Lightning crush Sabres against the run of play.
Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 1 goal on 31 shots for the victory. I still don't think he's 100% up to NHL speed following the puck, but there were a couple of times in this game you could see his quickness and technical proficiency with his angles really got into Buffalo's shooters' heads. They were cutting it fine because they felt they had to against the big Russian mountain.
5:55 TB Stamkos (7), (Filppula, Palat)
11:35 TB Johnson (2), (Killorn, Kucherov)
18:20 TB Kucherov (5), (Namestnikov, Coburn)
4:21 BUF Eichel (5), (Weber, Ennis)
19:30 TB Hedman (1), (Sustr)(SH)
Vasilevskiy and Nikita Kucherov were the game's first and second stars.
Hockey's a funny sport. The Lightning played a much better game against Detroit last time out and couldn't find the payoff for the chances they manufactured with their hard work. Tonight, I felt they got outworked and they definitely got outchanced and outshot, on balance, by Buffalo. The Sabres had their forecheck really working on the Lightning in the first 40 minutes, but when the Lightning were able to break that pressure and come out of their zone, they were able to catch Buffalo on 3-on-2's on the counter. The skill players did the rest to build the 3-0 lead. They probably didn't deserve to have that big of a margin, but considering how snake bitten they've been offensively, I'm not going to complain about it. They were definitely guilty of playing down to their opponent and even more guilty of taking their foot off the gas once they got up 3-0. But, to their credit, they really tightened up defensively in the Third Period to quell the Buffalo uprising and deliver the W.
With the win, the Lightning have 6 points through 6 games of this 10 game segment of the season. A win against Minnesota would be tremendous if they can get it next time out.
Nikita Nesterov was +1 with 2 hits and 2 blocked shots in 15:40. The stat line looks OK, but I think the tape will reveal Nesterov didn't cloak himself in glory tonight. He looked like the physically overmatched young blueliner that struggled in his rookie pro season of North American hockey tonight, taking some big hits and getting overwhelmed physically, rather than the offensive juggernaut he was in his sophomore pro campaign. Not his finest hour.
Young Carolina defense proves the elixir for the Lightning's offensive woes.
Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 3 goals on 35 shots for the victory in his season debut with the Lightning. He wasn't as sharp as he can be, particularly with the trapper. I think he spent the bulk of the game getting up to speed with the NHL level again. But he's so big, so athletic, and so technically sound. There's just not a lot of holes there and you feel like you have a big Russian mountain in net behind the team times. It's a great luxury for the Lightning to know they probably have two of the best goaltenders in the game on their roster, and they're both still young and hungry.
15:07 CAR E. Staal (4), (Versteeg, Rask)(PP)
0:38 TB Callahan (4), (Palat)
18:54 TB Stamkos (6), (Kucherov, Stralman)(PP)
4:07 TB Brown (2), (Filppula)
9:16 TB Johnson (1), (Kucherov, Hedman)
15:25 CAR Versteeg (2), (Rask)
19:59 CAR J. Staal (1), (Rask)
Carolina's young defense is a traveling PSA for the dangers of NHL GM's rushing their blueliners to the NHL. They've got some talented young players on the depth chart at that position, but mercy are they generous with the turnovers. Noah Hanifin, holy cow, he was a dumpster fire tonight, and the generosity of that D corps as a whole showed was just what the Lightning needed to get out of their offensive funk. That, and the decision by Jon Cooper to flip Killorn and Palat from the Stamkos and Johnson lines, respectively, and the dividends that payed in the form of a couple of even strength goals. The lines are going to be up in the air so long as Paquette and Drouin remain injured, so whatever shuffling needs to happen in the near term to manufacture goals, I'm all for it. Tampa Bay eventually built a three goal lead in the Third Period and I'm not terribly concerned about the couple of garbage time goals Carolina got to try to make it look respectable.
No Marchessault? No problem.
Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 1 goal on 28 shots for the victory. Syracuse is off until next Friday now, and in the absence of anymore games this weekend the logical conclusion is that Vasilevskiy will find his way back up to Tampa Bay pretty soon with Gudlevskis coming back down by Friday's contest. We'll see if that's how it pans out. 2-0 with a 1.04 GAA and a .965 save percentage is a pretty nice conditioning stint for a goaltender, from where I sit.
