Tampa Bay Lightning
Little things cost the Lightning again...
Eastern Conference Finals
New York Leads the Series 1-0
Ben Bishop continues to sparkle, allowing just 2 goals on 30 shots for the loss. I can't fault Ben on two greasy goals, one of which was a puck deflected off a body in front. He game the Lightning every opportunity to win the game while the team figured out an approach that would work against the Rangers.
19:47 NYR Stepan (4), (Kreider, McDonagh)
6:45 TB Palat (4), (Johnson, Hedman)(PP)
17:35 NYR Moore (1), (Hayes, Brassard)
Ondrej Palat was the game's third star.
The Rangers probably deserved the win today, given the overall run of play, but the Lightning did a lot of good things and put themselves in position to steal Game One. They weathered a very spirited First Period by New York with the Rangers coming out flying, largely on the strength of Bishop's goaltending. Then, with fatigue slowly starting to creep in for New York and nerves wearing off in the Second Period, the team started to slowly turn the momentum until a little disaster struck late in the period. Steven Stamkos failed to pay the price to take a couple of extra strides to get the red line and get the puck deep late, and the Rangers took the resulting turnover and eventually cashed on a greasy goal that hit traffic in front and found Stepan at the side of Bishop's cage. The Lightning really came on in the Third Period, drawing 3 PP's from The Rangers, but in a game that tight it just takes a bounce to lose. Kevin Hayes threw a sharp angle shot off Moore in front of the net and in, and the Lightning find themselves down 1-0 in the series.
If you're a glass half empty person, you'll note that the third pairing of Carle/Sustr (particularly Carle) is the most glaring weak spot on the team right now. It's bad. The Lightning had a high amount of turnovers in the game, some of which were the result of the Rangers flying on the forecheck to start the game, but there were a ton of really stupid unforced errors, too. And, Carle seemed to be at the heart of a lot of those unforced errors. Also, the team had nothing resembling support from the bottom two lines with Boyle a late scratch and Marchessault a liability in this contest. Namestnikov also showed a lot of jitters and withered a bit in the big moments, like a 2-on-1 he meekly centered right into a sprawled Rangers defender in the Third Period. It's not like the coaches have a ton of choices, though. They either bite the bullet and give Drouin a chance or they don't.
Glass half full, it looks like the Stamkos line is going to be able to do some business in this series and the PP cashed in again. The Lightning also won the faceoff battle, at least on paper, even with Boyle out. And, Bishop. Enough said.
Game Two is going to be very big. The Lightning found some things that worked in the Third Period and I expect a big push from them to try to even up the series before it shifts back to Tampa.
Jonathan Marchessault had 2 shots in 11:40. He looked like a deer in headlights to me in the First Period, with some cringe-worthy turnovers. He settled down as things went along, but I'm just not sure this is a series that suits his game. He and Namestnikov (6:52 of IT), in particular, may need to draw out for Game Two. Obviously, you hope Boyle can go in Game Two and then Cooper will need to decide whether to go with 7 D or maybe try Drouin again. Some tinkering definitely needs to happen on the third pair and bottom two lines, though, because they were glaring liabilities, at times.
The night it all came together...
Eastern Conference Semifinals
Tampa Bay Wins the Series 4-2
Ben Bishop allowed 1 goal on 19 shots for the victory, with the lone goal coming off a play where a puck took a goofy hop off the glass. He didn't have a ton of work, but he continued to make the key saves when he needed to. The national press just realized Bishop is no fluke. It's no small thing to out-duel the presumptive MVP, Carey Price, in a 7-game series. Did he get some lucky, horseshoe breaks? Sure. But you make your own luck, and Bishop was the MVP of this Montreal series.
15:35 TB Kucherov (5), (Palat)
5:12 TB Stamkos (3), (Killorn, Carle)
18:56 TB Palat (3), (Kucherov, Stralman)(PP)
15:03 MTL Pacioretty (5), (Gallagher)
17:59 TB Kucherov (6), (unassisted)(EN)
After muddling through much of the first dozen games of this playoff season, tonight the Lightning finally figured out how to translate their regular season style to a successful 60 minute hockey game. You could see it coming in their 5-on-5 play in Montreal in Game Five, and once the Johnson line worked their way into scoring the opening goal in the First Period, the Lightning were fully off and running. The Lightning completely dominated the Habs from there on out. Outshot them. Outchanced them. Outhit them. They even did a number on Montreal in the faceoff circles after struggling mightily in that department for most of the series. All in all, it was the first time in these playoffs that the Lightning played a full game of Lightning hockey, which points to the tremendous potential of this club. Even struggling to figure out postseason hockey, the Lightning had the talent to advance within 1 game of the Eastern Conference Finals. Tonight, all the pieces fell into place.
