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NHL Playoff Game Night: 5-16-16 Lightning at Penguins

Lightning can't pull off another smash and grab.

Eastern Conference Finals

TB-2
PIT-3 (OT)

Series Tied 1-1

Andrei Vasilevskiy sparkled, allowing 3 goals on 41 shots for the tough luck OT loss. Pittsburgh threw the kitchen sink at Tampa Bay in the First Period and although Vasilevskiy did allow the 2 goals, he stopped several other Grade A chances to keep Tampa Bay hanging around in the game until the cavalry arrived. Unfortunately, he just didn't have enough support in the form of possession tonight and eventually the game was lost on a 2-on-1 early in OT. I think Tampa Bay goes back to Bishop in Game Three if he's healthy enough to go, but Andrei did nothing to hurt his stock in these two games in Pittsburgh and the Lightning should feel completely comfortable if he has to go again in Game Three. It really is the mark of the good ones that if they give up a couple of goals in the First Period they resolve to close the door the rest of the way, and that's largely what Vasilevskiy accomplished tonight.

First Period
4:32 PIT Cullen(4), (Fehr, Kuhnhackl)
9:37 PIT Kessel(6), (Bonino, Haegelin)
16:37 TB Stralman(1), (Marchessault, Hedman)
19:10 TB Drouin(3), (Brown, Carle)

Second Period
NO SCORING

Third Period
NO SCORING

Overtime
0:40 PIT Crosby(4), (Rust, Dumoulin)

Jonathan Drouin was the game's third star. I have no idea how Vasilevskiy got robbed of a star.

Frankly, Pittsburgh was desperate and wanted this game more and it showed. The Lightning did a really good job of clawing their way back into the game in the First Period after taking a big haymaker from Pittsburgh, aided partially by the semi-soft goal Murray allowed to Drouin late in the period, but all in all the Lightning forecheck just wasn't there consistently. They were second to pucks all night. They allowed Pittsburgh to get out of their zone cleanly too easily and generate rush opportunities. It just wasn't Lightning hockey. They were going for the old 90's Devils playbook of waiting for a counterattack goal, and they nearly got in with Killorn ringing the crossbar on a 2-on-1 late in the Third Period, but that's not their style. The Lightning simply fail when they try to play this rope-a-dope style. They're the only ones who end up looking like dopes.

The biggest bit of good news from the game was the return of Anton Stralman. He looked a little stiff and a little slow and was a central figure in allowing the odd man rush on the OT winner. But, it's to be expected he's not in game condition quite yet after missing nearly two months. That'll come with time.

Ryan Callahan missed the game with the flu, which is unfortunate because in a loss like this you'd have at least liked to have gotten more hits on that soft Penguins defense. As I said, they were allowed to stay too clean tonight, and the Lightning really need to take more of a chunk out of them in Game Three. As a side note, I certainly hope some of the lethargic play seen from the Lightning wasn't a symptom of the flu spreading through the team a la Game Five of the Detroit series. This is a heck of a time of the year for the locker room to get hit by a bug.

It's too bad the Lightning are particularly lousy at faceoffs, because that's one way you can get some cheap possession when the game's tilting against you like it was against them tonight. That's a lesson they should've learned in the series against Chicago last year when the Blackhawks manufactured a couple of wins early on off of goals generated from faceoffs when they were getting otherwise dominated in the run of play. I kept hoping maybe the Lightning could manufacture the smash and grab goal tonight off a faceoff, but it never materialized. It's a weakness in their game that's a detail thing they have to work out moving forward. I'm shocked it hasn't been addressed better to this point, frankly.

The referees in this game went from a very one-sided way of calling hooking infractions that favored the Pens in the First Period to pretty much not calling anything the second half of the game. Tyler Johnson was tackled exiting the zone on a play right before the eventual OT winner. I suppose I can't protest too much because both teams got away with it as the game wore on, but there were a couple of particularly egregious ones Pittsburgh got away with late in the Third Period and on that play in Overtime once they realized the refs had pocketed their whistles.

Game Three is obviously huge, and it's a moment where Jon Cooper needs to take the matchup advantage and his players need to take the faceoff rules advantage and use them to leverage gaining more of a possession edge and get the momentum of the series back. Suffice it to say I expect a more high energy effort next time out.