HER Gazley, (2) (Bowey), 2:46
SYR Taormina, (2) (Gourde, Tambellini), 11:36 (PP)
SYR DeAngelo, (3) (Peca, Taormina), 11:52
SYR Tambellini, (3) (Taormina), 2:28
SYR Blunden, (3) (Blujus, DeAngelo), 6:43 (PP)
Don't look now, but Anthony DeAngelo's got 7 points in his first 8 pro games. He's also averaging over 3 SOG's a game, which is symptomatic of fancy stat magic, from what I understand. Will his offensive game immediately translate from junior to pro? It appears so. Tonight was his first multi-point game with the Crunch.
Box score from TheAHL.com.
Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 1 goal on 30 shots for the victory.
SYR DeAngelo, (2) (Angelidis, Ikonen), 6:56 GIF
SYR Taormina, (1) (Marchessault, Tambellini), 15:31 GIF
Box score from TheAHL.com.
Stanley Cup Final
Chicago Wins the Series 4-2
Ben Bishop allowed just 2 goals on 25 shots for the loss. He didn't allow a great rebound on the first goal because I thought the shot got a little redirected on the way in, and then he was essentially left to fend for himself on the second chance. The second goal was a really a 2-on-1 where Bishop just couldn't push from right to left to have any kind of chance on the Kane one-timer. That would've been a difficult chance to stop healthy, but in light of what we know now, it was impossible. After the game, it was revealed Ben Bishop has been playing with a torn groin since Game Two of the series. I feel sick for the guy that he's played this well in an extreme amount of pain and just couldn't get any goal support. I've heard people in the fan base who are way, way too quick to usher Ben out the door in the next year or two to make way for the wunderkind Andrei Vasilevskiy, but those people might want to take a moment to appreciate the mental toughness it takes to play your way through that kind of injury. That is one tough hombre. He's just a bad, bad dude. Much respect.
17:13 CHI Keith (3), (Kane, Richards)
14:46 CHI Kane (11), (Richards, Saad)
In the end the Lightning were too banged up to play their normal possession game, and when they did have good chances they just couldn't capitalize. Number one on that list was Steven Stamkos, who rang a crossbar in the First Period and then had a breakaway in the Second Period where he came to a near stop dekeing to his forehand before getting stopped by Crawford and then putting the rebound off the side of the net. I may have misheard this, but I think NBC said Stamkos had something like 20-21 scoring chances in the 6 games of this series. That's an obscene number of chances to surrender to one of the two greatest goal scorers of this generation for him to not score a goal. That'll live with him all summer, I'm sure, and that crossbar in particular was just a hair off. 1/16" lower and that's probably down and in, and we may be talking about a Game Seven at this hour. It was that close. For Steven, this is an interesting moment in his career. A lot of the 2014-2015 season was spent trying to get comfortable playing hockey again after breaking his leg against Boston last season. He still scored 40 goals and had a statistically decent playoffs overall, but truth be told there were a lot of times it still felt we were seeing the 85% version of Steven Stamkos. Now, having been through this experience, does this lead to Steven having "the mother of all summers" en route to getting back on the trajectory he was on prior to the injury of becoming the best player in the game?
Getting back to Game Six, how close were the Lightning? How razor thin was the margin between ecstasy and agony in this series? The Lightning were finally getting some zone time in the Third Period to try to tie the game and the chance came into the right circle to Brayden Coburn who breaks his stick on an A- chance, which lead to the odd man rush that put the Blackhawks up 2-0 and broke the Lightning's back. Buzzard's luck if I've ever seen it. Really the Lightning were just 1-2 bounces from winning this series, even with the rash of injuries, and that's what so maddening about what transpired in the last three games.
After the game, along with the revelation about Bishop's injury, it was revealed that Tyler Johnson's been playing this series with the bone that attaches his thumb to his wrist broken, which is why he hasn't been taking faceoffs this series. We'll find out what happened to his linemate Kucherov soon enough, along with Brian Boyle. Stamkos may also be dinged. Callahan obviously had the appendix. Paquette had both his hands shot off several times at different parts of the playoffs. Also, I suspect there may be something wrong with Garrison, although it may have just been fatigue setting in that made him look particularly slow in the past couple of games. I'm sure I'm leaving some guys out. In any event, the cumulative effect of all the centermen getting injured was that Cedric Paquette, a rookie who as it was noted had his hands shot off blocking shots several times in these playoffs, had to take a ton of important defensive zone draws and he absolutely got eaten alive the first half of Game Five and pretty much all of Game Six. 0-for-13 on faceoffs tonight? That seems almost impossible, and yet it happened. That advantage allowed Chicago to manufacture possession and zone time that they otherwise struggled to create in the flow of play and probably ultimately swung the series to them.
