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NCAA Game Night: 3-24-13

While there were no Lightning NCAA prospects in action on Sunday, the 2013 NCAA tournament field was set and involved four Tampa Bay draft picks:

Quinnipiac (Matt Peca) earned the top overall seed and will play 16-seed Canisius College in the East Region's first round. Of course, Canisius is the alma mater of current Lightning rookie, Cory Conacher.

Minnesota (Adam Wilcox) got the second overall seed and plays 15th-seeded Yale in the first round in the West.

Miami (Jimmy Mullin) is the 5-seed and will play 11-seed Minnesota State in the Midwest.

North Dakota (Brendan O'Donnell) is No. 8 in the tournament and will face off against 10-seed Niagara in the first round of the West. The winner will play the Minnesota-Yale winner.

Left out of the tournament is Luke Witkowski and Western Michigan, who had a fine season but were beat out of the CCHA tournament early by Michigan. Notre Dame and Canisius making the tournament knocked them out as an at-large. That means Witkowski is available to sign his pro contract with the Lightning, something Tampa Bay General Manager Steve Yzerman has said he interested in doing. Witkowski's defense partner, Danny DeKeyser, is the NCAA's top available free agent and is reportedly traveling to Toronto on Tuesday to meet with potential suitors. The Lightning were a supposed finalist for his services last year before he decided to go back to school. The Red Wings are considered the favorite to land DeKeyser, with the Ducks and Oilers also making strong pushes. Expect the Lightning to be involved also, but it's unclear if the signing of Andrej Sustr and the firing of Guy Boucher will affect things.

Witkowski could join the Syracuse Crunch upon his signing.

NHL Game Night: 3-24-13 Lightning at Jets

Goaltending makes the difference.

TB-2
WPG-3

Cedrick Desjardins allowed 3 goals on 24 shots for the loss. At the end of the day, he's simply not an NHL goaltender. Winnipeg has a decent NHL goaltender in Pavelec, and that was the difference between winning and losing tonight. It was an incredibly tough spot to put Cedrick in starting him after the coaching change and the Lightning got about what I expected from it.

First Period
14:02 WPG Little (5), (Wheeler)

Second Period
02:35 WPG Byfuglien (6), (Wheeler, Little)(PP)
06:20 TB Stamkos (22), (St. Louis, Salo)(PP)
09:35 WPG Enstrom (3), (Ladd, Little)

Third Period
05:01 TB Conacher (9), (Brewer)

Martin St. Louis was the game's third star.

Now we move on to the elephant in the room, which is the question of who will be the next Head Coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Let me make this plain: it would be incredibly foolish to select anyone other than Jon Cooper to coach this team. If there is any prejudice against AHL coaches because of Guy Boucher's inability to sustain the success he had early in his tenure, it should be tempered by the fact Cooper has achieved far more in his AHL career than Boucher ever managed. Where Boucher's Hamilton team fell in the AHL Finals, Cooper has won a Calder Cup with Norfolk and set historic records in the process He also, against all odds, has Syracuse in first in the Eastern Conference despite losing his best players to callup. He's done so without teams flush with top-60 draft picks, either. Take a look at the players the Lightning have brought up from Syracuse. Other than Panik, none of them were selected in the top-60, and Conacher and Johnson were undrafted free agents. And yet, they're in the NHL. Why? Partly because Jon Cooper has taught them to play the game the right way, and to maximize the talent that they have. Indeed, they are the living embodiment of Jon Cooper's resume. They backcheck well and are defensively responsible. They play with physical edge. They hustle their bags off. Above all, they're winners.

They, along with young stars Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman, are the future of the Tampa Bay Lightning. And there are even more of Jon Cooper's players on the way up to the NHL. Brett Connolly, at a minimum, will join the team, and there are several others who will also be knocking on the door as well. If the next few years are destined to be played out by Jon Cooper's kids, does it not make sense that Jon Cooper should be the one to lead them? Not an NHL retread. Not another team's AHL coach, who does not nearly have the same record as Cooper or the unbelievable rapport Cooper has with the organization's young future stars. And with Andrej Sustr on his way to Tampa Bay next week and a top-10 pick looking to be in the offing this June, who better than Cooper, who we gave the monicker The Rookie Whisperer last year with Norfolk, to break them into the pro game?

My deep hope is that Steve Thomas being behind the bench tonight in Winnipeg along with Boucher's assistants was a tell. I hope it's a clear indicator that Jon Cooper is on the way. And, if he is, I have no doubt the future is very bright and the Lightning will be back as one of the elite teams in the Eastern Conference very, very soon.

Alex Killorn was -1 with 3 shots and 1 hit in 19:27.

Tyler Johnson had 2 penalty minutes, 1 hit, and 1 blocked shot in 14:47. He was also 47% on draws.

Richard Panik had 1 shot and 1 hit in 10:30. Holy God is he hard on the puck though. You better bring a SAM missile if you want to knock him off of it once he's got it.

Ondrej Palat had 1 shot and 1 hit in 13:13.

Radko Gudas was +1 with 2 shots, 3 hits, and 3 blocked shots in 19:51.

Pierre-Cedric Labrie had 2 penalty minutes, 1 shot, and 2 hits in 5:04 before leaving with the dreaded upper-body injury.

Cory Conacher had a goal and was +1 with 2 shots in 14:24.

That's seven Tampacuse players. Plus Aulie. That's over a third of the team's skaters. This is such a no-brainer decision, and it needs to be made correctly tomorrow before the Lightning can begin to climb again toward greatness.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NA Juniors Playoff Game Night: 3-24-13

Ontario Hockey League

(W5)Sudbury Wolves 5 @ (W4)Brampton Battalion 4
Best-of-7 Western Conference Quarterfinals tied, 1-1

D Dylan Blujus, BRAM: 0-1-1, +1, 2 PIM
Playoff totals: 2 GP 1-1-2, +3, 2 PIM
Season totals: 68 GP, 2-27-29, -8, 57 PIM

Blujus had a point for the second straight night, but Brampton fell at home to Sudbury despite outshooting the Wolves 34-17. Going back to the regular season, Blujus has a goal and five assists in his last five games. Game 3 is Tuesday in Sudbury.

(W5)Guelph Storm 0 @ (W4)Kitchener Rangers 2
Kitchener leads best-of-7 Western Conference Quarterfinals, 2-0

C/W Tanner Richard, GUE: 0-0-0, E, 0 PIM
Playoff totals: 2 GP, 0-1-1, -1, 0 PIM
Season totals: 52 GP, 11-51-62, +18, 94 PIM

American WJC hero John Gibson (Ducks) stopped all 49 shots he faced, easily earning first star honors in the Rangers’ 2-0 Game 2 win on Sunday. The teams will make the short drive to Guelph for Game 3 on Tuesday.

KHL Playoff Game Day: 3-24-13

KHL Playoffs (Russia):

Eastern Conference Finals
(1)Kazan 3 vs. (3)Chelyabinsk 1
Kazan Leads the Series 2-0
Nikita Nesterov, Chelyabinsk, DNP
Playoff totals: 8 GP, 0-2-2, E, 6 PIM
Regular season totals (KHL): 35 GP, 0-1-1, +6, 14 PIM
Regular season totals (MHL): 2 GP, 0-0-0, E, 0 PIM

Kazan got helpers from ex-NHLers Alexei Morozov and Niko Kapanen in Kazan's 3-1 Game Two victory over Traktor Chelyabinsk. Ex-NHLer Jan Bulis had Traktor's only goal in the match. Game Three is Wednesday.

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