Zebras finish the job Lindback started.
Montreal Wins the Series 4-0
Anders Lindback allowed 3 goals on 20 shots before being lifted tonight. You can't fault him on the first goal, but the second and third goals were horrible as Lindback was way off his angle on long, unscreened shots. No excuse, and that may be the end of his career in a Lightning uniform as his contract expires this summer. Kristers Gudlevskis allowed 1 goal on 17 shots the rest of the way for the dreaded back door loss. He was good, and interjecting Gudlevskis into the game gave the team life they desperately needed.
2:24 MTL Brière (1), (Weise, Bournival)
15:21 MTL Eller (2), (Gionta)
4:32 TB Palat (2), (unassisted)(SH)
5:42 MTL Gallagher (3), (Plekanec, Gorges)
3:29 TB Hedman (1), (Palat, Kostka)
6:31 TB Johnson (1), (Brown, Paquette)
19:17 MTL Pacioretty (1), (Vanek, Subban)(PP)
Ondrej Palat was the game's third star.
Tampa Bay got outshot 37-23 in this game, so its difficult to make the case that they were outright robbed like they were in Game Three. With Barberio making a tremendous mistake early in the game to put the team down 1-0 in the First Period yet again and then Lindback struggling between the pipes, the team looked like it had given up hope and that was really reflected in their play until Gudlevskis came in.
With that said, in the Third Period, the Lightning were the aggressors and eventually finished with the 10-8 shot advantage and they were coming at the Canadiens in waves. And then, again, we saw the officials stick their grubby fingers on the scales. I ask you to contrast the play where Killorn was called for "obstructing" the goaltender in Game Three against Bourque trucking Gudlevskis in the Third Period of Game Four. I ask you to watch the full tape of the play where Paquette was called with just a little over 2 minutes left in the game. The refs were allowing anything and everything under the sun to go uncalled, including Bournival slashing, tackling, and then laying on Paquette for a full 5 count before Paquette retaliated with a trip after both got back up to their feet. And, of course, with the game being in Montreal and Paquette being a rookie, there you go. At worst, both Paquette and Bournival should've gone off and it should've been 4-on-4 hockey, but instead the refs presented Montreal with what became the winning power play, gift wrapped and all.
Folks are going to say it's sour grapes and that Montreal was the better team in this series, and they were. But, they weren't the better team to the magnitude that is reflected in a 4-0 series sweep. The Lightning, for all their problems, lost 3 out of the 4 games by just 1 goal, and it took some dubious officiating in Game Three and Game Four just to make that a reality. It could just as easily be a 2-2 series right now, with even officiating, or a 3-1 series lead for the Lightning with fair officiating and a bounce here or there.
I won't get into specific personnel things I would like to see the Lightning change in this post. There will be time for that in the next couple of days. But, I do want to address what I hope these last two games in Montreal will do for the culture of this hockey club, top to bottom. That doesn't just include players, but also coaches and front office, as well. Us old timers who have been following the team for decades know this, but now I hope they have learned this lesson, too: in order to win it all the Lightning have to be THAT MUCH better than the rest of the league in order to overcome the institutional barriers and biases in the NHL. It's not enough to be even with a team or even 1 goal better than a team, because you open yourself up to the possibility of the kind of shenanigans that happened in Game Three and Game Four against Montreal. The NHL views the Lightning franchise as a junior partner in the league, and when push comes to shove, experience has taught us all the bigger market, higher profile clubs will always get the benefit of the doubt. So, with that in mind, the Lightning can't just beat teams. They have to destroy teams. They can't leave any doubt. They have to clobber teams by a screwjob-proof margin of error and leave nothing but the smoldering cinders of what used to be their opponents behind them. Period.
The 2004 Cup team was THAT MUCH better than the rest of the league. That team won an unprecedented bounty of postseason trophies. They had the leading regular season scorer. Leading postseason scorer. They were clear and away the best team in the league, and even then I remain mildly surprised the referees made the correct call in Game Six on Gelinas' shot that eventually led to the team's Game Seven triumph.
Honestly, if you read between the lines of Martin St. Louis and why he wanted Tampa Bay, I think it pretty much confirms all of the above. He was sick of having to work twice as hard as players in markets like New York, Montreal, or Toronto to get the same level of respect and opportunity. So, now this generation of the Tampa Bay Lightning knows. Players will need to double down on their training, because they'll have to be THAT MUCH better to win it all. Coaches will have to put THAT MUCH extra time in the video room and on the white board. And, Steve Yzerman and Jeff Vinik? Gentlemen, the time for sipping tea with the same people who throw roadblocks in front of this franchise left and right, and have done so for decades, needs to be over. I've said all along, the Lightning are the NHL's (politer) version of the Oakland Raiders. They're the party crashers. They're the interlopers. They're the innovators. They're the counter culture. Do you get it now? It's not enough to play in Gary Bettman's sandbox. The only way this franchise gets respect is do what Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman did in frustration tonight: give a straight right cross to the mush of the league's mainstream franchises, take over the sandbox, and charge their sorry rear ends rent if they want to get back in it. Gentlemen, I understand you didn't declare war on the NHL, but the NHL declared war on you. So, you better damned well arm yourselves and start to take no prisoners starting tomorrow morning when the wound-licking needs to end and the steely determination to get r-e-v-e-n-g-e begins. Don't be ashamed to take that colossal chip, put it up on your shoulder, name it swagger, and use it to smite those who have wronged you.