All that said, this feels different than the Lightning's last serious run at the Cup in 2011. That team had more of a lightning-in-the-bottle feel to it with certain players (Purcell and Bergenheim) playing over their head and the last remnants of the 2004 Cup team (Lecavalier and St. Louis) making their last real kick at the can together. I felt spent (and more than a little shafted by the officials) after that Game Seven loss in the Eastern Conference Finals against Boston. I knew they were an eyelash away from winning it all because that series may well have been the Stanley Cup Final that year and I knew it was a long shot for the team to get back the following season with so many older pieces, including the desiccating remains of Dwayne Roloson between the pipes. The other thing was, psychologically, I think that team had bought in to Guy Boucher's system and mystique to such a degree that when they didn't win it all, it was such a shock to their psyche he started to lose that locker room from that moment on in a slow erosion of belief. And for me, personally? I didn't want to deal with hockey for several months after that I was so disillusioned by what had transpired.
Tonight? I'm thinking about what this team has to do tomorrow and every day thereafter until one year from now they're back in this position hoisting the Cup, because I absolutely believe they can do so. This team, structurally, has the bones of a great dynasty. They're incredibly young, incredibly deep, and now they're incredibly experienced. Recall (although I'm not comparing the two) the great Edmonton team of the 80's had to take their medicine from the Islanders before they became a dynasty. And, psychologically, I think Jon Cooper can play off the fact these guys will feel a little angry they might've been cheated at the finish line by the injury bug. This team's belief shouldn't be shaken. It should be galvanized by the fact that they were playing with a bunch of hurt centermen and a goaltender with a torn groin and they still seriously, seriously challenged a historically good Chicago Blackhawks team that has been the class of the cap era. Has been. The Lightning, with the foundation they have, will be, if they commit together that they're going to be. And, that commitment has to start with tomorrow and every day thereafter until one year from now they're hoisting the Cup.
The things that need to change with the Lightning's roster are minor, and many of them will be fixed with time. Jonathan Drouin and Vladislav Namestnikov will be ready to be regular contributors at this time next year and young guys like Cedric Paquette and J.T. Brown have found out in these playoffs, Paquette in particular, that they can be world class players on the sport's biggest stage. The Lightning will have secondary scoring depth at this time next year, and with health should be better on faceoffs, although it might behoove Yzerman to pick up a veteran faceoff ace somewhere along the line just in case.
On defense, Victor Hedman had his coming out party in these playoffs and may finally take that next step of becoming a legit Norris Trophy candidate next season while Anton Stralman looked like an All-Star in his own right. Jason Garrison and Brayden Coburn offer solid second pair options, albeit they have their clunkers here and there, and Andrej Sustr and Nikita Nesterov will only get better with age. That's six defensemen on a team that, because Cooper likes to play seven defensemen so much, might be best to carry eight. Where are the other two? You hope Slater Koekkoek, who looked darned good in his late season cup of coffee, comes to camp ready to mount a serious challenge for a spot and perhaps you look at signing up a hungry vet to round out the group. The Lightning didn't quite get everything they might've wanted from this year's hungry vet signing, Brendan Morrow, who was Yzerman's second choice behind Jarome Iginla for that slot. If Iginla had signed with the Lightning instead of Colorado, Tampa Bay might be hoisting a Cup right now. Remember, tomorrow and every day thereafter, including July 1st, the Lightning need to be focused on winning every little battle to make sure next year they finish what they started this season. In any event, with Morrow departing, I still like the idea of finding that hungry vet who wants one last run at glory and is willing to take a little bit of a discount rate to do so. The Lightning had that player in Simon Gagne in 2011 and they had Morrow this season. It's not a coincidence, either.
And, between the pipes, did I mention Ben Bishop is a bad, bad hombre? With Vasilevskiy now up at the NHL level, the Lightning should be able to cut back Ben's workload in the regular season more and hopefully conserve some of his mileage for the postseason. Also, given Ben's ended his past two seasons with injuries, I think it's probably time for Ben to up his postseason conditioning game once he rehabs from the groin. That's the same for all of the Lightning players, too. This is a pretty fit group, but Chicago, despite being a lot older, was healthier at the finish line partly because they played shorter series to get to this point but also partly because those guys understand the difference between being fit and being Stanley Cup fit. The Lightning don't need to train for an 82 game season this summer, they need to train for about a 106 game campaign so they won't have as much fatigue and as many injuries when they get to the finish line next season.
