The sun still rises in Tampa Bay.
Anders Lindback allowed 2 goals on 36 shots for the victory tonight, 1 of which was an own goal tipped in by Palat. Lindback was magnificent, as he was in relief in the last game against Toronto. Is he as athletic and aesthetically pleasing as Ben Bishop between the pipes? No. Is he fully capable of stopping pucks? Yes, and he showed resiliency and mental toughness by not cracking after the Flyers broke through on him. He stayed focus, got a good team effort in front of him (including some street hockey netminding by Gudas) and got the W.
2:00 TB Johnson (24), (Stamkos, Kostka)
18:39 PHI Simmonds (27), (Giroux, Voracek)(PP)
4:33 TB Panik (3), (Hedman, Kostka)
9:43 TB Brewer (2), (Johnson, Palat)
12:22 PHI Couturier (12), (Streit)
14:14 TB Stamkos (25), (Filppula, Hedman)(PP)
Let it not be said that this Lightning team packs it in the second they hit a bump in the road. There was a lot of hand wringing and consternation with the injury to Ben Bishop that will, at a minimum, shut him down for the rest of the regular season. But, much like when Stamkos broke his leg and the captain of the team decided he wanted to go to Broadway, the Lightning circled the wagons. They came out very strong tonight and got a quick goal on Philly, which was great. I thought they took their foot off the gas through to the end of the Second Period, which was not good, but Lindback has something to prove and he played fantastic to keep the Lightning in it until they broke it open in the Third Period, where only a goofy own goal blemished a complete 20 minute team effort. So, the sky didn't fall and, in fact, with Montreal losing tonight the Lightning can get home ice in the first round if they win out in the final 2 games of the regular season.
Throughout the campaign, I've written regularly about segment goals with the team, with an eye on 96 points in 80 games. With the victory tonight, the Lightning nailed down 97 points in 80 games and they got the target number of 12 in the 8th and final segment of the year. In games 81 and 82, if they can get at least 3 of the 4 possible points, they have an opportunity to get to 100 points, which is truly an accomplishment for any team, let alone one this young.
Mike Kostka returned from his concussion with 2 assists, a +3 rating, and 1 blocked shot in 14:18. Win if you can. Survive if Mike Kostka lets you.
Andrej Sustr had 2 penalty minutes and 1 hit in 19:36. It wasn't Andrej's best game, as I've seen him a lot tighter and under control defensively, but it's still pretty good that you can play him 19+ minutes and not worry about him completely wetting the bed. With the appearance tonight, Sustr reaches 41 NHL games played this season, which graduates him from prospect status on the website. Sustr becomes the 10th prospect to graduate this season, finishing out a class the likes of which we may never see again. To put this in perspective, there were only 10 prospects that graduated on the site in the previous 4 seasons combined (I looked it up). Congratulations to Andrej and everyone in the 2013-2014 Bolt Prospects Alumni class.
A solid, satisfying win... but at what price?
Ben Bishop made 3 saves on 3 shots before leaving the game 5:43 into the First Period in serious discomfort after falling to the ice while catching a puck with his glove hand. Wrist, elbow, shoulder? Whatever it was, Bishop was writhing in pain enough to leave doubt whether he'll be available anytime soon. Anders Lindback entered the game and stopped all 25 shots he faced the rest of the way for the combined shutout and the win. Putting aside any critique of Bishop's workload, I feel like Lindback's play in his last start merited more starting time than Cooper has given him. He looked good again tonight, including a sparkling glove save toward the end of the Second Period. What I like about Lindback is the team in front of him seems to simplify its game and pay closer attention to detail rather than simply relying on Ben Bishop to be the eraser for their mistakes. It certainly appeared that way tonight.
9:19 TB Palat (21), (Hedman, Gudas)
15:45 TB Palat (22), (Stamkos, Hedman)(PP)
19:47 TB Hedman (13), (unassisted)(EN)
That was a fantastically well played hockey game by the Tampa Bay Lightning after the debacles against Calgary and Dallas. Ordinarily I'd be really excited about the way they played tonight, because it represents a total reversal of the issues that had plaqued the club earlier this season when it simply couldn't get power play production, couldn't kill penalties with any reliability, and struggled mightily to protect Third Period leads. They were ruthlessly efficient in all three aspects, which bodes well, but...
Between Bishop leaving the game and Sami Salo also leaving early in the Second Period, you wonder if they won the battle and ended up losing the war. It's never a good thing when an injury looks so significant that people start asking you how quickly your KHL-based prospect goaltender-of-the-future might be available to be signed and, gulp, appear for your team in the playoffs. That's the scary predicament of the night, though, pending word on what ails Bishop.