Moreover, the Lightning have filled in some important gaps in their game from the regular season, and may be be finally reaching their full potential as a team. That should be terrifying to the rest of the league, considering that the Lightning still managed to put up a 100+ point season and lead the league in goals even without a functional power play and without a really strong ability to close out close games in the Third Period. The Lightning got 7 goals on the power play in the Montreal series, and starting late in the Detroit series they started to really look more comfortable and efficient protecting Third Period leads and playing a more simple 200 foot game.
Oh, and after being MIA in the Detroit series, all of a sudden Kucherov is fully on track and Stamkos is getting on track. Yikes.
Credit BP member Bolthed with the following paraphrased point from the BP chat room, which I think strikes the right tone, post game: I hope Coach Cooper stood up in front of his team after the game and said something along the lines of the following...
"Boys, congratulations for advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals. It hasn't always been easy, and it darn sure hasn't always been pretty. But, you've worked hard and you've learned and gotten a little strong, bit by bit, along the way. Tonight, you finally put it all together, and I'm proud of you guys for that. But, you know what? Now there are no more excuses. Now that you've proven you can put it all together it's on you guys to play at that same level every game from here on out. You can do it. You've shown you can do it. You had the talent, and now you've got the experience. Anything less and you're cheating yourselves."
And at that point, I hope he asked Stamkos and Hedman to stand up in front of the team and talk about 2011, and guys like Stralman and Boyle about their experience with the Rangers, and what it feels like to come that close to winning it all. Once you get this deep in the playoffs and are one of the final four teams, you're in the rarefied air of an event that may never come in your life again. You only get so many kicks at the can and only so many real chances to get your name on the Stanley Cup.
Capitalize it, and as Tim Taylor said in 2004, your team will walk together forever. When you lose though, like the Lightning did in 2011 in Game Seven against Boston by such a slim margin, it's the kind of thing you take to your grave. As a fan, I'll never get over 2011 and how close the Lightning were to advancing and probably winning their second Stanley Cup. Maybe it's a sign of my lack of an adequate social life, but there's not a day over the last 4 years I haven't thought about it and wished they could've gotten those couple of more goals they needed to advance and how that would've changed the legacy of that team and the franchise. I can only imagine what the players like Stamkos and Hedman who were in that room and shed blood, sweat, and tears with that team feel. They have to understand the fierce urgency of this moment and impart that wisdom on their teammates who haven't experienced a deep run like this at the NHL level before. When you get this far, you've got to win it all. You've got to. You've got to sell out mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually for every single shift of every single game, because you don't want to cheat yourselves and you don't want to find yourself looking back and regretting what might have been. For the next 4-6 weeks (hopefully), the Lightning will put everything of themselves toward this singular goal. It'll be grueling. It'll be nerve wracking. It'll galvanize a city behind the team that wears their jersey and shares their community. And that, folks, is what makes the Stanley Cup Playoffs the most unique and exciting experience in all of professional sports.
Jonathan Marchessault had 1 shot and 1 hit in 11:15 in his NHL playoff debut. Credit the coaching staff for monitoring how well Marchessault was practicing and for having the guts to insert him in the lineup in such a big spot. He didn't score tonight, but he made smart plays with the puck and was poised defensively in a way the younger forwards haven't always been in these playoffs.
Nikita Nesterov had 1 shot and 1 hit in 6:19. He had some anxious moments in his own end in the First Period. That's been the trade off with Nesterov. You get some possession advantages, but he looks a little hairy at times in his own third. Hence the lower ice time.
Eastern Conference Semifinals
Tampa Bay Leads the Series 3-2
Ben Bishop allowed 2 goals on 29 shots for the loss. He played well tonight and still hasn't had back-to-back clunkers all season long. He gave the team a chance tonight, along with his friends posts and crossbars.
