Crunchning Death Star wins North Division crown on final night of regular season.
Kristers Gudlevskis allowed 2 goals on 25 shots for the victory.
5:24 SYR Ikonen (6), (Racine, Froese)
5:34 SYR Howden (3), (Vermin, Brodeur)
3:31 SYR Kurtz (5), (Ikonen, Richard)
4:07 UTI Goldobin (18), (Robak)
10:04 SYR Vermin (13), (Froese, Blujus)(PP)
18:46 UTI Goldobin (19), (Virtanen, Sautner)
17:28 SYR Erne (14), (Froese, Richard)(EN)
Gudlevskis, Henri Ikonen, and Joel Vermin were the game's three stars. Scary thing is, this wasn't the full Crunchning Death Star lineup with Gourde and Conacher out, and they still rolled a Utica club that was desperate to make it into the postseason.
Things get interesting now. I don't entirely know what to make of this team because it's a brand new, incredibly deep roster, that's only been together the final 4 or so games of the regular season. The North Division was obviously the weak stepsister of the Eastern Conference, so on the face of it the division title isn't super-impressive when you hold the Crunch up against clubs like Pens, Phantoms, Bears, and Bruins. BUT, the Crunch team that played the bulk of those games was often playing defensemen at forward or short of players because of injuries up top. The Crunchning Death Star absolutely has the depth and quality to compete with those teams, but they'll need to develop chemistry on the fly in the postseason in order to do so.
Box score from TheAHL.com.
Vampire Lightning see their season sputter to its end in Boston.
Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 3 goals on 37 shots for the loss. He might want the last one back, but for the most part Vasilevskiy was very good tonight and simply didn't get an ounce of goal support. It's happened to Vasiy too often this year and hopefully next season that trend will change, because he's played really well since Bishop was traded and will be one of the team's best players for several years to come.
5:56 BOS Stafford (7), (Krejci, McQuaid)
16:06 BOS Pastrnak (33), (Nash, Miller)
9:12 BOS Chara (10), (Krug, Backes)(PP)
18:58 BOS Pastrnak (34), (Krejci)(EN)
I think the spirit was willing for the Lightning tonight, but they just didn't have much more than fumes left in the tank after a month of maintaining a fairly blistering pace to give themselves the chance to play meaningful games in April. They had a very good push to open the game, but lost steam after the first 5-10 minutes. They should've gotten a lift after Brad Marchand was kicked out and given a major penalty for cup checking young Dotchin, but there was too much (possibly fatigue-induced) complacency on the resulting power play, and after failing to score with the man advantage Boston surged and pretty much blew the Lightning off the ice. The big, obvious lesson is that games in October, November, and December matter as much as the ones in March and April in the points column. The Lightning simply dug too deep a hole to realistically climb out of. Were injuries a factor? Sure. But complacency early in the season was a big factor, too.
It's a painful lesson, but one I think the Lightning will take to heart. I'm actually not as upset with this season given some of the seeds I saw planted in this stretch run. I look at this team and I see some echoes of the '01-'02 team's performance as they learned how to compete and win in the month of March. The two teams obviously aren't perfect mirrors, as this Lightning team is far more established as a legitimate NHL team, but there are still some important parallels you can take away. Specifically, I'm very heartened by the experience guys like Vasiy, Point, Dotchin, and Drouin gained playing key roles in this run, and how Kucherov started to assert himself as the main man since late February and Palat started to get his Palat-ness back. That's not to say there won't be roster changes. There are certainly passengers on this team (Killorn, Brown, and Sustr come to mind), some of which suffer from lack of athleticism/talent while some suffer from stagnation/complacency. And there are others who simply aren't NHL players who have been forced into the lineup due to injuries (Dumont, Vermin, and McKegg come to mind). But you could see a core reforming that will be supplemented when Stamkos and others return and get healthy. It obviously remains to be proved, but I really think the Lightning will be better for this bump in the road knowing there's also a ton of fresh talent headed to Syracuse next season like Stephens, Cirelli, and Joseph who bring a lot of character and energy to the pro ranks. After two seasons where the organization played more games than any other in the league, this might just be a quick, deep breath for the team before it presses on again in its pursuit of a Cup next year.