And, before anyone up north accuses me of being a conspiracy theorist: boys and girls, the word "conspiracy" implies there's concealment. There's nothing concealed about what happened in Game Three and Game Four, and there's been hundreds of people from inside and outside of the league that have called shenanigans on what happens in places like Montreal and Toronto over the past several decades. Most professional sports leagues, when faced with a massive PR issue like that, move decisively to do something about it. Like, you know, don't assign another Quebecois official to work a Montreal playoff game two days after another Quebecois official made a hugely controversial call that swung the game for the home side. Not the NHL though. And, guess what? That says a lot more about the NHL and some of its enablers in the northern media than it does about us small market, crackpot "conspiracy" theorists down south.
Mike Kostka had an assist and was +2 with 1 hit and 1 blocked shot in 13:48. Is he a liability defensively? Yes. Does he find a way to sneak onto the scoresheet every other game? You betcha, in a way that Mark Barberio simply couldn't in that role all season long. I am of the opinion that I would be perfectly fine with Kostka sticking on this roster as a #8 defenseman next season because I truly believe what he gives you grades out to be a net positive, in the end equation.
Cedric Paquette was -1 with 2 penalty minutes and 3 hits in 10:49. He was also 60% on draws. I feel bad for Dump Truck, because I feel like he was thrown into a Calc I final exam after just completing acing Algebra II. Tonight, he got stripped in the neutral zone on the second goal (the first Lindback softie), and of course his was the (dubious) penalty that led to the game winning goal. When you couple that with losing his man on the game winning goal in Game One, you see that Paquette wore the goat horns a disproportionate amount of the time in this, his maiden NHL voyage. He's a good player, and he did a lot of good things in this late season cup of coffee. I hope the experience doesn't hurt his development, because I do think he was thrown into the deep end of the pool too soon, and it ultimately did show.
Montreal defense throws the net over the Lightning.
Montreal Leads the Series 2-0
Anders Lindback allowed 3 goals on 23 shots for the loss before giving way to Kristers Gudlevskis, who allowed 1 on 4 shots the rest of the way. If Cooper had a wild hair to put Gudlevskis in for Game Three, the wraparound goal Gudlevskis allowed might've quieted that thought down. As for Lindback, the third goal went through him on a greasy little bounce back to Gallagher off the blocked shot and he whiffed on the poke check on Bourque's goal, but on balance he played reasonably well and kept the Lightning around for most of the game. Goaltending isn't the reason the Lightning are losing this series so far.
2:34 MTL Desharnais (1), (Subban, Pacioretty)(PP)
10:35 MTL Bourque (1), (Vanek, Subban)
11:46 MTL Gallagher (1), (unassisted)
14:39 MTL Bourque (2), (Eller)
18:01 TB Purcell (1), (Hedman, Filppula)(PP)
The first 10 minutes of the game took on the dimension of a lot of the regular season games between Tampa Bay and Montreal with the Lightning dominating possession and the Canadiens getting a few counter attacks in. That's where the Lightning need to get this series to get back into it. If possession is even or tilted in favor of Montreal, Price is probably too good to overcome. Unfortunately, in the second half of the First Period, a 4-minute minor on Stamkos started to take the starch out of the Lightning's offensive flow and when Desharnais scored the PP goal early in the Second Period after a ticky tack call on Panik, the offensive flow completely dissipated altogether. There's just too much inconsistency moving up the ice as a unit. Passing is off. Guys aren't consistently supporting their linemates. It wasn't as lopsided as the score indicates (shots were 27-26), but the Lightning need to get better within their structure to defeat Montreal's. It's a process, and they were certainly more together and composed than in Game One, and this series is nowhere near over. I reiterate the lesson of the 2003 series against Washington, when a young, talented Lightning team really looked terrible against a veteran Caps team in Game One and Game Two. Once they figured it out in Game Three, they swept the rest of that series. I have a feeling the Lightning may be capable of a similar breakout, but getting that first win is going to be the toughest. Hopefully the Lightning realize that and also realize the worst thing they can do at this moment is panic. Just win one game. That's all they need to worry about right now.
Mike Kostka had 1 shot, 1 hit, and 2 blocked shots in 13:13. His lack of speed and strength and decision making with the puck were a bit of an issue again tonight. At this stage, if I'm Cooper, I'm going to try to spark something by throwing Mark Barberio in against his hometown team for Game Three in lieu of Kostka, but we'll see how he plays it.