Slater Koekkoek had 1 blocked shot in 5:47 of ice time. A rookie d-man in a tie game in the Eastern Conference Finals simply isn't getting a ton of ice time. With that said, my goodness, when he got a shift in the Third Period he showed no fear of going for it. He was in on the forecheck like a winger trying to make it happen.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

Juniors Playoffs Game Night: 5-14-16

United States Hockey League

Tri-City Storm 4 @ Dubuque Fighting Saints 2
Clark Cup Finals
Tri-City leads best-of-5 series, 2-0

D Ryan Zuhlsdorf, DBQ: 0-0-0, -1, 0 PIM, 0 SOG
Playoff totals: 11 GP, 0-3-3, +3, 10 PIM
Season totals: 46 GP, 0-27-27, -2, 59 PIM
(University of Minnesota signee)

Tri-City won both games in Dubuque and now go home with a chance to clinch the USHL championship on home ice.

Juniors Playoffs Game Night: 5-13-16

United States Hockey League

Tri-City Storm 5 @ Dubuque Fighting Saints 1
Clark Cup Finals
Tri-City leads best-of-5 series, 1-0

D Ryan Zuhlsdorf, DBQ: 0-0-0, -1, 0 PIM, 3 SOG
Playoff totals: 10 GP, 0-3-3, +4, 10 PIM
Season totals: 46 GP, 0-27-27, -2, 59 PIM
(University of Minnesota signee)

Tri-City stole home ice advantage away from Dubuque by winning Game 1 of the Clark Cup finals in Dubuque, 5-1. The Storm scored five times in the third period to erase a 1-0 deficit. Game 2 is Saturday.

NHL Playoff Game Night: 5-13-16 Lightning at Penguins

Somehow. Some way.

Eastern Conference Finals

TB-3
PIT-1

Tampa Bay Leads the Series 1-0

Ben Bishop stopped all 9 shots he faced before leaving the game on a stretcher from a freak injury where he landed awkwardly on his own left leg. I'm going to guess it's a high ankle or knee sprain, as x-rays have already ruled out a break. Either way, Bishop looked in anguish on the ice and it looks at this hour like his postseason may be done. Stepping into another moment of panic in his young career, like in the Stanley Cup Final last year, young Andrei Vasilevskiy again proved himself by stopping 25 of 26 shots the rest of the way for the victory. He looked fantastic under the circumstances, and you can see bits of his game he's picked up from Ben like smart stickwork around his crease. Athletically he's capable of giving the Lightning a chance to still advance, but losing Bishop clearly nullifies the biggest advantage the Lightning had coming into this Eastern Conference Finals. Bishop was, on paper, the best and most experience netminder still standing among the NHL's final four teams. Vasilevskiy isn't drastically less experienced than Murray, so it's not like Pittsburgh gets a dramatic goaltending advantage like Montreal got when Bishop got hurt late in the regular season 3 years ago. But, it's a blow to the team's hopes, for sure. There's no sugar coating that.

First Period
18:46 TB Killorn(4), (Hedman)

Second Period
2:33 TB Palat(3), (Filppula, Garrison)(PP)
18:25 TB Drouin(2), (Palat, Filppula)
19:05 PIT Hornqvist(6), (Crosby, Kessel)(PP)

Third Period
NO SCORING

Ondrej Palat and Jonathan Drouin were the game's first and second stars. How the heck Vasilevskiy didn't get a star is beyond me.

Wow. I confess to being a little speechless. I have no idea how the Lightning survived a First Period that we may well refer to from here on out as "The Period From Hell," much less how they got out of it with a 1-0 lead. Even before Bishop's injury, Ryan Callahan took a 5 minute boarding major that will likely lead to a 1 game suspension. The Lightning somehow managed to kill that off against the best power play unit in this playoff year thus far. The Lightning lost all their early 5v5 momentum after that kill and looked on the ropes at times before Bishop got injured. Somehow, some way, the Lightning managed to reset their composure in the 10-15 minutes it took to stretcher their MVP off the ice, and they started to play an efficient, opportunistic game. A Hedman stretch pass found Killorn at the Pens blueline and he worked his way into a breakaway where he sweetly stashed a backhand deke under Murray to make it 1-0. But "The Period From Hell" wasn't done with the Lightning yet, as Chris Kunitz hit Tyler Johnson knee to knee very late in the period leading Johnson to leave the ice until deep into the Second Period. Thankfully he returned and didn't look too limited after coming back.

