Lightning lose against the run of play, and the iron, and the refs...
Ben Bishop allowed 1 goal on 23 shots for the hard luck loss. I thought his rebound control got a little shaky for a little stretch in the Second Period, but overall he looked a lot sharper with rest.
15:59 STL Gomez (1), (Parayko, Brouwer)
19:19 STL Brouwer (3), (Pietrangelo)(EN)
Bishop was the game's third star.
This is a tough one to swallow. The Lightning can play better, especially in the way of manufacturing some greasy goals in the dirty areas, but this isn't like the Chicago game. They dominated possession and the run of play against St. Louis and they really probably deserved better than a loss. It was a pretty good road performance against a good squad and ultimately nothing for the team to hang their head about to close this road trip.
Of course, the outcome would've been different were it not for the horrific officiating the Lightning had to overcome tonight, especially in the Third Period as they pushed for the equalizer. J.T. Brown gets body slammed in the Second Period. No call. Ondrej Palat gets tripped along the wall in the Second Period. No call. Nesterov gets tripped in the offensive zone in the Third Period. No call. Condra gets tripped in the neutral zone in the Third Period. No call. The Lightning technically went 0-for-1 on the PP thanks to a generous 20 seconds of PP time awarded after an even-up call where the refs whistled Tampa Bay for too many men... on a play where St. Louis also had six skaters on the ice. When one team has a possession edge the way the Lightning did tonight and as well as their forecheck functioned at times, it seems a wee bit suspicious that the other team gets 3 times the PP time. Indeed, as the Third Period wore on, it became clear nothing less than first degree homicide was going to be called on St. Louis in this game. Tell me how depriving one of the most offensively talented teams in the league, Tampa Bay, of any real power plays while on national TV on NBCSN helps the NHL sell its product? I know, I know. Toronto says, "Shut up Lightning fans. It's a privilege for the team just to be allowed to play in the league." It's a total joke.
Nikita Nesterov had 2 penalty minutes, 1 hit, and 1 blocked shot in 15:51. He also had one of the more heinous turnovers in front of Bishop you'll ever see and the penalty he took was at a key time of the game when the Lightning were trying to get an equalizer. It was the very definition of a game where a young guy did the opposite of what he needs to do to make a case for himself to get steady ice time.
Gudlevskis gets the Lightning across the finish line...
Kristers Gudlevskis allowed 1 goal on 32 shots for the OT loss. Truth be told, the Lightning threw him to the wolves tonight with the hope that he would somehow be able to steal a point or two and he did. For the first time in his career, and I hate to possibly jinx it, he's starting to show some consistency game to game. He's as athletically gifted as just about anyone to come through this organization with his size and freakish quickness. If he starts to settle down a play consistently, he's a legit future NHL starter with those gifts, although it might not happen in Tampa with the logjam in the organization.
0:17 CHI Toews (1), (Kane, Seabrook)
Gudlevskis was the game's third star.
Even in defeat, as frustrated as they were on offense, the Lightning have to be ecstatic to get a point out of this game. They were coming off an OT game against Winnipeg last night against the defending champs in their barn with the organization's third string goalie between the pipes. Gudlevskis was as close to a sacrificial lamb as there is in hockey tonight as the Lightning made the strategic choice to try to get Bishop rested for the road trip finale in St. Louis. Under those circumstances, I'm happy.
The Lightning got their 4th point of the road trip and will finish no less than .500 on a swing through arguably the NHL's toughest division. That's nothing to sneeze at considering the Lightning aren't playing their best hockey yet. More importantly, Gudlevskis delivered the Lightning their 12th point of the season. For the uninitiated to the site, we break regular season hockey into 10 game segments. If you get at least 12 points every 10 games, you stay comfortably on pace to get to the playoffs. Gudlevskis got the Lightning over the 12 in 10 finish line tonight with 1 more game to go in the segment. Getting a couple of insurance points in St. Louis would be fantastic, but either way the Lightning fought off any potential Stanley Cup Final hangover and got their 12 in 10. Now, they need to do it again.
Nikita Nesterov had 2 penalty minutes, 2 hits, and 3 blocked shots in 13:19.
Lightning reminded about the importance of details.
Ben Bishop allowed 5 goals on 22 shots for the loss. He got outplayed by Lehtonen at the other end and he ultimately denied his team a chance to win this game. His poor rebound on Dallas' first goal allowed them to turn the momentum early in the game and the softie on the 5th goal killed any chance the Lightning had of completing the comeback.
