NHL Playoff Game Day 4/22: Devils at Lightning

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.

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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.

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Absolutely frustrating

Having to watch the game with Devils fans made it even more infuriating.

Pretty much agree with all of your thoughts. If Jay wants to stick with Holmer and Ramo as the goalie tandem next year, I can't say id be unhappy. I hope the local fishwraps that tried their best to crucify Johan after the miserable first game actually give the guy some credit for how far he came in the series. That third goal allowed today was horrifying (and when it went in I just had that sick feeling the game would be decided on it) but it was hardly his fault alone. I'm sure we'll hear all kinds of crazy rumors about how the Bolts will be in the running for Giguere, but im not holding my breath at all, especially if he wants Luongo coin.

Hearing Doc Emrick call out Karlsson's name on the second line and power play just made my stomach turn. If Fedotenko is even on the roster next season, I hope he can find some way to rebound from such a terribly disappointing campaign. Also, I seriously hope Jason Ward realizes how good he can have it here and that the Lightning get him back in the fold. I'll admit I kinda shrugged indifferently when that move was first announced, but he played much better than a lot of people expected. If R2 returns with a clean slate, all the better.

I expect to hear all the angry voices cry out for massive changes and rolled heads, but im excited for the future. Looking at how dominant St. Louis and Lecavalier were this year (not to mention how much of a complete player Vinny has become) as well as the continued brilliance of Richards and Boyle and the flashes shown by Shane O'Brien, Holmer and Ranger, I don't see how you can't be optimistic. Jay Feaster has his work cut out for him this summer but soon enough the ISF will be buzzing and I expect the guys to be ready to take back the division from the Chickens.

A bitter pill to swallow now, yes. Even more frustrating when thinking about the shootout loss which could have given them the Chickens instead of the Devils. Still, im excited to be a Lightning fan and im damn proud of them.

Looking forward to another offseason of excellent coverage here.

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