Luke Witkowski had 2 penalty minutes, 3 shots, 8 hits, and 2 blocked shots in 10:16. As one of the fresher guys in the lineup, he was one of the most effective. I'm kind of in a tough spot in my appraisal of Witkowski. I like his character, but I don't see an NHL future for him on defense because he's just too stiff on his pivots and I'm not entirely sure he's versatile enough to be a new age Ben Clymer and move to forward full time, either.
Gregg McKegg had 1 shot and 2 hits in 9:27 and was 50% on 8 draws. He's good on draws, but I don't see much else there. His skating and hockey sense are subpar for the NHL level.
Jake Dotchin had 1 shot and 3 hits in 20:09, but unfortunately may be a gelding after getting speared in the groin by Brad Marchand. It's a dirty play I hope Dotchin gets to avenge next season. Dotchin's been the biggest surprise of the year, no doubt. Had Dylan Blujus stayed healthy, I doubt Dotchin would've even gotten this opportunity. Now that he has, though, he looks like you can definitely pencil him onto the NHL roster for next year. His skating has been adequate and he's showed surprising hockey sense to go with the assets we knew he had. He's strong as an ox, physical, and has a booming shot. I just hope he doesn't turn back into a pumpkin in training camp next year.
Yanni Gourde was -1 with 2 penalty minutes, 2 shots, and 1 hit in 17:45. He also got killed in the faceoff circles going 21% on 14 draws. I think Yanni Gourde will be an NHL player next year, but probably not with Tampa Bay as he's an unrestricted free agent. I won't go so far as to say he'll be a 30 goal scorer like Marchessault has been since leaving Tampa Bay, but he's a guy who can help a team that's looking to get better.
Adam Erne was -1 and had 1 shot and 2 hits in 9:04. With Brian Boyle out the door, I think Erne may stick next season because the team will need some size up front. He's a tantalizing mix of strength, deceptive speed, and skill just waiting to come together.
Joel Vermin had 1 shot in 10:16. Enjoy the NLA next season, Joel.
Even with Kucherov out ill, the Lightning keep their playoff hopes healthy.
Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 3 goals on 34 shots for the victory.
4:22 DET Nielsen (15), (Helm)
18:58 TB Brown (3), (Dumont)
2:22 TB Sustr (3), (Palat)
12:46 DET DeKeyser (4) (Tatar, Zetterberg)
16:13 TB Killorn (18), (unassisted)(PP)
18:04 TB Drouin (21), (Hedman, Point)(PP)
6:03 TB Gourde (3), (Palat, Sustr)
8:18 DET Green (13), (Nielsen, Larkin)(PP)
With Nikita Kucherov out of the lineup sick, the Lightning cobbled an important victory out of duct tape, bailing wire, spit, and guile.
Luke Witkowski was +1 with 5 penalty minutes, 1 shot, 2 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 10:28.
Gregg McKegg was +1 with 2 penalty minutes, 1 shot, and 1 hit. He was also 57% on 7 draws.
Jake Dotchin was -1 with 2 penalty minutes, 2 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 17:22.
Gabriel Dumont had a helper and was +1 with 1 shot, 3 hits, and 1 blocked shot. He was also 73% on 11 draws.
Yanni Gourde had a goal and was -1 with 3 shots and 1 hit in 22:44. He was also 25% on 8 draws. Yanni Gourde with 22:44 of ice time in a must-win game down the stretch of the regular season. We live in interesting times.
Adam Erne was -1 with 1 shot, 1 hit, and 2 blocked shots in 10:12.
Joel Vermin had 1 shot in 9:16.
Vampire Lightning again rise from the dead to keep their season alive.
Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 4 goals on 29 goals for the win. He was actually pulled toward the end of the opening frame for Petr Budaj, who stopped the 3 shots he faced, but Cooper re-inserted Vasilevskiy and eventually got the payoff in the form of two key breakaway saves including the save of the game denying Kane on a breakaway move that he scores on 99 out of 100 goaltenders on the planet. Not Vasilarceniy tonight, however.