9:01 MTL Smith-Pelly (1), (Mitchell, Petry)
9:27 TB Stamkos (2), (Stralman, Killorn)
15:53 MTL Parenteau (1), (Subban)
Bishop was the game's third star.
The Lightning played a better game than they did in Game Three and Game Four, particularly in the First and Third Periods, but still haven't played like they're capable of. The possession and shots really grinded to a halt in the Second Period and they need to have the puck more if they want to win this series. They also should feel fortunate they got the benefit of 2 posts and a crossbar hit by Montreal on the PP, but all in all they nearly did what they needed to to seal the capper on the road and only a couple of small mistakes really cost them. First, on the Pelly goal, you had a really ill-advised pass in the neutral zone by Carle compounded by poor positioning by Sustr. Little things. You had Morrow staring at an open net with plenty of time a little later on and he golfs it directly into Price's pad. Rushed it. Little things. And, the real kicker of the night, Stamkos has the puck on his blade with all the time in the world to make a play with it in his defensive zone and he throws it blindly up the wall to Subban for what turns into the GWG. Panicked needlessly. Little things. They cleaned up a lot from Game Four, but they need to still clean up that last little bit more for Game Six.
On a side note, the referees fingerprints were all over this game. All over it. Tampa Bay didn't get a power play all game long even though you had Johnson getting tackled the first shift of the game and Bishop getting crosschecked in the chest in the Second Period on two clear Montreal infractions. So what did the refs do? Even it up! Make it 4-on-4! Call a baloney embellishment call on Johnson and then call a baloney roughing call on Hedman in a post-whistle scrum. That's what the refs did, because they didn't want to award the Lightning a single PP after seeing the Lightning score 6 PP goals in the previous 3 games. It was obvious. They practically put it on a billboard after that gobsmacking call against Johnson to start the game. And it continued throughout the game as you had one instance where Callahan nearly got the jersey ripped off him like he'd been mauled by a tiger and then the final shift of the game where Stamkos got tackled by Subban and laid on until the final horn. Right. In. Front. Of. The. Official. That's why I'm not going to get too mad, because it was practically 7-on-5 tonight and the Lightning still nearly manufactured the victory. It's just sad you know going into a game like this in Montreal, you're going to have to beat the team in front of you AND the officials. And it's obvious. It's SO Montreal.
If I was a betting man, the Lightning are going to beat the life out of Montreal in Game Six. We'll see how it plays out, but Pacioretty tried to also maul Tyler Johnson at the final buzzer in the scrum that broke out when Subban was still trying to pin Stamkos for the 3 count WWE style. The Lightning finally let out a little emotion tonight, and I think this team plays better when it's angry/revenge-minded. Just my guess. Montreal made it personal again with their shenanigans at the buzzer.
Nikita Nesterov was +1 with 2 penalty minutes, 2 shots and 3 hits in 12:13. Some of his defensive zone play tonight, frankly, was hairy. Effective, but hairy. You wouldn't show tape of those plays in an instructional video. He also got a key shift late in the game as the Lightning were trying to tie the game up, and I don't think he exactly cloaked himself in glory with some of his decision-making with the puck in the neutral zone. Tough spot for a rookie to find himself in.
Goaltending finally gives out.
Eastern Conference Semifinals
Tampa Bay Leads the Series 3-1
Ben Bishop allowed 3 goals on 14 shots for the loss before giving way to Andrei Vasilevskiy, who allowed 3 on 26 shots the rest of the way. Bishop allowed 1 soft goal off his glove (again), which ended up being the GWG. It was wise to get him out and get a rest at that point with the team down 3-0. You're going to have 1-2 stinkers even in a successful playoff season, and the silver lining in those games is you get to give your workhorse goaltender a breather. Vasilevskiy showed significant signs of rust by allowing a softie on his 2nd goal allowed and giving out a bad rebound that led to his 3rd goal allowed. He got better as the game went along, but there's certainly no goaltending controversy in Tampa Bay after that showing.
