Tampa Bay Lightning
Lightning never get their legs under them in wasted Game Three opportunity.
Eastern Conference Quarterfinals
Tampa Bay Leads the Series 2-1
Ben Bishop allowed 2 goals on 30 shots for the loss. He gave his club a chance, but they simply did nothing in front of him offensively for about 95% of the game.
12:42 DET Athanasiou(1), (Tatar, Andersson)
17:22 DET Zetterberg(1), (unassisted)
16 shots on goal just isn't good enough at any level. Period. The Lightning did an excellent job of weathering any big immediate push by Detroit in the First Period, even killing off a 5-on-3 power play, but the last 40 minutes of hockey were embarrassingly flat hockey by the Lightning. They got into penalty trouble with some stupid/selfish penalties in the Second Period, lost the momentum, and never recovered. Even the meek little push they put in for the Third Period wasn't much because the Wings just packed it in and blocked all of the Lightning's shots coming from the points. Petr Mrazek probably hasn't had a shutout that easy in his entire life, let alone one in an NHL playoff game.
The Lightning did send a message with a big line scrum at the end of the game. Hopefully that injects some life into them for Game Four. They desperately need to get back on the maniacal forecheck they displayed at home in Game One and Game Two. If they do that, Detroit's defense doesn't appear to be mobile enough to handle it. If they don't, this will be a tie series and the Lightning will be in for a long, hard slog.
The only highlight of the night? Watching Justin Abdelkader get exposed as the king-sized coward he is. Locked up with Brian Boyle in the postgame scrum and challenged repeatedly to drop the gloves, Abdelkader proved what we all suspected: he's all chicken and no nuggets. He's a real tough guy when a guy's pinned to the ice with his back to him, but when he had to face down an opponent like a man, he showed he's nothing of the sort.
Lightning coming alive in the postseason.
Eastern Conference Quarterfinals
Tampa Bay Leads the Series 2-0
Ben Bishop allowed 2 goals on 32 shots for the victory. Bishop looked much more confident and under control in Game Two and the Lightning played a much tighter game in front of him defensively. That bodes really well for the rest of the series.
15:17 TB Kucherov(3), (Hedman, Johnson)(PP)
3:30 DET Larkin(1), (Ericsson, Kronwall)
6:46 TB Boyle(1), (Drouin, Coburn)
4:27 DET Richards(1), (Green, Tatar)(PP)
6:32 TB Johnson(1), (Killorn)
14:48 TB Johnson(2), (Kucherov, Garrison)
17:16 TB Killorn(2), (Carle, Killorn)(EN)
Somewhere in the course of this game a sneaking suspicion of mine that I've had all year was confirmed: the Lightning were sandbagging it most of the regular season. Deliberately? No. But it was clear they were sleepwalking through quite a few games and weren't playing with the same intensity Lightning fans were used to. It's human nature when you get within 2 wins of hoisting the Cup. I suspect now that they've been bit by the bug, it's hard to get up for anything but playoff hockey, but now that the postseason is here? My goodness. The Lightning have ratcheted everything up tenfold, and it's electric right now.
The First Period of this game was an absolute squash for the Lightning. The game could've easily been 4-0 after the opening frame after the Lightning hit two posts and a crossbar to go along with Kucherov's 5-on-3 PP goal. The defense was tighter. The breakouts were clean. The forecheck was swarming. For goodness sake, the power play even looked lethal with some of the best puck movement we've seen all season.
Detroit was lucky to even be in the game in the Second Period when a momentary lapse gave Larkin the tying goal after a saggy power play to start the middle frame. Still, and somewhat incredibly, the Lightning just didn't sag and got right back on their forecheck. And, even though the refs had a spate of (questionable) calls against the Lightning in the Second Period, the penalty kill was incredibly stout and they eventually pulled back ahead on a pretty no-look pass by Drouin to the trailer on a 3-on-2. Drouin played even better in Game Two than he did in Game One, and he was arguably the most dangerous Lightning forward in Game One to begin with. The puck is starting to follow him around the rink, which is the mark of a star player. It's kind of amazing he doesn't have a goal yet given the ridiculous number of scoring chances he's created already in the series, and he's playing a rugged-to-the-point-of-maniacal style of game. It's like they extracted some of Marchessault's crazy/angry and injected into Drouin, and it's pretty fun to watch.
