Dumont, Gabriel

NHL Game Night: 11-9-17 Lightning at Kings

Lightning opens gates of hell in the First Period in Los Angeles. No Kings spared.

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LA-2

Much maligned Petr Budaj allowed 2 goals on 24 shots for the win. He made a critical save on Koptar early on in the game on a bang bang play that led to Kucherov's breakaway goal. That's making the situational save you need for the W.

First Period
9:27 TB Kucherov (16), (Stamkos, Koekkoek)
10:01 TB Killorn (2), (Girardi, Johnson)
10:35 TB Hedman (2), (Gourde, Palat)
11:29 TB Stamkos (8), (Killorn, Kucherov)(PP)

Second Period
17:31 LA Toffoli (8), (Kopitar, Muzzin)

Third Period
8:39 LA Fantenberg (1), (Brown, Laich)
12:59 TB Namestnikov (8), (Hedman, Kucherov)

Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos were the game's first and second stars.

Petr Budaj makes a big situational save, Kucherov scores on a breakaway at the other end, and the Lightning just erupt all over the Kings in a game that was over after less than a dozen minutes. The first 37 or so minutes tonight were just one long replay of the Second Period dominance the Lightning displayed against San Jose last night. Honestly, were it not for Quick, the Kings would've easily let up 8 or 9 goals tonight as the Lightning had something like 23 scoring chances through the first two periods. Quick almost gave the Kings a chance, but a well played replay challenge by Cooper and the Gang at the end of the Second Period helped the team maintain a 3 goal advantage through 40 minutes and it was off to garbage time for the second night in a row. And, to all a good night.

Things that'll make your mind explode: Namestnikov's on a pace for about 39 goals. Not a typo.

Tonight's victory means the Lightning are within an eyelash of clinching their second successful 10-game segment of the year. After collecting a stylish 17 points in 10 games to start the year, they have 11 points in this second segment with 3 more games to play. So, with 1 more point they'll have nabbed the 12 in 10, and anything after that is just more insurance points in the bank. It's a beautiful thing.

Slater Koekkoek had a helper and was +1 with 1 shot in 6:22.

Yanni Gourde had a helper and was +1 with 2 penalty minutes, 2 shots, and he was 60% on 5 draws. As always, the Stamkos line provides the bulk of the firepower, but the Palat/Point/Gourde line sets the pace for the Lightning.

Gabriel Dumont had 3 shots and 2 hits and was 63% on 8 draws in 9:56 as he jumped in to replace an injured Ryan Callahan in the lineup.

Jake Dotchin was +1 with 1 hit and 1 blocked shot in 16:45.

Mikhail Sergachev had 3 shots, 2 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 14:01.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Game Night: 11-2-17 Rangers at Lightning

Flat Lightning manage a point.

NYR-2
TB-1 (OT)

Andrei Vasilevskiy put on a command performance, especially in the First and Third Periods, allowing just 2 goals on 35 shots for the OT loss. His individual wins streak was snapped, but that's no reflection on how well he played tonight.

First Period
18:34 NYR Kreider (4), (Zibanejad, Skjei)

Second Period
11:00 TB Gourde (3), (Hedman, Point)(SH)

Third Period
NO SCORING

Overtime
1:19 NYR Miller (3), (Shattenkirk)

Vasilevskiy was the game's first star.

New York played tonight with a lot of focus and succeeded in making this into a grinding, tactical kind of game. The Lightning, on the other hand, looked a little flat at the start of the game and fatigued at the close of it. New York did a good job on their film study choking off the Lightning breakout in the First Period, and the Lightning didn't really make any adjustments until the middle frame. They looked, for a moment, to have broken through and taken over the game when a disallowed Alex Killorn goal went in the net, but incidental contact by Dumont waved it off and the Lightning seemed to weaken steadily after that.

Was that a goal? I don't think Dumont's minuscule contact impeded Lundqvist from making a save. But, he did make contact and it appeared Dumont drifted into the paint of his own volition, and I think that was the determining factor for the refs. Cooper used to talk about "inviting" the refs to make a call by your positioning. That's a case where, if Dumont is mindful of the blue paint, I don't think it's an issue.

Had to watch the MSG feed tonight and all Ron Duguay's outfit was missing was a tiger named Montecore. What the hell was going on there?

Six games to go in this segment of the season. At least seven more points left to collect.