2:44 MTL Markov (1), (Subban, Pacioretty)
8:43 MTL Pacioretty (4), (Gilbert)(SH)
5:08 MTL Desharnais (1), (Weise, Galchenyuk)
9:39 MTL Petry (2), (Galchenyuk, Subban)(PP)
9:54 MTL Gallagher (3), (Pacioretty, Plekanec)
12:26 TB Kucherov (4), (Palat, Stralman)(PP)
0:17 TB Palat (2), (Johnson, Stamkos)(PP)
4:52 MTL Prust (1), (Eller, Parenteau)
There's a lot of blustering and posturing by Subban and the Habs that's going to get replayed on a loop by the media to try to drum up interest in a 3-1 series. Don't take the bait and panic. The Lightning didn't play well the past 2 nights, but you have to take the magnitude of tonight's 6-2 loss with a little grain of salt given that 3 of the last 4 goals allowed were purely on the netminders. The negatives didn't so much come from effort, for me, but the mental lapses in positioning that led to the first 2 goals. When Bishop allowed the softie, that put the team down 3-0 and that was all she wrote. So, those mental lapses are correctable and you have to proceed under the assumption Bishop isn't going to wet the bet like that twice in a row. He hasn't all season long. You try to take the handful of silver linings out of this game that you can, too. Bishop got some much needed rest after carrying the team on his back for much of the first 10 games of the playoffs. The power play went 2-for-3 and is starting to look respectable in this series. Drouin got some much needed seasoning in garbage time. So, there's some glass half full things to look at.
Have the Lightning elected the easy road for closing out this series? No. This thing may get a little hairy now considering Montreal's going to be a crazy barn on Saturday. But, it was crazy the first two games of the series, too. If they're feeling apprehension, they shouldn't, because they've been through this gauntlet before. They just need to concentrate on getting the first goal, tightening up the positioning lapses, and hope that Bishop shakes off tonight's performance with the same ease he usually shakes off his stinkers. If they do, they'll be ok. Calm needs to be the word of the hour, for sure.
And Tyler Johnson drove the get away car...
Eastern Conference Semifinals
Tampa Bay Leads the Series 3-0
Ben Bishop allowed just 1 goal on 31 shots for the victory. As has been the case throughout the series, he's been the best player on the ice. He's outdueling the best goaltender on the planet by continually beating Price in these tight games, carrying over from some of the regular season matchups, and he's the only reason the Lightning are one win away from the Eastern Conference Finals.
12:00 TB Killorn (3), (Stamkos)
10:03 MTL Gallagher (2), (Gilbert, Pateryn)
19:58 TB Johnson (8), (Hedman, Palat)
Tyler Johnson and Ben Bishop were the game's first and second stars.
For as dramatic and amazing a finish as that game had, I can't help but be disappointed with the effort we saw from the Lightning tonight. Having staked themselves to a 2-0 series lead in Montreal, they showed the proper urgency in the First Period to build a 1-0 lead on a beautiful Stamkos/Killorn give and go. That was fantastic.
The ensuing 39 minutes and 58.9 seconds of hockey, for the most part, was steaming hot garbage.
The Lightning played like a Junior A team in front of Bishop, with a complete lack of aggression and urgency dotted with the periodic idiotic turnover. They'd be lucky to win a dog show with the epic sandbaggery that we saw tonight, and only Bishop gave them a chance to win. Even after Gallagher poked home the equalizer, the Lightning's response was fairly awful, right up until the last 2 shifts of the game, when it appeared Cooper and the coaching staff must've opened up some particularly noxious smelling salts and waved them under the noses of the the team's top two lines. Stamkos' line set the tone with a great forechecking shift to wear down the Habs, and then fresh off the bench the Johnson line mustered a quick rush that ended with a sharp centering pass from Hedman getting tapped home with 1.1 seconds left to play. What a theft. I'm almost embarrassed to call it a win.
If you asked me about Matt Carle's execution on defense tonight, I'd tell you I was all for it.
Now the Lightning get to go for the series sweep against a stunned Canadiens team tomorrow night. Between Montreal's dysfunctional PP, their lack of scoring talent, and Bishop's excellence, Tampa Bay has a good chance of advancing in the next 22 hours. What happens afterwards is difficult to feel positive about, though. We haven't seen the Lightning play their best game yet. Not even close. We've seen 20 good minutes of hockey here and there, but nothing near the kind of 60 minute effort it will take to win the East against Washington or the Rangers. Were I Cooper, I'd smack the first player who tried to celebrate about that dumpster fire that was passed off as an effort tonight and challenge this team to close out this series the right way against Montreal in Game Four. It's time to stop relying on Bishop, a little luck, and a lot of hope to back into winning hockey games and play an assertive, dominant 60 minute hockey game that tells the world this team is a serious championship contender and not just the best of a weak gaggle of Atlantic Division pretenders.
