Vampire Lightning see their season sputter to its end in Boston.
Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 3 goals on 37 shots for the loss. He might want the last one back, but for the most part Vasilevskiy was very good tonight and simply didn't get an ounce of goal support. It's happened to Vasiy too often this year and hopefully next season that trend will change, because he's played really well since Bishop was traded and will be one of the team's best players for several years to come.
5:56 BOS Stafford (7), (Krejci, McQuaid)
16:06 BOS Pastrnak (33), (Nash, Miller)
9:12 BOS Chara (10), (Krug, Backes)(PP)
18:58 BOS Pastrnak (34), (Krejci)(EN)
I think the spirit was willing for the Lightning tonight, but they just didn't have much more than fumes left in the tank after a month of maintaining a fairly blistering pace to give themselves the chance to play meaningful games in April. They had a very good push to open the game, but lost steam after the first 5-10 minutes. They should've gotten a lift after Brad Marchand was kicked out and given a major penalty for cup checking young Dotchin, but there was too much (possibly fatigue-induced) complacency on the resulting power play, and after failing to score with the man advantage Boston surged and pretty much blew the Lightning off the ice. The big, obvious lesson is that games in October, November, and December matter as much as the ones in March and April in the points column. The Lightning simply dug too deep a hole to realistically climb out of. Were injuries a factor? Sure. But complacency early in the season was a big factor, too.
It's a painful lesson, but one I think the Lightning will take to heart. I'm actually not as upset with this season given some of the seeds I saw planted in this stretch run. I look at this team and I see some echoes of the '01-'02 team's performance as they learned how to compete and win in the month of March. The two teams obviously aren't perfect mirrors, as this Lightning team is far more established as a legitimate NHL team, but there are still some important parallels you can take away. Specifically, I'm very heartened by the experience guys like Vasiy, Point, Dotchin, and Drouin gained playing key roles in this run, and how Kucherov started to assert himself as the main man since late February and Palat started to get his Palat-ness back. That's not to say there won't be roster changes. There are certainly passengers on this team (Killorn, Brown, and Sustr come to mind), some of which suffer from lack of athleticism/talent while some suffer from stagnation/complacency. And there are others who simply aren't NHL players who have been forced into the lineup due to injuries (Dumont, Vermin, and McKegg come to mind). But you could see a core reforming that will be supplemented when Stamkos and others return and get healthy. It obviously remains to be proved, but I really think the Lightning will be better for this bump in the road knowing there's also a ton of fresh talent headed to Syracuse next season like Stephens, Cirelli, and Joseph who bring a lot of character and energy to the pro ranks. After two seasons where the organization played more games than any other in the league, this might just be a quick, deep breath for the team before it presses on again in its pursuit of a Cup next year.
Luke Witkowski had 2 penalty minutes, 3 shots, 8 hits, and 2 blocked shots in 10:16. As one of the fresher guys in the lineup, he was one of the most effective. I'm kind of in a tough spot in my appraisal of Witkowski. I like his character, but I don't see an NHL future for him on defense because he's just too stiff on his pivots and I'm not entirely sure he's versatile enough to be a new age Ben Clymer and move to forward full time, either.
Gregg McKegg had 1 shot and 2 hits in 9:27 and was 50% on 8 draws. He's good on draws, but I don't see much else there. His skating and hockey sense are subpar for the NHL level.
Jake Dotchin had 1 shot and 3 hits in 20:09, but unfortunately may be a gelding after getting speared in the groin by Brad Marchand. It's a dirty play I hope Dotchin gets to avenge next season. Dotchin's been the biggest surprise of the year, no doubt. Had Dylan Blujus stayed healthy, I doubt Dotchin would've even gotten this opportunity. Now that he has, though, he looks like you can definitely pencil him onto the NHL roster for next year. His skating has been adequate and he's showed surprising hockey sense to go with the assets we knew he had. He's strong as an ox, physical, and has a booming shot. I just hope he doesn't turn back into a pumpkin in training camp next year.
Yanni Gourde was -1 with 2 penalty minutes, 2 shots, and 1 hit in 17:45. He also got killed in the faceoff circles going 21% on 14 draws. I think Yanni Gourde will be an NHL player next year, but probably not with Tampa Bay as he's an unrestricted free agent. I won't go so far as to say he'll be a 30 goal scorer like Marchessault has been since leaving Tampa Bay, but he's a guy who can help a team that's looking to get better.
Adam Erne was -1 and had 1 shot and 2 hits in 9:04. With Brian Boyle out the door, I think Erne may stick next season because the team will need some size up front. He's a tantalizing mix of strength, deceptive speed, and skill just waiting to come together.
Joel Vermin had 1 shot in 10:16. Enjoy the NLA next season, Joel.
Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.