On an unrelated tangent, I just want to say how impressed I was with the Lightning fan base tonight. Approximately 17,000 showed up at Amalie Arena tonight despite the clunker that was Game Five, and it was extremely impressive to me and a sign of the fact that this season has created yet another groundswell in Tampa Bay just like the playoffs in '96, '03, '04, and '11 created expansions in the fan base. It didn't seem to me like NBC appropriately addressed what took place in Amalie tonight on the national broadcast, which is the annoying artifact of a national media still hell bent on pushing a preconceived narrative because of a jersey ban. It's all good, though, because they won't be able to get rid of Lightning fans quite so easily moving forward. Of all the faces in the crowd tonight, there was so much youth in the 15-25 year old range. These are fans who couldn't necessarily make it to Game Five with ticket prices being so astronomical, but if the economy in the area gets stronger and Tampa Bay can retain that youth in the area then this is going to be a nice boom for the fan base in about 5 years. The people who showed up tonight are Lightning fans for life, and if they can build careers in the area and develop some prosperity in the process, they're going to e buying tickets to the Lightning for life eventually, too. Tampa Bay's a tough place for young professionals to make a living in, and that's the toughest nut the Lightning have to crack because it's a structural problem with the market. With a team on the brink of becoming something very special and a little luck in the form of an economic surge in the area over the next few years (knock on wood) though, the Lightning could become a beast of a franchise. Tampa Bay is the 13th largest TV market in the country, which isn't too shabby, and the Lightning have begun to capture the hearts and minds of a much coveted demographic that will only become more powerful as time moves along.
I also wanted to say that this post marks the conclusion of Bolt Prospects' tenth season, and while it didn't have the fairy tale ending we hoped for (I was all ready to declare it the Bolt Prospects Stanley Cup), we remain incredibly humbled and thankful for the support of all of our readers. October will mark the ten year anniversary of the official opening of the website and it's been an honor and a privilege to write for you. Reflecting back on this time, for the staff, the past ten years have brought a lot of changes in our lives as we've built careers (day jobs) and built families. Some of us have moved to different cities and dealt with all manners of highs and lows in the day-to-day ebb and flow of the real world. Our love of Tampa Bay and the Tampa Bay Lightning and our continued to commitment to this thing we created ten years ago, Bolt Prospects, has been the one constant. We also would like to thank the Lightning organization, past and present, our friends and supporters in the media (the ones we can stand), and the players and their families (who are often the unheralded heroes of any player's career).
Lastly, and most importantly, we thank our own families for their support and understanding. For about eight months out of the year my significant other refers to herself as a hockey widow while I escape into my 125 square foot little home office to spend an inordinate amount of time watching hockey games and keeping up what the latest goings on were in obscure destinations such as Magnitogorsk, Russia. We do it because we love it (we darn sure don't do it for the money), and thankfully, they put up with it because they love us. That kind of understanding is pretty darned special, n'est-ce pas?
As I complete this post, which has taken forever to write, it's about fifteen minutes past 2:00 AM. That means it's already tomorrow... and the start of every day thereafter. Until... next year.
Cooper's gamble nearly pays off.
Stanley Cup Final
Series Tied 2-2
Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 2 goals on 19 shots for the loss, as Cooper did what I speculated he might do playing the rookie in Game Four to allow Ben Bishop 4+ days of rest before a critical Game Five tilt. The Lightning did a really good job defensively in front of Andrei, for the most part, which meant he didn't have to face down a ton of scoring chances. Chicago's first goal partly resulted from poor rebound control and the second was absolutely not Vasilevskiy's fault as the defense never should have allowed Saad to break in that uncontested off a faceoff loss. Vasiy also got the benefit of the iron three times in the contest, but all in all I thought he held his keep. The Lightning can't allow a team backstopped by Crawford to hold them to just one goal.
6:40 CHI Toews (10), (Sharp, Hossa)
11:47 TB Killorn (9), (Filppula, Stamkos)
6:22 CHI Saad (8), (Kane)
Alex Killorn was the game's third star.
