Blackhawks get their butts kicked by a one-legged goaltender.
Stanley Cup Final
Tampa Bay Leads the Series 2-1
Ben Bishop allowed just 2 goals on 38 shots in a gritty, brave, tough performance that will become the stuff of legend if the Lightning go on to win this series. His left side, whether its his knee, ankle, hip, whatever, is badly hurt. There were several times in this game he looked awkward moving right to left and where he was in obvious pain trying to get up from his stance. Playing a position that is simultaneously the most physically demanding, mentally demanding, and critically important in the sport, for him to turn in that performance was nothing short of amazing. Incredible. Vinik is commissioning an opera about that performance as we speak, and rightfully so. Did he have a hiccup with the Richards soft goal off his glove? Sure. But, did I mention he was playing on one leg?
5:09 TB Callahan (2), (Hedman, Brown)
14:22 CHI Richards (3), (Hossa, Shaw)(PP)
4:14 CHI Saad (7), (Hossa, Keith)
4:27 TB Palat (8), (Kucherov, Johnson)
16:49 TB Paquette (3), (Hedman, Callahan)
Cedric Paquette and Ben Bishop were the game's first and third stars. Paquette is authoring a legend of his own through three games of this series, outplaying a future Hall of Famer in Jonathan Toews thus far by not only helping to limit Toews defensively, but also scoring goals in the wins in Game Two and Game Three. When you add what he's done on the PK, blocking shots, winning faceoffs, and closing out games, he's become one of the biggest stories of this series. When you consider two years ago, coming out of junior, Paquette's skating was south of subpar, it's nothing short of incredible to see what he's doing right now. The hard work both he and the organization have put in to get him ready for this moment is paying off like a super jackpot lottery ticket.
I was utterly shocked by how flat Chicago looked to start this game as the Lightning had another flying start to this game. They absolutely deserved the first goal and they got it on a Callahan bomb from the right circle that Crawford waved at for another soft goal. Unfortunately, that goal woke Chicago up as they unleashed the next 16 straight shots en route to tying up the game on the power play with Richards' center point shot that glanced in off Bishop's glove. So, both teams traded soft goals, and we all settled in to another epic, heavyweight struggle. Things looked very dicey with the Lightning staggering after that goal, especially in light of the fact they utterly lucked out with Chicago blowing looks at two open nets in the process of their 16 shot surge.
In an incredible show of maturity, the Lightning came out of the First Intermission storming and took the game by the throat from the Second Period on. I thought they had the better of the run of play in the final 40 minutes, but they just couldn't get the go-ahead goal while every Lightning supporter wearily looked creaseward at Ben Bishop struggling mightily with his ailing left side. When the team blew a 5-on-3 opportunity in the Second Period after Bishop got run over by Brandon Saad on a shorthanded rush, the dread that perhaps this wasn't to be the Lightning's night started to set in.
That fear was amplified quickly in the Third Period after they scrambled for the first four minutes of the Third Period and eventually conceded a Brandon Saad one-timer from the slot to fall behind 2-1. At that moment, everyone in the hockey universe outside of the Lightning bench had to be thinking that the experienced, battle-tested Blackhawks were surely about to break the Lightning's backs. Thirteen seconds later, the Lightning quickly peeled themselves off the canvas and bloodied their elders' noses with an improbable greasy goal off the rush, jamming home a rebound off a bad angle Kucherov offering in front. In the blink of an eye despair was replaced by hope, and the Lightning team that was so shaky for the first four minutes of the Third Period found its equilibrium, and its swagger.
And then, the golden moment happened. Cedric Paquette won a defensive zone draw, which was wound around to Ryan Callahan, who sprung Victor Hedman to lead a 3-on-2 rush. Hedman swung left and wide in the offensive zone, and centered to Paquette for the one-time redirection for the winning goal. What a play by Hedman. What a 200 foot play by Dump Truck.
