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The BP Mailbag

The #BPMailbag returns as a text edition this week, right in the thick of the playoffs.

Let’s get started…

@trfernandezNHL:
@BoltProspects why did #tblightning take Brian Hart instead of [ghost][bear]?

Let the record show this is the first #BPMailbag question asked with emojis. The Lightning took Brian Hart with their second 2012 second-round pick (the team’s fourth pick), at 53 overall. Hart was a 6-3 center coming off a 32-goal, 68-point season in just 29 games for Phillips Exeter Academy. He was a big athlete (soccer star) with good hands and high-end production.

They had already taken defensemen Slater Koekkoek (lefty) at 10 and Dylan Blujus (righty) at 40, with goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy at 19. It made sense to go with a forward there, and with their fourth pick, they could swing for the fences. The draft is a crapshoot as it is, but high schoolers are the wild cards of wild cards. You just don’t know if they’re going to be a star or if their numbers are just inflated due to competition. It made sense to swing for the fences there. Gostisbehere (lefty) went at 78, so the Lightning technically took Tanner Richard before him, too (and Philly took two others before him).

The Bolt Prospects Podcast, Volume 63

This week’s “Tyler Johnson Edition” of the Bolt Prospects Podcast (also available on Lightning Power Play, Lightning Radio's iHeart station) includes the following topics:

· The No. 63
· Tampa Bay’s Johnson
· Drouin 2.0: validation or relief?
· What’s working for TB?
· Reasons to chew your fingernails
· Black Aces review and analysis
· Interview with Jeff Tambellini

Note: Latest edition of the #BPMailbag will be a text edition, posted Thursday afternoon.

Crunch Wrap-Up: Syracuse's 'Desperate Hockey' Came Too Late


By Jeremy Houghtaling

The Syracuse Crunch resorted to desperate hockey late in the season.

Despite a promising start, midseason injuries and call-ups left the lineup scrambling, forcing some players to play out of position and outside of their normal roles. A nine-game slide in January and February made the chances of a playoff berth a longshot, but the Crunch rallied with 18 out of 24 possible standings points in March.

Ultimately, the late season push came too late. The Crunch couldn’t keep the frantic pace and finished fourth place in the North Division with 79 points (32-29-11-4), eight away from a playoff spot.

“I don’t think we played desperate hockey early enough in the season,” Crunch forward Tanner Richard said. “It’s a good lesson for me and every other guy that’s here … You can’t wait until the last 15 or 20 games to make your playoff push. The points at the start of the season are worth the same as the ones at the end of the season, and the ones at the end are harder to get.”

Juniors Playoffs Game Night: 4-19-16

Quebec Major Junior Hockey League

Cape Breton Screaming Eagles 2 @ Saint John Sea Dogs 6
QMJHL Second Round
Saint John wins best-of-7 series, 4-3

W Bokondji Imama, SJ: Did not play (suspended)
Playoff totals: 8 GP, 1-2-3, -2, 23 PIM
Season totals: 47 GP, 7-12-19, -3, 84 PIM

W Mathieu Joseph, SJ: Did not play (injured – out for playoffs)
Playoff totals: 5 GP, 5-2-7, +4, 8 PIM
Season totals: 58 GP, 33-40-73, +35, 57 PIM

Saint John won the franchise’s first Game 7, propelling the Sea Dogs to the third round where they will play Dennis Yan and Shawinigan. Boko Imama should be back by Game 5 if the series gets that far. Rouyn-Noranda plays Moncton in the other semifinal.

NHL Playoff Game Night: 4-19-16 Lightning at Red Wings

Lightning snatch a deserved victory from the jaws of defeat.

Eastern Conference Quarterfinals

TB-3
DET-2

Tampa Bay Leads the Series 3-1

Ben Bishop allowed 2 goals on 28 shots for the victory. Four games into the series he's been the model of consistency, allowing 2 goals in each contest. It makes it easy for the team in front of him: manufacture 3 goals and you're probably going to the pay window.

First Period
5:41 TB Kucherov(4), (Johnson, Drouin)(PP)

Second Period
10:31 TB Kucherov(5), (Drouin, Garrison)(PP)
14:53 DET Helm(1), (Glendening, Smith)
19:50 DET Nyquist(1), Sheahan(1)

Third Period
17:01 TB Palat(1), (Drouin, Kucherov)(PP)

Nikita Kucherov and Jonathan Drouin were the game's first and second stars.

The Lightning responded to their flat Game Three performance with a very strong forechecking effort right out of the gate that continued for most of the first 40 minutes of the game, abbreviated only by the occasional penalty kill. Bottom line: when the Lightning are on the forecheck Detroit has no chance. Their defense can't handle Tampa Bay's speed and they have a tendency to give the puck away pretty easily under duress. The Lightning could've very easily had a 3 or 4 goal lead two thirds of the way through the Second Period when things got unnecessarily sideways.

