Jones, Blair

NHL Game Night: 10-15-11 Lightning at Panthers

1-2-2 on the opening road trip. Home cooking, please.

TB-2
FLA-3 (SO)

Mathieu Garon stopped 36 of 38 before allowing 1 of 3 shooters to convert in the penalty shot session for the shootout loss. He was outstanding tonight. He stood on his head for much of the first 40-50 minutes of the game while the Lightning finally figured out how to compete a bit.

First Period
FLA Jovanovski (1), (Kopecky, Booth)(PP), 11:48

Second Period
NO SCORING

Third Period
TB Bergeron (1), (Moore), 9:43
FLA Versteeg (1), (Kulikov, Campbell), 17:05
TB Bergeron (2), (Kubina, St. Louis), 17:44

Overtime
NO SCORING

Shootout
TB- NONE
FLA- Goc

Marc-Andre Bergeron was the second star of the game and supplied one of the first real "oh hell yes" moments of the season, hulking up at the right point and banging his stick before finally receiving the setup for a game tying cannon.

The team still got outshot 38-30, but you saw signs in this game that the compete level and the pride level is coming back. Credit to Steve Downie for having the guts to fight a much bigger man in Eric Gudbranson, a fight he should've gotten killed in, and for holding his own. Credit to guys like Tom Pyatt and Mattias Ritola and Blair Jones for hustling, and digging, and taking the body. They started to show some pride tonight, and it was infectious. All of a sudden, the top line guys broke out of their stupor and started playing a bit like top line guys in the final frame. It feels like the flood gates may open in the home debut in the new blue unis.

It seems like this team lost some of its identity over the offseason with Sean Bergenheim departing and Dana Tyrell not making the team and breaking up the Hall/Thompson/Tyrell line. It's taking some time for the team to re-find its footing and its work ethic, but the first baby steps look like they might've happened tonight.

Brett Connolly had 2 shots and 4 hits in 11:10 tonight. I liked that he was around the net and he actually didn't look out of place along the wall. More games like that, even if he's not as creative and dangerous, will keep him in the league, in my opinion.

Mattias Ritola had 2 shots, 3 hits, and 1 penalty minute in 13:05. I'm really liking how Ritola looks so far this year. He was rusty in his first game, but he's been noticable in puck pursuit in every game since and he had everything right but the finish tonight on a partial breakaway.

Blair Jones had 3 hits in 6:18. The young man was absolutely crushing Panthers tonight. #49 is Guy Boucher's V8 powered snow plow out there.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Game Night: 10-7-11 Lightning at Hurricanes

The 2011-2012 regular season begins just as the 2010-2011 regular season ended. Tears for Hurricanes fans.

TB-5
CAR-1

Dwayne Roloson made 32 saves for the victory. He took care of business.

First Period
CAR Skinner,(1)(Gleason, Ruutu), 8:07

Second Period
TB St. Louis, (1)(Stamkos), 5:19
TB Lecavalier, (1)(Stamkos, St. Louis), 17:50 (PP)

Third Period
TB Downie, (1)(Bergeron, Shannon), 12:22 (PP)
TB Hall, (1)(Thompson, Jones), 12:32
TB Malone, (1)(Purcell, Brewer), 16:58

Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos were the game's first and second stars.

That's how an elite team handles its business on opening night. Carolina has a young team with a lot of enthusiasm and they came out hard in the first period, and the Lightning just stomped the living daylights out of them in the final 40 minutes. That's what contenders do to borderline, mediocre teams.

Beautiful hand-eye coordination by Vincent Lecavalier on his power play goal. Stammer-esque, dare we say?

You have to love how just about everyone on the team got to drink from the well of prosperity in this one. When you get not just the top guys, but also the second tier of guys like Malone and Shannon and you even get the 4th liners some cookies too, that's how you build confidence up and down the lineup.

The despair of the Hurricane's announcing duo is still a sweet melody to my ears. Get ready for 81 more like that, boys.

Brett Connolly had 2 penalty minutes and 1 hit in 14:20 in his NHL debut.

