It's sad to think with 40 games left to play the season may already be effectively over.
CAR Ruutu (15), (Staal, Tlusty), 3:27
CAR Tlusty (8), (Staal), 4:41
TB Thompson (4), (unassisted), 14:36
CAR Harrison (6), (Ruutu, Faulk), 15:10
CAR Tlusty (9), (Staal, Ruutu), 16:18
TB Purcell (8), (Gervais, Stamkos), 2:49
CAR Brent (5), (Stewart, Harrison), 13:41
It's time for Steve Yzerman to throw the switch and to begin working the phones as a seller. If there was a team in the NHL I could've hand picked for the Lightning to get a win tonight, it would've been the Carolina Hurricanes. Even in their darkest hours, the Lightning have always seemed to torment Carolina. To get blown out 5-2 at home by a club they've effectively owned is a pretty prominent red flag that indicates the comeback in the standings isn't coming.
There are a lot of veterans on this team that will be unrestricted free agents who shouldn't be back next season that should be converted into draft picks and mid-level prospects. There's still more players that the Lightning need to make a decision about, because there are passengers on this roster. Not everyone is taking a beating like Steve Downie to try to win hockey games, and those players deserve scrutiny.
Last, it's time for some youth. It's time to give Brett Connolly more ice time. It's time to give a look to guys like Carter Ashton and Mark Barberio who are currently in the minors. The 2012-2013 season begins now, and the next 40 games should be devoted to finding a mix for next season that can go out and get this Lightning team back to the elite status we thought they were headed toward at the end of last season.
Connolly had 2 shots and 1 hit in 9:44. He's been in the 9-10 minute range since returning to the team from the WJC's. The way I see it, he needs to be playing with Stamkos and/or Lecavalier the next 40 games on a scoring line. Prepare him for next season. And, if he plays well, he'll make certain guys who aren't carrying their weight as alleged scoring threats even more expendable.
A glimmer of hope, but still no result.
Dwayne Roloson allowed 4 goals on 28 shots and 1 of 3 in the shootout for the penalty shot session loss.
VAN Edler (7), (Sulzer, H. Sedin), 2:36
VAN Hansen (13), (Hamhuis)(SH), 8:16
TB Stamkos (29), (Malone, Bergeron), 10:12
VAN Malhotra (4), (Duco, Ballard), 12:27
TB Lecavalier (16), (Stamkos, Gilroy), 19:28
VAN Kesler (12), (Raymond, Hodgson), 19:58
TB Downie (7), (Kubina, St. Louis), 6:14
TB Malone (8), (St. Louis, Lecavalier), 18:59
Tonight was the halfway point of the season, and the prognosis is ugly, on paper. The team is 3 games under .500 and 8 points out of the final playoff spot in the East with 5 teams ahead of them that the Lightning need to jump over. It's bad. But, a comeback like tonight to force overtime gives a glimmer of hope. I wondered if this team had given up after falling down 2-0 in the first period. It might've been easy for them to lay down then. It'd be just as easy to lay down at 4-2 on the crippling goal by Kesler at the end of the second period. The team still pressed on, though, and so there's a tiny bit of life in Tampa Bay yet.
Brendan Mikkelson had a decent debut in a modest amount of ice time. There's something to work with there. He does skate well and he's got more willingness to pop people than had been advertised. You can see why Yzerman pulled the trigger to get him. That said, between Mikkelson, Gilroy, and Gervais: eat a little, boys. Drop by Babe's Pizza in Brandon after practice some time. Sweet mercy. Pavel Kubina sweats more weight off in a game than those three weigh combined, I'm fairly certain. Mario Larocque thinks they're skinny.
Vincent Lecavalier pulls into the halfway mark on a pace for 32 goals and 60 points. 32 goals would be his best output since 2007-2008. He's not what he was, but he's not a bum, either. I think the hyperbole about him being a glorified third liner at this stage of his career is a bit much.
Steven Stamkos is on a pace for 58 goals and 94 points. 60 and 100 isn't out of the question with all the home games the Lightning have coming up.
What's sad is, at their current paces, Teddy Purcell, Steve Downie, Ryan Malone, and Dominic Moore combined will only have 50 goals. So, Stammer's the equivalent of 4 mortal men, thus far. The secondary scoring has got to improve.
Brett Connolly was +1 with 2 shots and 1 hit in 8:33.
Mathieu Garon allowed 3 goals on 28 shots for the loss.
TB Lecavalier (15), (Moore, Brewer), 3:24
MTL Blunden (1), (Gill, Darche), 5:44
MTL Pacioretty (12), (Subban), 7:17
MTL Cole (17), (Desharnais, Pacioretty)(PP), 19:43
Vincent Lecavalier was named the game's third star.