The Lightning shouldn't be panicking after this result. They played a very strong game that they could've very easily won. I remain shocked at how flat Chicago has started all four games of this series, and unlike Game Three there weren't any really long, sustained surges from Chicago that the Lightning had to deal with. It's starting to look to me like fatigue is a serious issue that Chicago is struggling to contend with, with their thin defensive corps, in particular, chasing around Tampa Bay's youthful, speedy players. In the flow of play at 5-on-5, the Lightning definitely are beginning to look like the stronger of the two teams, and the Blackhawks' best chance for victory seems to be power plays and manufacturing goals off of offensive zone faceoffs. That's what happened tonight in the Third Period with three unforced icings and a shot that went off a crossbar and into the crowd that led to Saad's goal off a defensive zone faceoff loss by the Lightning. Penalties and unforced icings are like little life preservers for the Blackhawks now, and the Lightning need to be aware of that and stop giving aid and comfort to the enemy.
I wouldn't change much at even strength for the Lightning and their penalty kill was pretty strong, but the game may well have been lost in the first 40 minutes when the Lightning's ugly, regular season power play reared its ugly head again. They ended up 0-for-4 tonight, and it was a very non-threatening 0-for-4 as the Lightning reverted to the "strategy" of trying to send futile passes circle to circle through the box, which just doesn't work if you don't have some north-south puck movement first to get bodies moving and open up those passing lanes. Zone entry was pretty nonchalant, as well.
Heading into a 3-game series to decide who will hoist the Stanley Cup that starts on Saturday, those are the elements that the Lightning are going to need to tighten up to assure their success.
Nikita Nesterov had 1 shot and 1 hit in 9:02 of ice time. He got 2:13 of his ice time on the PP tonight as the coaching staff used Nesterov to try to give the second unit more of a shooting look. That came at the price of some iffy decision-making at even strength that led to at least one odd man chance surrendered the other way. Heading back to Tampa Bay, the well-worn critique remains: is Nesterov really the most effective use of that lineup spot, or could you use another skilled, speedy forward like Drouin or Namestnikov to throw at the worn down Chicago defense, even if they have some defensive deficiencies (which Nesterov has, if we're honest)?
Blackhawks get their butts kicked by a one-legged goaltender.
Stanley Cup Final
Tampa Bay Leads the Series 2-1
Ben Bishop allowed just 2 goals on 38 shots in a gritty, brave, tough performance that will become the stuff of legend if the Lightning go on to win this series. His left side, whether its his knee, ankle, hip, whatever, is badly hurt. There were several times in this game he looked awkward moving right to left and where he was in obvious pain trying to get up from his stance. Playing a position that is simultaneously the most physically demanding, mentally demanding, and critically important in the sport, for him to turn in that performance was nothing short of amazing. Incredible. Vinik is commissioning an opera about that performance as we speak, and rightfully so. Did he have a hiccup with the Richards soft goal off his glove? Sure. But, did I mention he was playing on one leg?
5:09 TB Callahan (2), (Hedman, Brown)
14:22 CHI Richards (3), (Hossa, Shaw)(PP)
4:14 CHI Saad (7), (Hossa, Keith)
4:27 TB Palat (8), (Kucherov, Johnson)
16:49 TB Paquette (3), (Hedman, Callahan)
Cedric Paquette and Ben Bishop were the game's first and third stars. Paquette is authoring a legend of his own through three games of this series, outplaying a future Hall of Famer in Jonathan Toews thus far by not only helping to limit Toews defensively, but also scoring goals in the wins in Game Two and Game Three. When you add what he's done on the PK, blocking shots, winning faceoffs, and closing out games, he's become one of the biggest stories of this series. When you consider two years ago, coming out of junior, Paquette's skating was south of subpar, it's nothing short of incredible to see what he's doing right now. The hard work both he and the organization have put in to get him ready for this moment is paying off like a super jackpot lottery ticket.
I was utterly shocked by how flat Chicago looked to start this game as the Lightning had another flying start to this game. They absolutely deserved the first goal and they got it on a Callahan bomb from the right circle that Crawford waved at for another soft goal. Unfortunately, that goal woke Chicago up as they unleashed the next 16 straight shots en route to tying up the game on the power play with Richards' center point shot that glanced in off Bishop's glove. So, both teams traded soft goals, and we all settled in to another epic, heavyweight struggle. Things looked very dicey with the Lightning staggering after that goal, especially in light of the fact they utterly lucked out with Chicago blowing looks at two open nets in the process of their 16 shot surge.
In an incredible show of maturity, the Lightning came out of the First Intermission storming and took the game by the throat from the Second Period on. I thought they had the better of the run of play in the final 40 minutes, but they just couldn't get the go-ahead goal while every Lightning supporter wearily looked creaseward at Ben Bishop struggling mightily with his ailing left side. When the team blew a 5-on-3 opportunity in the Second Period after Bishop got run over by Brandon Saad on a shorthanded rush, the dread that perhaps this wasn't to be the Lightning's night started to set in.
