John Tortorella's trial balloon regarding sending The Kid down to the minors is in the process of being shot down, doused in gasoline, lit on fire, and then having the fire smothered by having it repeatedly run over by the Zamboni. Wow.
Karri Ramo set a career high in saves tonight stopping 38 of 39 shots in a sterling first star performance to raise his record to 7-10-3 in this rookie campaign. And he did it with style tonight too, chipping in a power play assist and flashing leather like Carl Crawford on the final play of the game to preserve the win. Anyone who wants to send this young man to the minors next season is smoking pine cones. He might already be better than Mike Smith, and in 4 years when he is the same age as Smith is now there's little doubt in my mind Ramo's going to be in a much higher rent district in terms of his career trajectory. He's the real deal. Again, the average 21 year old would've crumbled after losing in overtime to Washington the way he did. Ramo is teflon. It doesn't stick to him, and that's why he's damned near bust-proof as a prospect.
Matt Smaby played 18:42 in his first extended screen test for next season. The Lightning moved Smaby onto a pairing with Dan Boyle and he responded with an even rating and 2 hits. Other than a puckhandling gaffe in the second period which almost led to an Eric Staal ten bell scoring chance, he was error free and got a regular PK shift and was out on the ice to help kill the 6-on-4 at the end of the game. Very impressive. I wonder if Smaby is moving ahead of Mike Lundin on the depth chart. I have a feeling if he doesn't blow it, the coaching staff will be perfectly happy to leave him paired with Boyle, getting solid minutes, learning his craft, and gaining momentum heading into next season.
Jussi Jokinen hit 40 points for the season with a multi-point game tonight and Jeff Halpern continues to earn his place as the people's champion on this team, scoring his 19th of the season tonight. These two guys were nowhere statistically playing limited minutes in Dallas. They've exploded offensively since coming to Tampa.
I have been astonished at the work ethic of this Lightning club over the last month of the season. It would've been the easiest thing in the world for this team to lay down after the deadline deals that sent Richards and Prospal out of town. That hasn't happened. In fact, this team is working harder now than any Lightning team since the 2003-2004 Lightning team that bled the will out of Calgary in seven games. The saying is "The harder you work the luckier you get." If it's true, the Lightning's ping pong ball is coming up on April 20th, because they're working harder than 90% of the teams in the league right now, even though pride and jobs are all they have left to play for.
Oh brother! What a way to give up that second point.
Karri Ramo allowed 4 goals on 32 shots for the overtime loss. Key play of the game: Dan Boyle gets clipped in the face (UPDATE: Erik Erlendsson blogs Boyle took a skate in the lower throat that left a flesh wound on the play) and stops playing with the play behind his net. While Boyle is not paying attention a centering feed squirts off his skate to Ramo's left. Ramo aggresively dives out to try and cover the puck (probably shouldn't have), misses, and while down and out the Caps score the winner.
You know, the fact these two young netminders are athletic and can handle the puck is a good thing, but they don't necessarily have the maturity in their decision making yet. I am all for investing in a post and a chain to keep Ramo and Smith tethered to their cage until they develop that maturity, because it seems like these two must've given up a half dozen bad goals between them straying from their cages. Mind you, I thought Ramo played well again with the exception of that play, so it's not an indictment of Karri's overall play. But jeez. These kind of goals take years off a coach's life.
Matt Smaby was even in 12:48 with 2 blocked shots. He would've been +1, but was on the ice for the Semin goal which was a clean faceoff win by Fedorov and a bang-bang shot. I like the minutes. I think Matt needs to get the coaches comfortable enough to be up around 14-15 minutes by the end of the season to have a realistic shot of making the team next season. Earning that trust is the biggest hurdle.
Lightning had all the hustle, but couldn't bury the Panthers.
Mike Smith allowed 3 goals on 25 shots for the loss. His puckhandling gaffe early in the game turned out to be the margin of difference.
Congratulations to Junior Lessard on his first goal as a member of the Lightning, and to Mathieu Darche who had an outstanding game. Shame on the homers in Sunrise for denying Darche a star of the game.
Matt Smaby was even in 8:38 with 3 hits and 1 blocked shot. He made a good block in the first period but got caught out on a couple of 1 minute plus shifts which might be part of why he sat in the second period (although there were a lot of special teams in the middle frame). In the third period he was pretty solid and even did some business from the point on one shift helping to keep a couple of pucks in the zone. I really like the pairing of Smaby and Mike Lundin that has been put together by the coaching staff because I feel like each player's strength helps cover up the other's weakness. It would have been interesting if Boyle hadn't dropped the skate on his wrist this year to see these two Minnesota boys develop together as a unit in Norfolk. If they can stick together and learn to read off of each other, they could be a really good second or third pairing for the Lightning down the road. I'm already seeing flashes of Lundin reading what Smaby is doing and making the right adjustments to cover for what Matt is doing.
The Panthers were flat lucky to survive this game. The Lightning outworked and out played them for the final 55 minutes of the game and didn't let up even when they fell behind by two goals. This is a team filled with character guys playing their rear ends off for jobs next season. If the Lightning can throw in another skill player or two up front, this can get interesting. Also, if they can get a post and a chain to keep Smith and Ramo closer to their net, that might not be a bad investment either.
Denis drops the donut on Worcester.
Marc Denis stopped 32 of 32 shots faced to register the shutout victory.
NOR Smaby, (1) , 1:44
NOR Smolenak, (9) (Henrich, Quick), 10:21
NOR Kearns, (5) (Rosehill), 17:13
NOR Keller, (11) (Quick), 18:23
Kevin Quick registered his first two points as a pro with a pair of helpers.
Box score from TheAHL.com.