When the levees broke...
Eastern Conference Semifinals
Tampa Bay Leads the Series 2-0
Ben Bishop allowed 2 goals on 29 shots for the victory. As in Game One, he held the Lightning in the game early in the First Period long enough for them to gain their equilibrium and eventually trounce the Habs.
7:20 MTL Petry (1), (Mitchell, Prust)
19:36 TB Filppula (2), (Hedman, Killorn)(PP)
8:06 TB Stamkos (1), (Garrison, Coburn)
12:29 TB Kucherov (2), (Johnson, Stamkos)(PP)
19:46 TB Hedman (1), (Killorn, Filppula)(PP)
6:37 TB Kucherov (3), (Johnson, Stamkos)(PP)
11:06 MTL Gilbert (2), (Emelin, Smith-Pelly)
16:05 TB Brown (1), (Filppula, Boyle)
That, folks, was one of the most satisfying playoff victories in Lightning history. The team, again, struggled to get any momentum to start the First Period with a combination of early penalties, poor passing, and faceoff impotence costing them possession. Again, though, they weathered that storm fairly well, only falling down 1-0, before Filppula's semi-soft power play goal toward the end of the frame. Montreal absolutely outplayed Tampa Bay in the First Period, and just like in Game One they absolutely blew their opportunity to land a knockout punch early. What happened thereafter was the stuff of stories and legends.
You see, the Lightning had already removed one item from their to-do list on Filppula's PP goal, but they proceeded to get everything knocked off from there. Stamkos scored on a very strong breakaway move on a nice long pass from Garrison to get that monkey off his back. Kucherov got a pair of PP goals to underline that the floodgates have indeed opened for him after Game One. His 2 goals, along with a Hedman PP tally, formed a chain of 4 goals on 4 consecutive PP shots for the Lightning as the absolutely embarrassed Carey Price, the NHL's presumptive MVP. To rub salt in the wound, the Lightning got the equivalent of a human victory cigar in the form of J.T. Brown scoring a tip in goal.
Teams that take a 2-0 lead on the road to start a series have an 80% chance of moving on, historically. I like those odds. I like the idea of avenging what happened last season even more. The Lightning have a chance to show the same cold blooded lack of mercy Montreal showed them last year in Game Three when the scene turned north after Tampa Bay fell behind 0-2 on the road. A quick goal by the Tampa Bay Lightning early in Game Three may lead to Montreal's resolve evaporating altogether. Time to step on their throats, Tampa Bay Lightning. Remember, the playoffs are a war of attrition. Advance as quickly as you can. Stay as healthy as you can. Conserve as much energy as you can. Let the other two teams kill each other in a long battle in the other Semifinal. Lay in wait for the Eastern Conference Finals. The opportunity for that scenario to play out is sitting there for the taking for the Lightning, starting with a strong opening 10 minutes at home in Game Three.
A game you could argue the Lightning won three times. Wish it counted as three wins.
Eastern Conference Semifinals
Ben Bishop allowed 1 goal on 44 shots for the victory. That 1 goal he allowed was a terrible, world class softie that would've been a huge blemish on an otherwise amazing performance had the Lightning lost this game in OT. Fortunately, they got the winner they needed to erase the bad taste of that goal away, and although soft goals are still inexcusable it's important to note than Ben Bishop absolutely was the Lightning's best player tonight.
2:34 TB Johnson (7), (Carle, Sustr)
14:47 MTL Pacioretty (3), (Subban, Gilbert)
2:06 TB Kucherov (1), (Filppula)
Nikita Kucherov and Ben Bishop were the game's first and third stars. The Lightning finally got Kucherov on the board and hopefully they can get Stamkos and the PP, not necessarily in that order, out of the ditch and on the scoreboard in Game Two as well.