Yanni Gourde had the lone goal and 3 shots and 1 hit in 20:12. Maybe the best Lightning forward tonight.

Gabriel Dumont had 1 shot and 1 hit and was 25% on 4 draws in 5:30.

Jake Dotchin had 2 shots and 2 hits in 17:38, but made some head scratching decisions moving the puck tonight. Like, press-boxable head scratching.

Mikhail Sergachev had 1 shot in 16:32. He, himself, made a pretty press-boxable turnover in the Third Period in his own right.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Game Night: 10-30-17 Lightning at Panthers

Heyyyyyy, there goes a snowmaaaannnnn!

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FLA-5

Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 5 goals on 23 shots for the victory. Vasilevskiy sets a franchise record with 9 straight winning starts on a night when he was off his game. His first goal allowed was a short side softie that allowed Florida to avoid getting run out of their building early on. Fortunately, he got the sweet elixir known as goal support.

First Period
2:48 TB Point (6), (Coburn, Girardi)
4:55 TB Kucherov (13), (Stamkos)
10:31 FLA Ekblad (3), (Huberdeau, Barkov)
14:40 TB Stamkos (5), (Hedman, Killorn)(PP)
19:07 FLA Barkov (4), (Dadonov)

Second Period
5:32 FLA Huberdeau (5), (Barkov, Dadonov)
7:17 TB Palat (Point, Gourde)
9:38 TB Gourde (2), (Sergachev, Palat)(PP)
15:41 TB Namestnikov (5), (Kucherov, Hedman)

Third Period
5:32 FLA McGinn (3), (Bjugstad, Vrbata)
9:02 TB Stamkos (6), (Dotchin, Namestnikov)
11:29 FLA Dadonov (6), (Huberdeau, Barkov)
19:41 TB Stralman (2), (unassisted)(EN)

Steven Stamkos and Vasilevskiy were the game's first and third stars. I think they broke into the stash in the Miami Dolphins offensive line coach's office on that Vasilevskiy selection, history making aside, but I digress.

I thought the Lightning could've very well crushed Florida in this game (even more so than hanging 8 goals on them) if Vasilevskiy plays his normal game. I think the soft goal threw Florida a lifeline and they always play Tampa Bay like it's their championship. And, honestly, the Governors Cup often is the most prestigious thing they have a chance to play for, sadly enough. I can only imagine the difficulty for Tampa Bay having to get up for a game against a motivated little brother in an empty building. It's got to be challenging. For that reason, I can't muster much in the way of concern trolling about the 5 goals allowed. Take the win. Rub it into Florida's face that they still stink on toast. Move on to better things.

Real talk, though, folks: the attendance tonight in Sunrise should be a league-wide scandal. Remember when I made fun of the attendance in Raleigh the other night? Sunrise said, "Hold my beer." If there were 3,000 people in that building I'd be surprised, and probably a third of those were Lightning fans. This is a joke. How does the NHL allow this to continue? I can't fathom how Bettman and his cronies can possibly believe this is better for the league than selling out an 18,000 seat barn in Quebec City every night. I mean, Jesus, the Lightning and Panthers nearly scored one goal for every man, woman, and child in attendance at tonight's game. It's pathetic. It's sad. It's indicative of a franchise that needs to mercifully get the Old Yeller treatment. Just move it already. It's not like anyone in Miami will notice.

Real talk #2, folks: I was subjected to the horror of the Panthers broadcast on Center Ice tonight and I'm fairly certain you could prop Potvin up in front of a banana for a microphone at public skate night at the practice rink and he wouldn't know the difference anymore. Not that I don't find the guy slurring Vasilevskiy's name a half dozen times in a night charming, but at a certain point it's time to send grandpa to the old folks home for his own good. At least Chief had brown liquor as an excuse. Not sure what Potvin's is.

With seven games to go in this second segment of the season, the Lightning now have eight more points to collect.

Yanni Gourde had 1 goal and 1 assist and was +2 with 2 goals and 3 blocked shots in 18:30. He's the heart and soul of the forecheck on his line at evens and he's become the nice little PK ace, too.

Gabriel Dumont was -1 with 2 penalty minutes, 1 shot, and 3 blocked shots in 14:43. He was also 47% on 17 draws. I'm still not sure I'd call him an NHL'er, but I'll co-sign how he thumped Barkov and then suckered McCoshen into a minor penalty in the Third Period. All it lacked was giving an air kiss to McCoshen as he skated off.