The Lightning have held a lead in the Third Period of every game in this series thus far. They've scored the first goal in every game of the series thus far. They've been the better team, and they could easily be sitting on a 3-0 series lead were it not for the late hiccup in Game One. The Stanley Cup seems theirs for the taking if they can find a way to overcome the Bishop injury. One way to do that might be to consider starting Andrei Vasilevskiy in Game Four, thereby allowing Bishop four days to rest before Game Five on Saturday. It's a difficult decision for Jon Cooper to have to make, but the calculus right now is that the Lightning have accomplished what they needed to in Chicago. They're playing with house money in Game Four, and might be in a spot where they can afford to gamble on young Vasilevskiy harnessing lightning in a bottle for one game. With a healthier Bishop in Game Five, whether the Lightning are up 3-1 or tied 2-2 in the series, holding home ice, they'd feel like the favorites to me. Tough decision to make, for sure, but it's the kind of decision a special coach like Jon Cooper tends to make correctly.
Nikita Nesterov had 1 blocked shot in 4:57. He surrendered a 2-on-1 on a missed keep at the point and didn't see the ice much again thereafter. Look, I'll say it again: as tight as these games are, there's no way Nesterov's seeing the ice much. That's especially true on the road with Chicago having the last change. It remains a fair question to ask why Nesterov gives the team more utility in the lineup than Drouin or Namestnikov.
Lightning weather the storm, tie the series.
Stanley Cup Final
Series Tied 1-1
Ben Bishop allowed 3 goals on 24 shots before leaving the game, twice, in the Third Period. He had some trouble tracking the puck, but truth be told he really only allowed 2 goals as Hossa interfered with him on the Seabrook goal. Andrei Vasilevskiy entered the game, twice, in the Third Period and stopped all 5 shots he faced for the victory. What a spot for Vasiy to step into! Tie game in the Third Period of a Stanley Cup Final game that is pretty well a must-win game? He made some key saves, particularly on the final PK, and helped the team gut out the victory. His rebound control looked like it might be an issue and there was an obvious drop off in puck handling with Bishop out, but that's about as good a performance as anyone could ever hope for in an incredibly difficult circumstance. He earned that victory, for sure.
12:56 TB Paquette (2), (Callahan, Hedman)
3:04 CHI Shaw (5), (Kruger, Desjardins)
5:20 CHI Teravainen (4), (Hossa, Sharp)(PP)
6:52 TB Kucherov (10), (Garrison, Coburn)
13:58 TB Johnson (13), (Kucherov)
3:38 CHI Seabrook (7), (Toews, Oduya)
8:49 TB Garrison (2), (Hedman, Callahan)(PP)
The NHL should be absolutely giddy about the product that Tampa Bay and Chicago put on the ice tonight, because this game had a little bit of everything. Lots of speed, lots of chances, some controversy, and a whole lot of intrigue, too. It was one of those games where, now that it's over, it almost feels like it should count for two wins. Sadly, no, but it still stands as a contest that felt like a bit of an instant classic for the league.
The Lightning came out flying in the First Period, as in Game One, buoyed by a revamped set of bottom lines with Jonathan Drouin taking a spot on the fourth line. Drouin had about 3-4 really good offensive shifts, and 2-3 shifts where he was a bit of a liability with his decision-making. Still, the added energy he gave to the bottom lines was noticeable and the overall effort of the bottom lines was critical to tonight's win. In particular, Cedric Paquette, Ryan Callahan, and J.T. Brown deserve a ton of credit. They played their bags off tonight. If the bottom lines can put some consistent pressure on that very thin Chicago defensive corps, it could be an advantage in this series the longer it goes.
The Second Period had a real gut check moment for the team after the Blackhawks took their first and only lead of the night on a pair of quick goals. Bishop lost track of a puck that hit traffic in front leading to a tap in by Shaw and then Hossa and Teravainen worked a pretty give-and-go for a PP goal that put the Lightning at a real crossroads in this series. Do not underestimate the importance of the deflection goal by Kucherov off of the Garrison point shot on a pretty solid response shift by the Johnson line. Getting that goal back so quickly really gave the Lightning their legs back, and then Crawford did the Lightning a tremendous favor allowing a short side softie to Tyler Johnson to allow the Lightning to carry the victory into the locker room, thereby erasing all of Chicago's work earlier in the period. That goal was terrible, and it ended up being the margin of victory, as soft goals often are.