Eventually Detroit equalized the game at 2-2 with Richards scoring through a screen on the PP after another Lightning penalty. Tampa Bay ended up surrendering 5 power play opportunities on the night, and that's 2-3 more than they should feel comfortable with against a power play as good as Detroit's. Mind you, a few of those calls were of dubious quality. Specifically, the Killorn holding call to start the contest and the Boyle interference call toward the end of the Second Period were gobsmacking. The latter was so bad Pierre McGuire on the NBCSN broadcast even went so far as to sarcastically remark it was... "unique." Indeed it was. Now, mind you, the officiating was bad at both ends and the refs probably did miss an accidental high stick by Hedman on Datsyuk in the corner in the Second Period that knocked out Datsyuk's teeth. In general, I'd say the refs have called the series so bizarrely to this point that they've fostered an environment of lawlessness that led to the shenanigans you saw at the final horn.
Ultimately the Lightning deserved the win tonight and they eventually got it on a pair of well crafted goals by Tyler Johnson and his linemates. Alex Killorn added the remote control goal off the boards in his own end into the empty net to rub salt into the wound. I just thought the Lightning were just far quicker to loose pucks than Detroit tonight, which led to another night with a high volume of scoring chances, and in the process they showed tighter defense and their goaltending settled down nicely. That's a good recipe for success, and the team has to be on a high tonight considering they've only trailed for a whopping 5:22 of this series so far. There needs to be some caution, though: the old timers will tell you it's not a series until a team wins a road game in a series. The Lightning did what they were supposed to do by holding serve at Amalie to start the Quarterfinals, but it was a homer series during the regular season and the Lightning have to know they've got a tough task still ahead of them in Detroit. At some point they'll need to pick off a game up there, in all likelihood, and it'll take a heavy lift to get that done. Hopefully they can ride that momentum into Game Three and get it right away with a view toward shortening the series and lessening the effects of potential attrition on an already thinly stretched roster.
Then close your eyes and imagine what happens when/if Stamkos and Stralman can work their way back into the lineup.
Now, about that thing that happened at the end of the game...
For those who didn't see it there was a scrum at the end of the contest that kicked off when noted thug Andrej Sustr (he reps his gang, the G-G-G-raffes) got into a little shoving match in front of Bishop's cage. No big deal. The teams piled up in a scrum. Again, no big deal. That happens a zillion times in the playoffs. Guys were pulling guys off the pile and pairing off. Same old song. Then Justin Abdelkader lost his damned mind, rolled onto Mike Blunden's back while Blunden was pinned to the ice at the bottom of the pile, and started throwing about a half dozen big right hands to the back of Blunden's head. Blunden, prone and defenseless on the ice because he was pinned with his back to Abdelkader, ended up with nine stitches for cuts that either happened within the pile or from his face hitting the ice while he was getting punched in the back of the head. In any event, he was bleeding like a stuck pig by the time the refs pulled Abdelkader up off of him on a play that was just flat out an assault. Abdelkader completely, absolutely, 100% snapped. If it's the regular season, that's a suspension. No doubt in my mind. In the playoffs? I doubt he'll get more than the whopping game misconduct he got with 50-some seconds left in a game his team was losing by 3 goals (big punishment there, NHL). The guy's a dirty player, and if the league won't do something about him I hope the Lightning have a big lead in the Third Period of the closeout game and Blunden gets his chance for a little sweet revenge, because the guy has had it coming since last season. He's involved in so many sketchy plays that end up with injuries to opposing players, and he needs to answer for it. And, if it goes down like that, I'm certain whoever does settle up with Abdelkader will get a few thank you cards from other team's players too.
Mirror Jon Cooper and the Lightning manufacture a key Game One win.
