Tampa Bay Lightning
Zebras finish the job Lindback started.
Montreal Wins the Series 4-0
Anders Lindback allowed 3 goals on 20 shots before being lifted tonight. You can't fault him on the first goal, but the second and third goals were horrible as Lindback was way off his angle on long, unscreened shots. No excuse, and that may be the end of his career in a Lightning uniform as his contract expires this summer. Kristers Gudlevskis allowed 1 goal on 17 shots the rest of the way for the dreaded back door loss. He was good, and interjecting Gudlevskis into the game gave the team life they desperately needed.
2:24 MTL Brière (1), (Weise, Bournival)
15:21 MTL Eller (2), (Gionta)
4:32 TB Palat (2), (unassisted)(SH)
5:42 MTL Gallagher (3), (Plekanec, Gorges)
3:29 TB Hedman (1), (Palat, Kostka)
6:31 TB Johnson (1), (Brown, Paquette)
19:17 MTL Pacioretty (1), (Vanek, Subban)(PP)
Ondrej Palat was the game's third star.
Tampa Bay got outshot 37-23 in this game, so its difficult to make the case that they were outright robbed like they were in Game Three. With Barberio making a tremendous mistake early in the game to put the team down 1-0 in the First Period yet again and then Lindback struggling between the pipes, the team looked like it had given up hope and that was really reflected in their play until Gudlevskis came in.
With that said, in the Third Period, the Lightning were the aggressors and eventually finished with the 10-8 shot advantage and they were coming at the Canadiens in waves. And then, again, we saw the officials stick their grubby fingers on the scales. I ask you to contrast the play where Killorn was called for "obstructing" the goaltender in Game Three against Bourque trucking Gudlevskis in the Third Period of Game Four. I ask you to watch the full tape of the play where Paquette was called with just a little over 2 minutes left in the game. The refs were allowing anything and everything under the sun to go uncalled, including Bournival slashing, tackling, and then laying on Paquette for a full 5 count before Paquette retaliated with a trip after both got back up to their feet. And, of course, with the game being in Montreal and Paquette being a rookie, there you go. At worst, both Paquette and Bournival should've gone off and it should've been 4-on-4 hockey, but instead the refs presented Montreal with what became the winning power play, gift wrapped and all.
Folks are going to say it's sour grapes and that Montreal was the better team in this series, and they were. But, they weren't the better team to the magnitude that is reflected in a 4-0 series sweep. The Lightning, for all their problems, lost 3 out of the 4 games by just 1 goal, and it took some dubious officiating in Game Three and Game Four just to make that a reality. It could just as easily be a 2-2 series right now, with even officiating, or a 3-1 series lead for the Lightning with fair officiating and a bounce here or there.
I won't get into specific personnel things I would like to see the Lightning change in this post. There will be time for that in the next couple of days. But, I do want to address what I hope these last two games in Montreal will do for the culture of this hockey club, top to bottom. That doesn't just include players, but also coaches and front office, as well. Us old timers who have been following the team for decades know this, but now I hope they have learned this lesson, too: in order to win it all the Lightning have to be THAT MUCH better than the rest of the league in order to overcome the institutional barriers and biases in the NHL. It's not enough to be even with a team or even 1 goal better than a team, because you open yourself up to the possibility of the kind of shenanigans that happened in Game Three and Game Four against Montreal. The NHL views the Lightning franchise as a junior partner in the league, and when push comes to shove, experience has taught us all the bigger market, higher profile clubs will always get the benefit of the doubt. So, with that in mind, the Lightning can't just beat teams. They have to destroy teams. They can't leave any doubt. They have to clobber teams by a screwjob-proof margin of error and leave nothing but the smoldering cinders of what used to be their opponents behind them. Period.
The 2004 Cup team was THAT MUCH better than the rest of the league. That team won an unprecedented bounty of postseason trophies. They had the leading regular season scorer. Leading postseason scorer. They were clear and away the best team in the league, and even then I remain mildly surprised the referees made the correct call in Game Six on Gelinas' shot that eventually led to the team's Game Seven triumph.