The Third Period then became an exercise in survival from the Lightning, chequered with both controversy and intrigue. Brent Seabrook tied the game with a bomb from the high slot coming in off the rush as the late man while Marian Hossa was in clear contact with Ben Bishop's left pad, leaving Bishop unable to fully extend to try to stop the shot. Bishop didn't flop like some goaltenders would, and he clearly doesn't have the halo around him that guys like Carey Price do, so the goal counted. I'm disappointed, but not surprised, because it's always been clear the Lightning have to be that much better to win these games. The good news is that after than blown call, the refs didn't swallow their whistles (possibly a bit of a make up situation) on a pair of Patrick Sharp infractions that led to Garrison getting a bit of puck luck with a goal that ramped up and in off a Blackhawks stick on a point shot to give the Lightning the eventual 4-3 win. While all that was going on, Ben Bishop mysteriously left briefly, returned briefly, and then left for good with Vasilevskiy becoming the goaltender of record between the pipes for Garrison's goal. He calmly battled the rest of the way, including some critical stops on a big kill after a Sustr delay of game call, to preserve the win and keep the Lightning alive in the series. It's a huge improvement over last year when you consider the tomato can the Lightning had to put between the pipes when Bishop got injured before the Montreal series. If the Lightning do win it all this year, Vasiy earned his name being on the Cup with that performance.
Now we'll wait and wonder about what happened to Bishop. Was he ill? Did he get bumped into by Vermette, causing or aggravating an injury? Given that he looked OK in his brief return, I'm not overly worried. Bishop's tough and nails and I'd expect him to be in net in Chicago. If the Lightning were to lose him, though, it might be a bridge too far for the Lightning to cross. Vasilevskiy's a blue chipper, but to ask him to come in cold against Chicago and win three games in this series is an unrealistic thing to ask, and Bishop's ability to help his team as a puck handler and distributor would be a tremendous loss for the team, too.
Assuming Bishop's alright, the Lightning did a lot in the first two games of this series to prove they absolutely belong in this moment, and they could easily be up 2-0 in this series right now after holding a lead in the Third Period in each game. The really intriguing thing we've seen is the Lightning's checking line has been good enough against the Toews/Kane line to hold them down a bit and even force those two to be split up tonight. I don't think anyone in the universe, including yours truly (and I adore Dump Truck), would've thought Paquette and his band mates could make a meal of a matchup with the Toews line, but he and his group have played two of the best games of their lives against a couple of future HOF'er to start the Stanley Cup Final. Because of that, I think the Lightning have shown that at 5-on-5 they're absolutely the equal of Chicago in terms of speed, skill, and athleticism. Now, heading to Chicago, with Quenneville holding the last change, Cooper and Bowness are going to need to prove they're equal to the challenge tactically, as well. If they can be, meaning they'll have to figure out how to protect the likes of Sustr and Carle, then the Lightning should have a good chance to get at least one win out of the Second City, which is the bare minimum of what they'll need to do to stay on track to win it all.
Goaltending finally gives out.
Eastern Conference Semifinals
Tampa Bay Leads the Series 3-1
Ben Bishop allowed 3 goals on 14 shots for the loss before giving way to Andrei Vasilevskiy, who allowed 3 on 26 shots the rest of the way. Bishop allowed 1 soft goal off his glove (again), which ended up being the GWG. It was wise to get him out and get a rest at that point with the team down 3-0. You're going to have 1-2 stinkers even in a successful playoff season, and the silver lining in those games is you get to give your workhorse goaltender a breather. Vasilevskiy showed significant signs of rust by allowing a softie on his 2nd goal allowed and giving out a bad rebound that led to his 3rd goal allowed. He got better as the game went along, but there's certainly no goaltending controversy in Tampa Bay after that showing.