2:24 TB Stamkos (3), (Drouin)
8:58 DAL Seguin (1), (Jokipakka, Benn)
14:14 DAL Benn (3), (Spezza, Seguin)(PP)
9:34 DAL Eakin (3), (Janmark, Sceviour)
18:12 DAL Demers (1), (Eakin, Hemsky)(PP)
7:06 TB Namestnikov (1), (Stamkos)
8:44 TB Stamkos (4), (Drouin, Boyle)
10:29 DAL Spezza (4), (Hemsky, Goligoski)
Steven Stamkos was the game's second star.
By all of the advanced metrics you want to put to this game, the Lightning dominated. Possession. Chances. Shots. They were all over Dallas. But, hockey's a cruel sport when you don't mind the details. Subpar goaltending will kill you. Poor defensive coverage against the rush will kill you. Special teams will kill you. The Lightning could have, and maybe should have slain Dallas in this game, but they allowed those three areas to completely undermine any possibility of getting a win tonight. Bishop will rebound, so I'm not overly worried about the goaltending. And, the defensive zone coverage against the rush is correctable by a quality coaching staff. It's the penalty kill that is incredibly worrisome right now. It has cratered to 2013-2014 levels through 5 games.
If there's a silver lining, it's that Drouin/Stamkos is turning out to be everything we envisioned it would be at Bolt Prospects. For everyone who criticized the editorial position of the website last season that Drouin needed to be playing with Stamkos, and for everyone else foolish enough to try to label Drouin a bust, the proof's in the pudding through 5 games. Right now they're the undisputed top line of the team and the Triplets are swimming in their jet fumes trying to keep up. Once the Triplets do start to get on track from a production standpoint, have mercy on the NHL.
Nikita Nesterov was -1 with 15 penalty minutes, 1 shot, and 1 hit in 11:57. His major and game misconduct for boarding in the Second Period was deserved, and he will likely be suspended. Coupled with a likely concussion suffered by Hedman, expect one or two defensive callups from Syracuse. Nesterov's penalty, frankly, put the nail in the Lightning coffin tonight. As bad as their PK was playing, giving Dallas a 5 minute opportunity to build the 3 goal lead just before the Second Intermission was just too much for the Lightning to overcome. And, once again, it was made plain just how hard it is to overcome a 3 goal deficit in the final frame in pro hockey. It's just a death sentence when you're trying to come from that far down.
Road weary Lightning fade in 3rd game in 4 nights.
Ben Bishop allowed 2 goals on 23 shots for the loss. He was screened/was dealing with traffic on both goals he allowed.
17:52 DET Nyquist (1), (Kronwall, Zetterberg)(PP)
8:25 DET Zetterberg (2), (Larkin, Quincey)
11:03 TB Callahan (2), (Drouin, Stralman)
18:12 DET Quincey (1), (Miller, Richards)(EN)
Jonathan Drouin was the game's third star.
The Lightning really ran out of gas for much of the final two periods of the game. Playing their 3rd game in 4 days, they had very little push until they were chasing the game down 2-0. It didn't help that Detroit played the game like it was their Stanley Cup Final.
Nikita Nesterov was -1 with 2 shots and 2 hits in 17:19.
God still hates Panthers fans in the preseason, too.
Ben Bishop allowed 2 goals on 34 shots for the loss. That's what an elite goaltender does. If he gives up 2 in the First Period, he doesn't panic. He puts it on lockdown and gives his team an opportunity to comeback and win the game. I have a feeling Bishop's going to have an even better season this year than last season.
12:47 FLA MacKenzie (1), (Howden, Petrovic)
18:47 FLA Bjugstad (1), (Campbell, Pirri)(PP)
14:34 TB Palat (1), (Boyle, Hedman)
16:12 TB Boyle (1), (Condra, Drouin)
17:58 TB Drouin (1), (Nesterov, Stralman)
The Lightning haven't quite gotten the offense fully clicking, but you see the impressive array of weapons they have up and down the lineup and Drouin looks like he's going to take the league by storm this year. As things continue down the stretch to the regular season, the Lightning proved to themselves tonight they can come back on the road against a world class goaltender in Roberto Luongo. That's a nice psychological edge for the team to have in their back pockets.
Mike Angelidis was -1 with 2 penalty minutes and 5 hits in 9:40.