The Lightning played a nearly perfect road game and fought hard through a lot of adversity to put them in excellent position to start this series. As could be expected, they came out flat as a pancake after an emotional Game Seven victory on Wednesday and they had to ride some really sharp goaltending and the good graces of two strikes off of Ben's left post to survive Montreal's early surge. After about 10-12 minutes of hanging on for dear life, though, the Lightning settled down and started playing Lightning hockey. True, Montreal ended up taking the shot totals by about a 4:3 margin in the game, but the Lightning had the puck more, which is certainly more in line with the Lightning's style of play than what we saw in the Detroit series. Eventually, the Lightning manufactured what appeared to be the game winning goal on a Tyler Johnson deflection of a Carle point shot and the Lightning settled into Third Period lead protection mode. And, let me tell you, it's been shocking to see how good the Lightning have looked the last two games protecting a 1-0 lead in the Third Period. They've grown a lot in that department. That was the first time they won the game.
Then the Bishop softie happened. It's inexcusable. It's gut wrenching. It's the kind of thing that can destroy a team's morale. Credit to the Lightning though, in that they showed a lot of maturity by not hanging their heads as the game headed into Overtime. Then, in the First Overtime, Nikita Kucherov scored a breakaway goal that in any situation other than in OT in a playoff game against one of the NHL's darling franchises would've stood. Absolutely. No question in my mind. By the specter of dubious refereeing in Montreal reared its ugly head again as the goal was waved off under the guise that Kucherov pushed Price into the net. I could probably show you 100 goals exactly like that in the last decade that have stood up. That was the second time they won the game.
But, the refs decided they should play on. And play on they did when a Montreal turnover led to a quick pass to the slot for a quick release by Kucherov that beat Price for the winning goal. That was the third time they won the game, and the one that actually counted. In retrospect, I just wish the game counted as three wins for all the heavy lifting they had to do to get it.
Of course, there's a lot of controversy on the zone entry on the play that became the winner, with still shots being waved by the Canadian media showing Filppula as offside. The video, however, shows the play was less cut and dry, but still very close. It's really a case of Montreal trying to beat the wrap on a technicality, though, considering they got puck possession and had an easy opportunity to clear that they choked away. It's also karmatic justice considering how many times Tampa Bay has been shafted by the referees in games against Montreal over the past two seasons. No tears should be shed for the Habs, regardless of how much the northern hockey media tries to frame this as a tainted win.
Moving on to Game Two, the Lightning find themselves in the envious position of playing with house money on the road. They've accomplished what they need to stealing home ice to start the series. Now they've got a chance to really put the Habs behind the eight ball before heading home to Tampa Bay. It would behoove them to do so and shorten the series, because as we all know playoff hockey is both a marathon and a war of attrition. The fewer games you can play to get to 16 wins, the less energy you have to expend and the fewer opportunities you have to get players injured. So the message should be clear: seize the opportunity now and try to put Montreal away sooner rather than later.
Bishop rises up.
Eastern Conference Quarterfinals
Tampa Bay Wins the Series 4-3
Ben Bishop stopped all 31 shots he faced for the shutout win in the clutchest of clutch moments. He was not on his game to start, fighting the puck hard for the first 25 minutes or so of the game. But, the longer it went on, the stronger Bishop got. By the end, Bishop looked sharp as a razor and ready to hand out his brand of U of Maine Justice in the postseason for the very first time. It's appropriate that on the night of Bobby Taylor's last broadcast at color of Sun Sports that his fellow Goalies Union, Local 813 member stole the show.
3:58 TB Coburn (1), (Callahan, Killorn)
18:42 TB Stralman (1), (Bishop)(EN)
The Lightning pilfered this one. They were incredibly nervous and played about 45 minutes of scared, hot potato hockey. That said, they hustled, they worked hard, and they capitalized on the break when it came to them on Coburn's goal. It wasn't pretty. Cripes, even the anthem singer was playing hurt. But, in the end, figuring out how to pull out a series like this is so critically important for an extremely young team trying to make a transition to becoming an elite franchise. Now that they have that experience, it's going to get easier from here on out because they've lived through a tight series against a difficult, veteran opponent where they had to overcome a lot of adversity. It bodes well for the Montreal series and on into the future.
It also bodes well, in a weird way, that Stamkos and Kucherov still couldn't get a goal. For those two guys to go 7 games without a goal has to be the very definition of, "due." If I were the Canadiens, I'd be pretty terrified because if either of those guys get 1, especially Stamkos, the floodgates are liable to open. Both players had ten bell opportunities they just missed in Game Seven.
