Tampa Bay Lightning
Out-of-sync Lightning reach a crossroads.
Eastern Conference Quarterfinals
Detroit Leads the Series 2-1
Ben Bishop allowed 2 goals on 20 shots for the loss. The man got no goal support, so I can't exactly fault him.
8:46 DET Datsyuk (2), (Tatar, Ericsson)
6:42 DET Sheahan (1), (Abdelkader, Zetterberg)
19:11 DET Glendening (2), (Ericsson)(EN)
Well, that was simultaneously frustrating and embarrassing. Fresh off of dominating Game Two, the Lightning decided to take their foot off the gas in Game Three. That, coupled with some poor puck luck (3 posts and 3 missed open sides) and the re-disappearance of the team's power play (0-for-6), led to the Lightning reaching their first real crisis of faith of the postseason (btw, in the Lightning's 2 losses in the series they were a combine 0-for-13 on the PP, so this isn't brain surgery, is it?). They're either going to implode under this pressure now, or they're going to hunker down and refocus on the basics and good habits.
What basics? First, the passing tonight was atrocious. It's been a little off all series, but it was really off tonight, with the Lightning missing a lot of potential chances to break in on Detroit because passes were 6-12 inches off target. Giving and receiving passes is pretty basic, and the Lightning need to get back to completing those fundamentals well. The power play, obviously, needs to click. Mind you, then should've had at least 1 PP goal on the 5-on-3 chance that Tyler Johnson clanged off the crossbar, but the work needs to continue on having a moving power play that puts pressure on Detroit and has less instances where the puck touches the boards and puts the Lightning in a position where they're retrieving the puck rather than attacking with it. That means bodies moving and correct pass/shot selection, timing, and precision. Last, the physicality of Game Two nearly evaporated in Game Three. Detroit would love nothing better than to play an antiseptic tactical game with shot totals in the low-20's, because they've been playing their system forever. The Lightning need to pummel their D like they did in Game Two and get them out of their comfort zone, because opportunities will flow from there.
Beyond those basics, here's a basic issue we've talked about all season long that reared its head yet again: your two franchise cornerstones have got to be your best players. Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman, at this point of their careers, should be the Lightning's bell cows. They should be leading this team to the promised land and anything you get from the Triplets, the 4th line, etc., should be gravy. Hedman, like in Game One, played another fairly benign 23 minutes of hockey where he wasn't terrible, but he certainly wasn't the assertive Victor Hedman that can absolutely take over games. And Stamkos had 2 shots and only 3 shot attempts all game long while still seeking his first goal of this postseason. That's not going to cut it. These two guys have got to be the ringleaders. If they are, everything will fall in place behind them.
Also, sometimes even the best laid plans just need to be crumpled up and set on fire, and that's the case with the third line of Vladislav Namestnikov, Valtteri Filppula, and Cedric Paquette. That's three centermen, two of which don't really play wing all that well, and they've been a train wreck in this series. Tonight they got totally exposed on the road with Detroit having last change. That line's got to be broken up. Got to be. They're bad. Were it my choice, and assuming Garrison's available, I believe I'd risk losing Paquette's contributions on the PK to sit he and Namestnikov for Garrison and Drouin in Game Four, playing 7 defensemen. My goal would be to put my 18 best even strength players on the rink while also using the extra shifts available in an 11 forward lineup to try to light a fire under Stamkos, because sparking 91 may be a matter of postseason survival at this juncture.
Just so I can't be accused of being all negative, the bright side of Game Three was the continued emergence of Andrej Sustr as a two-way rock star. It's like, upon potting that back door goal in Game Two, Sustr had a moment like John Belushi in the Blues Brothers in the church scene with James Brown when he his mission to save the orphanage. Those rays of truth hit him, the angels sang, and the Godfather of Soul confirmed that yes, Andrej Sustr has seen the light. The last 1-1/2 games he's played the kind of assertive 2-way game he played with Syracuse in their Calder Cup finals run a few years back, where instead of being a pin cushion absorbing the other team's offensive pressure, he uses his hockey sense to create offense and put some pressure on theirs. It's a beautiful thing, and if he keeps it up the future looks bright with he and Nesterov both playing well in this series.
