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.

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