The Lightning's victory tonight puts them at 95 points for the season, 1 shy of our 80-game goal of 96 points and 2 points shy of the 10-game segment goal of 12 points earned. It's remarkable how efficient they've been about staying on schedule all season long.
Andrej Sustr had 2 penalty minutes and 1 blocked shot in 18:10. He, again, had to play bigger minutes with one of his defensive corps-mates out of the game (in this case Salo). He made several key plays in the Second Period including breaking up a 3-on-1 by Toronto's top line. Tonight was his 40th game of the season, meaning he is now just 1 game away from graduation on the site. He'll likely be the capstone to an unprecedented Bolt Prospects Alumni class the likes of which we may never see again.
Time for some real talk, Tampa Bay.
Ben Bishop allowed 5 goals on 28 shots for the loss. It was just an awful game by Bishop, who has been subpar since coming out of the Olympics break. Jamie Benn's second goal was an extremely soft goal that Bishop allowed through him and Roussel's goal came on a seemingly innocuous play where Bishop did not cover a puck at the side of his cage. He's clearly fatigued, both mentally and physically. I get that Cooper wants home ice for the playoffs, but home ice is irrelevant if Bishop keeps playing this poorly. Point blank, I would've put Lindback in for the last 40 minutes of this game and even though the Lightning made it interesting in the Second Period, the fact remains they burned more of what little Bishop had left in the tank tonight and got nothing out of it.
0:40 DAL Ja. Benn (31), (Goligoski, Seguin)
5:37 DAL Ja. Benn (32), (Garbutt, Fiddler)
18:26 DAL Seguin (35), (Jo. Benn, Ja. Benn)
1:57 TB Stamkos (24), (Palat, Hedman)
6:44 TB Sustr (1), (Malone, Thompson)
1:26 DAL Fiddler (6), (unassisted)
7:57 DAL Roussel (14), (Garbutt, Eakin)
Tyler Johnson was the game's third star. To be honest, though, this was a game where nobody on the Lightning deserved a star.
Real talk, Tampa Bay. This team has been mediocre at best and a dumpster fire at worst since the Olympics break. Did they manage to string together enough points to lock up a playoff spot early, primarily by manufacturing wins against subpar teams? Yes. But, this team hasn't played well, with the exception of one or two efforts where they actually focused, such as in the game against Montreal. The last two games they have been utterly embarrassed by two teams (Calgary and Dallas) that I know in my heart, man-for-man, they're better than. They're definitely better than Calgary and I know they're better than Dallas, too. But, only if they move their feet and use their heads, and too often for the past month and a half the Lightning have been doing one or the other, or neither, but not both.
At this point I almost give the defensive corps a pass, so a lot of what I'm going to say now will focus on the forwards. True, Sustr got lost after a faceoff in his own end resulting in Seguin's goal tonight, but he atoned for it, unlike others on the Lightning. If you twisted my arm, I'd call out Gudas for being a shadow of what he was prior to getting hurt in that game against Anaheim several months back, but he clearly wasn't at fault tonight after the refs threw him out of the game for no reason. He was ejected for a headshot on a play where he was clearly playing the puck and shielding it from an oncoming Roussel who lowered his head reaching for the puck and ended up taking the worst of it. Gudas wasn't throwing a check and wasn't being careless with his elbows or shoulders. He was playing the puck and making a hockey play. He shouldn't have been tossed and if he gets any supplemental discipline for that play from the NHL then the league should be ashamed. He did nothing wrong on that play. But, I digress.
The forwards on this team have been unwilling to pay a price and unwilling to mind details in the first 2/3rds of the ice. Period. And, while some of it has been the youth of the team, a lot of it has been the veterans. The first Stars goal came directly from a soft misplay of a puck by Teddy Purcell. A couple of others came from bad turnovers by Stamkos, including the back breaker by Fiddler in the Third Period. Even Valtteri Filppula has routinely been guilty of overhandling pucks and turning it over far too frequently. These are your team leaders, and a lot of times they have been, A.) unwilling to take a bump to make a play, and subsequently B.) been throwing the puck into bad areas and putting a struggling, fatigued goaltender in bad situations. These are your veteran leaders. These are the guys you need to mind their details, and they aren't. The forwards on this team, lately, have been soft as Charmin along the wall, they don't come back hard or deep enough to help out their, mediocre at best athletically, defensemen, and to top it all off they've been flat out idiotic with the puck half the time when they actually do have it. It's inexcusable, and while you might be able to punish Purcell with reduced ice time, it's not like you can sit Stamkos or Filppula. It's on those two to wake up and lead by example. Otherwise, I hope they liked Andreychuk's statue unveiling tonight and that bronze Stanley Cup out on the plaza, because they won't get within a country mile of the sterling silver one playing the way they have.