Eastern Conference Quarterfinals
Tampa Bay Leads the Series 1-0
Ben Bishop allowed 2 goals on 36 shots for the victory. The stat line looks good, but Bishop did not look comfortable in this game. That's actually a hopeful sign for this series. Bishop had a bit of a shaky performance and the Lightning still managed to get a big win. You have to figure Bishop will find his form and settle down.
6:23 TB Kucherov(1), (Johnson, Killorn)
2:11 DET Green(1), (DeKeyser, Tatar)
4:07 DET Abdelkader(1), (Quincey)
9:29 TB Kucherov(2), (Coburn, Nesterov)
8:52 TB Killorn(1), (Johnson, Kucherov)
Let's recap: the Lightning came into this game sans Stamkos and Stralman with some question marks about the health of Johnson. Ben Bishop looked uncomfortable all night long. Detroit got the benefit of some puck luck on at least one goal and, I would argue, of the officiating in the game, as well. The Lightning still fought through it and got the win. If you believe puck luck balances out and that Bishop will find his form (I won't blow smoke that the officiating against an Original Six team will ever even out for Tampa Bay in this league) there's a lot to be hopeful about as the Lightning look to survive and advance deeper into these playoffs where, hopefully, some healthy reinforcements await.
It was not without blemishes. The defensive coverage tonight was poor and the Lightning continue to retreat off their blueline against the rush far too easily without Stralman. Detroit got a ton of good scoring chances that they outright blew tonight. Needless to say, the Lightning need to tighten up defensively. And, they need to improve their discipline against a Detroit team that needs their dangerous power play to score goals to win. Grit and guts were a good enough spackle tonight, though.
Credit to Mirror Universe Jon Cooper for some excellent line combinations and player usage tonight. You know it was Mirror Universe Jon Cooper because he's growing a goatee... and because Jonathan Drouin started the game... and because Jonathan Drouin played 17:39... and because Jonathan Drouin saw key shifts late in the Third Period of a 1-goal game. Really, it wasn't that difficult a choice for Mirror Jon Cooper to make, because Drouin played a whale of a game. You can ding him for being a little overspirited physically tonight and in jumping offside on the Hedman goal that was overturned on replay, but you can also make a strong argument he was the best player on the ice tonight. He was creating chances and he was playing with an absolutely nasty edge to his game. That's some of the best hockey Jonathan's played in a Lightning uniform, bar none. It's enough to make you wonder what this team could look like if it can stay alive long enough to get Stamkos and Stralman back. It could be the most potent lineup the Lightning have ever iced if Mirror Jon Cooper can keep regular Jon Cooper stuffed in the mirror universe.
And, of course, credit to the Lightning for not sagging after Hedman's 3-on-2 goal was disallowed. That was a real maturity-testing moment, and they passed with flying colors as they surged like crazy after that play. Not only did they get the Killorn goal, but they also should've had the insurance marker with Coburn banging one off the crossbar staring at an open cage. When you consider they could've easily had 3 goals over a span of about a 5 minute span in the Third Period, you realize Detroit should probably feel a little lucky too that they hung into the game.
Side note: there's a big difference in quality between the was Mrazek was playing at this time last year and Jimmy Howard this year, and if the Lightning can keep the pressure up, it should mean the goals flow a little easier for Tampa Bay.
Another side note: I hate Justin Abdelkader, and I hope all the bad things in life happen to him and only him.
KHL Gagarin Cup Final
Magnitogorsk 1 vs. CSKA 0
Series Tied 2-2
Vasily Koshechkin, Magnitogorsk, SO, 30/30, 0.00 GAA, 1.000 sv%
Playoff totals: 16 GP, 12-4-0, 3 SO, 1.57 GAA, .947 sv%
Regular season totals: 50 GP, 22-15-9, 4 SO, 2.12 GAA, .925 sv%
Vasily Koshechkin rebounded from an off Game Three to blank CSKA on 30 shots for a huge 1-0 Game Four win. 23 year old undrafted Czech centerman Tomas Filippi had the game's lone goal for Magnitka.
TAMPA BAY – The Tampa Bay Lightning have signed defenseman Matt Spencer to a three-year, entry-level contract, vice president and general manager Steve Yzerman announced today.
