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NHL Game Night: 4-6-17 Lightning at Maple Leafs

As sun continues to sink on the season, Lightning continue to fight against the darkness.

TB-4
TOR-1

Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 1 goal on 27 shots for the victory. Another really strong performance down the stretch by Vasilevskiy, who has answered all of my questions about whether he's ready to be the starter in the affirmative.

First Period
NO SCORING

Second Period
7:34 TB Point (15), (Palat, Hedman)(PP)
9:42 TOR Kadri (32), (Hunwick, Bozak)
11:50 TB Kucherov (39), (Hedman)

Third Period
2:00 TB Bournival (2), (Sustr, Hedman)
14:11 TB Point (16), (Palat, Dotchin)

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

Even as the Lightning's mathematical odds were dwindling ever closer to zero due to other results around the league, Tampa Bay reaffirmed their character in a convincing win over a Toronto team ready for a playoff coronation. There was a lot of, in my opinion unfair, hand wringing in the Lightning fan base after their loss to Boston with copious accusations that the Lightning somehow lacked heart in the game. Reiterating what I said after the game, I think the real culprit was the fatigue of trying to maintain a pace above .700 in the standings for close to two months with injury problems and trade deadline departures piling up around the team's ears. The truth is the complacency of the first two-thirds of the season caught up with the Lightning in Boston, as it was almost inevitably bound to do. But, that shouldn't invalidate the resolve the Lightning showed the final third of the campaign in fighting hard enough to still be playing meaningful games in April. That's no small feat, and a testament to both the coaching staff and the character of the team and its young, emerging stars. Tonight was the Lightning giving an RSVP for better things ahead next season.

With Ottawa defeating Boston in a Shootout tonight, the Lightning are now 3 points out of a playoff spot with 2 games left to play. Toronto still looks extremely likely to slip into the playoffs even despite tonight's effort and eliminate the Lightning, but credit to the Lightning for making them earn it.

Luke Witkowski had 2 hits in 4:53.

Greg McKegg was +1 with 1 hit in 9:16. He was also 38% on 8 draws.

Jake Dotchin had a helper, 3 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 20:43, and made friends and influenced people all throughout the metro-Toronto region stepping up at his blueline for an awkward leg to leg hit on Leafs golden child Austen Matthews.

Gabriel Dumont returned from paternity leave to deliver 1 hit and 2 blocked shots in 12:21. He was also 33% on 12 draws.

Yanni Gourde was 15% on 13 draws in 13:51.

Adam Erne had 1 shot and 2 hits in 11:54.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

AHL Game Night: 4-5-17 Crunch at Devils

Organization-wide limp to the finish line continues.

SYR-0
ALB-3

Mike McKenna allowed 3 goals on 32 shots for the loss. Just a little goal support, please.

First Period
17:40 ALB Lappin (10), (Quenneville, MacDonald)(PP)

Second Period
2:12 ALB Lappin (11), (unassisted)(SH)
9:14 ALB Gibbons (14), (Lappin)(SH)

Third Period
NO SCORING

Yet another critical divisional loss for the Crunch puts them 4 points back of Toronto for the top spot in the North Division. The big tell is Syracuse's -6 goal differential for the year, which speaks to the fact they might not be quite the club their 10 games over .500 mark suggests they are.

Box score from TheAHL.com.

NHL Game Night: 4-4-17 Lightning at Bruins

Vampire Lightning see their season sputter to its end in Boston.

TB-0
BOS-4

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.

First Period
NO SCORING

Second Period
5:56 BOS Stafford (7), (Krejci, McQuaid)
16:06 BOS Pastrnak (33), (Nash, Miller)

Third Period
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.

NHL Game Night: 4-2-17 Stars at Lightning

Lackluster Lightning still power through to set up big game in Boston.

DAL-3
TB-6

Petr Budaj allowed 3 goals on 26 shots for the victory. Strange game. Budaj got the benefit of two video replays and a quick whistle on a shot that knocked off his mask. Was he bad? No. Was he lucky? A little. It was just a bizarre contest.

First Period
11:27 TB Erne (2), (Gourde, Sustr)

Second Period
1:49 DAL Smith (3), (Lindell, Spezza)
10:57 DAL Spezza (14), (Klingberg, Lindell)
19:42 TB Coburn (4), (Stralman, Palat)

Third Period
5:43 TB Point (14), (Dotchin, Palat)
13:27 TB Palat (17), (Drouin, Kucherov)(PP)
14:37 TB Erne (3), (Namestnikov, Johnson)
16:40 DAL Ritchie (15), (Lindell, Shore)
19:58 TB Stralman (5), (unassisted)(EN)

Ondrej Palat, Brayden Point, and Adam Erne were the game's three stars.