Nikita Nesterov had a helper and was +2 with 1 shot on goal, 1 hit, and 1 blocked shot in 15:54. Uncommonly low shot attempt total (1) from the Chelyabinsk Chain Gun tonight.
Lightning start to tighten up in the stretch run to the regular season.
Ben Bishop allowed just 2 goals on 25 shots for the victory. The Lightning seemed to indicate Bishop would get just a couple of games in during the preseason to tune things up. He'll need to carry a heavy load in the first couple of months of the regular season with Vasilevskiy on the shelf, so two is fine with me, and he looked solid in both.
0:33 TB Kucherov (1), (Palat)
15:47 DAL McKenzie (1), (Fiddler, Demers)
16:31 TB Filppula (1), (Killorn, Nesterov)
4:51 DAL Nichushkin (1), (Seguin)
15:28 TB Brown (1), (Drouin, Sustr)
Both teams had most, albeit not all, of the bullets loaded in the gun, so this was a good test for the Lightning and a good result after the strange clunker they had in Johnstown against the Pens (BTW, hey, did you know that night was NBCSN's debut of the movie Slapshot that was filmed in Johnstown?!). It wasn't without a price after Nikita Kucherov exited early with a lower body injury, but assuming that was just precautionary, the Lightning have to feel pretty good about the night. They held the Stars to a reasonable shots and goals total, their bell cow goaltender played well, and they got nicely distributed scoring from 3 of 4 of their apparent regular season lines. Bonus: J.T. Brown is actually starting to finish plays. If he finishes just 1/4 of the A chances he generates with his hustle and speed, I figure that's 15-20 goals right there.
Mike Angelidis was -1 with 5 penalty minutes, 3 hits, and he was 50% on draws in 11:28.
Jonathan Marchessault had 4 shots in 14:07.
Luke Witkowski had 9 penalty minutes, 1 shot, 4 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 13:22.
Nesterov had a helper and was +2 with 2 penalty minutes, 1 shot, 4 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 24:06, as the Lightning gave him a good, hard look tonight and he responded well. He also had 6 shots that he took that were blocked that didn't make it through on net.
Emery opens the door in the Third Period. Will Gudlevskis step through it.
Ray Emery allowed 6 goals on 26 shots for the loss in his first full game of action in the preseason. The stat line is ugly, especially in the Third Period where he allowed 3 goals on 9 shots. My theory remains the same: I think the Lightning would be thrilled for Kristers Gudlevskis to take the backup job in October and November until Vasilevskiy returns, but they're not going to hand it to him. He has to win it from Emery and right now Emery opened the door to Kristers.
0:42 TB Namestnikov (1), (Nesterov, Drouin)(PP)
4:17 DAL Lindell (1), (Honka, Shore)(PP)
11:09 DAL Seguin (1), (Klingberg, Sharp)
13:24 TB Drouin (1), (Blujus, Marchessault)(PP)
18:21 DAL Sharp (1), (Seguin, Smith)
2:01 TB Koekkoek (1), (Gourde, McGinn)
4:59 DAL Ully (1), (Smith, Goligoski)
6:47 DAL Seguin (2), (Ranford, Johns)
7:18 DAL Ranford (1), (Shore, Lindell)
The result tonight wasn't terribly surprising. This was another case of Dallas playing most of their NHLers against a depleted Lightning lineup that was sitting out its top two lines and best defensemen. Still, it's disappointing to have a game tied 3-3 early in the Third Period and then surrender 3 goals in less that 2 and a half minutes to spoil it. You'll no doubt see cuts en masse now as Syracuse Crunch camp is about to start overseas.
Matt Taormina was -1 with 2 blocked shots in 21:34. He'll likely be packing for Crunch camp now. I don't anticipate a lot of danger that he'll be plucked off waivers.
Slater Koekkoek had a goal and was -1 with 2 shots in 18:37. He's played well. I wouldn't be shocked to see him get an extended look, but I'd guess the nature of Syracuse's overseas camp probably makes it harder to keep him with Tampa Bay.
Brayden Point was -1 with 1 shot, 1 hit, and 1 blocked shot in 15:19. He was also 23% on 13 draws. He's just a puppy, age-wise, and I'd expect the Lightning to pull the trigger here soon to send him back for his final season of junior hockey.
Tanner Richard was -1 with 2 shots and 3 hits in 13:55. He was also 36% on 11 draws. Suspect he'll have some family and friends make the trip over from Switzerland to watch him during Crunch camp.
