Little things cost the Lightning again...
Eastern Conference Finals
New York Leads the Series 1-0
Ben Bishop continues to sparkle, allowing just 2 goals on 30 shots for the loss. I can't fault Ben on two greasy goals, one of which was a puck deflected off a body in front. He game the Lightning every opportunity to win the game while the team figured out an approach that would work against the Rangers.
19:47 NYR Stepan (4), (Kreider, McDonagh)
6:45 TB Palat (4), (Johnson, Hedman)(PP)
17:35 NYR Moore (1), (Hayes, Brassard)
Ondrej Palat was the game's third star.
The Rangers probably deserved the win today, given the overall run of play, but the Lightning did a lot of good things and put themselves in position to steal Game One. They weathered a very spirited First Period by New York with the Rangers coming out flying, largely on the strength of Bishop's goaltending. Then, with fatigue slowly starting to creep in for New York and nerves wearing off in the Second Period, the team started to slowly turn the momentum until a little disaster struck late in the period. Steven Stamkos failed to pay the price to take a couple of extra strides to get the red line and get the puck deep late, and the Rangers took the resulting turnover and eventually cashed on a greasy goal that hit traffic in front and found Stepan at the side of Bishop's cage. The Lightning really came on in the Third Period, drawing 3 PP's from The Rangers, but in a game that tight it just takes a bounce to lose. Kevin Hayes threw a sharp angle shot off Moore in front of the net and in, and the Lightning find themselves down 1-0 in the series.
If you're a glass half empty person, you'll note that the third pairing of Carle/Sustr (particularly Carle) is the most glaring weak spot on the team right now. It's bad. The Lightning had a high amount of turnovers in the game, some of which were the result of the Rangers flying on the forecheck to start the game, but there were a ton of really stupid unforced errors, too. And, Carle seemed to be at the heart of a lot of those unforced errors. Also, the team had nothing resembling support from the bottom two lines with Boyle a late scratch and Marchessault a liability in this contest. Namestnikov also showed a lot of jitters and withered a bit in the big moments, like a 2-on-1 he meekly centered right into a sprawled Rangers defender in the Third Period. It's not like the coaches have a ton of choices, though. They either bite the bullet and give Drouin a chance or they don't.
Glass half full, it looks like the Stamkos line is going to be able to do some business in this series and the PP cashed in again. The Lightning also won the faceoff battle, at least on paper, even with Boyle out. And, Bishop. Enough said.
Game Two is going to be very big. The Lightning found some things that worked in the Third Period and I expect a big push from them to try to even up the series before it shifts back to Tampa.
Jonathan Marchessault had 2 shots in 11:40. He looked like a deer in headlights to me in the First Period, with some cringe-worthy turnovers. He settled down as things went along, but I'm just not sure this is a series that suits his game. He and Namestnikov (6:52 of IT), in particular, may need to draw out for Game Two. Obviously, you hope Boyle can go in Game Two and then Cooper will need to decide whether to go with 7 D or maybe try Drouin again. Some tinkering definitely needs to happen on the third pair and bottom two lines, though, because they were glaring liabilities, at times.
The night it all came together...
Eastern Conference Semifinals
Tampa Bay Wins the Series 4-2
Ben Bishop allowed 1 goal on 19 shots for the victory, with the lone goal coming off a play where a puck took a goofy hop off the glass. He didn't have a ton of work, but he continued to make the key saves when he needed to. The national press just realized Bishop is no fluke. It's no small thing to out-duel the presumptive MVP, Carey Price, in a 7-game series. Did he get some lucky, horseshoe breaks? Sure. But you make your own luck, and Bishop was the MVP of this Montreal series.
15:35 TB Kucherov (5), (Palat)
5:12 TB Stamkos (3), (Killorn, Carle)
18:56 TB Palat (3), (Kucherov, Stralman)(PP)
15:03 MTL Pacioretty (5), (Gallagher)
17:59 TB Kucherov (6), (unassisted)(EN)
After muddling through much of the first dozen games of this playoff season, tonight the Lightning finally figured out how to translate their regular season style to a successful 60 minute hockey game. You could see it coming in their 5-on-5 play in Montreal in Game Five, and once the Johnson line worked their way into scoring the opening goal in the First Period, the Lightning were fully off and running. The Lightning completely dominated the Habs from there on out. Outshot them. Outchanced them. Outhit them. They even did a number on Montreal in the faceoff circles after struggling mightily in that department for most of the series. All in all, it was the first time in these playoffs that the Lightning played a full game of Lightning hockey, which points to the tremendous potential of this club. Even struggling to figure out postseason hockey, the Lightning had the talent to advance within 1 game of the Eastern Conference Finals. Tonight, all the pieces fell into place.
Moreover, the Lightning have filled in some important gaps in their game from the regular season, and may be be finally reaching their full potential as a team. That should be terrifying to the rest of the league, considering that the Lightning still managed to put up a 100+ point season and lead the league in goals even without a functional power play and without a really strong ability to close out close games in the Third Period. The Lightning got 7 goals on the power play in the Montreal series, and starting late in the Detroit series they started to really look more comfortable and efficient protecting Third Period leads and playing a more simple 200 foot game.
Oh, and after being MIA in the Detroit series, all of a sudden Kucherov is fully on track and Stamkos is getting on track. Yikes.
Credit BP member Bolthed with the following paraphrased point from the BP chat room, which I think strikes the right tone, post game: I hope Coach Cooper stood up in front of his team after the game and said something along the lines of the following...
"Boys, congratulations for advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals. It hasn't always been easy, and it darn sure hasn't always been pretty. But, you've worked hard and you've learned and gotten a little strong, bit by bit, along the way. Tonight, you finally put it all together, and I'm proud of you guys for that. But, you know what? Now there are no more excuses. Now that you've proven you can put it all together it's on you guys to play at that same level every game from here on out. You can do it. You've shown you can do it. You had the talent, and now you've got the experience. Anything less and you're cheating yourselves."