And what's worst of all is this: I expected this team to rebound after wetting the bed against Calgary. After embarrassing themselves that badly against Calgary you would think they'd be ready to go tonight. Nope. That's how fat, happy, and pleased with themselves they are right now. I'm so disappointed in this team right now, and I'm not willing to give them a pass because of their youth. Baloney. They're so much better than they've been playing lately and they should expect so much more of themselves, let alone what those of us who watch this team's expectations are. This has been a special season, and they owe it to themselves to finish it right. The last thing that they should want to happen is to stumble to the finish line, get blasted out of the first round of the playoffs, and have this season end up tasting like a dung sandwich all summer. But, you know, that's what this is turning into. A big old dung sandwich. Real talk.
Andrej Sustr had his first NHL goal and was -1 with 2 shots, 1 hit, and 1 blocked shot in 20:27, paired most of the night with Victor Hedman. Putting aside the play where he got lost on his faceoff assignment on Seguin's goal late in the First Period, he played reasonably well. He atoned for it with his rebound goal and he helped fill the void when Gudas was thrown out of the game for no good reason. Sustr is 2 games away from graduation here on the site, and if he plays like he did tonight for the team, he could provide them a shot in the arm from a depth standpoint.
Roller coaster Crunch back on the uphill slope.
Kristers Gudlevskis allowed 4 goals on 25 shots for the victory. Goal support remains a beautiful thing.
ADK Cousins, (9) (Eddy, Manning), 9:31
ADK Noebels, (3) (Akeson, Lamarche), 17:43
SYR Walker, (5) (Marchessault, Gourde), 7:49 (PP)
ADK Akeson, (21) , 11:54
SYR Paquette, (17) (DiSalvatore, Connolly), 14:46 (PP)
SYR Paquette, (18) (Sustr, Cote), 15:56
ADK Holmstrom, (12) (Delisle, Noebels), 0:59 (PP)
SYR Smith, (6) (Marchessault, Langelier-Parent), 3:35
SYR Langelier-Parent, (2) (Gourde, Witkowski), 9:16
SYR Marchessault, (16) (Connolly, Witkowski), 14:03
Andrej Sustr also returned from injury tonight after missing over a month on the shelf, and he was joined in the lineup by J.P. Cote who has only been healthy enough to see game action in 1 game in the last month. Both defensemen had assists in the game, and both add to the list of reasons to believe this 3 game winning streak the Crunch are on might be sustainable. Also, if Sustr can finish the AHL season strong, he might give the Lightning defensive corps a shot in the arm in the depth department once he goes back up to to Tampa Bay.
The opportunity to make the playoffs is long gone for Syracuse, but they improved to 2 games under .500 with tonight's result. With everything that's happened, if the team can post a record over .500 this year, that's going to be a moral victory at least, and will help lay a foundation for success next season.
Box score from TheAHL.com.
Have you heard the one about a Latvian and a French Canadian who walk into a diner on the way from Utica to Montreal?
Cedrick Desjardins allowed 3 goals on 29 shots for the loss. After the game, Desjardins and tandem-mate Kristers Gudlevskis were summoned to join the Lightning in Montreal for tomorrow night's came against the Canadiens with Bishop's head injury and Lindback's sprained ankle.
UTI DeFazio, (6) (O'Reilly), 3:24
UTI Pelletier, (8) (Grenier, Archibald), 13:31
UTI Archibald, (7) (Grenier, Pelletier), 14:46
SYR Sustr, (1) (Angelidis, Panik), 18:55
I suppose the good news is that at least Andrej Sustr was able to get on the board. Sadly, though, the Crunch will be going into tomorrow night with a loaned ECHL goaltender between the pipes, in all likelihood. They've reportedly suspended Riku Helenius tonight for breach of contract. So, things don't appear to be on the way to getting a whole lot better for the Crunch. Perhaps there's a silver lining that there's no recall for Valtteri Filppula's spot as of this posting. It's not exactly something worth throwing a parade over, but Crunch fans have to take what they can get these days.
Box score from TheAHL.com.