Nikita Nesterov was -1 in 15:27. I'd like to see him get back to shooting the puck more. He's taken more of the facilitation role on the PP in the last 2 games, and that's fine when it's clicking, but when you're 0-for-4 halfway through a game, time to simplify and create some greasy goals for your teammates, in my opinion.
Grumpy Lightning punish Wings.
Eastern Conference Quarterfinals
Series Tied 1-1
Ben Bishop allowed just 1 goal on 24 shots for his first NHL playoff victory, and the lone goal he surrendered was a goofy goal that ping ponged off two defenders before bouncing in off Tatar's shin pads. I'm not surprised he had a bounce-back performance, because Ben hasn't had two poor performances in a row all season long that I can recall. I am relieved, though, that he put the whole playoff stigma thing to bed, and now we can settle into the grind of the second season.
3:05 TB Johnson (1), (Nesterov, Kucherov)(PP)
7:56 TB Killorn (1), (Callahan, Stamkos)
14:48 TB Sustr (1), (Filppula, Namestnikov)
19:22 TB Johnson (2), (Hedman)
5:49 DET Tatar (1), (Quincey, Nyquist)
15:26 TB Filppula (1), (Stamkos, Nesterov)(PP)
Tampa Bay showed up to the rink in a must-win situation with ill humor, and they imposed their will on Detroit physically throughout the game. Callahan, Morrow, and several others laid the lumber to the Wings defense, Stamkos and Killorn and others still participated in multiple scrums in the First and Second Period, and the Lightning rode that energy to a critical win that killed any notion that this season will be a repeat of last year's debacle against Montreal.
In the end, the Lightning outshot Detroit 30-24. Hockey-wise, the Lightning didn't actually play as well as they did in Game One and Detroit played much better than they did in the opener, leveraging much more possession. But, the edge that they folded into their game today seemed to really knock Detroit out of their antiseptic approach to locking down and clearing out pucks from around Mrazek (and later Howard), with the Lightning finally getting some greasy goals of their own, starting with Johnson's power play marker.
In the process, I think the Lightning squashed just about every other kernel of doubt the press might want to waste ink on between now and Tuesday. Bishop obviously put to bed any doubts about his play. The myth of Petr Mrazek's invincibility was destroyed with 4 goals on 18 shots, and they showed Howard isn't a better option cashing in on an ugly rebound for a goal. The power play clicked to the tune of 2-for-4 in the game, trending upward to respectability from the 0-for-7 performance in Game One. Other than Stamkos picking up his first goal of the series, I can't think of any other boxes the Lightning didn't check tonight. And, there's clearly another gear the Lightning can go to. I thought there were times their puck management was lackluster, and they still have Jason Garrison in the wings waiting to return in Game Three. In other words, I'd be a little terrified if I were Detroit that Tampa Bay hasn't even hit its top gear yet.
Now, the Lightning need to shake off the good feelings of the first playoff victory quickly and refocus on the opportunity at hand coming on Tuesday. Another strong game in Detroit in Game Three, and I think there's a legitimate chance Tampa Bay could run the Wings straight out of this series. It's hard to imagine Detroit's going to be able to last long in this series averaging 20 shots a game against Bishop with all the firepower the Lightning bring to the rink and Mrazek and Howard both looking mortal today.
Nikita Nesterov had a pair of helpers and 3 blocked shots in 18:49. He's clearly earned his ticket to stay in the lineup with 3 points in his first couple of NHL playoff games. Really, other than a couple of turnovers by Coburn, I'm hard pressed to muster much negativity at how any of the Lightning defensemen played today, and you even saw Sustr get a goal and nearly pot a second. It leaves me to wonder if, presuming Garrison goes in Game Three, the Lightning will go with 7 d-men next time out.
Done in by a softie.
Eastern Conference Quarterfinals
Detroit Leads the Series 1-0
Ben Bishop allowed 3 goals on 14 shots for the loss. What an ugly stat line. Only one of the goals was soft, but as they often are, a soft goal ended up being the margin in the game. Bishop's got a lot to prove, as tonight was his first NHL playoff debut. The good news, I suppose, is that Bishop hasn't wet the bed in two straight games all season long. So, I'd expect his best next time out.