Cedric Paquette was -1 with 12 penalty minutes, 2 shots, and 2 hits in 10:18. He certainly wasn't at fault for the minus in the first Bourque goal where Salo was turned the wrong way, and he had a pretty glorious chance on Price in tight off a nice setup by Purcell. I like what Paquette brings, and on paper he's a playoff-style performer. But, needing a spark, again, if I'm Cooper I'm going in with Pyatt in Game Three.
One more to go.
Kristers Gudlevskis stopped 36 of 38 for the victory in his first NHL shot. He was impressive. His quickness and athleticism are striking, and he showed a competitiveness and unwillingness to give up on plays that is also the hallmark of great netminders.
3:55 TB Palat (23), (Killorn)(PP)
13:46 CBJ Jenner (16), (Johnson, Johansen)(PP)
14:54 TB Brewer (3), (Paquette)
18:06 TB Brewer (4), (Kostka, Panik)
16:37 CBJ Savard (5), (Jenner, Comeau)
Gudlevskis, Eric Brewer, and Ryan Callahan were the game's three stars. It wasn't the best effort the Lightning have put forward, but Gudlevskis played well and the team capitalized on some shaky netminding by Columbus' McElhinney at the other end of the rink. It wasn't without a price, as Victor Hedman left the game early with a lower body injury and Ondrej Palat left after getting his bell rung on an open ice hit, but at this hour their absence seems more precautionary than anything else (although that's always subject to change).
The Lightning now have 99 points with 1 game to go. Win and they get home ice against Montreal in the opening round of the playoffs. Win and they break the 100 point barrier. Win, and they'll cap off one of the best regular seasons in team history.
Mike Kostka had a helper and was +1 with 1 shot and 3 hits in 20:35. He was forced into extra ice time with Hedman out of the game early, and he handled it reasonably well, even getting his 3rd point in 2 games since returning. Win if you can, survive if Mike Kostka lets you.
Cedric Paquette had a helper and was +1 with 1 hit and 2 blocked shots in 12:46. He was also 64% on 14 draws, including several wins while the Lightning were trying to stave off Columbus with their goaltender pulled at the end of the game. Good debut by Dump Truck, and I thought the scorekeepers cheated him out of a few hits because I counted 2-3 more. The young man's got a future on the team's fourth line.
Never say die.
Kristers Gudlevskis allowed 5 goals on 25 shots for the OT win. The goal support came late, but whenever it comes it's always a beautiful thing.
SYR Paradis, (5) (Namestnikov, Mormina), 7:16
UTI O'Reilly, (4) , 12:26 (PP)
SYR Gourde, (5) (Korobov, DiSalvatore), 16:44 (PP)
UTI Friesen, (5) (Lain), 11:39
UTI Friesen, (6) (Biega, Welsh), 18:27 (PP)
UTI Kennedy, (1) (O'Reilly), 9:44
UTI Welsh, (5) (Friesen, Sauve), 10:49
SYR Namestnikov, (18) (Paradis, Paquette), 18:21
SYR Marchessault, (18) (Connolly, Gourde), 18:52 (SH)
SYR Marchessault, (19) (Paquette, Angelidis), 19:07 (SH)
SYR Connolly, (19) (Korobov, Namestnikov), 2:36
You could watch 76 AHL games a year for the rest of your life and not see what happened tonight again. In pro hockey, having a 3 goal deficit at anytime in the Third Period should be a death sentence. Having it with less than 3 minutes left in the Third Period should absolutely be a death sentence. Having it with less than 3 minutes and having a man in the box for most of that time really, really should be a death sentence. The Syracuse Crunch scored 3 straight extra attacker goals late in the Third Period tonight to force Overtime. Two of those goals were technically shorthanded. Coach Gordon Bombay just called from Hollywood and even he thinks the plot tonight was implausible and ludicrous. That is not supposed to happen. Ever. There must not be a rock big or heavy enough for Utica to crawl under right now, because Syracuse bent the laws of time and space to find a way to win that game tonight. Wow.
With the win, Syracuse moves to 1 game under .500 with 6 left to play. After winning tonight the way they did, who in their right mind would bet against them to get on the right side of .500 before the year's complete?
Box score from TheAHL.com.
20 goals and counting for the Dump Truck.
Kristers Gudlevskis had a light workload, stopping 16 of 17 for the victory to get back on track.
ALB Pesonen, (13) (Urbom, Wedgewood), 11:30 (PP)
SYR Paquette, (20) (Erne, Gourde), 17:58
SYR Rankin, (14) (Sergeev), 8:21
Evan Rankin, Cedric Paquette, and Dmitry Korobov were the game's three stars. Tonight's goal puts Dump Truck at 20 in his rookie campaign. To put that accomplishment in perspective, here's three recent Lightning prospects who didn't make it to 20 goals as a rookie at the AHL level: Ondrej Palat, Richard Panik, and J.T. Brown. So, ponder that for a moment, and be impressed at what Paquette has accomplished in his first year of professional hockey.
Syracuse climbs back to 2 games under .500 for the season. I still contend a solid goal for the Crunch should be to get over .500 for the year, which will set the tone for a solid season next year.
Box score from TheAHL.com.