Jones, Blair

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.

NHL Playoff Game Night: 5/19/11 Bruins at Lightning

Boston found their defense and the Lightning looked flat as a pancake in the final 40 minutes.

BOS-2
TB-0

Boston Leads the Series 2-1

Dwayne Roloson allowed 2 goals on 25 shots for the loss. He just didn't get the goal support, obviously, tonight.

First Period
01:09 BOS Krejci (7), Lucic (4), Boychuk (2)

Second Period
NO SCORING

Third Period
08:12 BOS Ference (2), unassisted

I have no answer for why the Lightning offense completely dried up in the final 40 minutes of this game. Yes, the Bruins played much better defensively than they did in Game 1 and Game 2 (not hard to do), but the Lightning were generating chances in the 1st Period and it all dried up the rest of the way. The Lightning just looked flat, and I don't understand it. If it had been the whole game, I'd say the Lightning tried too hard to emotionally tamp down and get back in their system after what happened in Game 2. Bottom line is that its very hard to beat Tim Thomas on just a paltry handful of scoring chances every period. You have to generate pressure consistently, because you know that guy's going to get 1 or 2 a lot of other goaltenders wouldn't.

Defensively, I didn't think the Lightning played all that poorly. Yes, there was an obvious mistake on the first goal, but the odd man rushes and breakaways were largely corrected and the penalty kill got back to being excellent. By in large, I'd take that defensive effort on most nights. I thought the power play was slightly off, but even slightly off they were generating 2 or 3 good scoring chances on every power play, so I can't complain too much. It's just the 5-on-5 play was not there, and 5-on-5 tends to be about effort and tactics. Tactics were there, so I suppose the effort needs to increase.

Game 4 becomes critical, obviously. The Lightning need to put together that well rounded effort like they did in Game 1. We'll have to see if the Lightning raise their intensity again if the Bruins defense holds up to the challenge. I suspect it won't, but I confess to having a little doubt after the final 40 minutes tonight. I really am a little shocked, because the way the first 2 games went, I was very confident the Lightning would handle their business in Game 3.

Blair Jones had 2 hits in 5:17. He did well, but I wonder if Dana Tyrell might be a better option in this series because of his speed, if he's healthy and in shape to go. I think Boston's blueliners are a lot like the Lightning's. They're big and physical, but if you get into them fast on the forecheck they can be a little sloppy handling it and moving it.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Playoff Game Night: 5/4/11 Capitals at Lightning

Better team on ice sweeps best team on paper.

WSH-3
TB-5

Tampa Bay Wins the Series 4-0

Dwayne Roloson allowed 3 goals on 36 shots for the victory. He gave the Caps a glimmer of hope with a pretty bad goal allowed to Erskine, but the Lightning just weren't losing tonight. Not with the way that the Caps were playing, at least.

First Period
12:37 TB Malone (3), Lecavalier (7), St Louis (7)(PP)
18:30 WSH Sturm (1), Arnott (4), Ovechkin (5)(PP)

Second Period
04:41 TB Bergenheim (6), Moore (5), Downie (9)
12:34 TB Bergenheim (7), Moore (6)
13:40 WSH Erskine (1), unassisted

Third Period
05:07 TB Bergeron (1), Downie (10), Purcell (9)(PP)
16:52 TB St Louis (6), Purcell (10)
17:54 WSH Carlson (2), Laich (6), Arnott (5)

Sean Bergenheim, Dominic Moore, and Steve Downie were the game's three stars. As of this post, Bergenheim (Thor!) is tied for the league lead in playoff goals at 7 along with teammate Martin St. Louis and a couple of others. That guy's motor has been an inspiration to the team all season long.

If I'm not mistaken, this was the first time in the entire playoffs the Lightning actually led a game in shots on goal. Go figure.