Spencer, 19, skated in 60 games with the Peterborough Petes of the Ontario Hockey League this past season, recording five goals and 24 points to go along with 46 penalty minutes. He ranked third among all Petes defensemen for assists with 19 during the regular season. The 6-foot-2, 204-pound defenseman also appeared in seven OHL playoff games, posting one assist and 13 penalty minutes.
The Guelph, Ontario native has played in 191 career OHL games, all with Peterborough over the past three seasons, posting 12 goals and 69 points to go along with 143 penalty minutes.
Spencer was selected by the Lightning in the second round, 44th overall, at the 2015 NHL Draft.
Lightning mail in meaningless game before a very meaningful postseason.
Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 4 goals on 28 shots for the loss. Vasiy had a respectable season for a young backup, and I think anyone who didn't have such high expectations on him as Andrei does would take that at 21 years old and be pretty happy with it. That said, he can get a lot better and he eventually will.
5:11 MTL Galchenyuk(29), (Gallagher)
16:27 MTL Plekanec(14), (Eller, Emelin)
0:27 MTL Pacioretty(29), (Galchenyuk, Markov)
3:44 MTL Galchenyuk(30), (Pacioretty, Markov)(PP)
6:33 TB Palat(16), (Filppula)
13:00 TB Drouin(4), (Carle, Palat)
19:54 MTL Pacioretty(30), (Gallagher)(EN)
Jonathan Drouin was the game's third star. It may have been garbage time, but it's certainly nice to see him developing some chemistry with some of the Lightning's scoring liners like Palat.
Coming into the game with nothing to gain and Hedman and Kucherov being held out with nagging injuries, the only thing the Lightning wanted was to get out of town healthy. This game had less meaning than a preseason game, if that's possible, and unfortunately they couldn't even pull that off after Greg Pateryn boarded Tyler Johnson shoulder-first into the boards after the whistle late in the First Period. I am thoroughly unimpressed with Pateryn. The guy's a bum, quite frankly, and the play he made was about as blatant and egregious a late hit as it comes. The guy deserves a suspension that carries over into the next regular season, in my opinion.
The Lightning will draw Detroit in a rematch of last year's opening round series by virtue of the epic meltdown the Bruins had against Ottawa. Couldn't happen to a nicer bunch of guys (Boston melting down, that is). I'd like to say that's a favorable outcome for the Lightning, but with so much uncertainty now with Johnson possibly being banged up too, the biggest matchup of all looks like it's between Tampa Bay and the injury bug. The big thing in Game One, I think, will be Ben Bishop giving the Lightning a good performance and helping them ease their way into the series while they continue to figure out lines and pairing combinations and ice time rotations. There's just so much retrofitting on the fly and Ben's going to need to be the spackle to cover up some of that mess.
Matt Taormina had 1 shot and 1 blocked shot in 15:30.
Drouinsanity returns to the Lightning and helps secure home ice for the first round.
Ben Bishop allowed 2 goals on 22 shots for the victory. I reiterate one of the biggest virtues of Bishop since he's joined the Lightning: he typically does not have two clunkers in a row.
5:45 TB Condra(6), (Sustr, Boyle)
7:16 NJ Kalinin(7), (Moore, Gionta)
14:45 TB Paquette(6), (Filppula, Carle)
3:50 TB Drouin(3), (Namestnikov)
9:26 NJ Kalinin(8), (Farnham)
19:13 TB Filppula(8), (Kucherov, Carle)(EN)
Jonathan Drouin was the game's second star.