And at that point, I hope he asked Stamkos and Hedman to stand up in front of the team and talk about 2011, and guys like Stralman and Boyle about their experience with the Rangers, and what it feels like to come that close to winning it all. Once you get this deep in the playoffs and are one of the final four teams, you're in the rarefied air of an event that may never come in your life again. You only get so many kicks at the can and only so many real chances to get your name on the Stanley Cup.
Capitalize it, and as Tim Taylor said in 2004, your team will walk together forever. When you lose though, like the Lightning did in 2011 in Game Seven against Boston by such a slim margin, it's the kind of thing you take to your grave. As a fan, I'll never get over 2011 and how close the Lightning were to advancing and probably winning their second Stanley Cup. Maybe it's a sign of my lack of an adequate social life, but there's not a day over the last 4 years I haven't thought about it and wished they could've gotten those couple of more goals they needed to advance and how that would've changed the legacy of that team and the franchise. I can only imagine what the players like Stamkos and Hedman who were in that room and shed blood, sweat, and tears with that team feel. They have to understand the fierce urgency of this moment and impart that wisdom on their teammates who haven't experienced a deep run like this at the NHL level before. When you get this far, you've got to win it all. You've got to. You've got to sell out mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually for every single shift of every single game, because you don't want to cheat yourselves and you don't want to find yourself looking back and regretting what might have been. For the next 4-6 weeks (hopefully), the Lightning will put everything of themselves toward this singular goal. It'll be grueling. It'll be nerve wracking. It'll galvanize a city behind the team that wears their jersey and shares their community. And that, folks, is what makes the Stanley Cup Playoffs the most unique and exciting experience in all of professional sports.
Jonathan Marchessault had 1 shot and 1 hit in 11:15 in his NHL playoff debut. Credit the coaching staff for monitoring how well Marchessault was practicing and for having the guts to insert him in the lineup in such a big spot. He didn't score tonight, but he made smart plays with the puck and was poised defensively in a way the younger forwards haven't always been in these playoffs.
Nikita Nesterov had 1 shot and 1 hit in 6:19. He had some anxious moments in his own end in the First Period. That's been the trade off with Nesterov. You get some possession advantages, but he looks a little hairy at times in his own third. Hence the lower ice time.
Can't stop the bleeding.
Eastern Conference Quarterfinals
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Leads the Series 1-0
Kristers Gudlevskis allowed 4 goals on 20 shots for the loss before giving way to Adam Wilcox, who allowed 1 goal on 15 shots the rest of the way. Coach Zettler is tasked with the impossible task of choosing between a streaky goaltender who appears to have gone completely cold and a rookie ATO who has never won a professional game for Game Two. Flip a coin.
WBS Uher, (1) (Kuhnhackl, Rowney), 16:52
WBS Kapanen, (1) (Megna), 6:03
WBS Rowney, (1) (Goers, Uher), 6:34
WBS Kapanen, (2) (Goers, Megna), 7:43
SYR Peca, (1) (Angelidis, Vermin), 14:00
WBS Syvret, (1) (Rowney, Sheary), 12:32
Syracuse entered the playoffs having won just 1 of their last 10 down the stretch, and they got dominated tonight. It's not just that they didn't get the goaltending, but they also got outshot 35-23 as well, which gives you an idea of run of play. There's a small silver lining with Matthew Peca getting his first pro playoff goal, but it's super, super small. The Pens pinned a -4 on Syracuse's offensive bell cow, Jonathan Marchessault, and if Marchessault's line can't win their shifts, then Syracuse likely has no prayer.
Honestly, I've got no helpful suggestions or tweaks that I can suggest at this juncture. I kept waiting for this team to gel with all the roster changes and ATO additions down the stretch, and it simply hasn't happened.
Game Two is tomorrow night.
Box score from TheAHL.com.
Snake bitten and still struggling.
Kristers Gudlevskis allowed 5 goals on 34 shots for the OT loss. After getting his save percentage up as high as .906, Gudlevskis' recent struggles have dropped him back down to the goaltending Mendoza line of .900.
SYR Vermin, (12) (Peca, Koekkoek), 4:39
ADK Poirier, (18) , Reinhart, 19:16
SYR Point, (2) (Marchessault, Kunyk), 0:47
SYR Gourde, (29) (Point, Ikonen), 4:52
ADK Yonkman, (2) (Tousignant, Harris), 16:24
SYR Marchessault, (24) (Dotchin, Peca), 3:29
ADK Wolf, (20) (Kulak), 13:43
ADK Elson, (17) , 16:31
ADK Agostino, (14) (Kulak, Arnold), 0:39
Jonathan Marchessault and Brayden Point were the game's first and third stars. Throw in that Matthew Peca had his first multi-point night as a pro, and you had a hat trick of important Lightning forward prospects producing. Therein lies the silver lining of tonight's loss: the offense is starting to come around, finally. That doesn't take all the sting out of coughing up a pair of 2 goal leads, but it's something.
Syracuse sits 2 points behind Hartford for the division lead, which will yield the East #3 seed in the playoffs.
Box score from TheAHL.com.
We continue our Bolt Prospect of the Week award, an honor (virtually) given to one Tampa Bay Lightning prospect for his recent contributions on and off the ice.
The Bolt Prospect of the Week for April 14, 2015 is … Jonathan Marchessault, W, Syracuse Crunch (AHL).
The morning after registering a career-high four points in a come-from-behind win over Bridgeport, Jonathan Marchessault was on a plane destined for Tampa Bay.