9:03 DET Datsyuk (1), (Quincey, Helm)
14:31 TB Boyle (1), (unassisted)(SH)
0:08 DET Datsyuk (2), (Helm)(PP)
5:50 DET Glendening (1), (unassisted)(SH)
8:26 TB Nesterov (1), (Callahan, Killorn)
Brian Boyle was the game's third star.
The Lightning probably deserved better in this game, outshooting Detroit 46-14. Their speed earned them a lot of possession on the forecheck and nearly a half dozen odd man rushes in the game, but they struggled to convert and they didn't get much puck luck on second opportunities despite the amount of rubber they threw Mrazek's way. I'd expect the Lightning get the tape of this game and decipher one or two subtle changes to their approach that may yield them a little more success on that front. From a confidence standpoint, though, after what happened last year against Montreal, this team desperately needs to get Game Two.
The power play needs to not go 0-for-7. It didn't look terrible, but they need to get the payoff if the Wings are going to keep taking infractions.
The stats say Hedman and Stamkos had a much better game than the eye test indicated, so I will refrain from giving my "best players need to be best players" speech for not. If Stammer keeps getting 8 shots on goal a night, I like his chances of getting a breakthrough sooner rather than later, and Hedman had his moments, although I believe he has another gear above the one he showed tonight, to be sure.
Nikita Nesterov had a goal and was +1 with 3 shots and 3 hits in 17:01. I thought he was one of the 2-3 best d-men on the Lightning tonight along with Coburn and Stralman.
Western Hockey League
Eastern Conference Semifinals
East-2 Medicine Hat Tigers 4 @ East-3 Calgary Hitmen 5
Calgary leads best-of-7 series, 2-1
D Ben Thomas, CAL: 0-0-0, -1, 0 PIM
Playoff totals: 10 GP, 0-3-3, -1, 2 PIM
Season totals: 60 GP, 7-24-31, +16, 28 PIM
2013-14 totals: 72 GP, 7-24-31, +11, 39 PIM
Calgary won a coveted odd-numbered game in the series to take a 2-1 series lead on Medicine Hat. The Hitmen were down 2-0 early, but had a three-goal lead entering the third period at 5-2. They had to hang on to put away the Tigers, 5-4. The Tigers outshot the Hitmen 12-2 in the third period. Game 4 is in Medicine Hat Wednesday.
A brief moment of sweet schadenfreude before the bullets fly for real next week.
Ben Bishop allowed 2 goals on 38 shots and stopped all 3 shooters in the penalty shot session for the SO victory. He was sharp as a samurai sword tonight. That's good to see heading into the playoffs.
5:08 TB Marchessault (1), (unassisted)
6:00 BOS Eriksson (22), (Kelly, Seidenberg)
5:12 TB Nesterov (3), (Carle, Marchessault)
18:54 BOS Marchand (24), (Krug, Krejci)
Boston played the bulk of this game very desperate and very hungry, and the Lightning held back a lot of their injured players to rest with a view toward the playoffs starting next week. The shot deficit (38-25) and possession advantage Boston had reflects that they were the team that had more to play for (up until halfway through the Third Period when Pittsburgh put the last shovel-full of dirt on their graves). With that said, I give credit to the Lightning for matching Boston's intensity level and physicality, even though they didn't have the same urgency stalking them. They hustled. They scrapped. They got sticks and bodies in passing and shooting lanes. They manufactured a win. They'll have to do that a few times when they don't have their A-game in the playoffs coming up.
Tampa Bay gets Detroit in the First Round. I'm not scared of the matchup. If the Lightning play their game, they can beat Detroit. Handily. Time to start burying the memories of last April.
Marchessault had 1 goal and 1 assist and was +2 with 2 shots and 3 hits in 11:20. His goal was a beauty of a shot from the RW faceoff circle, and he was dangerous offensively in his TOI. He had at least one issue hanging in physically to get a puck out at his own blueline, but more good than bad. He's in a rough spot given how deep this organization is, but he's definitely knocking on the door of being an NHLer.
