, in large part, the difference between champion and runner-up.
SYR Panik, (9) (Taormina, Palat), 17:15
GR Callahan, (6) (Ferraro, Grant), 2:23
GR Tatar, (15) (Nyquist, Ferraro), 12:41 (PP)
SYR Sustr, (2) (Namestnikov, Devos), 5:14
GR Evans, (2) (Callahan, Sheahan), 9:54
GR Tatar, (16) (Andersson, Nyquist), 19:11 (EN/PP)
GR Andersson, (3) (Glendening), 19:54 (EN)
I think Lightning fans everywhere, even with the bitterness of this defeat, need to start by saying, "thank you" to this group of players. The team we've referred to as "SyraNo" on this site, which won a championship in Norfolk last year and almost did again this year with Syracuse has been one of the best groups of players ever to take the ice together in the AHL. A lot of these guys, like Radko Gudas who returned tonight from injury, are ticketed for the NHL next year. Others, some of the really veteran guys, may move on in the offseason. So, this group of guys will never be together again, but we should tip our hat to them for two years of sustained brilliance the likes of which we're unlikely to see again anytime soon.
As for the young prospects who will likely return to Syracuse next season, I found myself highly impressed with Vladislav Namestnikov and Andrej Sustr, both of whom got stronger as the playoffs wore on. Namestnikov is a legit threat to be an AHL All-Star next season, if not more, with his wizardry with the puck and Sustr is something rare and interesting in pro hockey. You have to put aside the fact Andrej is 6'8", because he refuses to play to type. He's not a bone crunching stay-at-homer, and there's a lot of times he looks like a forward with his ability to read the play offensively and jump into the action. His feed to Tyler Johnson in the slot in the Third Period tonight was an incredible bit of vision that I think stunned TJ a bit, and darned near got Syracuse the key goal they needed in the final frame. That's after he tied the game once in the final period with an absolute bullet from the point. These two guys will be fun to watch develop next season.
Ondrej Palat finishes the playoffs as the AHL leader in postseason scoring. Well done, Mr. Palat.
Box score from TheAHL.com.
Syracuse gives themselves a chance.
Grand Rapids Leads the Series 3-2
Cedrick Desjardins allowed 2 goals on 42 shots for the win. 40 saves as Grand Rapids threw the kitchen sink at Syracuse to try to avoid having to head back to New York.
SYR Palat, (7) , 8:39
SYR Connolly, (6) (Johnson, Barberio), 16:09 (PP)
GR Grant, (2) (Ferraro, Callahan), 17:38
GR Tatar, (14) (Nyquist, Billins), 5:36 (PP)
SYR Panik, (8) (Barberio, Palat), 11:59 (PP)
SYR Johnson, (10) (Palat, Taormina), 0:36
SYR Sexton, (6) (Namestnikov), 17:16 (EN)
Desjardins and Tyler Johnson were the game's first and second stars.
And, just like that, Syracuse has given itself an opportunity at something legendary. Headed west to Michigan their mission was to win 2 out of 3 to get things back to Syracuse with home ice. Things looked bleak as bleak can be down 3-0, but they ultimately accomplished their mission, and withstood an attempted haymaker from Grand Rapids tonight in Game Five to stay alive in the series. Now they have, potentially, 2 games at home to pull of what seemed fairly impossible 48 hours ago.
However, Syracuse can't confuse momentum for destiny. They need to show the maturity to understand that all they've accomplished in the past 2 nights was to book their tickets to a Game Six that for many of them is going to be some of the toughest, most intense hockey of their career. Grand Rapids actually probably has less pressure on them in Game Six than they did in Game Five, because the chance to clinch at home is written off and they can fall back on the fact that they haven't lost a game yet in Syracuse's barn. The Crunch need to understand that. Game Six is going to be a war. Hopefully, it's a war where Syracuse's shorter path to the Finals starts to pay some dividends. Grand Rapids played a 7 game series in the Western Conference Finals after going 6 games with the Marlies and the full 5 against the Aeros. Syracuse has to hope that as the battle becomes more pitched in Game Six, they have a little more left in the tank than Grand Rapids does. But, they can't rely on that to just kick in automatically. They have to push that much harder now to make it happen. If they do, there's a good chance they'll get to Game Seven.
Box score from TheAHL.com.
Grand Rapids Leads the Series 3-0
Cedrick Desjardins allowed 4 goals on 29 shots for the loss. Maddeningly uneven play from Cedrick. He'll look brilliant on a breakaway one minute and allow a wraparound or bad angle goal the next.