So, you had a team head into the locker room that could've gone into shock, but they instead dedicated to put their noses to the grindstone and see what they could work out of the game. They got an early power play and with some good work by Killorn and resulting puck movement, Filppula made a nice play with a shot-for-rebound that found Palat for the goal that put the team up 2-0. Later in the period, Palat teed up Drouin on a 2-on-1 and the Lightning put themselves in position for a nearly perfect road win at 3-0, especially under the circumstances. Unfortunately, they put themselves in some jeopardy by allowing a power play goal late in the period that gave the Pens a chance to make a Third Period push. They're lucky that didn't come back to bite them, as Pittsburgh outshot the Lightning 16-5 in the final frame, forcing young Vasilevskiy to make some big stops. But, they ultimately did enough to get it done.

Tampa Bay came to Pittsburgh with the mission of getting at least one of the first two games on the road. Mission accomplished. Now they are playing with house money heading into Game Two. They can play free and fast and see if they can steal another one out from under Pittsburgh before the scene shifts back to Tampa Bay. Once back in Tampa, if not sooner, I'd expect to see Anton Stralman, and eventually I'd expect to see Steven Stamkos back late in this series. The urgency for them to return only goes up now with Bishop's injury. If the Lightning can get at least Stralman back and continue to play a structured game in front of Vasilevskiy, they've still got a decent shot of advancing, even with the Bishop injury. Certainly there's 26 other teams in the league that wish they were in the Lightning's shoes at the moment, so there's no time for hand wringing for pity parties. This team's story is still to be written and it still can have a happy ending.

On a tangent, with Callahan getting a 5 minute major for boarding Letang in the First Period and Palat getting a 2 minute minor for board Dumoulin late in the game, one of the Lightning's big strategic goals became obvious. Certainly no one's advocating dirty hockey, but the Lightning's agenda clearly seems to include testing a fairly soft Penguins defense physically. And, quite frankly, I don't think the Penguins passed that test all that well tonight. I think they showed they're not comfortable taking hits along the wall and they can be intimidated a little. Callahan's impending suspension shouldn't diminish that strategy, in my opinion. With the Lightning taking home ice away with the win tonight, they've put themselves in a position to, at a minimum, make this a very long series. If so, the cumulative effect of a constant pounding on the Penguins' D is going to yield dividends, and could be the difference between winning or losing this series.

Welcome back J.T. Brown. We missed you.

Slater Koekkoek had 1 shot, 1 hit, and 1 blocked shot in 9:31. When Stralman does return, there's no way Koekkoek should sit for Nikita Nesterov. No way. Koekkoek has clearly passed Nesterov on the depth chart, in my mind, and he seems to get a little steadier and a little more confidence with each shift.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

Juniors Playoffs Game Night: 5-12-16

Quebec Major Junior Hockey League

Shawinigan Cataractes 2 @ Rouyn-Noranda Huskies 7
QMJHL Finals
Rouyn-Noranda wins best-of-7 series, 4-1

W Dennis Yan, SHAW: 1-0-1, -1, 2 PIM, 3 SOG, 5 Hits
Playoff totals: 20 GP, 10-5-15, +2, 32 PIM
Season totals: 62 GP, 32-37-69, +8, 86 PIM

Rouyn-Noranda won the President Trophy as QMJHL champs with a 7-2 win Thursday over Dennis Yan and Shawinigan. The Huskies advance to the Memorial Cup where they will join tournament host Red Deer and OHL champ London. Seattle and Brandon continue to battle in the WHL for the last spot. Yan completes his year with a bounce-back post-season after a lackluster finish to the regular season. He finishes the playoffs 10th in league goal scoring and second in penalty minutes. He’ll return to the Q next year.