1:23 CHI Panarin (25), (Kero)
9:29 TB Palat (16), (Hedman, Kucherov)(PP)
10:17 CHI Kane (34), (Hjalmarsson, Keith)
13:41 CHI Jurco (1), (Schmaltz)
8:47 CHI Panik (21), (VanRiemsdyk, Schmaltz)
11:45 TB Drouin (19), (Killorn, Stralman)
12:47 TB Stralman (4), (McKegg, Palat)
16:24 TB Drouin (20), (Hedman, Kucherov)(PP)
4:25 TB Gourde (2), (Hedman)
My God. What did we just witness? Every once in a while something happens in sports that you think can't happen, but by shear force of will a player or a team makes it happen. When Richard Panik put the Lightning down 4-1 around the middle of the Second Period of this game, the Lightning season looked completely dead and over. It's not just that the Lightning had fallen behind an opponent by three goals with about half the game to make up the deficit, but it was against the Chicago Blackhawks. It was against a defensive corps we all watched strangle this Lightning team to death in the Stanley Cup Final just a couple of years ago. There should have been no way they would surrender a 3 goal lead, and especially so to a Tampa Bay club that looked sloppy and disorganized for most of the first 30 minutes and couldn't get out of its own way.
I give a lot of credit to Jon Cooper and, more importantly, to the character of this team. They could've flat given up right there and I might not have blamed them. Instead, the team resolved to turn the remaining ~35 minutes of hockey in this game into a breathtaking demonstration of the brand of Lightning hockey we've rarely seen this season but know these players are capable. Speed? Yes. Skill? Yes. But, more importantly, a suffocating dedication to puck pursuit and denying the opposition time, space, and passing lanes. The Lightning started to crawl all over the Blackhawks like a troop of extremely pissed off fire ants in all three zones and eventually made the breaks they needed to get 2 points that looked impossible just an hour and a half or so ago. That forecheck tonight, in particular... my goodness. When they forecheck like that there's not a team on earth that can stand up to the pressure.
The Lightning move to just 1 point behind Boston for the final Wild Card spot, and they've got another game against Jack Edwards and The Spoked Satan left on the schedule. The dream of a Lightning playoff berth refuses to die.
Luke Witkowski had 4 penalty minutes, 4 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 11:56. He had a hit on Hossa tonight that you rarely see do that much damage against a guy as sturdy on his skates as Hossa is.
Gregg McKegg had a helper and was +1 with 1 shot and 2 hits in 10:20. A comeback like this rarely comes without some secondary scoring help from the lower lines, and McKegg supplied the key play around the net that led to Stralman's goal.
Jake Dotchin was -1 with 5 shots and 3 hits in 20:40.
Gabriel Dumont was +1 with 1 shot, 3 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 11:41.
Gourde, the man of the hour, had the OT GWG shooting forehand on a breakaway. He also had 1 shot in his 16:30 of ice time and was 27% on 15 draws.
Adam Erne was -1 with 2 shots, 1 hit, and 1 blocked shot in 11:19.
Joel Vermin was -1 with 2 hits in 11:15. Even without gaudy stat lines, I can't underscore enough how important the minutes and work Dumont, Erne, and Vermin put in tonight. They were active, tenacious, and they didn't let up on Chicago as the Lightning comeback continued to sweep over Chicago. You would think a team like Chicago's depth would be able to take advantage of some of these Lightning callups, and it was the other way around tonight. Guys like Erne were looking to take their lunch money.
Vampire-like Lightning again refuse to die.
Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 1 goal on 30 shots for the victory. After a couple of rough nights, the young man returned to solid form.
8:03 DET Zetterberg (16), (Nyquist, Nielsen)
5:53 TB Palat (15), (Coburn, Kucherov)
3:28 TB Kucherov (38), (Point)
Nikita Kucherov were the game's first and third stars.