I'm not going to call that a work of art, because it wasn't. The Lightning looked particularly trashy in the Second Period when they seemed like they could neither give nor receive passes cleanly. They had a lot of luck with the video replays, too. But, in the end equation, it's about survival and manufacturing ways to stay in the race. That's what the Lightning did tonight. I don't care how. They just did it.

Tampa Bay moves to 88 points, 3 points back of Ottawa with the Senators holding a game in hand. Next up, a meeting in Boston on Tuesday night with the Spoked Satan. Win and they move within 2 points of Boston with a game in hand. Lose and the Lightning probably stay home for the postseason.

Luke Witkowski had 3 hits and 2 blocked shots in 7:02.

Jake Dotchin had a helper and was +1 with 1 shot, 2 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 17:52.

Gabriel Dumont had 1 hit in 8:59 and was 20% on 10 draws.

Yanni Gourde had a helper and was -1 with 2 penalty minutes and 3 shots in 15:06. He was also 54% on 13 draws.

Erne had a pair of goals and was +2 with 5 shots and 2 hits in 13:36. Surprise, Dan Hamhuis! Big Erne has afterburners.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

ECHL Game Night: 3-31-17 & 4-01-17

3-31-17: Kalamazoo Wings 7 at Florida Everblades 5
4-01-17: Kalamazoo Wings 3 at Florida Everblades 5

F Brian Hart, KAL, 2gp, 2-1-3, -1, 0 PIMS, 7 SOG
Season Totals (ECHL): 31 GP, 5-5-10, -5, 4 PIMs, 60 SOG
Season Totals (AHL): 33 GP, 3-4-7, E, 26 PIMs, 50 SOG

F Cameron Darcy, KAL, 2gp, 0-4-4, E, 2 PIMS, 3 SOG
Season Totals (ECHL): 18 GP, 5-18-23, +10, 10 PIMs, 47 SOG
Season Totals (AHL): 34 GP, 3-4-7, -3, 14 PIMs, 40 SOG

Other Notables
G Nic Riopel, KAL, 2gp, 118:33 MINS, 1-1-0-0, 81/90, *THIRD STAR*
Season Totals: 31 GP, 18-11-0-1, 3.00 GAA, 0.903 SV%, 1 SO

F Stefan Fournier, KAL, 1gp, 0-0-0, +1, 0 PIMS, 0 SOG
Season Totals (ECHL): 2 GP, 1-0-1, +2, 0 PIMs, 4 SOG
Season Totals (AHL): 32 GP, 2-2-4, -1, 97 PIMs

F Brendan O'Donnell, FLA, 2gp, 2-4-6, +3, 0 PIMS, 8 SOG
Season Totals (ECHL): 58 GP, 39-38-77, +29, 35 PIMs, 229 SOG
Season Totals (AHL): 6 GP, 0-0-0, -6, 0 PIMs, 0 SOG

F Dalton Smith, FLA, 2gp, 0-1-1, -3, 12 PIMS, 1 SOG
Season Totals (ECHL): 58 GP, 10-11-21, -7, 138 PIMs, 90 SOG

After losing to the Everblades in Estero Wednesday night, the K-Wings split the Friday/Saturday night double rematch. Nic Riopel was in net for Kalamazoo both nights, surrendering 9 goals on 90 shots in back-to-back tilts. On Friday night, Riopel stopped 51 of 55, getting the back door 3rd Star honor after feasting on 7 goals of support from his teammates to squeak out 1 win for the K-Wings in their 3-game road swing through Estero. Speaking of feasting, former Bolt prospect Brendan O'Donnell put up 2 goals and 4 assists in the 2 weekend games, totaling 3-6-9 in three games including last Wednesday night's 6-2 Florida win. Current Lightning prospect Brian Hart scored in both weekend games and recorded his first multi-point game of the season in Saturday night's 5-3 loss. Fellow prospect Cam Darcy rung up 4 assists, including 3 assists in Friday night's 7-5 victory. Kalamazoo will conclude their regular season play next weekend with a home-and-home against the Wheeling Nailers, and then turn their attention to a 1st round Kelly Cup playoff series against Central Division winner Toledo Walleye, who are likely to end the regular season as the league's best team.

Crunch Fall to Marlies in Shootout for Second Straight Night


By Jeremy Houghtaling

There was a serious case of deja vu at the Onondaga County War Memorial Saturday.

With the score tied after 65 minutes, the Crunch and Marlies went to a shootout. Syracuse’s shootout struggles continued, as Toronto earned a 3-2 win for a second straight night.

The Crunch came into the weekend tied for first place in the North Division, but the Marlies now lead by two points.

“Two teams that are giving it all on the ice, obviously,” Crunch head coach Benoit Groulx said. “Last night they took the lead 2-0 and we came back. Tonight we took a 2-0 lead. They came back and they found a way twice in the shootout. It’s disappointing, but I’m very proud of the two hard fought battles we gave them this weekend.”

AHL Game Night: 4-1-17 Marlies at Crunch

Crunch fail to protect two goal lead in critical divisional tilt.