2:44 MTL Markov (1), (Subban, Pacioretty)
8:43 MTL Pacioretty (4), (Gilbert)(SH)
5:08 MTL Desharnais (1), (Weise, Galchenyuk)
9:39 MTL Petry (2), (Galchenyuk, Subban)(PP)
9:54 MTL Gallagher (3), (Pacioretty, Plekanec)
12:26 TB Kucherov (4), (Palat, Stralman)(PP)
0:17 TB Palat (2), (Johnson, Stamkos)(PP)
4:52 MTL Prust (1), (Eller, Parenteau)
There's a lot of blustering and posturing by Subban and the Habs that's going to get replayed on a loop by the media to try to drum up interest in a 3-1 series. Don't take the bait and panic. The Lightning didn't play well the past 2 nights, but you have to take the magnitude of tonight's 6-2 loss with a little grain of salt given that 3 of the last 4 goals allowed were purely on the netminders. The negatives didn't so much come from effort, for me, but the mental lapses in positioning that led to the first 2 goals. When Bishop allowed the softie, that put the team down 3-0 and that was all she wrote. So, those mental lapses are correctable and you have to proceed under the assumption Bishop isn't going to wet the bet like that twice in a row. He hasn't all season long. You try to take the handful of silver linings out of this game that you can, too. Bishop got some much needed rest after carrying the team on his back for much of the first 10 games of the playoffs. The power play went 2-for-3 and is starting to look respectable in this series. Drouin got some much needed seasoning in garbage time. So, there's some glass half full things to look at.
Have the Lightning elected the easy road for closing out this series? No. This thing may get a little hairy now considering Montreal's going to be a crazy barn on Saturday. But, it was crazy the first two games of the series, too. If they're feeling apprehension, they shouldn't, because they've been through this gauntlet before. They just need to concentrate on getting the first goal, tightening up the positioning lapses, and hope that Bishop shakes off tonight's performance with the same ease he usually shakes off his stinkers. If they do, they'll be ok. Calm needs to be the word of the hour, for sure.
The needle hits E in Toronto.
Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 3 goals on 28 shots for the loss. He wasn't the reason the team lost, but one or two semi-soft goals definitely made the sledding a lot more comfortable for Toronto. In a game like this, the Lightning really needed Andrei to be flawless.
8:53 TOR Kadri (17), (Lindstrom, Brennan)(PP)
12:03 TOR Booth (7), (unassisted)
18:04 TB Callahan (23), (Palat, Kucherov)(PP)
0:24 TOR Rielly (8), (Kadri, Gardiner)
Shots were 41-28 Lightning, so I'm not going to say the Lightning were somehow dogging it or that they had a let down in a trap game. I just think they almost emptied out the tank against Montreal, so they simply couldn't muster the same intensity level and didn't have the extra gear against Toronto. Not with all the injuries they are trying to work through, anyway. And, the Leafs got a great performance from Reimer, which compounded things.
I hate to see the Lightning's division title hopes in peril like this, on the one hand. On the other, I don't want to see this team dead dragging tired going into the opening round of the playoffs, either. It's a boon to be able to get Bishop some rest like he did tonight, and it might also be a silver lining if circumstances allow them to take their foot off the gas the last couple of games of the year and give guys like Palat and Paquette a little more time off to get right for the postseason, on top of all the guys who are already on the shelf.
Slater Koekkoek was -1 with 2 shots in 15:31. Didn't look horribly out of place, and the old Joe Reekie number looks good on him. Thought he showed as advertised. I feel like he'll challenge for a roster spot in the Fall, and his progress will be very important for the success of the team next year. You figure he'll either make the squad or be the first call up from Syracuse if he doesn't make it.
Luke Witkowski had 2 shots, 6 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 16:50. 3 giveaways is a little bit of an ugly number, but all in all he handled the extra workload reasonably well.
Nikita Nesterov was -1 with 5 shots and 2 hits in 22:11. The minutes don't lie. He's the guy the coaching staff turned to in order to fill the gap, and I suspect they're not at all displeased.
Vladislav Namestnikov had 1 shot and 1 hit in 15:12 and was 56% on draws. He's 2 games from graduation from prospect status on the site.