Jonathan Marchessault had a helper and was -1 with 1 shot and 2 hits in 15:30. Maybe a slight chance he'll get plucked off of waivers if the Lightning do indeed choose to make the move right now.
Philippe Paradis was -1 with 5 hits in 11:41. Crunch camp, no doubt.
Luke Witkowski was -1 with 3 blocked shots in 17:16. I believe he's waiver eligible, too, but suspect he'll make it through.
Henri Ikonen was -1 with 1 shot, 1 hit, and 4 blocked shots in 13:54. Another likely Crunch camper.
Yanni Gourde had a helper and was -1 with 1 shot and 2 hits in 16:09. Another likely Crunch camper.
Dylan Blujus had a helper and was -2 with 2 penalty minutes, 2 hits, and 3 blocked shots in 20:21. Third on the team in ice time tonight. I've been pretty pleased how he and Dotchin have played along side the more obvious suspects like Koekkoek and DeAngelo. He's another likely Crunch camper, but the Lightning should feel a lot better about their future at that position than they did at this time even a year ago.
Nikita Nesterov had a helper and was -1 with 2 penalty minutes, 1 shot, and 1 hit in 21:19. Just 1 shot on goal? Does Nikki have a cold?
All is right with the world...
Ben Bishop stopped all 18 shots he faced for the win before giving way to Kristers Gudlevskis, who allowed 1 goal on 18 shots the rest of the way. My going theory on the backup job the first two months of the regular season is this: the Lightning would be perfectly comfortable signing Ray Emery, but they'd really prefer to give Gudlevskis the gig. A solid performance like that is very helpful to Gudlevskis' cause.
12:29 TB Kucherov (1), (Peca, Namestnikov)
1:45 TB Condra (1), (Boyle, Erne)
10:59 TB Peca (1), (Callahan, Namestnikov)
12:26 TB Kucherov (2), (Drouin, Stamkos)
9:05 FLA Trocheck (1), (Pirri, Jokinen)(PP)
The Lightning may only be 1-1-1 through 3 games of the preseason, but I think the organization has to be pretty elated with everything so far, on balance. Emery and Gudlevskis have both played pretty well in their half game auditions and Wilcox showed potential. The younger guys you would hope will step up in Tampa Bay this coming season (Drouin, Namestnikov, Brown, etc.) have all played pretty well. Condra's seemingly fitting in seamlessly in that lower line equation. Key performers who will be counted on to step up for Syracuse this year like Peca are playing well and the wave of young defensemen who will probably start making their way to Tampa the second half of the year like Koekkoek, DeAngelo, Blujus, and Dotchin have all been pretty solid. Other than Sustr's performance in the second preseason game, I'd say the Lightning have checked off a lot on their to-do list thus far.
Mike Angelidis had 1 shot, 3 hits, and 1 blocked shot and was 40% on 10 draws in 11:46.
Anthony DeAngelo had 2 penalty minutes in 18:26.
Slater Koekkoek was +3 with 1 shot and 2 blocked shots in 18:21. He'll be in Tampa Bay by the playoff stretch of the season at the latest, in my opinion.
Joel Vermin had 1 shot and 2 blocked shots in 13:48.
Jake Dotchin was +3 with 2 shots in 18:46.
Peca had 1 goal and 1 assist and was +2 in 14:09. He also had 3 shots and was perfect on the 2 draws he took. It's an interesting question we've had among the Bolt Prospects staff when it comes to Peca: just how good will he be? I think our minimum expectation, based on his body of work at Quinnipiac, is that he'll be an AHL star (call it the Cory Conacher level), but will he go beyond it to become a smallish NHL star (the Tyler Johnson level)? Only time will tell, but he's had a strong start to this season, which is great to see.
Yanni Gourde had 1 hit in 11:43.
Adam Erne had a helper and was +1 with 1 shot in 13:25.
Nikita Nesterov was +1 with 2 penalty minutes, 5 shots, and 3 hits in 19:41. Team high in shots. Wish I could inject that gene in one or two other Lightning players every season.
Overmatched Lightning B squad falls on the road.
