Tampa Bay Lightning
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.
When things go completely pear shaped...
Ben Bishop allowed 3 goals on 22 shots for the loss. He was fairly sharp, although he seemed to let his focus waver a bit on the third goal, in which Nyquist beat out an icing call to one hand the puck on net.
5:25 DET Andersson (2), (Quincey, Weiss)
7:19 DET Abdelkader (23), (Nyquist)
9:19 DET Nyquist (24), (Quincey)
18:21 DET Glendening (11), (unassisted)(EN)
The game today was almost inconsequential. Jason Garrison was lost at 3:43 of the First Period after being boarded by Justin Abdelkader. At best, it appeared that Garrison might have a sprained shoulder. At worst, you might have some more severe damage to that shoulder or to the collar bone, etc. Looked like weeks to me. Compounding the issue, Cedric Paquette severely hurt his left leg bounding into the post to break up an EN attempt by Abdelkader at the close of the game. That looked like end of season, to me. It's really a shame, too, because I though Dump Truck was one of the few bright spots in today's contest. As it is, best case scenario, the Lightning are going to limp through the final games of the regular season and hope that they get Coburn and Garrison back for the postseason. Worst case, neither will be ready. And Paquette? Let's just say it's a very good think Namestnikov has come on the way he has, because I'm not sure the Lightning will be getting Ceddy back until the Fall.
The Lightning's division title hopes may have taken a mortal hit with the day's injuries, and their viability as a club that can have staying power in the playoffs has also potentially taken a nasty hit. Namestnikov will no doubt just slide into Paquette's roster spot, but there will likely need to be an emergency recall for Garrison while that situation sorts itself out. Garrison's a left sider, so while Luke Witkowski has gotten a look earlier this season, I'm left to wonder if perhaps Slater Koekkoek will get his first taste of the NHL now.
As for the game, it was one of those contests where the circumstances that unfolded seemed to just suck the life right out of the Lightning. It didn't help that the officiating was awful. Abdelkader probably should've gotten 5 and the gate for the hit on Garrison, and there were several other boarding calls on Detroit that went completely uncalled in the First Period. The Lightning survived that, but never found their legs and eventually saw the game snowball against them in the Second Period as the Wings managed to get a couple of goals off delflections and that one-hander that aren't normal goals. I wouldn't call them fluky, but they're just not things you see often, and that has a way of knocking the wind out of your sails, too.
Nikita Nesterov was -2 with 2 shots in 15:41. It was looking like he might be earmarked for a return to Syracuse at some point. Now, it's looking like he's going to be a regular in the team's top six the rest of the way in the regular season. His turnover led to Detroit's second goal, and he showed some signs of rust today, in my opinion. He had a harder time with the pace after being out of the lineup for so long. Hopefully, he catches back up quickly.
Vladislav Namestnikov was -1 in 10:11. Like everyone in white not named "Paquette" or "Morrow", his energy was off tonight. The Lightning announced they were burning one of their last two full callups before the game to keep Vladdy on the roster the rest of the year. Wonder if they can get a "take-back" with what happened to Paquette.
Goaltending betrays the Lightning in its moment of need.
Ben Bishop allowed 3 goals on 11 shots for the loss before getting lifted in the Second Period. 1-2 of those goals were the semi-soft variety. Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped all 8 shots he faced in relief, but he didn't look super-sharp himself, particularly with his rebound control. It was just a rare off night for the tandem on a night where they were dueling with one of the league's best in Rinne.
3:28 NSH Ribeiro (14), (Josi)
4:08 NSH Gaustad (4), (Beck)
19:31 TB Namestnikov (7), (Sustr, Barberio)
6:47 NSH Santorelli (12), (Jarnkrok, Stalberg)
13:19 TB Boyle (15), (Brown, Drouin)
Just a shame to see a reasonably good effort squandered by lackluster goaltending. The Lightning outshot Nashville 30-19 and completely dominated large swaths of play, but they were 0-for-5 on the power play and could not get the equalizer. The silver lining is that Montreal is losing 4-1 to Winnipeg in the Third Period as I type. If that score holds up, there's no harm and the Lightning will still be 1 point out in the division with time to catch up. They could've easily gotten 1-2 points out of tonight, though, and that's the part that stings a bit.