Honestly, if you read between the lines of Martin St. Louis and why he wanted Tampa Bay, I think it pretty much confirms all of the above. He was sick of having to work twice as hard as players in markets like New York, Montreal, or Toronto to get the same level of respect and opportunity. So, now this generation of the Tampa Bay Lightning knows. Players will need to double down on their training, because they'll have to be THAT MUCH better to win it all. Coaches will have to put THAT MUCH extra time in the video room and on the white board. And, Steve Yzerman and Jeff Vinik? Gentlemen, the time for sipping tea with the same people who throw roadblocks in front of this franchise left and right, and have done so for decades, needs to be over. I've said all along, the Lightning are the NHL's (politer) version of the Oakland Raiders. They're the party crashers. They're the interlopers. They're the innovators. They're the counter culture. Do you get it now? It's not enough to play in Gary Bettman's sandbox. The only way this franchise gets respect is do what Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman did in frustration tonight: give a straight right cross to the mush of the league's mainstream franchises, take over the sandbox, and charge their sorry rear ends rent if they want to get back in it. Gentlemen, I understand you didn't declare war on the NHL, but the NHL declared war on you. So, you better damned well arm yourselves and start to take no prisoners starting tomorrow morning when the wound-licking needs to end and the steely determination to get r-e-v-e-n-g-e begins. Don't be ashamed to take that colossal chip, put it up on your shoulder, name it swagger, and use it to smite those who have wronged you.
And, before anyone up north accuses me of being a conspiracy theorist: boys and girls, the word "conspiracy" implies there's concealment. There's nothing concealed about what happened in Game Three and Game Four, and there's been hundreds of people from inside and outside of the league that have called shenanigans on what happens in places like Montreal and Toronto over the past several decades. Most professional sports leagues, when faced with a massive PR issue like that, move decisively to do something about it. Like, you know, don't assign another Quebecois official to work a Montreal playoff game two days after another Quebecois official made a hugely controversial call that swung the game for the home side. Not the NHL though. And, guess what? That says a lot more about the NHL and some of its enablers in the northern media than it does about us small market, crackpot "conspiracy" theorists down south.
Mike Kostka had an assist and was +2 with 1 hit and 1 blocked shot in 13:48. Is he a liability defensively? Yes. Does he find a way to sneak onto the scoresheet every other game? You betcha, in a way that Mark Barberio simply couldn't in that role all season long. I am of the opinion that I would be perfectly fine with Kostka sticking on this roster as a #8 defenseman next season because I truly believe what he gives you grades out to be a net positive, in the end equation.
Cedric Paquette was -1 with 2 penalty minutes and 3 hits in 10:49. He was also 60% on draws. I feel bad for Dump Truck, because I feel like he was thrown into a Calc I final exam after just completing acing Algebra II. Tonight, he got stripped in the neutral zone on the second goal (the first Lindback softie), and of course his was the (dubious) penalty that led to the game winning goal. When you couple that with losing his man on the game winning goal in Game One, you see that Paquette wore the goat horns a disproportionate amount of the time in this, his maiden NHL voyage. He's a good player, and he did a lot of good things in this late season cup of coffee. I hope the experience doesn't hurt his development, because I do think he was thrown into the deep end of the pool too soon, and it ultimately did show.
Hard to win when you're playing 5 on 7.
Montreal Leads the Series 3-0
Anders Lindback allowed 3 goals on 31 shots for the loss. He allowed the opening goal of the game to go through him, but was outstanding after that, especially in the First Period when he pretty well stood on his head to keep the Lightning in the game.
0:11 MTL Bourque (3), (Subban)
8:39 TB Palat (1), (Stamkos, Hedman)(PP)
18:10 MTL Gallagher (2), (Subban, Eller)
5:43 MTL Plekanec (2), (Prust, Gallagher)
11:36 TB Carle (1), (Stamkos, Gudas)
Wow. I think the officials and the league have a lot to answer for after that travesty, and I'm not just talking about the no-goal call in the Second Period that turned the game's momentum completely over. That, in of itself, was a miscarriage of justice as Alex Killorn made a strong hockey play going to the net, spilled into the cage, and as he was exiting the cage Price deliberately contacted him, play acted a little, and then allowed a goal several moments later which was waved off. That, in of itself, was outrageous, and begs the question I've asked several times on plays like that this season. If you're Jon Cooper, what do you instruct your young player to do differently on that play? Nothing. He did exactly what he's supposed to do and made a strong hockey play and got punished by the official for doing so (and we'll get to that official later).