Kristers Gudlevskis allowed 1 goal on 24 shots for the hard luck loss. His save percentage has inched up to .906 for the season, despite the loss.
RCH McPherson, (2) (Catenacci, Ruhwedel), 4:04
RCH Catenacci, (12) , 19:52 (EN)
Gudlevskis was the game's second star. First star Andrey Makarov, who was Andrei Vasilevkiy's tandem-mate with the Russian U20 WJC team once upon a time, stopped 32 shots for the shutout.
ATO signee Brayden Point was -2 with 3 SOG's in his pro debut. As noted yesterday, there are a handful of other potential ATO's which could be added to the Syracuse roster this week, including graduating Quinnipiac senior forward Matthew Peca.
The loss, coupled with Hershey's win, puts Syracuse back into the 3rd seed, 1 point back of the Bears. 9 games remain on the regular season slate.
Box score from TheAHL.com.
Goaltending betrays the Lightning in its moment of need.
Ben Bishop allowed 3 goals on 11 shots for the loss before getting lifted in the Second Period. 1-2 of those goals were the semi-soft variety. Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped all 8 shots he faced in relief, but he didn't look super-sharp himself, particularly with his rebound control. It was just a rare off night for the tandem on a night where they were dueling with one of the league's best in Rinne.
3:28 NSH Ribeiro (14), (Josi)
4:08 NSH Gaustad (4), (Beck)
19:31 TB Namestnikov (7), (Sustr, Barberio)
6:47 NSH Santorelli (12), (Jarnkrok, Stalberg)
13:19 TB Boyle (15), (Brown, Drouin)
Just a shame to see a reasonably good effort squandered by lackluster goaltending. The Lightning outshot Nashville 30-19 and completely dominated large swaths of play, but they were 0-for-5 on the power play and could not get the equalizer. The silver lining is that Montreal is losing 4-1 to Winnipeg in the Third Period as I type. If that score holds up, there's no harm and the Lightning will still be 1 point out in the division with time to catch up. They could've easily gotten 1-2 points out of tonight, though, and that's the part that stings a bit.
Vladislav Namestnikov had a goal and 1 shot in 10:18. This went about the way most of his games have gone lately where he gets IT and looks dangerous offensively for the first 25 minutes or so of play, and then sees the pine the rest of the way as the coaching staff taps some guys who are perhaps a little more consistent defensively. He's been very good offensively though with his speed and handles, to the extent that the team is maneuvering to try and keep him on the roster right now. He's 5 games shy of graduation from prospect status on the site now.
Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 3 goals on 36 shots for the victory. You hate to see a goaltender allow 3 in under 3 minutes like he did in the Second Period, but you applaud the mental toughness to not allow anything else the rest of the way.
5:49 TB Morrow (3), (Brown)
7:47 TB Johnson (26), (Callahan)
6:16 FLA Jokinen (7), (Boyes, Gudbranson)
6:34 FLA Pirri (18), (Trocheck)
8:14 FLA Huberdeau (12), (Barkov, Jagr)
1:30 TB Kucherov (27), (Sustr, Palat)
17:32 TB Callahan (22), (Killorn, Stamkos)
Ryan Callahan and Vasilevskiy were the game's first and second stars.
The Lightning didn't deserve a damned thing out of this game. Clearly they talked about their tendency to come out flat in games like these against lesser opposition and they quickly stormed out to the 2-0 lead. But, after the refs gifted a phantom boarding call on Kucherov to the Panthers, and the PK surrendered 5 SOG's in 2 minutes, Florida had the momentum pretty much the rest of the game. It was only by the grace of a great individual play by Kucherov on his wraparound goal and a horrific softie by Luongo on Callahan's goal that Tampa Bay escaped with 2 points. And, yeah, you'll take it, but it's another frustrating example of the team's mental weakness in games like these. It's weird to say you'd rather see top-tier opponents rather than the Jets and Panthers of the world, but you know the team simply hasn't put a 60 minute effort together anytime recently against opponents like the Jets or Panthers.
