Sunday night marked the end of the Norfolk Admirals' affiliation with the Chicago Blackhawks as the Ads lost Game Six of their opening round playoff series to Wilkes-Barrie Scranton 3-2. The first round draw seems almost unfair given both teams finished the regular season with a hefty 108 points in the standings. The Blackhawks are set to open a new affiliation in Rockford, Illinois while the Lightning will make Norfolk their new minor league home.
Lightning prospect Vasily Koshechkin got the start for tournament-host Russia yesterday against Denmark in Russia's first game of the 2007 IIHF World Championship. Koshechkin stopped 24 of 25 shots for the win, a rather easy 9-1 decision. Among the scorers for Russia were NHL stars Evgeni Malkin, Alexander Ovechkin, and Alexander Frolov. Russia leads Group D at 1-0. Alexander Eremenko, who plays for Ak Bars Kazan in the RSL, served as Koshechkin's backup.
Prince George 1 @ Vancouver 5
Vancouver wins best-of-7 series 4-1
The junior career of Lightning first round draft pick Vladimir Mihalik is over. The Vancouver Giants soundly defeated Mihalik and the Prince George Cougars Friday night to win their best-of-7 WHL Western Conference Finals series 4-1. The Cougars only managed 10 shots for the game to the Giants' 46. Vancouver will now meet Medicine Hat in the finals. Mihalik finished the playoffs with one goal and two assists for three points in 15 games. He had 17 PIM and a minus-3 rating. Mihalik, who is already signed, will see his next action in the summer prospect camp and tournament for the Lightning. He also vaults to the leading group of signed defensemen prospects for Tampa Bay that will be fighting for a spot with the Lightning next season.
Mihalik was the last Lightning prospect remaining in the Canadian Hockey League playoffs.
On a WDAE radio call-in show yesterday, Lightning GM Jay Feaster tipped his hat regarding some of his thinking going into next season's roster planning and payroll. Perhaps Feaster is using different mathematical techniques than me, but I can't seem to get his roster plan to add up with the payroll budget he says he's working with. And no one seems to be calling him out on it. So, I guess I'll take a shot...
Vancouver 2 @ Prince George 3 (overtime)
Vancouver leads best-of-7 series 3-1
The Prince George Cougars got an overtime goal by Devin Setoguchi to beat Vancouver 3-2 at home and extend their season by at least one more game. Game 5 will be back in Vancouver Friday night. Vladimir Mihalik was scoreless with an even rating for the Cougars, though according to both the Vancouver and Prince George papers, he had a night to forget. The Giants scored their second and game-tying goal after Mihalik turned the puck over in front of his own net. In overtime, he turned the wrong way during a Giant's rush and was beaten badly for a scoring chance that Cougars goaltender Scott Bowles came up big on. On the ensuing faceoff, Mihalik gained the puck and turned it over for another scoring chance. Just one of those nights.
In a recent interview with his hometown newspaper in Burnsville, Minnesota, Lightning prospect and graduating University of Maine defenseman Mike Lundin states he is currently in contract talks with the Lightning. Lundin played in three Frozen Fours with Maine and had 19 points in 37 games this year with the Black Bears.
"Iâ€™ve been in touch with them a lot throughout the year, and now that the year is over, there has been some contract talk," Lundin told thisweek-online. "From what Iâ€™ve heard this can be a long process, so Iâ€™m just going to have to stay patient throughout the summer and hopefully I will be with the Tampa Bay organization next year."
Vancouver 4 @ Prince George 1
Vancouver leads best-of-7 series 3-0
The Vancouver Giants put the Prince George Cougars on the brink of elimination last night with a decisive 4-1 win. Prince George had cut the lead to 2-1 in the early third period, but Vancouver responded with two even strength goals. Lightning prospect Vladimir Mihalik was scoreless and minus-1 for the Cougars.
The Johnstown Chiefs announced today that Tampa Bay Lightning will no longer be involved in managing the hockey operations of the Chiefs. As part of the restructuring of the Chiefs, VP of Hockey Operations Ryan Belec, Head Coach Frank Anzalone, Trainer Rodney Bogart and Equipment Manager Casey Taylor will not be returning to Johnstown. All four are employees of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
As part of the continuing affiliaton between Tampa and Johnstown, the Chief may have Tampa prospects playing there next season. The search for a new head coach, trainer, and equipment manager begins immediately.
Hidden at the end of Damian Cristodero's report in today's St. Pete Times about the departure of Lightning winger Ruslan Fedotenko was the following news brief:
The Lightning has offered bruising forward Evgeny Artyukhin, who played this season in Russia, a $475,000 one-way contract.
Artyukhin's ice time this year in Russia was inconsistent and the hulking winger managed only 5 goals and 8 assists for 13 points in 44 games with Yaroslavl. He also had 183 penalty minutes. Artyukhin upset Lightning coach John Tortorella and general manager Jay Feaster when he turned down both a one and two-year deal last summer in favor of returning to Russia to enhance his stock. The relationships have apparently been mended, helped in part by the Lightning's need for physicality on their bottom lines.
This is a tough pill to swallow. For the first time in franchise history the team has lost a series where I really believed they were the better team.
Johan Holmqvist allowed 3 goals on 26 shots in the loss. He did allow a bit of a softie on the short side for Jersey's first goal, but he was good. After his horrible Game One performance, I think Johan did a lot to regain the confidence of the franchise going into an offseason where decisions need to be made concerning the netminder's job. Brad Richards had both Lightning goals on the power play. Filip Kuba had a pair of assists in the game to atone for accidentally knocking over Holmqvist after a Tim Taylor turnover that resulted in the game winning goal. Vaclav Prospal and Vincent Lecavalier also had assists.
Going into the offseason, I feel a lot better about the team's blueline than I did 3-4 months ago. Dan Boyle is one of the best defensemen in the league and Filip Kuba earned every penny of his free agent deal from this summer. I was impressed with how Shane O'Brien quickly factored into the mix and Paul Ranger will be approaching 250-300 pro games by the end of next season so he should start to really hit his comfort zone as a player. It will be difficult if not impossible to retain Cory Sarich and the team might do well to find a younger, more mobile replacement for Nolan Pratt. Now is the time for one of the Lightning's young defensive prospects like Matt Smaby or Vladimir Mihalik or Mike Egener to step up as a player.
In net, Holmqvist probably did enough in the playoffs to earn the starting job going into next season. Marc Denis' nearly $3M per year contract is unsustainable from a budget standpoint and he may be traded or even bought out before next season. That leaves young Karri Ramo in the Lightning's backup role and, mark my words, he could be a Calder contender next season.
I think the most amount of work for this team needs to be done up front this summer. Lecavalier, Richards and St. Louis showed why they're paid premium dollars in this playoff series. The core is sound. The supporting cast, however, is horrible. There was no greater endictment of the Lightning's lack of offensive depth than the fact Andreas Karlsson spent all of today's game playing on the Lightning's second line and second power play unit. What do you do if you're the Lightning? That's got to be the biggest question of this offseason. They have some decent fourth line type pieces (Andre Roy, Nick Tarnasky, Evgeny Artyukhin) and some decent third line type pieces (Ryan Craig, Eric Perrin, Jason Ward should they retain him). The question is whether they can find a couple of more forwards with the skill to play on the scoring lines and possibly a natural third line center.
It's going to be an interesting offseason. If I was a young forward who hasn't fully established himself as a scorer in the league, I'd take a long hard look at Tampa. I have a feeling Lecavalier and Richards could make some young man a lot of money if they latch on here.
Game sheet from NHL.com.