Luke Witkowski was -1 with 2 penalty minutes, 1 shot, 8 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 18:14. He was one of the tone setters physically, and he darn near sawed McQuaid in half on one hit in this game. He even had a pretty fancy rush late in the game to nearly get the winner. Thought we were looking at Luke Witk-Orr for a minute. I suspect he'll head back to Syracuse now with Marchessault and bolster the Crunch's division title and playoff hopes.
Nesterov had a goal and was +1 with 2 penalty minutes, 3 shots, 1 hit, and 1 blocked shot in 19:39. NBCSN's broadcasters gushed about Nesterov's offensive assertiveness all game, and rightfully so. He's a classic pace-pushing offensive defenseman who comes out ahead on the ledger because he helps create way more chances than he surrenders. Yes, he got beat physically out of the corner by Marchand on one play in the First Period and had to take a minor. Yes, there's a turnover here and there. But, he comes out way ahead on the ledger, overall. Garrison, Sustr, and Coburn are all slated to return at some point in the opening round against Detroit. I'm not sure Nesterov sits, though. I think he may have earned a look-see in playoff action, a la Paquette last year, and maybe a guy like Barberio or Sustr sits instead.
P.S. Kick rocks, Jack Edwards.
Down to the wire.
Ben Bishop allowed 3 goals on 24 shots for the OT victory. The stat line was ugly, but the Devils got some puck luck in this game, and Ben made the toe save of the game on Cammalleri late in the Third to keep the Lightning alive.
5:06 NJ Bernier (15), (Henrique, Gomez)(PP)
6:26 TB Johnson (28), (Kucherov, Palat)
9:13 TB Nesterov (2), (Johnson, Kucherov)(PP)
10:17 NJ Elias (13), (Gionta)
17:42 TB Stamkos (43), (Palat, Hedman)(PP)
17:58 NJ Bernier (16), (Henrique, Gomez)
1:22 TB Johnson (29), (Kucherov, Palat)(PP)
Honestly, I wasn't that upset with the effort, even though it took OT for the Lightning to dispose of New Jersey. The Devils got some favorable bounces on blocked shots, etc., but for the most part the Lightning controlled this game, outshooting their opponent 31-24. My only disappointment was the mental let downs after goals scored, but that's correctable. The bright side was that the power play went 3-for-8 and continues to pile up some goals over the last couple of weeks. If the Lightning can muster a power play in the playoffs, they may be unbeatable. That's a big if, mind you.
Unfortunately, Montreal beat Detroit in OT, so Montreal would have to lose in regulation in their finale against Toronto for the Lightning to have a chance to take the Atlantic Division. If they win the division, they could face Ottawa, Pittsburgh, or the Islanders in the first round. Should Tampa Bay stay in the Atlantic second seed spot, which is more likely, they'll probably get Detroit, although Ottawa could still nudge past the Wings at the tape.
The Lightning's finale is a tantalizing opportunity to give a team they've traditionally had difficulty with an early trip to the golf course. Boston lost to Florida tonight, so they cannot get into the Atlantic three seed, and any type of loss, regulation or OT, and Boston is done like dinner. My 2 cents: the Lightning should relish this opportunity to put Boston away now rather than potentially having to do it in some sort of 7 game series somewhere down the line. Put them into an early grave, I say.
Luke Witkowski was -1 with 1 shot, 3 hits, and 2 blocked shots. He looks ticketed for a return to Syracuse with Andrej Sustr on track to possibly return for the Boston tilt. I'm thinking Luke's experience from this callup will allow him to focus his offseason attention on sharpening up some aspects of his game like handling and distributing the puck that he could get even more efficient at in order to become a regular NHLer. He's not quite there yet, but he's not a glaring liability, either. That next step's got to come, and I think it comes in the form of being a little bit less of a "hot potato" guy on the puck.
Nikita Nesterov had a goal and was -1 with 2 penalty minutes, 2 shots, 1 hit, and 1 blocked shot in 19:06. He changes the complexion of the Lightning's second PP unit with his shoot-first mentality, and the experience he's gained with the Lightning's injury issues will only benefit the squad in the form of reliable depth when other injuries happen in the playoffs. It's nice to know Nesterov can step up and play some quality minutes if necessary.