Fighting fatigue and a pretty strong goaltending performance by Mrazek, the Lightning again declined an invitation to fold their cards and fought back to earn another critical 2 points. They pulled within 1 point of the Isles for the second Wild Card spot with the win with the Isles holding a game in hand. Hope still lives in a Lightning jersey, despite injuries and selling off at the deadline, it still lives.
Eight games to go: is it Stammer time? When will we see Tyler Johnson again? And, are any of these hole cards enough to push the Lightning, improbably, over the top and into the postseason?
Luke Witkowski had 1 shot and 1 hit in 10:05.
Gregg McKegg had 5 penalty minutes and 1 hit in a very slim 3:28. Got his butt unceremoniously kicked by Mantha.
Jake Dotchin was +1 with 2 penalty minutes, 3 shots, and 3 hits in 19:58.
Gabriel Dumont had 2 shots and 3 hits in 7:15. He was also 17% on 6 draws.
Yanni Gourde had 2 penalty minutes, 1 shot, and 1 hit and was 50% on 12 draws in 16:51.
Adam Erne had 7 penalty minutes, 1 shot, and 3 hits in 8:15. He probably lost his fight with Athanasiou on points, but honestly if he had connected just once on what he was throwing he might've killed Athanasiou. I wouldn't want Erne or Dotchin mad at me.
Joel Vermin had 2 penalty minutes in 9:28.
Hope springs up in an unexpected place.
Petr Budaj allowed 3 goals on 31 shots for the victory. Not his best effort losing his net on Boston's third goal, but in all he allowed the Lightning to keep contact during the game and shut the door once they finally got the lead.
1:33 BOS Pastrnak (32), (Bergeron, Spooner)(PP)
2:17 TB Point (13), (Palat, Dotchin)
7:50 BOS Chara (8), (Nash, Moore)(SH)
8:14 TB Kucherov (35), (Drouin, Hedman)(PP)
13:18 BOS Nash (5), (Moore, Miller)
14:53 TB Stralman (3), (Palat, Point)
4:12 TB Drouin (18), (Killorn, Dotchin)
10:11 TB Kucherov (36), (Hedman, Drouin)(PP)
18:03 TB Kucherov (37), (Palat)(EN)
Nikita Kucherov and Jonathan Drouin were the game's first and second stars. Kucherov's hat trick puts him 3 shy of the 40 goal plateau for the first time in his career and back within distant shouting distance of the league lead. Drouin's GWG, which was one through Rask that probably should've been stopped, puts him 2 shy of the 20 goal plateau for the first time in his career.
Three times in this game the Lightning were offered the opportunity to give up on their season. Three times they showed resiliency immediately. It may not matter much in the end equation, but Jon Cooper can rest a little better at night knowing his team has a lot of character and refuses to give up. And, at the very least, the Lightning dealt a blow to Boston's playoff hopes tonight, which is good for the soul.
Luke Witkowski had 1 shot and 2 hits in 9:11.
Jake Dotchin had 2 helpers and was +2 with 1 shot and 2 hits in 17:26. Played a really strong two-way game, and I'm thinking we may have learned that although Jake can play more minutes, this is more his sweet spot.
Gabriel Dumont had 4 penalty minutes and 2 hits in 10:31. He was also 58% on 26 draws.
Yanni Gourde was -1 with 2 shots and he was 29% on 14 draws in 12:22.
Adam Erne was -1 with 2 shots, 5 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 9:45.
Joel Vermin was -1 in 9:17.
The lights (probably) go out on the Lightning's season.
Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 4 goals on 34 shots for the loss.
4:56 ARI Fischer (3), (Crouse, Jooris)
9:45 TB Hedman (15), (Kucherov)
10:06 ARI Dvorak (12), (Domi, Murphy)
11:50 TB Kucherov (34), (Palat)
18:08 TB Namestnikov (10), (Drouin)
4:45 ARI Ekman-Larsson (12), (Domi, Duclair)
6:39 ARI Vrbata (18), (Goligoski, Ekman-Larsson)
18:24 ARI Murphy (2), (unassisted)(SH)(EN)
Nikita Kucherov was the game's third star.