Jake Dotchin had a helper and 1 shot and 1 blocked shot in 16:41.

Mikhail Sergachev had a helper and was +1 with 2 shots and 1 blocked shot in 13:44.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Game Night: 10-21-17 Penguins at Lightning

This feels different.

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TB-7

Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed just 1 goal on 29 shots for the victory. He's been lights out all season, but lately he's been putting together the stats to match. Really want to terrify an opposing NHL GM? Remind them Vasiy's only 23 years old. You're welcome.

First Period
1:36 TB Kucherov (9), (Hedman, Stamkos)(PP)
14:16 TB Stamkos (3), (Namestnikov, Kucherov)(PP)
19:59 TB Gourde (1), (Coburn, Point)

Second Period
0:30 TB Point (4), (Palat, Gourde)
5:58 TB Stralman (1), (Sergachev)
7:12 TB Kucherov (10), (Stamkos, Killorn)

Third Period
10:32 TB Sergachev (3), (Stamkos, Namestnikov)(PP)
18:18 PIT Guentzel (3), (Rust, Letang)(PP)

Steven Stamkos, Vasilevskiy, and Nikita Kucherov were the game's three stars.

I wasn't able to watch the game, so rather than comment on the particulars of this game I want to frame the performance of these first nine games of the campaign and offer some overall perspective.

The Tampa Bay Lightning missed the playoffs by one point last season partly because of injuries, partly because of a bizarre goaltending situation, but probably most of all because the team just didn't seem to have the maturity to approach every game with the necessary urgency. After several years of success, the club seemed to think its bona fides alone were necessary to win hockey games, often discarding good habits and taking shortcuts on the way to being dead last in the Eastern Conference in February before a late season charge nearly punched their postseason ticket. Fresh off that disappointment the Lightning rebuilt their leadership council this season with Stamkos and Ryan Callahan returning from injury and Dan Girardi and Chris Kunitz added into the mix in free agency. Still, through the first two games against the Florida Panthers, this team didn't look like it had learned its lesson as it headed into a games against league royalty like Washington and Pittsburgh that looked like colossal landmines on the schedule.

Seven games later the Lightning are 7-1-1-0. This feels different.

I'm not going to sit here and tell you tonight's drubbing of the defending Stanley Cup champions alone means the Lightning are ready to hoist the hardware themselves. Certainly, an objective observer will point out Antti Niemi hasn't exactly cloaked himself in glory in either of his encounters with the Lightning this year. But, with wins against a bevy of other quality opponents and a team that seems to have found a steely eyed determination and cold blooded professional, it's hard not to consider the Lightning as one of the early season contenders from the East. The only times I've seen this from the Lightning were the second half of the '03-'04 season when that team followed their leadership council of Dave Andreychuk and Tim Taylor all the way to a Stanley Cup, and the 2011 playoff run where Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis applied what they had learned from that run and came within an eyelash of winning it all before going down in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Finals to Boston. The current Lightning core never quite seemed to have the maturity and experience to fully grasp the level of intensity it takes to really and truly be great in all three zones day in and day out. Close, at times? Sure. But, it took the embarrassment of last season and the realization they've probably reached about the midpoint of their Stanley Cup window to get to this point. Now, they look like a team willing (and fully able) to do what it takes. This feels different, and I like it.

Slater Koekkoek had 1 hit in 11:15.

Yanni Gourde had 1 goal, 1 assist, and was +2 with 2 penalty minutes and 4 shots. He was also 33% on 9 draws. It was just a matter of time. If he's putting up 4 shots a night, he's a 20 goal scorer this year, I think.

Gabriel Dumont had 2 shots and 2 hits in 12:18. He was also 38% on 13 draws.

Jake Dotchin was +2 with 2 penalty minutes, 1 shot, and 3 hits in 12:52.

Mikhail Sergachev had 1 goal and 1 assist and was +1 with 1 shot and 2 hits in 16:56. Now we're getting close to the workload I think he needs to get to for the Lightning to really hit the higher end of some of its season's goals. When you're in a game that has nearly 40 minutes of garbage time, clearly there's no better time to let a young horse like Sergachev get plenty of reps. He did well with them, I see.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Game Night: 10-19-17 Lightning at Blue Jackets

Let there be kittens!!!