For a Lightning team that hasn't had a ton to feel good about lately, tonight was a bit of psychological salve for their wounds. For the second time in the past few weeks, the Lightning played the style of game they need to in order to be successful without Stralman and Stamkos and secured a win against a hard working, fairly well structured opponent. In doing so, they got some positive results from players who have had a tough time of it all season who they now need to step up if they're going to weather their early opponents in the postseason. There's no doubt Erik Condra's playing some of his best hockey of the season lately after having gone missing for some 3/4 of the campaign. Cedric Paquette finally got back in the goal column for the first time in a blue moon, which is also a hopeful sign. It's hard to believe Paquette has sagged to just 6 goals after how well he played in the postseason last year including actually outplaying Jonathan Toews head to head in the early games of the Stanley Cup Final. And then there's 2/3 of the Dead Money Trio: Matt Carle and Valtteri Filppula. Is Matt Carle still a turnstile with eyeballs at times? Yes. Does Matt Carle still do some gobsmacking idiotic things when he has the puck at times? Yes. Has he improved somewhat, though, to help fill minutes in the absence of Stralman and Hedman? Absolutely. No denying it. And then there's Valtteri Filppula, who might be the single biggest source of my personal frustration this season. He actually provided a multi-point night tonight and I would've lost a bet if anyone had asked me to go in on whether he'd have another goal by the end of the regular season. Are 8 goals sufficient for a centerman at his salary price point? You all know the answer to that. But, a good postseason performance has a way of glossing over a disappointing regular season.
And then there's Jonathan Drouin. I feel really happy for both the Lightning organization and Drouin in how things have unfolded since Drouin decided to report back to Syracuse. The Lightning got to enforce organizational discipline and got Drouin the instructional coaching and conditioning he needed. And, Drouin capitalized when the opportunity to get back into the NHL finally came, which again proves what upside he has as a player. So, at this hour, both sides have to feel like they "won" something in a scenario where neither can have felt all that great about everything that's happened. Where it goes from here? That's another matter. Short term, Drouin's walking into a situation that seems tailor made for him to step up and prove he's a budding superstar. But, being asked to fill Steven Stamkos' shoes is a double edged sword that is, frankly, an unreasonable expectation for Drouin to have to live up to. Reason needs to prevail here in the expectation game. Drouin's not going to score the GWG every night and he's not going to instantly fill the shoes of one of the 10-20 best scorers in the game overnight. Fans, the organization, and the Drouin camp alike need to have reasonable targets for his performance, such as ensuring that scoring chances he helps create outpace those he surrenders (he won't be perfect defensively, some mistakes will happen) at a reasonable ratio, and that he's chipping in every 2-3 games. If he can do that, all sides involved should be happy with that, and it should open the door to any number of scenarios that include everything from Drouin's trade request being honored for a solid return or Drouin returning to Tampa Bay as a valued member of the organization (Vincent Lecavalier ultimately learned to live with and respect John Tortorella, so all things are possible with patience and if people act like adults). Anything more will be gravy.
The win clinches the #2 position in the Atlantic Division and home ice in the first round, while the Lightning also leapt over that 96 point target line for the season just 1 game behind schedule. That means they'll draw Detroit or Boston in the first round. Detroit would be more ideal, in my opinion, and they'd be the opponent if the shooting began right now, but they got smoked head to head by Boston tonight heading into their regular season finale against the Rangers whereas Boston draws a seemingly less difficult challenge against the Senators. Both teams are knotted in points, but DET has the tiebreaker because of their ROW advantage of 1 whole game. It's that tight.
Matt Taormina had 2 blocked shots in 17:01. It's a nice little late season reward for Taormina to get to suit up against his old organization and get a W against them.
"Try hard" Lightning back into the playoffs.
Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 3 goals on 28 shots for the loss. His soft goal on Stepan's second on a slapper off the board was the margin, as soft goals often are.
2:42 TB Sustr(4), (Namestnikov, Marchessault)
6:07 TB Boyle(13), (Palat, Johnson)(PP)
16:55 NYR Stepan(21), (Zuccarello, Yandle)(PP)
2:33 NYR Stepan(22), (Zuccarello, Klein)
4:46 NYR Kreider(21), (M. Staal, Stepan)
Ondrej Palat was the game's third star.
The Lightning had more than enough opportunities to win this game. They jumped out to the 2-0 lead and had plenty of chances to push it to a 3 goal margin with a bushel of power play opportunities including a 5-minute major. Ultimately, the Lightning just could not crack Lundqvist to put the kill shot on the Rangers and they invited the comeback given how shorthanded Tampa Bay was tonight. On top of the regular season-ending injuries to Stralman and Stamkos they also had Hedman and Callahan out of the lineup tonight. If you're a glass half full person, you can point to the fact the Lightning manufactured 41 shots tonight with that lineup. They tried hard, and with a little better goaltending they might've stolen a point out of the night. And, yes, they probably figured out some things about how to play without some of their big guns, which will have some value moving forward. But, in the end, there just aren't any moral victories at this time of year.