That fear was amplified quickly in the Third Period after they scrambled for the first four minutes of the Third Period and eventually conceded a Brandon Saad one-timer from the slot to fall behind 2-1. At that moment, everyone in the hockey universe outside of the Lightning bench had to be thinking that the experienced, battle-tested Blackhawks were surely about to break the Lightning's backs. Thirteen seconds later, the Lightning quickly peeled themselves off the canvas and bloodied their elders' noses with an improbable greasy goal off the rush, jamming home a rebound off a bad angle Kucherov offering in front. In the blink of an eye despair was replaced by hope, and the Lightning team that was so shaky for the first four minutes of the Third Period found its equilibrium, and its swagger.
And then, the golden moment happened. Cedric Paquette won a defensive zone draw, which was wound around to Ryan Callahan, who sprung Victor Hedman to lead a 3-on-2 rush. Hedman swung left and wide in the offensive zone, and centered to Paquette for the one-time redirection for the winning goal. What a play by Hedman. What a 200 foot play by Dump Truck.
The Lightning have held a lead in the Third Period of every game in this series thus far. They've scored the first goal in every game of the series thus far. They've been the better team, and they could easily be sitting on a 3-0 series lead were it not for the late hiccup in Game One. The Stanley Cup seems theirs for the taking if they can find a way to overcome the Bishop injury. One way to do that might be to consider starting Andrei Vasilevskiy in Game Four, thereby allowing Bishop four days to rest before Game Five on Saturday. It's a difficult decision for Jon Cooper to have to make, but the calculus right now is that the Lightning have accomplished what they needed to in Chicago. They're playing with house money in Game Four, and might be in a spot where they can afford to gamble on young Vasilevskiy harnessing lightning in a bottle for one game. With a healthier Bishop in Game Five, whether the Lightning are up 3-1 or tied 2-2 in the series, holding home ice, they'd feel like the favorites to me. Tough decision to make, for sure, but it's the kind of decision a special coach like Jon Cooper tends to make correctly.
Nikita Nesterov had 1 blocked shot in 4:57. He surrendered a 2-on-1 on a missed keep at the point and didn't see the ice much again thereafter. Look, I'll say it again: as tight as these games are, there's no way Nesterov's seeing the ice much. That's especially true on the road with Chicago having the last change. It remains a fair question to ask why Nesterov gives the team more utility in the lineup than Drouin or Namestnikov.
Lightning weather the storm, tie the series.
Stanley Cup Final
Series Tied 1-1
Ben Bishop allowed 3 goals on 24 shots before leaving the game, twice, in the Third Period. He had some trouble tracking the puck, but truth be told he really only allowed 2 goals as Hossa interfered with him on the Seabrook goal. Andrei Vasilevskiy entered the game, twice, in the Third Period and stopped all 5 shots he faced for the victory. What a spot for Vasiy to step into! Tie game in the Third Period of a Stanley Cup Final game that is pretty well a must-win game? He made some key saves, particularly on the final PK, and helped the team gut out the victory. His rebound control looked like it might be an issue and there was an obvious drop off in puck handling with Bishop out, but that's about as good a performance as anyone could ever hope for in an incredibly difficult circumstance. He earned that victory, for sure.
12:56 TB Paquette (2), (Callahan, Hedman)
3:04 CHI Shaw (5), (Kruger, Desjardins)
5:20 CHI Teravainen (4), (Hossa, Sharp)(PP)
6:52 TB Kucherov (10), (Garrison, Coburn)
13:58 TB Johnson (13), (Kucherov)
3:38 CHI Seabrook (7), (Toews, Oduya)
8:49 TB Garrison (2), (Hedman, Callahan)(PP)
The NHL should be absolutely giddy about the product that Tampa Bay and Chicago put on the ice tonight, because this game had a little bit of everything. Lots of speed, lots of chances, some controversy, and a whole lot of intrigue, too. It was one of those games where, now that it's over, it almost feels like it should count for two wins. Sadly, no, but it still stands as a contest that felt like a bit of an instant classic for the league.
The Lightning came out flying in the First Period, as in Game One, buoyed by a revamped set of bottom lines with Jonathan Drouin taking a spot on the fourth line. Drouin had about 3-4 really good offensive shifts, and 2-3 shifts where he was a bit of a liability with his decision-making. Still, the added energy he gave to the bottom lines was noticeable and the overall effort of the bottom lines was critical to tonight's win. In particular, Cedric Paquette, Ryan Callahan, and J.T. Brown deserve a ton of credit. They played their bags off tonight. If the bottom lines can put some consistent pressure on that very thin Chicago defensive corps, it could be an advantage in this series the longer it goes.