TB-2
CBJ-0

Andrei Vasilevskiy posted the 43 save shutout, his first of the season. The shot totals allowed were high, but I think the Lightning were good at limiting the quality scoring chances Andrei actually faced, with many of those shots coming from the perimeter or from really bad angles. When the good chances did come, I thought Andrei's positioning looked flawless and it just didn't seem like there was any way Columbus was getting anything tonight. Vasilevskiy's performance was so strong he even overcame the jinx of the TV broadcast flashing a graphic prematurely awarding him the shutout with 33.7 seconds still left in the game.

First Period
17:48 TB Sergachev (1), (Kucherov, Namestnikov)

Second Period
15:37 TB Sergachev (2), (Kucherov, Stamkos)

Third Period
NO SCORING

Vasilevskiy, Mikhail Sergachev, and Nikita Kucherov were the game's three stars.

Kind of an odd game. If all you saw was the box score, you'd see that 43-21 shot disparity and assume Vasilevskiy had to stand on his head. I didn't really feel like the game was ever really out of the Lightning's control. They were pretty efficient in the first 40 minutes and throughout the game really limited Columbus to throwing the puck toward the net from low percentage areas. Now, mind you, that's a recipe for surrendering some greasy goals and getting bitten by puck luck. You don't want to make a regular habit of that. But the Lightning still, I thought, had the lion's share of the real scoring chances.

Tampa Bay clinches the successful opening segment of the season and at least one insurance point already in the bank. Two game left to go in this opening ten game segment and the Lightning have a chance to bear down and really build up a nice glut of insurance points in the standings right away.

Yanni Gourde had 4 shots, 1 hit, and was 50% on 4 draws in 18:04. That was his best game of the season, and he did everything tonight but find the back of the net. I was surprised he didn't get third star. I love the volume of shot attempts for him (7). If he keeps that up, the production will follow shortly.

Gabriel Dumont had 1 shot, 3 hits, and was 57% on 7 draws in 12:06.

Jake Dotchin was +1 with 1 shot in 12:35. I'll be interested to see how the Lightning use him whenever they switch back to a six defenseman alignment. I thought he played well tonight.

Sergachev had his first two NHL goals and was +2 with 3 shots and 1 hit in 12:49. He's putting up numbers, which I wasn't expecting and might be a little bit of a mirage. Either way, I think any inkling of sending him back to juniors (which, I never thought was a real possibility) seems out the window at this hour.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Game Night: 10-12-17 Penguins at Lightning

Bow down to your new blueline overlord.

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TB-5

Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 4 goals on 40 shots for the victory. It's been like watching a new age Grant Fuhr early in this season. The stats don't part your hair when you read them, but he makes the big saves to help the team get W's.

First Period
6:07 TB Koekkoek (1), (Kunitz, Stralman)
13:46 PIT Guentzel (2), (Letang, Rust)
19:59 TB Hedman (1), (Killorn, Kucherov)(PP)

Second Period
3:59 TB Stamkos (1), (Namestnikov, Killorn)(PP)
8:58 PUT Sheary (3), (Ruhwedel, Niemi)
9:49 TB Kucherov (4), (Coburn, Killorn)
14:24 PIT Rust (1), (Guentzel, Maatta)(PP)
17:55 TB Koekkoek (2), (Killorn, Johnson)

Third Period
10:01 PIT Hunwick (1), (McKegg, Kessel)

Slater Koekkoek, Alex Killorn, and Kikita Kucherov were the game's three stars.

It wasn't the same tour de force performance that the Lightning put together against Washington, but the Lightning looked the better team 5 v 5 all night long against Pittsburgh and deserved the result tonight. Had they stayed out of the box consistently, they surely would've made this a lot easier on themselves, and even with some lapses of discipline there were several moments in the game it looked like it was teetering on the edge of the Lightning getting a 3 goal lead and making it a laugher. Against that team, that's impressive. Back-to-back wins against Washington and Pittsburgh are absolutely impressive, and leave little doubt the Lightning are legit early in this campaign.

4 games into the season, the Lightning have 6 points. 6 more points to collect in the next 6 games to make this a successful segment of the season.