As I type, the Lightning have moved into a tie with Montreal at 99 points, with the Canadiens just having their game with Nashville tied at 2-2. We'll see how the rest of the night unfolds, but the pressure is still on Montreal to keep their meager lead atop the Atlantic Division.
Vladislav Namestnikov had 1 shot in 12:47. Like most of his teammates, his play evaporated in the final 40 minutes of action as they got pinned up in their own zone time and time again.
Flat Lightning done in by late mistakes.
Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 2 goals on 29 shots for the loss. He deserved better. He was the only reason the team had a chance in this game at all.
4:13 TB Kucherov (26), (Drouin, Carle)
10:00 WPG Stafford (14), (Stempniak, Tlusty)(PP)
12:44 WPG Wheeler (20), (unassisted)
Vasilevskiy was the game's third star.
This was a trap game, and the Lightning fell right into it. You look at the opposition over this 4 game stretch: Montreal, Boston, Winnipeg, Montreal. Yep, one of those things is not like the others, and the Lightning didn't have their intensity tonight. They worked themselves into pretty strong position to get 1-2 points, though, thanks to Vasilevskiy's goaltending and Kucherov's Third Period snipe. Even with the Jets tying it after Kucherov got kicked out of the game for face planting Enstron they were in ok shape. Riiight before Hedman decided to essentially hand Wheeler the GWG. A worse turnover you will not see in this league, and it's completely unacceptable from your franchise cornerstone defenseman.
Through 70 games the Lightning have 91 points, having once again met the 12-in-10 threshold in segment 7 of the season. They actually got 13 points, meaning they've got 7 insurance points in hand heading into the final segment of the year. 5 points should tie up playoff position comfortably, but it's the banner the Lightning are looking for, and they did themselves no favors tonight with that endeavor.
Mike Angelidis had 2 penalty minutes and 1 hit in 7:05. He was also 17% on 6 draws.
Vladislav Namestnikov was -1 with 1 shot and 4 hits in 15:09.
Lightning win a shootout against some Texans.
Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 4 goals on 35 shots for the victory. The stat line isn't pretty, but he made several key saves in the Third Period to preserve the victory for the Lightning. Were it not for Fiddler's goal with under 3 seconds left, which might've been kicked in, it'd look a lot better.
12:59 TB Stralman (6), (Palat)(PP)
14:24 DAL Seguin (30), (Spezza, Ja. Benn)(PP)
15:52 TB Kucherov (25), (Palat, Coburn)
3:52 DAL Seguin (31), (Klingberg)
11:03 DAL Fiddler (9), (Goligoski, Sceviour)
3:40 TB Killorn (14), (Callahan, Hedman)
5:31 TB Hedman (9), (Johnson, Palat)
19:36 TB Boyle (14), (unassisted)(SH)(EN)
19:57 DAL Fiddler (10), (Jo. Benn, Sceviour)
That was hardly artful, but effective in the end. The Stars defense ultimately just wasn't going to be able to stop the Lightning unless Enroth stood on his head. He didn't and therefore they didn't. Just that simple, really.
Vladislav Namestnikov had 2 hits in 12:50. He was very effective in limited ice time, helping to set up a handful of prime chances. He's gone to dirty areas and he showed good vision and decision-making off the rush.
Let there be kittens!
Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped all 28 shots he faced for his first career NHL shutout. He got the emergency start for the Lightning after Bishop got injured earlier in the day and he made a huge difference by standing on his head while the Lightning sleepwalked through the first 5-10 minutes of the game.
16:37 TB Stamkos (36), (Killorn, Sustr)
2:48 TB Callahan (20), (Johnson, Filppula)(PP)
4:24 TB Hedman (8), (Stralman, Palat)(PP)
Vasilevskiy, Steven Stamkos, and Brayden "Rooster" Coburn were the game's three stars.
It's hard to read too much into the night's festivities given the defensive pairs were shuffled with the addition of Coburn and, more importantly, because Buffalo is sporting a lineup right now that's probably just barely an even match for the Syracuse Crunch.
Still, it's a big 2 points to close within 3 of Montreal. That Panthers loss still stings, though.
No prospect skaters in the lineup tonight. Really.