Blair Jones, who is the human victory cigar at Bolt Prospects, had a helper, 2 shots, and was +1 in 9:04. We're throwing a parade when he graduates from prospect status later this season. It's almost like a child's high school graduation for us, because sometimes it seems like we've been covering him for 17-18 years.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

Lightning Re-sign Blair Jones

TAMPA BAY – The Tampa Bay Lightning have re-signed center Blair Jones to a one-year, two-way contract today, vice president and general manager Steve Yzerman announced.

Jones, 6-foot-2, 216 pounds, played in 18 games with the Lightning last season, recording a goal and three points. He also averaged 8:00 per game in ice time during the regular season. He matched career highs for goals, assists and points. Jones also played in 56 games with the Norfolk Admirals of the American Hockey League, recording 24 goals and 55 points with a plus-17 rating. He ranked second on the team for goals, points and plus/minus.

NHL Playoff Game Night: 5/27/11 Lightning at Bruins

Love is a hurting thing.

TB-0
BOS-1

Boston Wins the Series 4-3

Dwayne Roloson allowed 1 goal on 38 shots for the loss. He was outstanding tonight. Better than outstanding, in fact. As bad as I thought he was in Game 6, he was just that brilliant in Game 7. He gave the Lightning an opportunity to steal the win. He deserved better.

First Period
NO SCORING

Second Period
NO SCORING

Third Period
12:27 BOS Horton (8), Krejci (7), Ference (5)

Roloson was the game's third star.

This was what I feared after the Bruins won Game 5. I thought the Lightning would expend a lot of energy to win Game 6 and they might not have anything left in the tank for Game 7. It's pretty obvious that was the case, because after holding the Bruins to just 20 shots in each of Games 5 and 6, they gave up 38 tonight. Roli gave the Lightning a chance, but there was just no jump in the Lightning's legs until after Boston got the lead in the 3rd, and by then it was too late. I give the Bruins credit for sensing they had the advantage and not letting the Lightning off the hook. They threaded the needle to take a series by 1 game and 1 goal. I don't give them a snowball's chance again Vancouver, but they did what they had to to win the East.

Compounding the Lightning's problems was the bad luck of Steven Stamkos getting his nose broken on a puck to the face. Prior to taking that shot up high, Stamkos was about the only top line Lightning player who seemed to have any real jump. After returning heroically with the full face mask, Stammer was clearly laboring to breathe and experiencing a lot of discomfort. I wonder if he had been 100% if he would've had that extra step he needed to stay with Nathan Horton on the Bruins' game winning goal.

It looks like Claude Julien got rewarded big time for all his complaining after Game 6. I said after Wednesday night's tilt that I thought the Lightning's power play would give them a puncher's chance in Game 7. Unfortunately they weren't allowed that puncher's chance because of what looked like a conscious decision by the referees to call nothing in this game. Some people will claim it's somehow noble for the referees to not call anything in a Game 7 and, "Let the players decide it." The fact of the matter is that the referees gave the Bruins a big tactical advantage the second they decided to pocket their whistles. And, anyone who claims the Bruins actually played a penalty free game, and vice versa for the Lightning, is fooling themselves. I saw 2 plays that would've easily been called interference on the Bruins in any other game of the series at the start of the 3rd Period alone. I felt like it was a total act of cowardice by the referees and a complete abdication of their responsibilities to punctuate an absolutely horrendous postseason when it comes to officiating. It all was foreshadowed by their former colleague Kerry Fraser, who in a blog earlier in the playoffs rightfully pointed out "'Let them play' generally means 'Let them cheat.'"

Where do the Lightning go from here? Nowhere but up, I think. This team laid the foundation that an elite program is built on this season. There's no doubt in my mind the Lightning have the best 1-2 punch in the league at the GM and Head Coach spot in Steve Yzerman and Guy Boucher, and their brilliant moves actually put the Lightning a full year ahead of the schedule I figured they would be on. I expected this team to maybe win a round and that would be it, a la the Lightning's 2002-2003 team. They set a very high bar for excellence, and in the process their youngest stars, Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman, gained the kind of experience that can propel them to reach their full potential. For Hedman, in particular, I expect these 18 playoffs games to be a springboard to stardom. After a very modest regular season in his sophomore campaign, Hedman averaged over 22 minutes a game in the postseason and had a very solid even rating. The next step, in my opinion, is going to be for Hedman to see more power play time next year and the confidence he gained in these playoffs should give him poise in all phases of the game.