Ryan Zuhlsdorf of USHL Dubuque is the lone Lightning prospect left playing. His Saints take on Tri-City in the USHL Clark Cup Finals.

The Bolt Prospects Podcast, Volume 66

This week’s “He Who Plays for a Team that Shan’t Be Named Edition” of the Bolt Prospects Podcast (also available on Lightning Power Play, Lightning Radio's iHeart station) includes the following topics:

· The No. 66
· Flightless birds lack intelligence
· Conference Final will be determined by…
· Koekkoek’s made his move
· Zettler out in Syracuse; what went wrong?
· Groulx brings energy, expectations to Crunch

Juniors Playoffs Game Night: 5-10-16

Quebec Major Junior Hockey League

Rouyn-Noranda Huskies 4 @ Shawinigan Cataractes 6
QMJHL Finals
Rouyn-Noranda leads best-of-7 series, 3-1

W Dennis Yan, SHAW: 1-0-1, +2, 0 PIM, 2 SOG, 3 Hits
Playoff totals: 19 GP, 9-5-14, +3, 28 PIM
Season totals: 62 GP, 32-37-69, +8, 86 PIM

Shawinigan staved off elimination for at least one more game, avoiding a sweep at the hands of Rouyn-Noranda with a 6-4 win Tuesday. Dennis Yan’s ninth goal of the playoffs gave the Cataractes a 3-0 lead they’d later relinquish. The Huskies came back from 3-0 and 4-1 deficits to tie the game before Shawinigan went ahead for good late in the third period. Former Lightning camper Philippe Cadorette stopped 33 of 37 shots for Shawinigan, earning second star. Game 5 is Thursday in the Huskies’ arena.

United States Hockey League

Bloomington Thunder 0 @ Dubuque Fighting Saints 3
Eastern Conference Finals
Dubuque wins best-of-5 series, 3-2

D Ryan Zuhlsdorf, DBQ: 0-0-0, +1, 0 PIM, 1 SOG
Playoff totals: 9 GP, 0-3-3, +5, 10 PIM
Season totals: 46 GP, 0-27-27, -2, 59 PIM
(University of Minnesota signee)

Dubuque advanced to the Clark Cup Finals with a 3-0 shutout win over Bloomington Tuesday. Hunter Miska (undrafted Minnesota-Duluth commit) stopped 25 shots for the shutout win. The Saints will face Adam Wilcox’s old team, the Tri-City Storm, in the finals starting Friday.

Lightning Name Benoit Groulx as 9th Head Coach of the Crunch

TAMPA BAY – The Tampa Bay Lightning have hired Benoit Groulx to become the head coach of its American Hockey League affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch, Crunch General Manager Julien BriseBois announced today.

Groulx, 48, was the head coach and general manager for the Gatineau Olympiques of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League during the 2015-16 season, guiding his team to a record of 46-19-2-1. The Olympiques were defeated in the 2016 QMJHL Quarter-Final by the Moncton Wildcats four games to two.

Groulx has worked 13 total seasons as a head coach in the QMJHL with the Hull/Gatineau Olympiques, posting a career record of 460-293-18-59. He led his teams to league championships in 2003, 2004 and 2008, earning QMJHL Coach of the Year honors for the 2003-04 season while coaching the Olympiques.

The Hull, Quebec native also served on the coaching staffs for Team Canada at the 2004 U18 World Championships as well as the 2014 and 2015 IIHF World Junior Championships. Groulx was an assistant coach for the Gold Medal winning Team Canada at the U18 World Championships in 2004. Groulx was also an assistant coach for Team Canada at the World Junior Championships in 2014 as Canada was defeated in the Bronze Medal game by Russia. The following year, Groulx was the head coach for Team Canada, winning the Gold Medal and earning a perfect 7-0 record during the tournament.

Juniors Playoffs Game Night: 5-8-16

Quebec Major Junior Hockey League

Rouyn-Noranda Huskies 2 @ Shawinigan Cataractes 1
QMJHL Finals
Rouyn-Noranda leads best-of-7 series, 3-0

W Dennis Yan, SHAW: 0-0-0, -1, 0 PIM, 1 SOG, 6 Hits
Playoff totals: 18 GP, 8-5-13, +1, 28 PIM
Season totals: 62 GP, 32-37-69, +8, 86 PIM

The Huskies are within one win of the President Cup after a 2-1 Game 3 win in Shawinigan Sunday. Rouyn-Noranda won the completion of Game 2 Saturday, 4-1. Game 4 is Tuesday. Yan is the last remaining Lightning prospect playing outside the NHL.