Koekkoek had his first 2 NHL goals and was +1 with 2 penalty minutes, 3 shots, 1 hit, and 1 blocked shot in 9:44. The first goal, which was deflected by the Pens and a bit of puck luck, looked like it took a 200 pound gorilla off of Slater's back. The second goal looked like sheer exuberance as Koekkoek emerged from the box to patiently deposit a 3-on-1 chance on his backhand. Might be time to give him a game or two with a little more IT to see how he handles it.

Yanni Gourde had 3 shots and was 50% on 4 draws in 15:45. I liked that he was shooting the puck more. That will pay dividends in the long run.

Gabriel Dumont was +1 with 2 penalty minutes, 3 shots, and 2 hits in 8:59. He was also 33% on 9 draws. Skating's an issue. It just needs to be said.

Jake Dotchin was -1 with 2 blocked shots in 16:45. Little by little, he keeps rounding into form.

Mikhail Sergachev was -1 in just 5:22 of ice time. Sheary snuck behind him off the bench to steal a goal, and it seemed like Sergachev didn't see the ice much after that. With Koekkoek playing a nice little game, I wouldn't be shocked in the Lightning gave Mikhail a game off to watch and re-center before throwing him back into the fire.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Game Night: 10-6-17 Panthers at Lightning

Still...

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TB-5

Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 3 goals on 36 shots for the victory. He was clearly the difference in the game, allowing the Lightning to overcome an anemic opening 40 minutes while Roberto Luongo surrendered a couple of soft goals at the other end of the rink.

First Period
6:33 TB Palat (1), (Point, Hedman)

Second Period
0:25 TB Point (1), (unassisted)
12:21 FLA Brickley (1), (Petrovic)
17:47 FLA Pysyk (1), (Vrbata, Trocheck)

Third Period
0:59 TB Namestnikov (1), (Stamkos, Killorn)(PP)
6:38 TB Kucherov (1), (unassisted)
14:30 FLA Huberdeau (1), (Dadonov, Yandle)
19:46 TB Palat (2), (Point)(EN)

Brayden Point, Anton Stralman, and Ondrej Palat were the game's three stars.

Really a very mixed bag on the night, with slightly more good than bad. The team looked flat and got outpossessed by a wide margin in the first 40 minutes of the game, and it took some great play by Vasilevskiy and some soft play by Luongo to keep the Lightning from getting run out of their own barn. I think it starts from the backline where I simply didn't like the pairings with Jake Dotchin being scratched. If Jake's still paying his penance to Coach Cooper, I hope it's paid in full soon, because playing Girardi top pair isn't sustainable and playing Sustr at all isn't either. Sustr, in particular, did not cloak himself in glory in this game.

Through the first two frames, I thought only the Palat/Point/Gourde line showed up to the rink, but they were joined by the top line of Namestnikov/Stamkos/Kucherov that started to come on in the Third Period. I'm really heartened to see Brayden Point have a good opening game. With Tyler Johnson off the scoring lines and nearly invisible, the Lightning's ace up their sleeve is Point. I suspect he can have a breakout season and help give the Lightning the two balanced lines they need.

So, all in all, I think the pieces I think the Lightning need to really have a strong season (Vasilevskiy, Point, and to a lesser extent the returning Stamkos) had a good opening night with the exception of the exiled Dotchin. Hopefully the Lightning can get him back and playing as well as he did at the end of last season, and that'll push Girardi down to third pair with Coburn and Sustr to the press box, which I think will soothe a lot of defensive ills.

Yanni Gourde was +1 with 2 hits in 13:36.

Gabriel Dumont was 67% on 6 draws in 9:01.

Mikhail Sergachev was +1 with 2 penalty minutes and 4 shots in 16:03. I like that he's being mentored on a pair with Stralman and tonight was mostly what I'm hoping to see from him as a rookie. The Lightning need quality minutes more than hefty offensive production, and while I hope that ultimately Sergachev lands closer to 18 minutes on a game to game basis, this was a good start to his Lightning career.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Preseason Game Night: 9-30-17 Lightning at Predators

Lightning close preseason in style.

TB-3
NSH-2 (OT)

Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 2 goals on 28 shots for the OT victory.