The Lightning knew this was a make-or-break road trip and after going 0-for-3 on this swing through Canada, it looks like the season may be broken. They're now 9 points out of 8th place, and while they have a ton of home games coming up, the fact is they need to be well above .500 on the road the rest of the way too to make up the gap. Getting swept on road trips through Ontario and Quebec is only going to guarantee a top-10 pick at the draft at this point.
New acquisition Brendan Mikkelson did not suit up for the Lightning.
Brett Connolly was +1 with 2 shots in 12:13 in his return from the Canadian junior team.
Pierre-Cedric Labrie had 1 hit in 3:41 in his NHL debut. Congratulation to Pierre-Cedric for making it to the show.
Bronze Medal Game
Canada 4 @ Finland 0
Brett Connolly, Canada, 0-0-0, E, 0 PIM, 3 SOG
Tournament totals: 6 GP, 5-1-6, +4, 4 PIM
Coyotes first rounder Mark Visentin stopped all 27 shots he faced to lead Canada to the Bronze Medal in their 4-0 win over Finland. Brett Connolly was held off the scoresheet for the first time in the tournament, but was named one of Canada's three best players in the tournament as selected by the coaches. He'll head back east now to rejoin the Lightning.
Gold Medal Game
Sweden 1 @ Russia 0 (OT)
Nikita Kucherov, Russia, 0-0-0, -1, 0 PIM, 2 SOG
Tournament totals: 7 GP, 2-5-7, +4, 2 PIM
Nikita Nesterov, Russia, 0-0-0, E, 0 PIM, 0 SOG
Tournament totals: 7 GP, 2-3-5, +7, 6 PIM
Ottawa first rounder Mika Zibanejad scored an overtime breakaway goal to earn Sweden its first Gold Medal in 31 years at the U20 World Junior Championships. Lulea netminder Johan Gustafsson, a Wild 6th rounder and a teammate of overage Lightning prospect Johan Harju, made 16 stops for the shutout. Draft eligible Andrei Makarov, who currently plays for Saskatoon in the WHL, stopped an amazing 57 of 58 shots in defeat. Lightning prospects Nikita Kucherov and Nikita Nesterov will be eligible to return next season for Team Russia in Ufa at next year's tournament. Nesterov finished tied for 3rd amongst defensemen in scoring and tied for 6th in plus/minus.
Canada 5 @ Russia 6
Nikita Kucherov, Russia, 1-0-1, -2, 0 PIM, 2 SOG
Tournament totals: 6 GP, 2-5-7, +5, 2 PIM
Nikita Nesterov, Russia, 1-0-1, -1, 2 PIM, 1 SOG
Tournament totals: 6 GP, 2-3-5, +7, 6 PIM
Brett Connolly, Canada, 1-0-1, -1, 0 PIM, 6 SOG
Tournament totals: 5 GP, 5-1-6, +4, 4 PIM
In the mother of all Semifinals, Russia streaked out to a 6-1 lead early in the third period, and then held on by a fingernail in the face of 4 unanswered Canadian goals for the 6-5 victory. Nikita Kucherov's tap in goal as the trailer on a 3-on-1 ended up being the game winning goal in the match. Nikita Nesterov also contributed a power play goal for the Russians on a first period one timer from the point that was deflected in off a Canadian defender's stick. Lightning forward Brett Connolly scored the second Lightning prospect goal in the game as the extra attacker on a play where Nikita Nesterov was about to be sent off on a minor penalty. Connolly ripped a short side wrister for the goal that was Canada's only through 40 minutes. The most bizarre move of the match came when Russian coach Valeri Bragin's decided to lift Andrei Vasilevski after he stopped 44 of 49 shots for the Russians, but backup Andrei Makarov stopped 7 of 7 the rest of the way to secure the win, seemingly against all odds.
Connolly looked to be Canada's strongest player in the match. He had what was perhaps Canada's best chance to tie the game on a rebound off a shot that hit the post which he was unable to lift over Makarov's pads. Kucherov had some dangerous moments as a playmaker on what was Russia's de facto second line. He looked to be an extremely creative passer with superlative puckhandling skills that were among the best on display by both teams tonight. Nesterov, for his part, took a late second period penalty for interference that likely wasn't his and looked somewhat outclassed by the Canadians' speed and strength. Still, it's hard to complain about the Lightning prospect hat trick of goals.
Russia moves on to play Sweden in the Gold Medal match on Thursday. Sweden advanced to the Finals with a dramatic 3-2 shootout win over the rival Finns earlier in the night on the strength of a Max Friberg game tying goal with 1:44 left in regulation followed up by Friberg's winning shootout goal. Recall, Friberg scored the game tying goal with 40 seconds left in regulation against the Russians in the final game of the Preliminary Round to earn Sweden their bye in the Quarterfinals of the Medal Round. The Ducks fifth rounder is suddenly looking like a living legend for the Swedes.
Canada will play in the Bronze Medal match against the Finns on Thursday, as well.