Ben Bishop stopped all 34 shots he faced for the shutout win. That's some U of Maine Justice right there for the Panthers. I think he's been off a little mechanically the past couple of games, either due to being banged up or being fatigued, but he's a battler and he battled his way to getting the goose egg tonight.
6:10 TB Stamkos (41), (Johnson, Nesterov)(PP)
11:19 TB Stamkos (42), (Callahan)
1:03 TB Callahan (24), (Stamkos)
18:13 TB Johnson (27), (Drouin)
There's so much good wrapped in this game, it's hard to make sure you hit all the high notes. From an in-game standpoint, the Lightning had 4 regular defensemen out of the lineup going against what should've been a desperate Panthers squad, and they managed to shut them out. Kudos to the young defensemen, and kudos to Coach Zettler and the staff in Syracuse. It's been fantastic to watch the sharp progress this season by Nesterov and the steady progress of the likes of Witkowski, Koekkoek, Blujus, and Dotchin. It's a really hard act following a guy who is arguably an all-time great AHL coach like Jon Cooper, but Zettler has shown some developmental mojo with these young defensemen and it makes you excited to see what he can accomplish working with a prospect like Anthony DeAngelo.
The Lightning also got a power play goal for the fourth straight game and Steven Stamkos snapped out of his funk with a vintage PP goal and a laser beam from the right wing faceoff dot. Stamkos needs to be Stamkos if the Lightning are going to do anything in the playoffs, and if he were to find his PP mojo, that alone could win the Lightning a playoff series or two they might not otherwise deserve.
From a standings standpoint, the Lightning clinched home ice in the first round of the playoffs and tied Montreal in the standings with the Habs holding a game in hand. The Lightning have the ROW tiebreaker, so all the pressure is on Montreal right now. The Lightning get 4 days to rest and heal now while Montreal has to keep getting points if they want to maintain control of their own destiny in the division title pursuit. If they lose a game, the Lightning may be able to get Hedman, Sustr, and Killorn back on the ice for the final 2 games at home with the real prospect of earning a banner in the balance.
Oh, and the Lightning eliminate the Panthers from playoff contention. It's never a bad thing to kick dirt on their grave, is it?
Slater Koekkoek was +1 with 2 penalty minutes, 1 shot, and 1 hit in 16:19. This wasn't quite the same effort for Slater as against Ottawa, IMO, but it was still a solid performance for the rookie. If I was a Syracuse fan, I'd be very excited to see him in the playoffs because he's going to go back to the Crunch with a ton of confidence.
Luke Witkowski had 2 penalty minutes and 1 hit in 15:34. Quiet is good.
Nikita Nesterov had a helper and was +2 with 4 shots, 2 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 21:18. There was a lot of gushing about Nesterov tonight and rightfully so. He ate big minutes and he changes the complexion of the Lightning power play with his shoot first mentality and ability to get pucks through and on net. Not to put too fine a point on it, but I think he's essentially running Barberio out of town for next season. They're similar players, but Nesterov's ceiling seems so much higher and he's already shown himself to be just as good, if not better, in his own third.
Vladislav Namestnikov played 11:36. He had one memorable rush where he slithered into the Panthers zone, but it was a quiet night for Namestnikov with Tyler Johnson returning and pushing him down off the line with Palat and Kucherov. Tonight was Namestnikov's 41st game of the season, so he graduated from prospect status on the website. Congratulations, Baby Faced Killer.
Lightning nearly steal both points.
Ben Bishop allowed 2 goals on 34 shots for the OT loss. His rebound control wasn't all that great tonight, but he was sparkling on first shots, which was nearly good enough to complete the larceny.
5:03 OTT Stone (20), (Turris, MacArthur)
16:53 TB Drouin (4), (Stralman, Filppula)(PP)
4:43 OTT Wiercioch (3), (Stone, Turris)
Bishop was the game's third star.