But, then I look at several missed calls including a blatant hold of Callahan by Emelin in the Third Period and a missed high stick that Tyler Johnson took in the mush in the First Period. I mean, OBVIOUS calls that were on-the-puck infractions in plain view. You juxtapose that against the ticky tack holding calls that went against Gudas and Sustr that helped give the Canadiens a 2:1 advantage in power plays in a game where the shots on goal were nearly dead even. And, then, you throw in a blown offsides call that denied Steven Stamkos a breakaway, to boot? I'm not even going to mention the 4-minute minor Barberio took because, golly, you're not allowed to clean someone out in front of your net anymore.
Basically, the officials just handed the Montreal Canadiens the series on a silver platter tonight. It's bad enough that all you have to do is blow on a Habs player to get a call versus Lightning players getting full on tackled without an arm going up, but they went straight past that to taking goals off the board and directly influencing the outcome of a game tonight. It was to the extent that even CBC, TSN, and any other fair-minded hockey fan in the world was admitting that the Lightning got the shaft.
One other thing: evidently the goal was waved off by referee Francis Charron. Referee Francis Charron who was born in Gatineau, Quebec. Referee Francis Charron who, I'm willing to bet, has a dusty old photo album sitting somewhere in his mama's attic with him as a little boy wearing a Habs jersey. Betcha. Dollars to donuts. When you look at everything that happened in this game, and then you factor that into the equation as well, I'm sorry. The whole thing stinks to the high heavens, and if the league didn't want the appearance of impropriety they should not have assigned Charron to officiate this game. Period, point blank. Take an Ethics 101 class if you don't understand why.
So I could sit here and break down this game further and tell you how the Lightning, from the Second Period on in this game, started to play their best hockey in the series and looked like they were about to turn the corner. We could talk about how the Lightning started to assert themselves more physically and how, tactically, they looked better moving the puck through the neutral zone with some more speed. But, honestly, what does it matter? I don't care if you've got a top line of Lemieux, Gretzky, and Howe in their primes with Orr and Ray Bourque on the blueline, no amount of athleticism and skill is going to win games where you're playing 5 on 7, and no tactic is going to give you an edge when you're playing 5 on 7.
I'm so sick of this league. You know, you KNOW going into games against certain teams (Montreal, Toronto, and Pittsburgh, foremost) that you're going to face biased officiating. You KNOW it. And then you look at your greedy Commissioner whose presided over a lost season and two other lockouts (or was it three?) in the time since he's taken over. Good to know none of the money the league extorted from the players went toward acquiring any integrity. Yes, integrity, and the worst part of all is seeing everyone, EVERYONE, who isn't a Habs homer admitting that the Lightning took the shaft... except Kerry Fraser who promptly hopped on the Twitter to circle the wagons around his "fraternity" boy Charron. In the NFL, they admit after the game when they blow the call. In the NHL, they never admit fault, even though it's so obvious that even Ray Charles (blind AND dead) could see it. Nope. Let's circle the wagons around our boys. Joke. Joke league. I love the Lightning and I'm proud they kept fighting once they got down 3-1 in the face of the injustice going on all around them, but this league should be ashamed of itself, and I hope Jon Cooper, Steve Yzerman, and anyone else on the Lightning who gets a voice recorder shoved in front of them tonight makes an eloquently worded, massive donation to charity to that effect after what just happened. Clown league. The NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs is the purest, best form of competition in all of sport and these clowns have found a way to even tarnish that. Shame.
"Go Refs Go!"
Cedric Paquette had 2 hits and was 67% on draws in 9:39. Made a really strong backcheck to nullify a 2-on-1 at a key juncture in the game. Surprised they didn't call him for being within a foot of the Habs player's "personal space".
Young Lightning shy away from the moment.