If you were to write a textbook on how to rob a really good hockey team of their belief, confidence, and will to fight, you might write 4 chapters of it about this playoff series. By last night, in Game 3, it was pretty clear that the Capitals' team concept was coming unglued at the seams, and tonight they played 60 minutes of turnover riddled, undisciplined, awful hockey. They were surrendering great chances to the Lightning at an alarming clip right from the opening moments of this game, and it became very clear very quickly this was going to be the Lightning's night. Even dead dragging tired against a very talented roster the team that adheres to their system is always going to beat the team that is out there playing like 19 individuals. Always.

With their victory, the Lightning complete a season where they took revenge on every single team in the Southeast Division one-by-one. They swept the Atlanta Thrashers with 6 regular season wins. They doomed the Florida Panthers to the worst record in the Eastern Conference with a late season victory. And, they held the Carolina Hurricanes out of the playoffs with a victory in the last game of the regular season. The only Southeast Division team they hadn't mastered in the regular season was the Washington Capitals, and it looks like they were just saving the worst humiliation for last by sweeping the team that had amassed the best regular season record in the Eastern Conference.

On paper, the Capitals should have won this series and many pundits were picking the Caps to breeze past the Lightning in 5 or 6 games just as they did the New York Rangers. However, in this series, the Lightning had just the right mix of great goaltending, great coaching, and opportunistic goal scoring to plant, cultivate, and harvest the seeds of doubt in the Washington locker room. It was complete, systematic, and thorough, and the end result will be, I suspect, the firing of Bruce Boudreau and a fairly significant shake up of the Capitals roster. Boudreau lost his team because, I suspect, deep down his team knew Boudreau was getting owned by Guy Boucher. He'll never admit it in public and I never expect to ever hear him crow about it, but Boucher had a master plan going into this season and he exposed Boudreau with ruthless precision as an empty 3XL shirt behind the Capitals bench. I'm hard pressed to think of another time when an NHL coach outdid another NHL coach this badly over the course of a series. Wow.

And now, the Lightning will get some richly deserved rest. It's critical. Martin St. Louis looked like he was going to pass out after Game 3 during interviews in the locker room and the team looked gassed during several junctures of tonight's game. Unfortunately, with Boston pulling into a 3-0 lead against Philadelphia, it's looking like the Lightning might only get a few days respite for their effort, unless the Flyers find a pulse very quickly. In any event, at least the Lightning will get a few days off to hopefully get Simon Gagne and Pavel Kubina healthy and ready to go for the next series. The Eastern Conference Finals are going to be a momentous challenge for the Lightning, because although the Caps were the best team in the East on paper, you can be sure the best 2 teams in the East on the ice are going to be squaring off in the next round.

Blair Jones was -1 with 2 shots and 1 hit in 7:09. He earned a little promotion to play some minutes on Vincent Lecavalier's line and drew rave reviews in the few shifts he was out. He's given a tired team some energy and some edge when they needed it. Very good.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Playoff Game Night: 5/3/11 Capitals at Lightning

Belief is a powerful weapon, and right now it looks like the Lightning believe no team in the universe can beat them if they play their game.

WSH-3
TB-4

Tampa Bay Leads the Series 3-0

Dwayne Roloson allowed 3 goals on 32 shots for the victory. He was not as sharp as in Games 1 and 2, but he didn't have to be and he was solid. No complaints from me.

First Period
11:03 TB Bergenheim (5), Moore (4), Downie (8)

Second Period
00:59 WSH Knuble (2), Ovechkin (4)
07:58 WSH Carlson (1), Chimera (2), Johansson (4)
11:51 TB Lecavalier (5), St Louis (6), Purcell (8)
17:27 WSH Ovechkin (5), Semin (2), Green (5)(PP)

Third Period
05:23 TB Stamkos (4), Hedman (3)
05:47 TB Malone (2), Thompson (2), Hall (3)

Sean Bergenheim and Victor Hedman were the game's first and third stars.