United States Hockey League

Dubuque Fighting Saints 2 @ Bloomington Thunder 3 (OT) (Saturday)
Eastern Conference Finals
Best-of-5 series tied, 2-2

D Ryan Zuhlsdorf, DBQ: 0-0-0, E, 0 PIM, 0 SOG
Playoff totals: 8 GP, 0-3-3, +4, 10 PIM
Season totals: 46 GP, 0-27-27, -2, 59 PIM
(University of Minnesota signee)

Dubuque outshot Bloomington 9-6 in overtime, but the Thunder snuck out the win to avoid elimination and force a deciding Game 5 in the USHL’s Eastern Conference Finals. The series will end one way or another Tuesday in Dubuque.

NHL Playoff Game Day: 5-8-16 Islanders at Lightning

Halfway to the mountaintop...

Eastern Conference Quarterfinals

NYI-0
TB-4

Tampa Bay Wins the Series 4-1

Ben Bishop stopped all 28 shots he faced for the shutout and the issuance of even more U of Maine Justice in a closeout game. He had 1-2 timely saves early in the game and one big time larceny on Boychuk to preserve his SO, but otherwise it was an afternoon of light work for Bish. His homework for the ECF: come out sharper for Game One, as he looked a little off in Game One of both the DET and NYI series, and the Lightning can't afford to spot any opponent a game here on out.

First Period
13:49 TB Hedman(3), (unassisted)
18:41 TB Boyle(3), (Carle, Paquette)

Second Period
4:22 TB Hedman(4), (Drouin, Johnson)(PP)

Third Period
4:40 TB Kucherov(9), (Killorn)

Victor Hedman, Bishop, and Brian Boyle were the game's three stars.

The Lightning took the Islanders' heart in OT wins in Game Three and Game Four and today they did a clinical job of taking their playoff lives. Sensing the advantage, the Lightning finally played an excellent First Period for the first time in the series to build the 2-0 lead. In the Second Period, they leveraged the power play to get the all important 3 goal advantage after 40 minutes. And, just to discourage the Isles from any thought of a comeback, Kucherov bagged the breakaway early in the Third Period to allow the Lightning to cruise to the Eastern Conference Finals.

For the first time ever, the Lightning are in the NHL's final four teams in back to back years. In other words, today they officially became elite.

Speaking of which... Victor Hedman's only roadblock to competing for Norris Trophies has been his inability to establish himself as a legit sniper from the point. In this series, he started to show the ability to find the range. If that continues and carries over into next season, he'll challenge the likes of Doughty and Karlsson and lay legit claim to being the league's best defenseman. And, he's learning how to lug the hefty minutes every game that those Norris-caliber defensemen often do for their teams, as well.

Now the Lightning get some crucial time off to rest as they await their next opponent. I'm not going to sugar coat this: the Lightning just cleared the JV side of the bracket in the Eastern Conference. The heavy lifting is definitely to come. However, you can only play the opponents on the schedule and the Lightning disposed of both of DET and NYI quickly, as a legitimate contender should have. It's a far cry from last season where the Lightning had already played 13 of a possible 14 games at this point of the playoff season.

Who do I root for between WAS and PIT on the other side of the bracket? An earthquake or other natural disaster. Frankly, I can't stand either one of them and the national hockey media will do their best to put the machine behind whichever one of Ovechkin or Crosby advances. Six/one half dozen. Either way the Lightning need to start getting Brown, Stralman, and Stamkos back if they're going to advance to the Stanley Cup Final, so protracted, bloody multi-overtime games between the Pens and Caps, and the extra time they would afford the Lightning, might be the best result of all.

Slater Koekkoek had 1 hit in 9:49. He's clearly supplanted Nesterov in the every day lineup for the team.

Luke Witkowski had 1 hit in 4:17.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

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