7:47 NSH Neal (1), (Josi, Fiala)
8:40 NSH Weber (1), (Ribeiro, Wilson)(PP)
16:14 NSH Smith (1), (Josi, Bartley)
4:31 NSH Smith (2), (Wilson, Ribeiro)
6:39 TB Namestnikov (1), (Blunden, Peca)(PP)
10:14 TB Brown (1), (Tambellini)
17:47 NSH Sissons (1), (Arvidsson, Moses)(PP)
I don't want to call this a throw away game, but this was essentially sticking the Palat/Johnson/Kucherov line on a depleted Syracuse Crunch roster and putting them up against darned near all of the Nashville Predators opening night roster. The Preds had about a 4 to 1 experience advantage in the lineup tonight, and it showed in the final score. The good news is the Lightning managed to staunch the bleeding pretty well after it got to 4-0 and got some production from lower line guys like Namestnikov and Brown (good for Tampa Bay) and Blunden, Peca, and Tambellini (good for Syracuse). The only thing that gives me any real pause is Andrej Sustr getting a -3 hung on him, which continues the bleeding from his playoff run of last year.
Tanner Richard had 4 penalty minutes, 1 shot, and 2 hits in 14:56. He was also 60% on draws.
Jonathan Marchessault was -1 with 3 shots and was 50% on draws in 15:07.
Philippe Paradis was -1 with 2 penalty minutes, 3 shots, 3 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 10:12.
Luke Witkowski stayed clean in 19:48 of ice time.
Jake Dotchin fought a Predator and had 3 shots, 1 hit, and 1 blocked shot in 18:33.
Matthew Peca had a helper and was -1 with 2 shots and 1 hit in 15:02. He only took 2 draws and was 0-for-2.
Dominik Masin was -2 with 1 shot, 2 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 17:45. I'd imagine he's ticketed for Peterborough come tomorrow, but we'll see.
Daniel Walcott had 2 hits and 1 blocked shot in 18:23. He's becoming a favorite on the website.
Nikita Nesterov had 2 penalty minutes and 5 shots in 21:05. You never have to ask Nesterov to put pucks on net. He starts shooting from the parking lot.
Stanley Cup Final
Chicago Wins the Series 4-2
Ben Bishop allowed just 2 goals on 25 shots for the loss. He didn't allow a great rebound on the first goal because I thought the shot got a little redirected on the way in, and then he was essentially left to fend for himself on the second chance. The second goal was a really a 2-on-1 where Bishop just couldn't push from right to left to have any kind of chance on the Kane one-timer. That would've been a difficult chance to stop healthy, but in light of what we know now, it was impossible. After the game, it was revealed Ben Bishop has been playing with a torn groin since Game Two of the series. I feel sick for the guy that he's played this well in an extreme amount of pain and just couldn't get any goal support. I've heard people in the fan base who are way, way too quick to usher Ben out the door in the next year or two to make way for the wunderkind Andrei Vasilevskiy, but those people might want to take a moment to appreciate the mental toughness it takes to play your way through that kind of injury. That is one tough hombre. He's just a bad, bad dude. Much respect.
17:13 CHI Keith (3), (Kane, Richards)
14:46 CHI Kane (11), (Richards, Saad)
In the end the Lightning were too banged up to play their normal possession game, and when they did have good chances they just couldn't capitalize. Number one on that list was Steven Stamkos, who rang a crossbar in the First Period and then had a breakaway in the Second Period where he came to a near stop dekeing to his forehand before getting stopped by Crawford and then putting the rebound off the side of the net. I may have misheard this, but I think NBC said Stamkos had something like 20-21 scoring chances in the 6 games of this series. That's an obscene number of chances to surrender to one of the two greatest goal scorers of this generation for him to not score a goal. That'll live with him all summer, I'm sure, and that crossbar in particular was just a hair off. 1/16" lower and that's probably down and in, and we may be talking about a Game Seven at this hour. It was that close. For Steven, this is an interesting moment in his career. A lot of the 2014-2015 season was spent trying to get comfortable playing hockey again after breaking his leg against Boston last season. He still scored 40 goals and had a statistically decent playoffs overall, but truth be told there were a lot of times it still felt we were seeing the 85% version of Steven Stamkos. Now, having been through this experience, does this lead to Steven having "the mother of all summers" en route to getting back on the trajectory he was on prior to the injury of becoming the best player in the game?
Getting back to Game Six, how close were the Lightning? How razor thin was the margin between ecstasy and agony in this series? The Lightning were finally getting some zone time in the Third Period to try to tie the game and the chance came into the right circle to Brayden Coburn who breaks his stick on an A- chance, which lead to the odd man rush that put the Blackhawks up 2-0 and broke the Lightning's back. Buzzard's luck if I've ever seen it. Really the Lightning were just 1-2 bounces from winning this series, even with the rash of injuries, and that's what so maddening about what transpired in the last three games.