I confess to getting a little more stayed, emotionally, when I watch games as I've grown older. I figure, since the lockout, I've probably watched 350-400 hockey games, including pretty much every Lightning game in that time. So it takes a lot to get me really fired up, because I have been a little desensitized to it all. But I tell you what: this is the most fired up I've been in 7 years, easily.

Tonight the Lightning didn't just beat the Capitals, they beat the officials too. "Blind rage" is probably the term that would best describe how I felt about the phantom hooking call they gave to Adam Hall that allowed the Caps the 5-on-3 that they used to take a 3-2 lead into the second intermission. When you consider that Marty St. Louis got smacked in the face with a stick in about the same situation in a close game in Game 2 and the refs put their whistles in their pockets, its even more of an outrage. If you're a conspiracy theorist, and you believe Gary Bettman and the NHL have a stake in keeping their marketing cow, Alexander Ovechkin, alive in this playoffs, the video tape of tonight's game might be Exhibit A. Ovechkin high sticks Dwayne Roloson in the throat at the start of the 3rd? No call. Ovechkin elbows Sean Bergenheim in the grill at the end of the 3rd with the extra attacker on and the game on the line? Again, no call.

This was one long, continuous outrage, for me, and yet the Lightning still managed to stay even keeled and win the game. And it was something a little different tonight: it was the kids. It was a great keep at the line by Victor Hedman and then a frickin' laser by Steven Stamkos to tie the game at 3-3. 24 seconds later the Caps were completely scrambled and Nate Thompson threw the puck at the net where Ryan Malone was charging the cage. 4-3 Lightning, and there was much chest pounding and yelling in my household. Folks, if the Caps couldn't beat the Lightning on home ice with huge shot and chance advantages in Game 1, and if they couldn't beat the Lightning with a zillion power play advantage on home ice in Game 2, and they couldn't beat the Lightning with the referees giving them a gift go-ahead goal and looking the other way at every Alexander Ovechkin infraction in Game 3, I don't see how the Caps have a prayer of winning Game 4.

That's dangerous talk, I know, but you could see the Caps coming completely unglued in the last 15 minutes of this game (and honestly, long before that). Their defensive zone coverage? Gone. Turnovers? All over the place. Ovechkin flat out cherry picking for breakaways and abandoning any pretense of playing defense? Yep. Bruce Boudreau's going to lose his job over this series, unless something miraculous happens, and he deserves it with how badly Guy Boucher has outcoached him in this series. The man still has not made any sort of successful adjustment to the 1-3-1, he's watched his team's system discipline completely break down, and he's lost control of his star player again. I could post several paragraphs about how disgusting the play of Alexander Ovechkin is, but I'll save that for, perhaps, tomorrow. Suffice it to say, I think the NHL needs to find a new poster child.

And, now? Finish them. There was some talk of playing Mike Smith tomorrow night in the back-to-back to allow your 41 year-old goaltender to rest, but I have a feeling Guy Boucher's not going to give the Caps anything like a life preserver. It's time to throw them an anchor. Their confidence is shattered. They're playing outside their team concept. The Lightning can't give them a cheap win and allow them to re-cultivate their belief. Finish them. One more great 60 minute effort to complete the masterpiece. It's a hockey Picasso. A Kandinsky. A Calder (Alexander, not Frank). That's right, I snuck some culture in on you tonight.

Lightning fans, be there and be loud for Game 4 to help make sure your hockey team finishes them.

Blair Jones has 2 hits in 5:59. I like how he's played in these games since he's gotten in the lineup. He plays a very nice meat and potatoes game. He takes the body, he throws the puck toward the net, and he dares to go in the high traffic areas. It wouldn't have shocked me if he had gotten a goal in Game 2, and he almost got one again tonight. He's been more effective than Dana Tyrell was, quite frankly, when Dana was in the lineup. I don't know if Blair is going to stick around this organization past this season, but I'm sure there are a few organizations who are looking at these past 2 games and seeing that there's some "there," there in Blair's game. I like it.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

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