There will be some tough choices in the offseason for Steve Yzerman, particularly at the forward position and to a lesser extent between the pipes, but he's already shown himself to be more than up to the challenge. I expect to see the Lightning contend again next year, and for a long time into the future.

Blair Jones had 1 shot and 3 hits in 8:40. He was very good down low in the offensive zone but a little bit scary in the Lightning's end getting beaten badly off the wall on one play and making a bad decision on where to move the puck on another. That probably held him under double-digit minutes in a night where the Lightning coaching staff probably would've loved to feed him even more minutes than he got just to have some fresher legs. All that said, his 7 game run in these playoffs was successful. I don't know if the Lightning will keep him around for next year, but I do know he's probably going to be playing in the NHL somewhere next season if even half of the GM's in the league have been paying attention to the last 2 series.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Playoff Game Night: 5/25/11 Bruins at Lightning

The Lightning's top power play unit gets its groove back.

BOS-4
TB-5

Series Tied at 3-3

Dwayne Roloson allowed 4 goals on 20 shots for the victory. I was not pleased at the performance, though, whatsoever. I'll give Roli the benefit of the doubt on the 1st goal by Boston, despite the fact he didn't look comfortable in the 1st Period, but the 4th goal was unacceptable. He flopped into a snow angel for no reason and kicked a cheap goal into his own net to make it a 1 goal game. The result is that the Lightning had to expend a lot of energy at the end of the game to preserve this victory, and that hurts because the Lightning's game at 5-on-5 depends on pace. Boston's doesn't. He made things a lot more difficult than they needed to be and made the hill a little higher to climb in Game 7. I expect more from Roli because of his experience level. He's got to be much better in the next game.

First Period
00:36 TB Purcell (5), Lecavalier (12)
07:09 BOS Lucic (3), Horton (8), Boychuk (3)
16:30 BOS Krejci (8), Paille (2)

Second Period
07:55 TB St Louis (9), Lecavalier (13), Stamkos (6)(PP)
13:35 TB Purcell (6), Downie (11), Clark (2)(PP)

Third Period
00:34 TBL Stamkos (6), Brewer (6), St Louis (10)(PP)
09:46 BOS Krejci (9), Horton (9), Kaberle (7)(PP)
10:15 TB St Louis (10), Downie (12), Stamkos (7)
13:28 BOS Krejci (10), Lucic (6), Kaberle (8)

Martin St. Louis and Teddy Purcell were the game's first and third stars. Color me shocked Steve Downie didn't get a star, because he was masterful tonight. He set up two goals with brilliant passes and was working his butt off all game long. Boston's media has decided to try to make Downie out to be anti-Christ, and that's fine. Tonight's game should be instructive for him. Success is the best revenge, and beating Boston in Game 7 would be the perfect way to shut his critics up.

The Lightning power play was 3-for-4 and they got 2 goals from the 1st unit and 1 goal from the 2nd unit, including a goal that should absolutely terrify the Bruins: Steven Stamkos from the left wing circle on the one-timer. If Stammer has the range from that spot, it's unstoppable. That can give the Lightning a quick and easy goal in every game, and that's a huge advantage at this time of year.

I'll probably have more to say about it after the series, but the officiating has been awful all playoffs long and tonight was just another chapter in a long litany of abuses by the zebras. I'm not terribly happy with Steven Stamkos stopping on the play to try to embellish the high stick he took on the Bruins' second goal, but that call has to be made 10 times out of 10, especially within 10 feet of the Lightning's own blueline. That's the kind of missed call that can result in a really good scoring chance the other way every time, and I'm sick and tired of all the missed high sticking calls. Martin St. Louis' face has been a pin cushion all playoffs long, and now Stammer gets El Kabonged and there was no call. That's unacceptable, and especially unacceptable in an elimination game.