Most of the Lightning's injured players actually participated in the morning skate today, which signals to me that if tonight's game had been a priority some of them would have gone. As it was, it was clear that getting rest and getting healthy was deemed more important than still pursuing the division title. Fair enough, under the circumstances, and it reflected in a pretty flat First Period by the team. However, as the game wore on, I think the Lightning realized there were points to be stolen on the table and their intensity improved as the game went on. They got 1 point to keep pace with Montreal tonight, but couldn't thieve the 2nd. Still, it's more than I would've expected from the body language I saw in the First Period. They trail Montreal by 1 point with the Habs holding a game in hand and the Lightning having 3 games left on the slate. They would hold the ROW tiebreaker, which looms large if they can get some help and Montreal stubs their toe a couple of times in their last 4 games.
One other point of interest, pun intended, is the Lightning got their 12th point tonight in this 10 game segment. In other words, the Lightning hit 12 points in every 10 game segment of the season but 1, and the miss was an 11 point segment. They may not be consistent game to game, but their frighteningly consistent segment to segment, which is very good compared to last season when they had about 3 misses, as I recall, along the way. Maturation.
Slater Koekkoek had 3 shots, 1 hit, and 3 blocked shots in 17:55. He was a stud tonight. He was active in all three zones and particularly in clearing out his front porch. You saw the total package of what Koekkoek can do and he nearly had an OT winner jumping into the play, to boot. Very impressive.
Luke Witkowski had 1 shot, 3 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 18:19 to go with 2 PIMs. He didn't play a perfect game, but he played a good one. I think, in particular, when the game got chippy in the Second Period it got right into Luke's wheelhouse and he started to really come alive.
Nikita Nesterov was -2 with 4 shots, 5 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 19:38. The IT tells you the coaching staff appreciates what he's doing, but he's had some hard luck where his good two-way play hasn't paid off with pluses with the Lightning forwards struggling to pot goals.
Vladislav Namestnikov had 1 hit and was 55% on 11 draws in 9:50. IT was down tonight, and it was hard to tell if he got dinged or if it was a coach's decision. Vladdy is at 40 NHL games this season, which means his next appearance will mark his graduation from prospect status on the website.
The needle hits E in Toronto.
Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 3 goals on 28 shots for the loss. He wasn't the reason the team lost, but one or two semi-soft goals definitely made the sledding a lot more comfortable for Toronto. In a game like this, the Lightning really needed Andrei to be flawless.
8:53 TOR Kadri (17), (Lindstrom, Brennan)(PP)
12:03 TOR Booth (7), (unassisted)
18:04 TB Callahan (23), (Palat, Kucherov)(PP)
0:24 TOR Rielly (8), (Kadri, Gardiner)
Shots were 41-28 Lightning, so I'm not going to say the Lightning were somehow dogging it or that they had a let down in a trap game. I just think they almost emptied out the tank against Montreal, so they simply couldn't muster the same intensity level and didn't have the extra gear against Toronto. Not with all the injuries they are trying to work through, anyway. And, the Leafs got a great performance from Reimer, which compounded things.
I hate to see the Lightning's division title hopes in peril like this, on the one hand. On the other, I don't want to see this team dead dragging tired going into the opening round of the playoffs, either. It's a boon to be able to get Bishop some rest like he did tonight, and it might also be a silver lining if circumstances allow them to take their foot off the gas the last couple of games of the year and give guys like Palat and Paquette a little more time off to get right for the postseason, on top of all the guys who are already on the shelf.
Slater Koekkoek was -1 with 2 shots in 15:31. Didn't look horribly out of place, and the old Joe Reekie number looks good on him. Thought he showed as advertised. I feel like he'll challenge for a roster spot in the Fall, and his progress will be very important for the success of the team next year. You figure he'll either make the squad or be the first call up from Syracuse if he doesn't make it.
Luke Witkowski had 2 shots, 6 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 16:50. 3 giveaways is a little bit of an ugly number, but all in all he handled the extra workload reasonably well.
Nikita Nesterov was -1 with 5 shots and 2 hits in 22:11. The minutes don't lie. He's the guy the coaching staff turned to in order to fill the gap, and I suspect they're not at all displeased.
Vladislav Namestnikov had 1 shot and 1 hit in 15:12 and was 56% on draws. He's 2 games from graduation from prospect status on the site.
The most dangerous animal is a wounded animal.