Full disclosure: the power went off at my house about 15 minutes through the Second Period and didn't come back until late last night. So, the lights went out at my house shortly before they probably went out on the Lightning. Maybe I should be thankful I didn't have to witness that Third Period slide into the abyss. In a way, it's fitting. I declared the Lightning season more or less dead when the team got blown out in Arizona with one of the more feckless efforts of the season. At that point, the math simply didn't work out for a happy ending for the Lightning, and while they did an amazing job to play themselves back into the conversation for a playoff spot the fact is there's been far too many nights like this one where the team didn't mind its details against opponents of all stripes and got lit up on the scoreboard. And, it's because of that the team is (probably) heading for early tee times this offseason and a lot of reflection on what might have been.
Luke Witkowski had 2 penalty minutes, 2 shots, and 1 hit in 8:53.
Jake Dotchin was +1 with 4 penalty minutes, 4 shots, 1 hit, and 2 blocked shots in 20:17.
Gabriel Dumont had 1 shot and 1 hit in 8:32. He was also 80% on 10 draws.
Yanni Gourde had 2 shots, 1 hit, and 1 blocked shot in 16:12. He too was 80% on 10 draws.
Adam Erne had 1 shot and 3 hits in 13:50.
Joel Vermin had 2 shots in 11:57.
Crunch score a pair of goals in the final 1:11 to steal victory from the jaws of defeat.
Kristers Gudlevskis allowed 4 goals on 23 shots. Blew a Third Period lead giving up 2 goals. Got the goal support with 2 goals thereafter to get it back. Clean living.
11:05 RCH Austin (2), (Nelson, Kennedy)
19:11 SYR Peca (7), (Comrie, Taormina)(PP)
6:44 RCH Schneider (19), (O'Reilly, Fedun)(PP)
7:11 SYR Vermin (12), (Ward)
17:16 SYR Lynch (2), (Halmo, Vermin)
1:27 RCH Fasching (5), (Burgdoerfer, Grant)
12:49 RCH Fasching (6), (Mullen, Grant)
18:49 SYR Erne (14), (Peca, Comrie)(PP)
19:54 SYR Gourde (19), (Condra, Peca)
Adam Erne got the late equalizer on the power play. Since returning from injury he has a stylish 6 goals and 9 points in 7 games.
Syracuse is tied atop the North Division with Albany at 64 points with 2 games in hand on the Devils. Toronto lurks 2 points back with the Crunch holding a single game in hand on the Marlies.
Box score from TheAHL.com.
Crunch finds the antidote to rid themselves of UTI.
Kristers Gudlevskis put on a show, turning aside 39 of 41 shots for the win, therby helping Syracuse overcome a 41-17 shot deficit.
6:54 SYR Erne (11), (Brodeur, Koekkoek)
5:52 SYR Gourde (18), (Conacher)(SH)
10:12 UTI Rendulic (5), (Kunyk, Grenier)(PP)
13:25 SYR Vermin (11), (Peca)
13:52 UTI Pedan (3), (Archibald)
Gudlevskis and Joel Vermin were the game's first and second stars.
Adam Erne now has goals in each of his two games since returning from injury. You can't help but wonder if his cup of coffee with the Lightning gave him an extra jolt of confidence that's showing up in his play. He's a first round caliber talent if he puts it all together.
Syracuse moves 1 point up on Albany for the top spot in the North Division with the win.
Box score from TheAHL.com.
Late mistake costs Crunch.
Adam Wilcox allowed 3 goals on 22 shots for the loss.
13:06 BNG Bailey (12), (Harpur, McCormick)
4:07 BNG Englund (2), (Varone, Akeson)
17:22 SYR Vermin (10), (Conacher, Gourde)
9:03 SYR Morin (9), (unassisted)(PS)
19:06 BNG McCormick (13), (Flanagan)(SH)
Joel Vermin was the game's second star.
The stunning late loss stings with the Crunch 1 point behind Albany for the top spot in the North Division.
Box score from TheAHL.com.