TOR-3
SYR-2 (SO)

Kristers Gudlevskis allowed 2 goals on 23 shots, stopped a PS in OT, but allowed 2 of 5 to convert in the Shootout for the loss.

First Period
5:06 SYR Lynch (5), (McGinn)

Second Period
6:58 SYR Richard (13), (McGinn, Condra)
12:05 TOR Leipsic (15), (Moore, Findlay)(PP)

Third Period
6:07 TOR Gauthier (3), (Sislo, Johnsson)

Overtime
NO SCORING

Shootout
TOR- Griffith, Timashov
SYR- Lynch

Kevin Lynch and Michael Bournival were the game's second and third stars.

Two identical, frustrating results in a row against the Marlies have put the Crunch down 1 point to Toronto in the race for the North Division crown. They've got the big ROW tiebreaker advantage, so the Crunch will need to beat them clean to get the title.

Box score from TheAHL.com.

NHL Game Night: 4-1-17 Canadiens at Lightning

Big Goal Gourde helps Lightning salvage a life-sustaining point.

MTL-2
TB-1 (OT)

Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 2 goals on 36 shots for the OT loss. He was brilliant, really. Justified the faith of the franchise by acquitting himself well in a goaltending duel with Price that he nearly won.

First Period
NO SCORING

Second Period
14:24 MTL Danault (3), (Pacioretty)

Third Period
11:38 TB Gourde (4), (Hedman, Drouin)

Overtime
0:51 MTL Radulov (17), (Pacioretty, Danault)

Vasilevskiy was the game's second star.

This was a tough game for the Lightning. They looked gassed throughout a healthy portion of this one and it took a lot of character to dig deep in the Third Period and at least salvage the point. It's a shame that Kucherov couldn't quite finish his glorious OT chance, but the Lightning have nothing to feel ashamed of and they've got 2 more critical points to chase tomorrow night when Steven Stamkos and Tyler Johnson possibly return to the lineup.

It's pretty simple math now. At the start of the season, we always talk about pursuing that magic 96 points to make the playoffs safely. Well, the Lightning must now win out to hit 96 points on the nose. They might have 1 more point worth of margin for error, but they likely can't afford a regulation loss the rest of the way. Right now Ottawa is looking like the most realistic target for the Lightning to run down and get into the dance, with Boston and Toronto refusing to fade. The Lightning are 5 points back of Ottawa with both teams having 5 more games left to play. They're also 4 points back of Boston with a game in hand and a head-to-head still on the docket, but the ROW tiebreaker heavily favors the Bruins.

Luke Witkowski had 2 hits and 2 blocked shots in 12:14.

Gregg McKegg had 2 penalty minutes in 8:46.

Jake Dotchin had 2 shots and 4 hits in 17:50.

Gabriel Dumont had 2 hits in 9:19.

Yanni Gourde had the big goal and was +1 with 2 shots in 14:20. He was also 40% on 10 draws.

Adam Erne had 1 shot, 2 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 11:44.

Joel Vermin was +1 with 1 shot in 10:32.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

Crunch Rally, but Bested By Marlies in Shootout


By Jeremy Houghtaling

The Syracuse Crunch rallied in the second period, but their shootout struggles continued in a battle of the top teams in the North Division.

The Crunch got a pair of goals from unlikely sources to tie the score in the middle frame but couldn’t find the game-winner in the third period, overtime or shootout, as Syracuse fell to Toronto, 3-2, at the Onondaga County War Memorial Friday. The Crunch have 80 points, one point behind the Marlies.

“I think they came out strong again,” Crunch captain Erik Condra said. “We pushed back and came back on a pretty good team and got a point out of it.”

AHL Game Night: 3-31-17 Marlies at Crunch

Crunch lose a key divisional point in the Shootout.

TOR-3
SYR-2 (SO)

Mike McKenna allowed 2 goals on 33 shots before conceding to 1 of 2 in the penalty shot session for the loss in the Shootout. McKenna is finally settling into Syracuse nicely, as he's now starting to regularly put in quality starts.

First Period
7:41 TOR Griffith (9), (O'Reilly, Rychel)(PP)
16:21 TOR Leipsic (14), (Moore)

Second Period
12:16 SYR Thomas (3), (Condra, Masin)
15:20 SYR Racine (1), (unassisted)

Third Period
NO SCORING

Overtime
NO SCORING

Shootout
TOR- Griffith
SYR- NONE

Mike McKenna and Ben Thomas were the game's first and second stars. Thomas continues a very respectable rookie season where he's compiled 19 points in 64 games. It's not a staggering stat line, but for a guy who came into the club with some middling numbers (and that's being kind) out of junior, he's really set himself nicely as one to watch the next couple of seasons.

Toronto pulls 1 point ahead of Syracuse in the North Division by virtue of the extra point in the penalty shot session.

Box score from TheAHL.com.

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