Ben Bishop allowed 3 goals on 28 shots for the victory. The percentage wasn't nice, but the degree of difficulty was high on many of Bishop's denials. Considering he was playing behind Anton Stralman and some road cones by the end of the night, it was a masterful performance.
1:24 TB Namestnikov (8), (Stamkos, Bishop)
4:24 MTL Pacioretty (37), (Plekanec, Markov)(SH)
4:57 TB Drouin (3), (Stralman, Bishop)(PP)
18:07 TB Kucherov (28), (Namestnikov, Palat)
0:23 MTL Petry (5), (Eller)
6:21 TB Namestnikov (9), (Palat)
16:10 MTL Subban (14), (Beaulieu, Desharnais)(PP)
19:03 TB Stralman (9), (Boyle)(EN)
Let's recap, shall we? The Lightning entered this game down 3 regular defensemen (Coburn, Garrison, and Sustr) and an all-star centerman (Johnson). By the end of the game, they lost Victor Hedman to an undisclosed injury that led him to skate just 1 shift in the Third Period. By all rights, the Lightning could have just folded. Montreal, having not won against Tampa Bay all season and seeing an opportunity to jump out to a potential 3 point lead in the division at home with precious few games left to go, had everything to play for. Everything in the stew was against the Lightning. Right?
Wrong. The Lightning just rolled over Montreal like a conquering, unstoppable army to complete a 5-0-0 sweep against the Habs this season. They outshot them 44-28 and outplayed them so badly the Canadiens were booed off their home ice at the end of the Second Period. That wasn't a game. That was the Lightning reaching into Montreal's chest cavity, pulling their heart out, and then feeding it to them. That was a team that outworked Montreal by such a wide margin that it was irrelevant who was back on defense, because for much of the night Montreal simply could not get the puck long enough to put any pressure on the precocious children wearing white Tampa Bay jerseys for it to matter an iota. I've never seen a team that unbelievably undermanned outplay a playoff caliber team by such an unbelievably wide margin. It was majestic. I have no clue who the Lightning will have left to play defense by the time they roll into Toronto tomorrow night. They might have to pull the first kid out of the stands with a Stamkos jersey on and give him a pair of skates at this rate. It doesn't matter, though. I just want to spend the next 18 hours or so basking in the unmistakable power of what this Lightning team is capable of when it truly decides it wants to do something. The last time I felt this good was one of the Lightning's ECF wins in the 7 game series against Boston.
Also, I'd like to say Cedric Paquette is the baddest man on the planet. Dump Truck truly is made of steel. 1 shot, 7 hits, and 1 blocked shot. He had an axle bent at an unnatural angle against the goal post in Detroit and looked absolutely done for the season. And yet, there he is, taking the first shifts and the last shifts of a win in his home province against Montreal. That's a tough man. That's the living embodiment of Lightning want-to.
The Lightning closed back to within 1 point of Montreal for the division lead with both teams having 5 games left to play on the schedule. The Lightning win clinches a playoff spot (foregone conclusion) and puts them at triple-digit points for the season at 101. I have no clue if the Lightning, given how many guys are injured, can finish off this division title run and grab hold of the banner. I do know, unequivocally though, the Lightning are a better team than Montreal. The tape of these 5 games doesn't lie.
Luke Witkowski was +2 with 2 penalty minutes, 1 shot, 2 hits, and 3 blocked shots in 13:09. He did what we've come to expect of Witkowski. Move it quickly and don't put yourself in peril. Show snarl when called for. Simple. Efficient.
Nikita Nesterov was +2 with 3 shots, 3 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 15:03. He showed a lot of hustle and jam in his own third of the rink tonight to go along with the usual acumen he has in the offensive third. This was a really good rebound game after the rust he showed against Detroit.
Namestnikov had 2 goals, 3 points, and was +3 with 2 shots and 1 hit in 13:57. He was also 64% on 11 draws. He stepped into Tyler Johnson's spot alongside Kucherov and Palat and played every bit like an all star. Close your eyes and imagine the Lightning lineup with Namestnikov and Drouin with 1 more year of seasoning at this time next season. Glorious, isn't it? Baby Faced Killer is now 3 games away from graduation from prospect status on the website.