Going against hometown Montreal, might we also see Jonathan Drouin again starting Friday? It still seems that Stamkos needs a little more speed/skill on his wing, and Drouin has it. Just sayin'.
Nikita Nesterov had 1 shot in 10:02. For the little he played, he was very assertive and nearly won the game himself with a near end to end rush on one power play. He's forced his way into the lineup and forced Cooper and the staff to play 7 defensemen.
You gotta believe, daddy!
Eastern Conference Quarterfinals
Series Tied 3-3
Ben Bishop allowed 2 goals on 24 shots for the victory. Would he get style points for how he played tonight? Likely not. He looks nicked up and he was fighting the puck a bit all night long. Buy he battled like a maniac to get the job done.
3:47 TB Johnson (5), (Kucherov, Hedman)
11:10 TB Garrison (1), (Stamkos, Kucherov)
9:09 TB Johnson (6), (Palat, Kucherov)
12:26 DET Tatar (2), (Kronwall)(PP)
1:39 DET Tatar (3), (Datsyuk)
14:51 TB Killorn (2), (unassisted)
19:03 TB Paquette (1), (unassisted)(SH)(EN)
It's hard not to be proud of the way the Lightning played tonight. It was gritty and gutty. They were being physically assaulted by Detroit throughout the game as uncalled interference escalated to uncalled head shots like Kronwall's obvious elbow to the chin of Kucherov. They battled on. In fact, the refs took it a step further and decided they were going to punish Jon Cooper for openly questioning the lack of interference calls in this series by awarding Detroit a 7-2 power play advantage and allowing Detroit to get away with anything short of murder in this contest. True, they blew a call that led to the Lightning's third goal on an uncalled trip in the neutral zone, but fairness never entered into the equation tonight. It was 7-on-5, at best, most of the night, but unlike the Montreal series last year the Lightning battled on.
And, yes, I'm deliberately mocking Coach Babcock's mindless platitudes earlier about fighting through his team's clearly illegal strategy of throwing the kitchen sink at the faster, more skilled Lightning team to try to nullify their athletic advantage. It was a pretty overt admission his team is cheating their rear ends off, couched in some hot garbage about having the heart of a champion. Whatever. He and his gaggle of clutch and grab cheap shot artists can battle their rear ends onto a charter flight to Tampa for Game Seven on Wednesday.
The Lightning made a conscious decision tonight to stay true to themselves. It's not easy when things are stacked up against you to stay in character and not deviate from your structure. In fact, when guys start trying to execute flying elbows on your star players, it's a whole lot easier to let things degenerate into an Ultimate Fighting match, which appeared to be Detroit's preference at times tonight. The Lightning played their brand of hockey, got the all important first goal, and won. Note: that's the key. If you get one on Mrazek, chances are he's going to give up 2-3 more, often quickly, so the same recipe will be required for Game Seven success. It wasn't perfect. The power play was still 0-for-2 and neither Stamkos nor Kucherov managed their first goals of the postseason. But, hey, that just means they're due in the biggest game of the year on Wednesday, right?
Coach Cooper said tonight they exhibited that they learned something from the Montreal series last year. True. But, I think they learned 10x more protecting that lead in the Third Period. The plays made by young guys like Paquette, Sustr, Killorn, etc. are all invaluable experience that will help this team turn the corner from a regular season team to a team that can confidently do business in the second season. I really liked what I saw on that front.
On a side note: that steal, deke, and insurance score by Alex Killorn? That man has a way of scoring big goals, doesn't he?
Nikita Nesterov had 1 hit in 5:16. The Lightning coaches weren't going to let Detroit matchup against him at even strength and with the Lightning only getting 2 power plays out of the zebras, Nesterov didn't see the ice very much. Understandable.
Soul searching time.
Eastern Conference Quarterfinals
Detroit Leads the Series 3-2
Ben Bishop allowed 3 goals on 29 shots for the loss. The second goal was on him, after surrendering a lollipop of a rebound to Drew Miller after a long shot from the bad angle. That's an untimely goal, but I'm hard pressed to be too mad at Ben when he's gotten zero goal support. He can be better, but that's the same for the entire team at this juncture.