First Period
5:49 TB Killorn, (Stamkos, Kucherov)(PP)
10:46 NSH Salomaki, (unassisted)(SH)(PS)

Second Period
13:51 TB Killorn, (Kucherov, Hedman)(PP)

Third Period
16:07 NSH Sissons, (Josi, Fiala)

Overtime
1:02 TB Kucherov, (Stralman, Stamkos)

Nikita Kucherov was the game's first star.

Not going to say this game wasn't without its flaws, but after several mediocre performances against Florida, this team needed a result to cap the preseason. That's what they got tonight, via the play of their biggest guns.

Slater Koekkoek had 1 blocked shot in 13:48.

Yanni Gourde had 2 hits in 14:50.

Gabriel Dumont was -1 with 3 shots and was 80% on 5 draws in 8:25.

Jake Dotchin had 2 penalty minutes, 2 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 13:48 in his preseason debut off suspension.

Mikhail Sergachev was -1 with 3 shots, 1 hit, and 1 blocked shot in 20:33.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

AHL Playoff Game Night: 4-28-17 IceCaps at Crunch

Crunchning Death Star moves on to its next target.

STJ-1
SYR-2 (OT)

Syracuse Wins the Series 3-1

Mike McKenna allowed 1 goal on 27 shots for the victory. After an uneven close to his regular season after the trade deadline, McKenna's upped his game for the postseason.

First Period
16:41 SYR Condra (2), (McGinn, Peca)(PP)

Second Period
NO SCORING

Third Period
14:27 STJ Matteau (3), (Audette, de la Rose)(PP)

Overtime
2:18 SYR Dumont (1), (Froese, Erne)

McKenna, Gabriel Dumont, and Erik Condra were the game's three stars as the veterans continue to drive the bus for the Crunch.

Box score from TheAHL.com.

NHL Game Night: 4-9-17 Sabres at Lightning

Lightning end a season of disappointment with an abundance of hope.

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TB-4

Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 2 goals on 28 shots for the victory. He was solid as a rock again today, making situational saves when needed and staying sharp despite long stretches where he had very little work. One of the biggest reasons for the Lightning missing the playoffs this season was subpar goaltending the first two-thirds of the year that came from the weird limbo situation that Ben Bishop was in. Once Bishop was moved out at the trade deadline and Vasilevskiy clearly moved into the number one role, Vasilevskiy played outstanding. He justified the opinion of a lot of people that he's the best emerging young goaltender in the game.

First Period
13:56 BUF Carrier (5), (Nylander)

Second Period
5:59 TB Point (17), (Hedman, Dotchin)
12:20 TB Coburn (5), (Namestnikov, Killorn)(SH)

Third Period
11:17 BUF Kane (28), (Gionta, O'Reilly)
18:36 TB Point (18), (Kucherov, Stralman)
19:59 TB Hedman (16), (Stralman, Point)(EN)

Brayden Point, Vasilevskiy, and Victor Hedman were the game's three stars.

You never know what you're going to get in a game like this where there's nothing on the line after Toronto eliminated the Lightning last night with a late, come-from-behind win. I was pleased to see a pretty good overall effort from the Lightning, particularly for the first 40 minutes of the game, which I think in part stemmed from a smart decision by Jon Cooper to start Vasilevskiy and treat this more like a normal game. They were pretty sound defensively the first 40 minutes and, probably feeling a little more free with things settled in the standings, I thought showed more free-flowing offensive creativity. With tee times beckoning in the Third Period, I thought there were stretches it got a little too much like a QMJHL game with matching line rushes at both ends, but all in all I think the Lightning really closed the season strong and in style. Were it not for the heroics for Linus Ullmark in Buffalo's net, the Lightning could've easily put 7 or 8 goals on the board tonight.

The Lightning ultimately finish 2 points shy of a playoff berth with 94 points. Remember how we keep harping on that 96 point number? Yep, that's the number that would've gotten them in. There's no mysticism about it, and the Lightning learned a painful lesson this season about early season complacency. The good news, I'm happy to say, is that it seems that the team understands what happened, and after their first summer of rest in a long time seem ready to return next year with a renewed team identity and a chip on their shoulder. That's not to say there won't be changes to the roster. There are warts on this team, and players on the roster who either have plateaued as players or simply can't cut it on an elite-level NHL team. I trust that Steve Yzerman will make the changes necessary to address those issues, and have a lot of hope in my heart seeing the emerging young talent on this team.