Detroit got their first goal on a play I don't want to outright label luck, because it required some hand-eye coordination for Glendening to bunt the puck out of mid-air in front of the net, but it certainly was a low percentage play. It wasn't the kind of play where you feel too upset at your defense because the score was borderline an act of puck luck. Still, it put Detroit in position for the smash and grab, which they nearly executed when a bad Garrison turnover along the wall late in the period resulted in an inexcusable goal by Nyquist to tie the game. It was just a soft effort by the entire crew on the ice at a critical moment to gift Detroit the opportunity to knot the series.

Much of the remainder of the Third Period became an exercise of survival for the Lightning, as they got extremely tight and their breakout passing completely betrayed them. Unable to move the puck up ice, Detroit kept possession and faceoffs deep in the Lightning third and developed chances and eventually a key penalty midway in the period where Larkin nearly scored a backhand goal that hit flush off Bishop's horseshoe. As if sensing they had been given a reprieve, the Lightning forecheck bounced back to life for about a 5 minute span, eventually drawing the critical cross checking penalty on Ericsson that let to Palat's game winning goal. And, with that, the Lightning opportunistically put themselves on the brink of advancing quickly out of the opening round.

Three power play goals. Bask in it. And, bask in the chemistry developing between Jonathan Drouin and Nikita Kucherov. Drouin was particularly instrumental in the final two goals as he went across the grain back into the slot for a Kucherov one-timer on the Lightning's second goal and then through the seam to a cutting Palat for the deflection on the winner. For those who have hammered us at Bolt Prospects about our advocacy of Drouin's skill set: now you see what he's capable of.

Visioning exercise: close your eyes and imagine Steven Stamkos drifting to the open spot at the far post with Kucherov and Drouin creating pressure points at the near circle and slot area on that power play. Nice, right?

On a tangential note: how satisfying was it that Justin Abdelkader took the call that put the Wings down early in the First Period? Dare I say, it was finger licking good?

Now, if you're the Lightning, you can't afford to fall asleep for Game Five. Finish this and get some time off and hope the Isles and Panthers kill each other on the other side of the bracket. Save the wear and tear of a couple of games and conserve that energy for bigger moments in this postseason run.

Matt Taormina with 1 shot in 2:39 of ice time. If you blinked you missed him tonight.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

KHL Playoff Game Day: 4-19-16

Koshechkin triumphant in his Bolt Prospects swan song...

KHL Gagarin Cup Final
CSKA 1 vs. Magnitogorsk 3
Magnitogorsk Wings the Gagarin Cup 4-3
Vasily Koshechkin, Magnitogorsk, Win, 36/37, 1.00 GAA, .973 sv%
Playoff totals: 19 GP, 14-5-0, 3 SO, 1.57 GAA, .948 sv%
Regular season totals: 50 GP, 22-15-9, 4 SO, 2.12 GAA, .925 sv%

Ex-Florida Everblades defenseman Chris Lee had 1 goal and 1 assist to help lead Magnitogorsk to a 3-1 Game Seven victory over CSKA in the Gagarin Cup Final. The Cup is Magnitka's second in the past three seasons and first under coach Ilya Vorobyov, who took over from ex-NHL coach Mike Keenan at mid season. Ex-Syracuse Crunch forward Geoff Platt had a helper in defeat for CSKA.

For Bolt Prospects, it's a bitter sweet moment. The Lightning organization gently alerted us at mid-season that the 33 year old Koshechkin is obviously no longer considered a real "prospect" by the organization. However, we made the editorial decision to continue coverage of Koshechkin through the end of the season, which he rewarded with a championship performance. In 19 playoff games, Koshechkin amassed an impressive 14-5-0 record with 3 shutouts, a 1.57 GAA, and a .948 sv%, which even bested his championship-winning playoff performance in the 2013-2014 campaign. Bolt Prospects salutes Koshechkin's career and congratulates him on yet another Gagarin Cup winning season.

Juniors Playoffs Game Night: 4-18-16

United States Hockey League

Dubuque Fighting Saints 3 @ Green Bay Gamblers 2
Eastern Conference Semifinals
Best-of-5 series tied, 1-1

D Ryan Zuhlsdorf, DBQ: 0-1-1, E, 0 PIM, 0 SOG
Playoff totals: 2 GP, 0-1-1, +2, 0 PIM
Season totals: 46 GP, 0-27-27, -2, 59 PIM
(University of Minnesota signee)

Dubuque was down 2-0 late in the second period before they got on the board, then tied the game early in the third. Winger Dallas Gerads (undrafted University of Minnesota-Mankato commit) scored the game-winner in the extra session. Green Bay won Game 1, 3-2. The series now swings to Iowa.