Montreal Leads the Series 1-0
Anders Lindback allowed 5 goals on 44 shots for the OT Loss. Obviously the Lightning got outshot by a mile and only lost by a goal, so it's hard to complain too much about Lindback's play, but there were a couple of goals (Plekanec and Eller's goals) Lindback might want back. On the Plekanec goal, Lindback failed to get square to the shooter and was moving and on the Eller goal he got a piece but allowed it to get behind him and in. He's not the reason they lost tonight, and in fact he helped keep them in the game longer than they had any business being in the game. But, it's also fair to say he can play better, too.
10:09 TB Kucherov (1), (Brown, Paquette)
10:28 MTL Plekanec (1), (Emelin, Gallagher)
13:24 TB Stamkos (1), (Kostka)
16:39 MTL Gionta (1), (Eller, Weaver)(SH)
5:10 MTL Eller (1), (Gionta)
7:11 TB Killorn (1), (Johnson)
11:30 MTL Vanek (1), (Desharnais, Emelin)
13:27 TB Stamkos (2), (Killorn)
18:08 MTL Weise (1), (Brière, Gorges)
Steven Stamkos was the game's second star.
I'm kind of struggling about how to approach this one. Montreal came into this game very well prepared and with a plan to put pressure on the Lightning and on Lindback. For the most part, though, the Lightning did a decent early job of matching that intensity and they eventually manufactured the early goal by Kucherov all alone in the slot for the finish, and things were looking very rosy... for about 19 seconds. 19 seconds later Radko Gudas got undressed around the corner on the rush and Lindback allowed a semi-soft goal on the resulting shot from the left wing circle and the game was instantly tied, and the team's confidence immediately dissolved. They played the next 20 minutes of hockey scared and looking every bit a team that was terrified of the magnitude of playoff hockey. They struggled to get out of their end. They mishandled pucks. Their passing betrayed them. They gave a rash of turnovers to Montreal.
With all that happening, Lindback managed to keep the game at 1-1 until midway through the Second Period when the Lightning started to make a bit of a push, eventually culminating in a great individual effort by Stamkos to get a 2-1 lead and the Lightning going on the PP at 16:06 of the period on a horribly undisciplined penalty by blockhead PK Subban. You had the feeling that the Lightning were about to really swing the game in their favor at that moment when Victor Hedman made a pinch that a blind man would've seen was ill advised resulting in the Gionta shorthanded breakaway goal, and the Lightning played pretty much the entire rest of the game on their heels. Their Third Period was as bad a period as I've seen them play all year and only an abnormally mortal Carey Price allowed the Lightning to stay in the game as long as they did. Also, I will say, credit to Alex Killorn who had a goal and an assist in the period and was one of the few Lightning forwards who played well (at least on the offensive end of the rink). In the end, though, Montreal simply had too much zone time and too many chances for the Lightning to overcome. They had a handful of dangerous chances in Overtime to steal the game, but that's all it would've been: a theft. They didn't deserve Game One, and in the end they didn't win Game One.
Now, if you want a silver lining: the Lightning can't possibly play worse than they did in Game One, so they only have one direction to go, which is up. They have some ongoing injury issues with Ondrej Palat leaving the game after knee-to-knee contact with Subban, an obviously hobbled Filppula, and Bishop still out of the lineup. But, with that put aside, it seems unlikely the Lightning will play another game the rest of these playoffs with that sort of fractured structure, poor passing, and timid approach because of the magnitude of the moment. I expect them to push back in this series, and if anyone is looking for a point of reference for a young Lightning team that struggled with the moment in their first few home playoff games before figuring it out, pop in the tape of Game One and Game Two against Washington back in 2003. This kind of tepid start can certainly be overcome.
Mike Kostka had a helper, 2 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 23:46. He struggled a bit with the extra gear of the playoffs, to be honest, and made a couple of big mistakes on the Eller goal by failing to keep a puck in at the opposing blueline and then failing to pick up the trailer on the resulting odd-man rush. I'm interested to see if Cooper sticks with Kostka or gives Barberio a shot in Game Two.