Going into next season, you can see the Lightning have five forwards in particular that look to me to be capable of being among the NHL's best. Steven Stamkos, returning from injury, obviously is already well proven as an NHL superstar and Nikita Kucherov added himself to that echelon of players with his 40-goal, over a point-a-game campaign this year. Beyond those two, you saw two other players who I think have the capability of becoming top-10 NHL scorers: Jonathan Drouin and Brayden Point. Drouin's talent is undeniable, and it remains not a question of "if" but rather "when" he makes that transition to being a 30 goal, 80+ point a year player. He could've had 4 goals easily today were it not for Ullmark's heroics. Point, on the other hand, came into this year with significantly lower expectations as a guy who was selected outside of the top-60 in his draft year who wasn't even expected to make the NHL roster this year. Had he not missed a month with a broken paw, he would've topped 20 goals this season and something about his rookie campaign gives me all the same feels that Brad Richards' rookie campaign in Tampa Bay did as a third round pick who played like a high first rounder. Rounding out this group is veteran Ondrej Palat, who has looked lost at times over the past two seasons but down the stretch of this year started to look like the two-way beast of a player he's shown he can be. Those give on the Lightning's forward corps give me the belief the team will be dynamic offensively next year.

The defensive corps is a bit more unsettled, but Victor Hedman made a serious campaign for the Norris Trophy down the stretch of this year in finishing second in the NHL in points among defensemen. I wouldn't bet against him winning it next year, and what we saw in Hedman's game this season was the checking off of the last boxes he needed to in order to transition to becoming a great NHL defenseman. Namely, the rise of the Lightning power play this year can be directly traced to the rise of Hedman as a legit power play threat. Maybe that's the silver lining of Stamkos' injury. With Stammer out, the Lightning became a much more "left handed" power play with things primarily playing off of Kucherov's triggers in the right wing circle. Hedman at the center point fed into that change from a "right handed" power play, and he started to really sharpen up his shot and improve his distribution skills. We always knew he was a wizard off the rush, but Hedman learned to thrive in the more stationary/lateral third-ice game of the power play. Supplementing Hedman is stalwart righty defenseman Anton Stralman and the found money that was youngster Jake Dotchin. Anybody who tells you they saw the rise of Jake Dotchin coming is either a (bleeping) liar or has a time machine. One of the magical things in sports is that sometimes a guy just "gets it" out of the blue and comes out of nowhere to become a good player. That was Dotchin this year. Those three form half of a solid NHL defense corps, and with two righties already nailed down, the job of filling out the rest of the Lightning blueline becomes a lot easier for Steve Yzerman to deal with. Lefties are a lot easier to come up with. Righties are rare as hen's teeth.

And then there's Vasilevskiy. Russia's answer to Carey Price. Mark my words: as talented as the Lightning are there will be other clubs in the NHL that will have better skaters and more skill... and the Lightning will have the answer in the form of Andrei Vasilevskiy. Watching him become what he looks destined to become is going to be fun.

Luke Witkowski had 1 shot, 1 hit, and 1 blocked shot in 16:25.

Greg McKegg played 10:51.

Dotchin had a helper, 1 shot, and 1 blocked shot in 17:07. I'd be interested to know if he draws any attention from the Canadian hockey program as a potential IIHF World Championships player.

Gabriel Dumont had 1 shot, 3 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 13:13 and was 63% on 8 draws. He will be headed back to Syracuse to help the Crunch in the playoffs, which Syracuse clinched a spot in today.

Yanni Gourde had 1 shot in 16:35 and was 40% on 10 draws. What a weapon for Syracuse to be getting back into the lineup.

Adam Erne was -2 with 4 hits and 1 blocked shot in 13:01. The stat line looks ugly, but I thought he played a whale of a first 40 minutes in the game. The whole reason Drouin could've had 3-4 goals in this game was that Erne was absolutely dealing on the forecheck and was super-creative distributing once he forced Buffalo to turn it over. He needs to follow up this stretch run with a strong playoffs for Syracuse. He'll enter next season on the roster bubble, and if he approaches the task with the proper intensity and focus he can help this Lightning team. He has obvious size and strength and surprising explosiveness and skill. The fact he can work so well with Drouin like he did today speaks to the upside he has. He's not some bogus faux power forward plugger. He's got the tools to be a serious scoring line contributor in this league. You all saw the flashes of it over the last month.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

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