Juniors Playoffs Game Night: 4-17-16

Quebec Major Junior Hockey League

Saint John Sea Dogs 5 @ Cape Breton Screaming Eagles 4
QMJHL Second Round
Best-of-7 series tied, 3-3

W Bokondji Imama, SJ: Did not play (suspended)
Playoff totals: 8 GP, 1-2-3, -2, 23 PIM
Season totals: 47 GP, 7-12-19, -3, 84 PIM

W Mathieu Joseph, SJ: Did not play (injured – out for playoffs)
Playoff totals: 5 GP, 5-2-7, +4, 8 PIM
Season totals: 58 GP, 33-40-73, +35, 57 PIM

Saint John forced the franchise’s first Game 7 with a scratch-and-claw 5-4 Game 6 win. Sens prospect Thomas Chabot had four assists. Game 7 is Tuesday in Saint John.

Charlottetown Islanders 1 @ Shawinigan Cataractes 6
QMJHL Second Round
Shawinigan wins best-of-7 series, 4-2

W Dennis Yan, SHAW: 0-0-0, -1, 0 PIM, 5 SOG, 4 Hits
Playoff totals: 11 GP, 4-4-8, +6, 22 PIM
Season totals: 62 GP, 32-37-69, +8, 86 PIM

Shawinigan is moving on to the third round after defeating the Islanders 6-1 in Game 6. Yan is scoreless in his last two games but was 2-2-4 in the second round.

NHL Playoff Game Night: 4-17-16 Lightning at Red Wings

Lightning never get their legs under them in wasted Game Three opportunity.

Eastern Conference Quarterfinals

TB-0
DET-2

Tampa Bay Leads the Series 2-1

Ben Bishop allowed 2 goals on 30 shots for the loss. He gave his club a chance, but they simply did nothing in front of him offensively for about 95% of the game.

First Period
NO SCORING

Second Period
12:42 DET Athanasiou(1), (Tatar, Andersson)
17:22 DET Zetterberg(1), (unassisted)

Third Period
NO SCORING

16 shots on goal just isn't good enough at any level. Period. The Lightning did an excellent job of weathering any big immediate push by Detroit in the First Period, even killing off a 5-on-3 power play, but the last 40 minutes of hockey were embarrassingly flat hockey by the Lightning. They got into penalty trouble with some stupid/selfish penalties in the Second Period, lost the momentum, and never recovered. Even the meek little push they put in for the Third Period wasn't much because the Wings just packed it in and blocked all of the Lightning's shots coming from the points. Petr Mrazek probably hasn't had a shutout that easy in his entire life, let alone one in an NHL playoff game.

The Lightning did send a message with a big line scrum at the end of the game. Hopefully that injects some life into them for Game Four. They desperately need to get back on the maniacal forecheck they displayed at home in Game One and Game Two. If they do that, Detroit's defense doesn't appear to be mobile enough to handle it. If they don't, this will be a tie series and the Lightning will be in for a long, hard slog.

The only highlight of the night? Watching Justin Abdelkader get exposed as the king-sized coward he is. Locked up with Brian Boyle in the postgame scrum and challenged repeatedly to drop the gloves, Abdelkader proved what we all suspected: he's all chicken and no nuggets. He's a real tough guy when a guy's pinned to the ice with his back to him, but when he had to face down an opponent like a man, he showed he's nothing of the sort.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

AHL Game Night: 4-17-16 Crunch at Phantoms

Crunch go quietly into that good offseason...

SYR-2
LV-5

Adam Wilcox allowed 4 goals on 28 shots for the loss.

First Period
LV Swavely, (3) (Goulbourne, Sanheim), 8:26

Second Period
LV Brent, (10) (Conner, Willcox), 4:00
LV Aube-Kubel, (2) (Lindblom, Bardreau), 12:06
SYR Tambellini, (28) (Peca), 19:36 (SH)

Third Period
LV Sanheim, (1) (Martel, Padakin), 6:43
LV Martel, (22) (Padakin), 19:09 (EN)
SYR Tambellini, (29) (Darcy, Broll), 19:43 (PP)

Jeff Tambellini finished the season just 1 goal shy of a very solid 30 goal campaign.

There were some good signs for the Crunch down the stretch of the campaign, but not enough to say for certain the team has turned the corner. Heading into 2016-2017, they're getting an infusion of more talent, but they'll remained challenged by a lack of top end speed/skill that hasn't been replaced since the Kucherov's and Namestnikov's of the world moseyed their way to Tampa Bay. The Lightning need to get back on their horse identifying more of those speed/skill players via the draft and with undrafted free agents if they want to rebuild the depth in their pipeline and have this Syracuse club playing in the postseason and getting meaningful experience next season.

Box score from AHL.com.

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