The Second Period had a real gut check moment for the team after the Blackhawks took their first and only lead of the night on a pair of quick goals. Bishop lost track of a puck that hit traffic in front leading to a tap in by Shaw and then Hossa and Teravainen worked a pretty give-and-go for a PP goal that put the Lightning at a real crossroads in this series. Do not underestimate the importance of the deflection goal by Kucherov off of the Garrison point shot on a pretty solid response shift by the Johnson line. Getting that goal back so quickly really gave the Lightning their legs back, and then Crawford did the Lightning a tremendous favor allowing a short side softie to Tyler Johnson to allow the Lightning to carry the victory into the locker room, thereby erasing all of Chicago's work earlier in the period. That goal was terrible, and it ended up being the margin of victory, as soft goals often are.
The Third Period then became an exercise in survival from the Lightning, chequered with both controversy and intrigue. Brent Seabrook tied the game with a bomb from the high slot coming in off the rush as the late man while Marian Hossa was in clear contact with Ben Bishop's left pad, leaving Bishop unable to fully extend to try to stop the shot. Bishop didn't flop like some goaltenders would, and he clearly doesn't have the halo around him that guys like Carey Price do, so the goal counted. I'm disappointed, but not surprised, because it's always been clear the Lightning have to be that much better to win these games. The good news is that after than blown call, the refs didn't swallow their whistles (possibly a bit of a make up situation) on a pair of Patrick Sharp infractions that led to Garrison getting a bit of puck luck with a goal that ramped up and in off a Blackhawks stick on a point shot to give the Lightning the eventual 4-3 win. While all that was going on, Ben Bishop mysteriously left briefly, returned briefly, and then left for good with Vasilevskiy becoming the goaltender of record between the pipes for Garrison's goal. He calmly battled the rest of the way, including some critical stops on a big kill after a Sustr delay of game call, to preserve the win and keep the Lightning alive in the series. It's a huge improvement over last year when you consider the tomato can the Lightning had to put between the pipes when Bishop got injured before the Montreal series. If the Lightning do win it all this year, Vasiy earned his name being on the Cup with that performance.
Now we'll wait and wonder about what happened to Bishop. Was he ill? Did he get bumped into by Vermette, causing or aggravating an injury? Given that he looked OK in his brief return, I'm not overly worried. Bishop's tough and nails and I'd expect him to be in net in Chicago. If the Lightning were to lose him, though, it might be a bridge too far for the Lightning to cross. Vasilevskiy's a blue chipper, but to ask him to come in cold against Chicago and win three games in this series is an unrealistic thing to ask, and Bishop's ability to help his team as a puck handler and distributor would be a tremendous loss for the team, too.
Assuming Bishop's alright, the Lightning did a lot in the first two games of this series to prove they absolutely belong in this moment, and they could easily be up 2-0 in this series right now after holding a lead in the Third Period in each game. The really intriguing thing we've seen is the Lightning's checking line has been good enough against the Toews/Kane line to hold them down a bit and even force those two to be split up tonight. I don't think anyone in the universe, including yours truly (and I adore Dump Truck), would've thought Paquette and his band mates could make a meal of a matchup with the Toews line, but he and his group have played two of the best games of their lives against a couple of future HOF'er to start the Stanley Cup Final. Because of that, I think the Lightning have shown that at 5-on-5 they're absolutely the equal of Chicago in terms of speed, skill, and athleticism. Now, heading to Chicago, with Quenneville holding the last change, Cooper and Bowness are going to need to prove they're equal to the challenge tactically, as well. If they can be, meaning they'll have to figure out how to protect the likes of Sustr and Carle, then the Lightning should have a good chance to get at least one win out of the Second City, which is the bare minimum of what they'll need to do to stay on track to win it all.
Goaltending finally gives out.
Eastern Conference Semifinals
Tampa Bay Leads the Series 3-1
Ben Bishop allowed 3 goals on 14 shots for the loss before giving way to Andrei Vasilevskiy, who allowed 3 on 26 shots the rest of the way. Bishop allowed 1 soft goal off his glove (again), which ended up being the GWG. It was wise to get him out and get a rest at that point with the team down 3-0. You're going to have 1-2 stinkers even in a successful playoff season, and the silver lining in those games is you get to give your workhorse goaltender a breather. Vasilevskiy showed significant signs of rust by allowing a softie on his 2nd goal allowed and giving out a bad rebound that led to his 3rd goal allowed. He got better as the game went along, but there's certainly no goaltending controversy in Tampa Bay after that showing.