After the game, along with the revelation about Bishop's injury, it was revealed that Tyler Johnson's been playing this series with the bone that attaches his thumb to his wrist broken, which is why he hasn't been taking faceoffs this series. We'll find out what happened to his linemate Kucherov soon enough, along with Brian Boyle. Stamkos may also be dinged. Callahan obviously had the appendix. Paquette had both his hands shot off several times at different parts of the playoffs. Also, I suspect there may be something wrong with Garrison, although it may have just been fatigue setting in that made him look particularly slow in the past couple of games. I'm sure I'm leaving some guys out. In any event, the cumulative effect of all the centermen getting injured was that Cedric Paquette, a rookie who as it was noted had his hands shot off blocking shots several times in these playoffs, had to take a ton of important defensive zone draws and he absolutely got eaten alive the first half of Game Five and pretty much all of Game Six. 0-for-13 on faceoffs tonight? That seems almost impossible, and yet it happened. That advantage allowed Chicago to manufacture possession and zone time that they otherwise struggled to create in the flow of play and probably ultimately swung the series to them.
All that said, this feels different than the Lightning's last serious run at the Cup in 2011. That team had more of a lightning-in-the-bottle feel to it with certain players (Purcell and Bergenheim) playing over their head and the last remnants of the 2004 Cup team (Lecavalier and St. Louis) making their last real kick at the can together. I felt spent (and more than a little shafted by the officials) after that Game Seven loss in the Eastern Conference Finals against Boston. I knew they were an eyelash away from winning it all because that series may well have been the Stanley Cup Final that year and I knew it was a long shot for the team to get back the following season with so many older pieces, including the desiccating remains of Dwayne Roloson between the pipes. The other thing was, psychologically, I think that team had bought in to Guy Boucher's system and mystique to such a degree that when they didn't win it all, it was such a shock to their psyche he started to lose that locker room from that moment on in a slow erosion of belief. And for me, personally? I didn't want to deal with hockey for several months after that I was so disillusioned by what had transpired.
Tonight? I'm thinking about what this team has to do tomorrow and every day thereafter until one year from now they're back in this position hoisting the Cup, because I absolutely believe they can do so. This team, structurally, has the bones of a great dynasty. They're incredibly young, incredibly deep, and now they're incredibly experienced. Recall (although I'm not comparing the two) the great Edmonton team of the 80's had to take their medicine from the Islanders before they became a dynasty. And, psychologically, I think Jon Cooper can play off the fact these guys will feel a little angry they might've been cheated at the finish line by the injury bug. This team's belief shouldn't be shaken. It should be galvanized by the fact that they were playing with a bunch of hurt centermen and a goaltender with a torn groin and they still seriously, seriously challenged a historically good Chicago Blackhawks team that has been the class of the cap era. Has been. The Lightning, with the foundation they have, will be, if they commit together that they're going to be. And, that commitment has to start with tomorrow and every day thereafter until one year from now they're hoisting the Cup.
The things that need to change with the Lightning's roster are minor, and many of them will be fixed with time. Jonathan Drouin and Vladislav Namestnikov will be ready to be regular contributors at this time next year and young guys like Cedric Paquette and J.T. Brown have found out in these playoffs, Paquette in particular, that they can be world class players on the sport's biggest stage. The Lightning will have secondary scoring depth at this time next year, and with health should be better on faceoffs, although it might behoove Yzerman to pick up a veteran faceoff ace somewhere along the line just in case.
On defense, Victor Hedman had his coming out party in these playoffs and may finally take that next step of becoming a legit Norris Trophy candidate next season while Anton Stralman looked like an All-Star in his own right. Jason Garrison and Brayden Coburn offer solid second pair options, albeit they have their clunkers here and there, and Andrej Sustr and Nikita Nesterov will only get better with age. That's six defensemen on a team that, because Cooper likes to play seven defensemen so much, might be best to carry eight. Where are the other two? You hope Slater Koekkoek, who looked darned good in his late season cup of coffee, comes to camp ready to mount a serious challenge for a spot and perhaps you look at signing up a hungry vet to round out the group. The Lightning didn't quite get everything they might've wanted from this year's hungry vet signing, Brendan Morrow, who was Yzerman's second choice behind Jarome Iginla for that slot. If Iginla had signed with the Lightning instead of Colorado, Tampa Bay might be hoisting a Cup right now. Remember, tomorrow and every day thereafter, including July 1st, the Lightning need to be focused on winning every little battle to make sure next year they finish what they started this season. In any event, with Morrow departing, I still like the idea of finding that hungry vet who wants one last run at glory and is willing to take a little bit of a discount rate to do so. The Lightning had that player in Simon Gagne in 2011 and they had Morrow this season. It's not a coincidence, either.