Fortunately, with the Bruins losing in the SO to Carolina, the Lightning backed into a playoff spot. That's notable given that the team missed the 96 point target at the 80 game market. In another season, they might be in real trouble right now. However, with how uneven the East is this year, they can actually clinch home ice in the first round with 1 more point. They'll need it. The "try hard" Lightning are better at home, where their power play is considerably less rancid than it is on the road.
Nikita Nesterov may want to join the witness protection program after that shift on the game winning goal. That's all I'll say about that.
Slater Koekkoek had 2 shots, 2 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 12:08. He wasn't perfect, but I thought he played reasonably well in a tight game against a quality opponent in a big market on the road. With efforts like that, I'd like to believe he'll earn some more game time to develop. I also thought he kind of surprised the Rangers a bit with the quality of his point shot in the game. He produced some rebounds with it tonight.
Oh look, a dumpster fire!
Ben Bishop allowed 5 goals on 23 shots for the loss, 2 of which were pretty heinous softies. Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped all 13 shots he faced the rest of the way. The good news is that Bishop typically never has two clunkers in a row.
13:18 NYI Pulock(2), (Okposo, Tavares)
2:08 TB Killorn(14), (Kucherov, Carle)
11:00 NYI Martin(9), (Clutterbuck, Cizikas)
15:23 NYI Nelson(26), (Kulemin)
16:15 NYI Tavares(30), (Nielsen, Okposo)(PP)
19:53 TB Hedman(10), (Carle, Namestnikov)
4:28 NYI Boychuk(9), (Tavares)
Other than Cedric Paquette beating the dog out of Ryan Pulock to the extent Pulock's ancestors probably felt that whoopin', there was nothing of merit to this game. The Lightning stunk in pretty much every aspect of the contest. If there was one thing I'd want the team to focus on immediately, though, it'd be to stop retreating off the blueline against the rush like the Visigoths are coming over the Seventh Hill at them. There's so much fear in that Lightning blueline right now, partially due to the stone footedness of Sustr and Carle, and it's killing them. You'll recognize Carle as the turnstile with skates in the video of the Islanders' second goal.
TAMPA BAY – The Tampa Bay Lightning have signed forward Mitchell Stephens to a three-year, entry-level contract, vice president and general manager Steve Yzerman announced today.
Stephens, 19, skated in 39 games with the Saginaw Spirit of the Ontario Hockey League this past season, collecting 20 goals and 38 points to go along with 14 penalty minutes. Stephens missed 29 games during the regular season but still ranked fifth on the Spirit for points and tied for fourth for goals. The Peterborough, Ontario, native also appeared in four games for Saginaw during the 2016 OHL Playoffs, posting two goals and three points.
The 6-foot, 193-pound forward has skated in 158 career OHL games, all with Saginaw over three seasons, recording 51 goals and 107 points. Stephens also suited up for Team Canada at the 2016 IIHF World Jr. Championships this past season, notching a goal and two points in five tournament games.
Stephens was selected by the Lightning in the second round, 33rd overall, at the 2015 NHL Draft.
Stephens is a young Callahan in effort and character, but can play both center and wing. He played center all year on Saginaw's top line and put up good numbers when healthy. He broke his foot early in the year and missed several weeks, but returned just in time to make Team Canada and perform well at the WJC's.
Stephens' hands are underrated and he's very poised with the puck. He's an excellent complimentary forward with some skill who will be a favorite of coaches throughout his career. He could have the same impact on the Lightning eventually as Ondrej Palat (or Callahan had with the Rangers earlier in his career).
The second rounder won't turn 20 until February, so while he can join Syracuse now, he has to go back to juniors next fall if he doesn't make the Lightning - which isn't expected. He will probably captain the Spirit next season and may wear a letter for Canada next Christmas.