2:44 MTL Markov (1), (Subban, Pacioretty)
8:43 MTL Pacioretty (4), (Gilbert)(SH)
5:08 MTL Desharnais (1), (Weise, Galchenyuk)
9:39 MTL Petry (2), (Galchenyuk, Subban)(PP)
9:54 MTL Gallagher (3), (Pacioretty, Plekanec)
12:26 TB Kucherov (4), (Palat, Stralman)(PP)
0:17 TB Palat (2), (Johnson, Stamkos)(PP)
4:52 MTL Prust (1), (Eller, Parenteau)
There's a lot of blustering and posturing by Subban and the Habs that's going to get replayed on a loop by the media to try to drum up interest in a 3-1 series. Don't take the bait and panic. The Lightning didn't play well the past 2 nights, but you have to take the magnitude of tonight's 6-2 loss with a little grain of salt given that 3 of the last 4 goals allowed were purely on the netminders. The negatives didn't so much come from effort, for me, but the mental lapses in positioning that led to the first 2 goals. When Bishop allowed the softie, that put the team down 3-0 and that was all she wrote. So, those mental lapses are correctable and you have to proceed under the assumption Bishop isn't going to wet the bet like that twice in a row. He hasn't all season long. You try to take the handful of silver linings out of this game that you can, too. Bishop got some much needed rest after carrying the team on his back for much of the first 10 games of the playoffs. The power play went 2-for-3 and is starting to look respectable in this series. Drouin got some much needed seasoning in garbage time. So, there's some glass half full things to look at.
Have the Lightning elected the easy road for closing out this series? No. This thing may get a little hairy now considering Montreal's going to be a crazy barn on Saturday. But, it was crazy the first two games of the series, too. If they're feeling apprehension, they shouldn't, because they've been through this gauntlet before. They just need to concentrate on getting the first goal, tightening up the positioning lapses, and hope that Bishop shakes off tonight's performance with the same ease he usually shakes off his stinkers. If they do, they'll be ok. Calm needs to be the word of the hour, for sure.
The needle hits E in Toronto.
Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 3 goals on 28 shots for the loss. He wasn't the reason the team lost, but one or two semi-soft goals definitely made the sledding a lot more comfortable for Toronto. In a game like this, the Lightning really needed Andrei to be flawless.
8:53 TOR Kadri (17), (Lindstrom, Brennan)(PP)
12:03 TOR Booth (7), (unassisted)
18:04 TB Callahan (23), (Palat, Kucherov)(PP)
0:24 TOR Rielly (8), (Kadri, Gardiner)
Shots were 41-28 Lightning, so I'm not going to say the Lightning were somehow dogging it or that they had a let down in a trap game. I just think they almost emptied out the tank against Montreal, so they simply couldn't muster the same intensity level and didn't have the extra gear against Toronto. Not with all the injuries they are trying to work through, anyway. And, the Leafs got a great performance from Reimer, which compounded things.
I hate to see the Lightning's division title hopes in peril like this, on the one hand. On the other, I don't want to see this team dead dragging tired going into the opening round of the playoffs, either. It's a boon to be able to get Bishop some rest like he did tonight, and it might also be a silver lining if circumstances allow them to take their foot off the gas the last couple of games of the year and give guys like Palat and Paquette a little more time off to get right for the postseason, on top of all the guys who are already on the shelf.
Slater Koekkoek was -1 with 2 shots in 15:31. Didn't look horribly out of place, and the old Joe Reekie number looks good on him. Thought he showed as advertised. I feel like he'll challenge for a roster spot in the Fall, and his progress will be very important for the success of the team next year. You figure he'll either make the squad or be the first call up from Syracuse if he doesn't make it.
Luke Witkowski had 2 shots, 6 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 16:50. 3 giveaways is a little bit of an ugly number, but all in all he handled the extra workload reasonably well.
Nikita Nesterov was -1 with 5 shots and 2 hits in 22:11. The minutes don't lie. He's the guy the coaching staff turned to in order to fill the gap, and I suspect they're not at all displeased.
Vladislav Namestnikov had 1 shot and 1 hit in 15:12 and was 56% on draws. He's 2 games from graduation from prospect status on the site.