SYR Panik, (6) (Johnson, Cote), 10:21
GR Tatar, (13) (Paetsch), 2:09
GR Glendening, (6) (DeKeyser, Mursak), 4:53
SYR Sexton, (5) (Cote), 9:56
GR Mursak, (10) (Hoggan), 15:11
GR Hoggan, (5) , 17:32
The bottom just fell out in the Third Period. Syracuse looked the better team through 40 minutes and had the balance of the zone time, but they looked completely outclassed in the final frame. And Grand Rapids has been far better at converting their chances. Guys like Tyler Johnson and J.T. Brown had quality chances in tonight's game, but it appears Mrazek may be in their heads because they're cutting their chances too fine rather than trying to get some greasy goals. It's a recipe for losing and going down 0-3 in a series.
Just win a game. One game. That's all Syracuse can focus on right now. They've got nothing else at this point.
Box score from TheAHL.com.
SyraNo so good when playing with house money over the past 2 seasons.
Syracuse Leads the Series 3-1
Cedrick Desjardins allowed 2 goals on 23 shots for the victory.
WBS Harrington, (1) (Uher, Holzapfel), 13:40 (PP)
SYR Mikkelson, (2) (Taormina, Palat), 14:57
WBS Megna, (2) (Peters, Uher), 16:40
SYR Connolly, (3) (Barberio, Sexton), 18:12
SYR Johnson, (9) (Palat, Namestnikov), 1:50
SYR Wyman, (3) , 19:04 (EN)
This is why this affiliate has been so amazing in the playoffs over the past couple of seasons. They get a team down with a chance to bury them in a deep hole and they don't squander it. With Desjardins basically stealing Game Three, the easy conclusion would be the Pens would put the hammer down even more and even things up at 2-2, especially with Richard Panik out of the lineup. Syracuse doesn't throw their opposition life vests when they are in situations like this, though. They throw them anchors. Now the Crunch will get not worse than two cracks at home to close out the series with a commanding 3-1 series lead.
And, as has been noted in the previous two series, if you can close out a playoff series quickly you should do so. Playoff hockey can be a war of attrition, and the less battles you have to fight to win the war, the less you expose yourself to potential destiny-altering injuries.
Game Five is tomorrow night in Syracuse.
Box score and extended statistics from TheAHL.com.
By the skin of their teeth...
Series Tied at 1-1
Cedrick Desjardins allowed 2 goals on 18 shots for the victory. If someone can explain to me what case of amnesia struck he and his defensemen on the second Penguins goal, I'd love to hear it. They forgot they were in a playoff game and they almost set in motion events that could've cost them what should've been an easy win.
SYR Sexton, (3) (Connolly, Barberio), 18:56 (PP)
SYR Taormina, (2) (Angelidis, Sustr), 7:07
WBS Mormina, (1) (Dumoulin, Kolarik), 8:13 (PP)
SYR Korobov, (1) (Gudas, Palat), 11:40 (SH)
WBS Holzapfel, (4) (Grant), 14:02
You'll rarely see a game as one-sided as this one was for the first 50 minutes or so. Syracuse dominated territorily and on the shot board, holding the Pens to just 1 shot in the entire First Period. They played like you expect them to play with very good efforts by J.T. Brown and Vladislav Namestnikov, among others, with Dmitry Korobov blowing the game open a bit with a shorthanded goal that he whistled by Thiessen top shelf.
And then all hell broke lose. An accidential collision had Tyler Johnson limping off the ice not to be seen again, and we don't know if he'll be available for Game Three Wednesday. A bizarre play where the D and Desjardins looked like a bunch of clueless 5 year olds led to a second Pens goal, and the next thing you know the team was holding on for dear life in the final 5 minutes.
This is what the Penguins wanted. They have to turn this series into a war of attrition to have a chance. Syracuse needs to go to their barn and steal home ice back Wednesday and take control back of the series. They have the pieces to do it, even if Johnson can't go. But, man, that's as disorganized as I've ever seen a SyraNo team protecting a lead late in the last 2 years. That was terrifying.
Side note: when his playing days are over Jared Nightingale has a future in broadcasting, having heard him on a few Syracuse games now. That's not a shot on other players who have done it for the affiliate over the past couple of years, but Nightingale's got the chops for it.
Box score from TheAHL.com.
It took Ondrej Palat eight seconds to change the complexion of the game, and less than eight minutes to deal the knockout blow.
The forward scored a shorthanded goal in the opening seconds of the third period to give the Syracuse Crunch a two-goal lead, then set up Tyler Johnson for another shorthanded goal at the 7:24 mark.
The two goals on the penalty kill allowed the Crunch to cruise to a 3-0 win over the Springfield Falcons in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals at the Onondaga County War Memorial Wednesday. Syracuse leads the series 3-0, and can move on with a win Friday.
"He was a difference-maker in the third period," said Crunch coach Rob Zettler of Palat. "He made an unbelievable play shorthanded to make it 2-0, and followed it up with an unbelievable pass to Johnson to make it 3-0."