Vladislav Namestnikov had a goal and 1 shot in 10:18. This went about the way most of his games have gone lately where he gets IT and looks dangerous offensively for the first 25 minutes or so of play, and then sees the pine the rest of the way as the coaching staff taps some guys who are perhaps a little more consistent defensively. He's been very good offensively though with his speed and handles, to the extent that the team is maneuvering to try and keep him on the roster right now. He's 5 games shy of graduation from prospect status on the site now.
Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 3 goals on 36 shots for the victory. You hate to see a goaltender allow 3 in under 3 minutes like he did in the Second Period, but you applaud the mental toughness to not allow anything else the rest of the way.
5:49 TB Morrow (3), (Brown)
7:47 TB Johnson (26), (Callahan)
6:16 FLA Jokinen (7), (Boyes, Gudbranson)
6:34 FLA Pirri (18), (Trocheck)
8:14 FLA Huberdeau (12), (Barkov, Jagr)
1:30 TB Kucherov (27), (Sustr, Palat)
17:32 TB Callahan (22), (Killorn, Stamkos)
Ryan Callahan and Vasilevskiy were the game's first and second stars.
The Lightning didn't deserve a damned thing out of this game. Clearly they talked about their tendency to come out flat in games like these against lesser opposition and they quickly stormed out to the 2-0 lead. But, after the refs gifted a phantom boarding call on Kucherov to the Panthers, and the PK surrendered 5 SOG's in 2 minutes, Florida had the momentum pretty much the rest of the game. It was only by the grace of a great individual play by Kucherov on his wraparound goal and a horrific softie by Luongo on Callahan's goal that Tampa Bay escaped with 2 points. And, yeah, you'll take it, but it's another frustrating example of the team's mental weakness in games like these. It's weird to say you'd rather see top-tier opponents rather than the Jets and Panthers of the world, but you know the team simply hasn't put a 60 minute effort together anytime recently against opponents like the Jets or Panthers.
As I type, the Lightning have moved into a tie with Montreal at 99 points, with the Canadiens just having their game with Nashville tied at 2-2. We'll see how the rest of the night unfolds, but the pressure is still on Montreal to keep their meager lead atop the Atlantic Division.
Vladislav Namestnikov had 1 shot in 12:47. Like most of his teammates, his play evaporated in the final 40 minutes of action as they got pinned up in their own zone time and time again.
Stick that in your pipe, Jack Edwards.
Ben Bishop allowed 3 goals on 28 shots for the victory. Sad lack of net front coverage late in the Third by the Lightning allowed the garbage time goal that wrecked a solid stat line for Ben. Maybe the only blemish on the game.
0:33 BOS Bergeron (21), (Marchand, McQuaid)
5:49 TB Namestnikov (6), (Morrow, Brown)
10:47 TB Brown (3), (Palat, Carle)
11:02 TB Stralman (8), (Filppula, Namestnikov)
7:54 TB Garrison (4), (Johnson, Carle)
10:22 BOS Chara (8), (Smith, Pastrnak)(PP)
13:50 TB Palat (16), (Callahan, Kucherov)(PP)
19:12 BOS Paille (6), (Talbot, Campbell)
J.T. Brown, Steven Stamkos, and Vladislav Namestnikov were the game's three stars. Funny how the Bruins got distinctly less big and bad when Stamkos jumped on Marchand after his low-bridge hit on Filppula. What they say is true: the best way to handle a bully is to bloody their nose a bit. Between that and the early 4th line contributions, you knew this was going to be the Lightning's game. It'll be interesting to see how Cedric Paquette draws back into the lineup now, because all 4 lines are clicking reasonably well at the moment.
The victory puts the Lightning at 97 points for the season, meaning they've passed the 96 point mark we peg as the minimum threshold to comfortably make the playoffs. They're also still lurking just 2 points shy of Montreal for the division lead, and we can now officially make banner chasing the mission of the rest of the regular season.
Namestnikov had 1 goal, 1 assist, 2 penalty minutes, 2 shots, 2 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 14:42 of ice time. He might've run out of a little steam in the final 40 minutes of hockey and had at least one pretty awful turnover, which happened in the Second Period, but he's played very well overall. Well enough that I wouldn't be shocked if Namestnikov stays with the Lightning even after Paquette returns from injury. He's now 7 games shy of graduation from prospect status on the website with 9 games left on the schedule.