Cedric Paquette had a helper, 2 penalty minutes, 1 shot, 4 hits, and he was 27% on draws in 11:28. He played a very gritty playoff game and hit everything that moved. But, in the end, he wears the goat horns for abandoning Weise in front of the Lightning net on the game-winning goal in Overtime. It wasn't an athleticism issue, in this case, it was a decision making issue at a time of the year when poor decision making gets magnified ten-fold. Like Kostka, I'll be interested to see if Cooper sticks with Paquette or if he goes to the press box and brings in Pyatt or another forward. I feel bad for the young man because he played a pretty good game, otherwise.
101 reasons to be proud of their regular season.
Anders Lindback stopped all 18 shots he faced and 3 of 3 shooters for the SO victory to deliver the Lightning home ice in the first round of the playoffs against Montreal. His toe save on a Backstrom 1-timer on a Third Period penalty kill was the stuff of legend. Big Anders is definitely getting hot at the right time of the year.
Lindback was named the first star of the game. The Lightning needed a win of any flavor to get home ice in the first round and, for the most part, they remained patient and didn't get too loose defensively trying to get the W. Washington looked like they wanted no part of the game and the Lightning dominated possession and shots (32-18), but with Holtby playing pretty well there was a chance the Lightning would start freelancing outside of their system and allow the Washington skill players to capitalize. They did not, fortunately, and Matt Carle delivered the one finish they needed to get the Lightning back to Tampa Bay on Wednesday for Game One against the Habs.
The Lightning finish the season with 101 points. Triple digits is impressive for any team. For a team with so many prospects who established themselves at the NHL level this year, though, it's unbelievable.
Mike Kostka had 1 hit and 3 blocked shots in 15:41 and was denied dekeing to his backhand in the penalty shot session.
Cody Kunyk had 2 shots and 1 hit and was 20% on draws in 10:12. He nearly set up Kucherov for the winner in the Third Period off some forechecking work in the corner. First impressions: smooth skater who will work hard in the corners and along the wall. First step could use a little attention, but couldn't we all use a little first step improvement? Should be a good add for Syracuse next season.
Cedric Paquette had 1 shot, 1 hit, and 2 blocked shots in 16:19 and was 47% on draws. He nearly set up Callahan for a nice deflection goal off the rush, but there were moments you could see his lack of speed could be a vulnerability on the backcheck.
One more to go.
Kristers Gudlevskis stopped 36 of 38 for the victory in his first NHL shot. He was impressive. His quickness and athleticism are striking, and he showed a competitiveness and unwillingness to give up on plays that is also the hallmark of great netminders.
3:55 TB Palat (23), (Killorn)(PP)
13:46 CBJ Jenner (16), (Johnson, Johansen)(PP)
14:54 TB Brewer (3), (Paquette)
18:06 TB Brewer (4), (Kostka, Panik)
16:37 CBJ Savard (5), (Jenner, Comeau)
Gudlevskis, Eric Brewer, and Ryan Callahan were the game's three stars. It wasn't the best effort the Lightning have put forward, but Gudlevskis played well and the team capitalized on some shaky netminding by Columbus' McElhinney at the other end of the rink. It wasn't without a price, as Victor Hedman left the game early with a lower body injury and Ondrej Palat left after getting his bell rung on an open ice hit, but at this hour their absence seems more precautionary than anything else (although that's always subject to change).
The Lightning now have 99 points with 1 game to go. Win and they get home ice against Montreal in the opening round of the playoffs. Win and they break the 100 point barrier. Win, and they'll cap off one of the best regular seasons in team history.
Mike Kostka had a helper and was +1 with 1 shot and 3 hits in 20:35. He was forced into extra ice time with Hedman out of the game early, and he handled it reasonably well, even getting his 3rd point in 2 games since returning. Win if you can, survive if Mike Kostka lets you.
Cedric Paquette had a helper and was +1 with 1 hit and 2 blocked shots in 12:46. He was also 64% on 14 draws, including several wins while the Lightning were trying to stave off Columbus with their goaltender pulled at the end of the game. Good debut by Dump Truck, and I thought the scorekeepers cheated him out of a few hits because I counted 2-3 more. The young man's got a future on the team's fourth line.