19:37 DET Sheahan (2), (Kronwall, Zetterberg)(PP)
15:46 DET Miller (1), (Glendening, Ericsson)
15:47 DET Datsyuk (3), (Ericsson, Helm)(PP)
18:22 DET DeKeyser (1), (Quincey, Andersson)(EN)
Contrary to what some are urging me to do, I'm not going to write a post mortem on a team that's only down 3-2 in a playoff series. There's still a lot of hockey left to be played in this series and the Lightning may still yet prevail, but a lot of issues have been exposed in the past three games, not all of which are within the team's control. The effort in the first 10 minutes of this game was exemplary, but unlike the regular season this team can't seem to buy a bounce lately. Combine that with a strong tactical approach by the Wings that often colors outside the lines of legality and some roster composition issues (self-inflicted), and you get this dark cloud of doom that now seems to be hanging over this team.
First, let me get this out of the way: the Detroit Red Wings are getting away with bloody murder from the officials. They're executing the old clutch and grab Devils playbook, and with the refs looking the other way, I can hardly fault them for it. NBCSN put together a "highlight" package at the Second Intermission of how Detroit is "defending" Tyler Johnson, and it mostly involves hitting him without the puck, tripping him without the puck, interfering with him, and just about every other underhanded trick in the book. Tyler Johnson couldn't have played in the NHL in the early 90's with the amount of clutching and grabbing that was going on, and if the league is going to allow a return to that brand of hockey, it's going to make it a lot harder for Tyler and some of the smaller Lightning forwards to make it in the league today. I would hope Yzerman takes that video to the league and makes enforcement of interference away from the puck a point of emphasis again, because it's absolutely had an impact on the last three games.
With that said, another reason Johnson and his linemates have struggled throughout this series is that the Lightning are essentially a one line team. Let's be honest about this. On paper, yes, there's a 40 goal scorer on another line and plenty of other talent that can chip in. None of those players have scored consistently all season long though, and the only line that has is the Palat/Johnson/Kucherov line. They're getting focused on right now, and other than the fourth line of Morrow/Boyle/Brown, no one else has showed much hope to step up. So you've got Steven Stamkos, who had 43 goals in the regular season, with 0, and he's helping to drag down Nikita Kucherov on another line (who isn't helping himself by playing a bit timid on the perimeter), who had 28 goals in the regular season and also is sitting on 0 in the playoff right now. That's 71 regular season goals doing squat right now.
Part of the issue that I think Jon Cooper and Steve Yzerman will have to do some soul searching about in the offseason, is that they've basically ignored the need to replace Martin St. Louis on Stamkos' wing. They need a pace-pushing playmaker with high hockey sense to help Stamkos play his best, a formula we know works from a half decade and two Richard Trophies of empirical evidence. The team has a logical candidate to fill that role in rookie Jonathan Drouin, but rather than let Drouin take his lumps during the regular season and groom him to be ready by this point of the season, they've used him sparingly. Because of that, you can't trust him to play 18-19 minutes with Stamkos right now and he's been a scratch for 4 of 5 games in this series. And, by now, I think it's fair to say it's been a mistake. Stamkos managed to score 43 goals with grinding types like Callahan and Killorn playing with him, but he hasn't looked like the same formidable player in the process, and it's been exposed in this playoff series so far. It's not rocket science, though. They know a formula that works and they already drafted the personnel needed to make this work. They just have to set it in motion now.
I'll also, again, mention the 0-for-3 power play. It looked a lot better in 2 of the 3 opportunities tonight, but it's been horribly inconsistent too. And, like Stamkos' line, it's not for a lack of knowing the correct formula to fix it. The Lightning need a righty PP QB manning the center point. Pop in any tape of when Adam Oates was running the PP here and you'll see what I mean. It's been a hole in this organization since Kurtis Foster packed his bags and until that hole is filled, the PP will never run at its highest potential.
With all that said, the Lightning still are very much alive in this series. It doesn't feel like it, but they are. Were I in the Lightning's shoes, I would simplify my approach for Game Six. Focus on getting the first goal. Make it a greasy one. If they can get that first goal, they give themselves a fighting chance. But, to get that first goal, they have to show a maturity and character beyond their young years. It's a gut check time. Time to grow up a little.