Boston's Brad Marchand decided to tug on Superman's cape by taking a run at Mattias Ohlund tonight, partly as a reprisal for Ohlund lighting him up in Game 5. Mark Recchi just about got fitted for a toe tag on a hit a few shifts later in retaliation. Honestly, #5 is not the man I would be stirring things up with. The old man doesn't need a reason to try to bury you. To try and run after him and beg for payback likely won't end well for the person making that effort. There's something called "old man strong." Mattias Ohlund is "old man strong," and he seems to be getting "old man stronger" as these playoffs wear on. I expected to see Victor Hedman progress, game by game, as he gained more experience in these playoffs. I did not expect Mattias Ohlund to look like the Mattias Ohlund from 5 years ago, nor did I expect Marc-Andre Bergeron to turn into a poor man's Dan Boyle. I'm glad anytime I see those two on the ice these days.

On another note, Lightning fans: lets have a talk about class and not littering the ice after a victory or trying to pelt the other team with rally drums at the final horn. Yes, I know Bruins fans were doing the same thing tonight chucking the free promo materials at Lightning players. Yes, I know they've been throwing beer bottles at our players after 2 of the games in Boston earlier in this series. No, you still shouldn't do it. You're better than that. Put it another way: how dumb would you have felt if the rally drum one of you numbskulls threw on the ice ended up being the one that Marty St. Louis slipped on and pulled a groin or broke a bone? Be smart. Celebrate with class. Boston's fan base may not have been this far in a very long time, but the Lightning has been here before. Act like it. It's embarrassing for me to have to waste a paragraph on this in the Eastern Conference Finals, and surprising because Lightning fans really are the most underrated in all of the NHL.

Game 7. I don't know what to expect. Tonight's game wasn't what I expected because the Lightning came out flat as a pancake in the 1st Period and were lucky they didn't get run out of the building because of it. They won the game on the power play and held Boston to 20 shots, but they can play with a lot better pace and intensity in 5-on-5 than they did tonight. Honestly, they played a lot better game at 5-on-5 in Boston in Game 5, but didn't get the results and didn't have the power play functioning. So, I don't know which way Game 7 is going to go. There are signs and portents pointing both ways. You're probably going to hear a ton about the Lightning being undefeated in Game 7's and Dwayne Roloson being 7-0 in elimination games. The Lightning have also held the Bruins to just 20 shots in each of the last 2 games, and they finally got their power play straightened out tonight. On the other hand, we haven't seen the full 60 minute effort from the Lightning at the pace they prefer to play since Game 1 of the series, Roloson did not look impressive tonight, and after doing a pretty good job on them for most of the series, the Lightning let the Bruins' top line of Lucic, Krejci, and Horton absolutely run wild on them tonight on the forecheck in Game 6. And, there's the matter of the energy wasted to protect the lead at the end tonight as a consequence of Roloson's bad goal, which I'm still extremely upset about.

What would I like to see? I'd like to see a magically healthy Sean Bergenheim help lead a Lightning team that plays at a high pace and intensity while minding its details. I'd like to see strong 5-on-5 play lead to some power plays and some power play goals, and I'd like to see the Lightning build a multi-goal lead they can protect with the 1-3-1 and some good goaltending by Dwayne Roloson. What will we see? I don't know. The Lightning's power play, in of itself, gives the team a puncher's chance of pulling out the series, regardless of the pace at 5-on-5. But you'd like to see the Lightning put their best game of the season thus far on the ice and not leave any doubt. Player for player, I believe the Lightning are the more talented team and I believe Guy Boucher is the best coach in the NHL. I'd hate to see the Lightning let the game hang close if they have another opportunity to build a multi-goal lead and see an opportunity to go to the Finals slip by on a bad bounce or off a faceoff play or on the play of the opposing goaltender. If they lose this series, Lightning players really will take it to their graves, and Lightning fans will, too.

Blair Jones had 1 shot and 2 hits in 6:59. He got his pocket picked in his own zone on one play tonight but worked his butt off to recover and he continues to be a threat on the forecheck and physically in all three zones.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

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