And, between the pipes, did I mention Ben Bishop is a bad, bad hombre? With Vasilevskiy now up at the NHL level, the Lightning should be able to cut back Ben's workload in the regular season more and hopefully conserve some of his mileage for the postseason. Also, given Ben's ended his past two seasons with injuries, I think it's probably time for Ben to up his postseason conditioning game once he rehabs from the groin. That's the same for all of the Lightning players, too. This is a pretty fit group, but Chicago, despite being a lot older, was healthier at the finish line partly because they played shorter series to get to this point but also partly because those guys understand the difference between being fit and being Stanley Cup fit. The Lightning don't need to train for an 82 game season this summer, they need to train for about a 106 game campaign so they won't have as much fatigue and as many injuries when they get to the finish line next season.
On an unrelated tangent, I just want to say how impressed I was with the Lightning fan base tonight. Approximately 17,000 showed up at Amalie Arena tonight despite the clunker that was Game Five, and it was extremely impressive to me and a sign of the fact that this season has created yet another groundswell in Tampa Bay just like the playoffs in '96, '03, '04, and '11 created expansions in the fan base. It didn't seem to me like NBC appropriately addressed what took place in Amalie tonight on the national broadcast, which is the annoying artifact of a national media still hell bent on pushing a preconceived narrative because of a jersey ban. It's all good, though, because they won't be able to get rid of Lightning fans quite so easily moving forward. Of all the faces in the crowd tonight, there was so much youth in the 15-25 year old range. These are fans who couldn't necessarily make it to Game Five with ticket prices being so astronomical, but if the economy in the area gets stronger and Tampa Bay can retain that youth in the area then this is going to be a nice boom for the fan base in about 5 years. The people who showed up tonight are Lightning fans for life, and if they can build careers in the area and develop some prosperity in the process, they're going to e buying tickets to the Lightning for life eventually, too. Tampa Bay's a tough place for young professionals to make a living in, and that's the toughest nut the Lightning have to crack because it's a structural problem with the market. With a team on the brink of becoming something very special and a little luck in the form of an economic surge in the area over the next few years (knock on wood) though, the Lightning could become a beast of a franchise. Tampa Bay is the 13th largest TV market in the country, which isn't too shabby, and the Lightning have begun to capture the hearts and minds of a much coveted demographic that will only become more powerful as time moves along.
I also wanted to say that this post marks the conclusion of Bolt Prospects' tenth season, and while it didn't have the fairy tale ending we hoped for (I was all ready to declare it the Bolt Prospects Stanley Cup), we remain incredibly humbled and thankful for the support of all of our readers. October will mark the ten year anniversary of the official opening of the website and it's been an honor and a privilege to write for you. Reflecting back on this time, for the staff, the past ten years have brought a lot of changes in our lives as we've built careers (day jobs) and built families. Some of us have moved to different cities and dealt with all manners of highs and lows in the day-to-day ebb and flow of the real world. Our love of Tampa Bay and the Tampa Bay Lightning and our continued to commitment to this thing we created ten years ago, Bolt Prospects, has been the one constant. We also would like to thank the Lightning organization, past and present, our friends and supporters in the media (the ones we can stand), and the players and their families (who are often the unheralded heroes of any player's career).
Lastly, and most importantly, we thank our own families for their support and understanding. For about eight months out of the year my significant other refers to herself as a hockey widow while I escape into my 125 square foot little home office to spend an inordinate amount of time watching hockey games and keeping up what the latest goings on were in obscure destinations such as Magnitogorsk, Russia. We do it because we love it (we darn sure don't do it for the money), and thankfully, they put up with it because they love us. That kind of understanding is pretty darned special, n'est-ce pas?
As I complete this post, which has taken forever to write, it's about fifteen minutes past 2:00 AM. That means it's already tomorrow... and the start of every day thereafter. Until... next year.