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Lightning Sign F Mitchell Stephens to Entry Level Deal

TAMPA BAY – The Tampa Bay Lightning have signed forward Mitchell Stephens to a three-year, entry-level contract, vice president and general manager Steve Yzerman announced today.

Stephens, 19, skated in 39 games with the Saginaw Spirit of the Ontario Hockey League this past season, collecting 20 goals and 38 points to go along with 14 penalty minutes. Stephens missed 29 games during the regular season but still ranked fifth on the Spirit for points and tied for fourth for goals. The Peterborough, Ontario, native also appeared in four games for Saginaw during the 2016 OHL Playoffs, posting two goals and three points.

The 6-foot, 193-pound forward has skated in 158 career OHL games, all with Saginaw over three seasons, recording 51 goals and 107 points. Stephens also suited up for Team Canada at the 2016 IIHF World Jr. Championships this past season, notching a goal and two points in five tournament games.

Stephens was selected by the Lightning in the second round, 33rd overall, at the 2015 NHL Draft.

BP Commentary:

Stephens is a young Callahan in effort and character, but can play both center and wing. He played center all year on Saginaw's top line and put up good numbers when healthy. He broke his foot early in the year and missed several weeks, but returned just in time to make Team Canada and perform well at the WJC's.

Stephens' hands are underrated and he's very poised with the puck. He's an excellent complimentary forward with some skill who will be a favorite of coaches throughout his career. He could have the same impact on the Lightning eventually as Ondrej Palat (or Callahan had with the Rangers earlier in his career).

The second rounder won't turn 20 until February, so while he can join Syracuse now, he has to go back to juniors next fall if he doesn't make the Lightning - which isn't expected. He will probably captain the Spirit next season and may wear a letter for Canada next Christmas.

AHL Game Day: 4-3-16 Crunch at Comets

Syracuse crushes Utica, keeping extremely slim hopes alive.

SYR-7
UTI- 3

Kristers Gudlevskis allowed 3 goals on 28 shots for the victory.

First Period
UTI LaBate, (9) (Hensick, Landry), 9:02 (PP)

Second Period
UTI Bancks, (14) (Hensick, Landry), 5:11
SYR Vermin, (7) (Peca), 7:04 (SH)
SYR Darcy, (4) (Taormina, Dotchin), 9:06
SYR Vermin, (8) (Peca, Taormina), 10:04 (PP)
UTI Friesen, (12) (Grenier, Fedun), 13:50 (PP)

Third Period
SYR Erne, (13) (Walcott, Blujus), 2:01
SYR Ikonen, (3) (Richard, Thomas), 3:39
SYR Tambellini, (25) (Peca), 17:56
SYR Tambellini, (26) (Thomas, McGinn), 19:18

Joel Vermin, Matthew Peca, and Jeff Tambellini were the game's three stars.

It's kind of remarkable that the day Jonathan Drouin sat out due to a lower body injury that the Crunch went and scored 7 goals.

Peca continues his strong late season charge, extending his points streak to 6 games with 1 goal and 10 points in that span. Going back to March 6th, he's got 1 goal and 16 points in a 13 game stretch, including 5 multi-point games. He's definitely throwing his hat in the ring to be the next Conacher/Johnson type in the Lightning organization.

Speaking of multi-point efforts, Ben Thomas had his first as a pro today. He's got 3 helpers in his first 4 pro games. He's been like found money thus far for Syracuse.

Unfortunately, despite the severity of today's whipping of the Comets, it still only counts as 2 points in the standings. That places Syracuse 6 points back of Utica for 3rd in the North Division with the Comets still holding a game in hand. Portland and Bridgeport maintain an 8 point gap on Syracuse in the crossover scenario, so it looks like catching Utica in the final 5 regular season games is the formula for the postseason. The Crunch do have 2 more head-to-head matchups against the Comets, but it's still going to be like threading the needle for the Crunch to make the playoffs.

Box score from TheAHL.com.

USHL Game Night: 4-3-16

United States Hockey League

Omaha Lancers 2 @ Chicago Steel 3

G Kris Oldham, OMA: Did not play
Season totals: 31 GP, 12-15-4, 2.82 GAA, .905 sv%, 1 SO
2014-15 totals: 33 GP, 21-6-4, 2.49 GAA, .908 sv%, 1 SO
(University of Nebraska-Omaha signee)

Zackarias Skog was back in net for Omaha, but the Lancers couldn’t grab a road win. They are sixth in the 8-team Western Conference.

Dubuque Fighting Saints 1 @ Green Bay Gamblers 4

D Ryan Zuhlsdorf, DBQ: 0-0-0, E, 2 PIM
Season totals: 44 GP, 0-27-27, -5, 57 PIM
With Dubuque: 14 GP, 0-4-4, +2, 6 PIM
With Sioux City: 30 GP, 0-23-23, -7, 51 PIM
2014-15 totals: 56 GP, 3-19-22, +25, 58 PIM
(University of Minnesota signee)

Coming off scoring 15 goals in two games, the Saints could only manage one against Jon Cooper’s former club.

Juniors Playoffs Game Night: 4-3-16

Ontario Hockey League

North Bay Battalion 5 @ Peterborough Petes 7
Eastern Conference Quarterfinals
Best-of-7 series tied, 3-3

D Dominik Masin, PBO: 0-0-0, +1, 0 PIM, 4 SOG
Playoff totals: 6 GP, 0-3-3, +2, 12 PIM
Season totals: 57 GP, 8-32-40, +24, 50 PIM

D Matt Spencer, PBO: 0-0-0, -1, 0 PIM, 2 SOG
Playoff totals: 6 GP, 0-1-1, -3, 11 PIM
Season totals: 60 GP, 5-19-24, +1, 46 PIM

The Petes staved off elimination with a 7-5 comeback win Sunday against North Bay. Jonathan Ang (2016) had a goal and three assists to be named first star. The Battalion skated out to a 3-0 lead by the midway point of the second period before Peterborough scored the next five goals. North Bay pulled the game to 6-5 with 37 seconds left in the game, but the only goal scored before the end was a Petes empty-netter. Game 7 is Tuesday in North Bay.

Juniors Game Night: 4-2-16

United States Hockey League

Omaha Lancers 1 @ Youngstown Phantoms 4

G Kris Oldham, OMA: Loss, 18 saves on 21 shots
Season totals: 31 GP, 12-15-4, 2.82 GAA, .905 sv%, 1 SO
2014-15 totals: 33 GP, 21-6-4, 2.49 GAA, .908 sv%, 1 SO
(University of Nebraska-Omaha signee)

Oldham started after sitting for five consecutive games, but couldn’t add to his 12 wins on the season. His last win was February 13 (0-8-2).

Dubuque Fighting Saints 5 @ Cedar Rapids RoughRiders 2

D Ryan Zuhlsdorf, DBQ: 0-0-0, E, 0 PIM, 2 SOG
Season totals: 43 GP, 0-27-27, -5, 55 PIM
With Dubuque: 13 GP, 0-4-4, +2, 4 PIM
With Sioux City: 30 GP, 0-23-23, -7, 51 PIM
2014-15 totals: 56 GP, 3-19-22, +25, 58 PIM
(University of Minnesota signee)

Dubuque outscored Cedar Rapids 15-4 in the last two days.

Crunch's Playoff Hopes Take Hit After Loss to Americans


By Jeremy Houghtaling

Coming into the weekend, the Syracuse Crunch were on a five-game roll and four points of out a playoff spot.

After posting a 4-3 loss to Toronto on Friday, the Crunch were unable to turn things around in a 5-1 loss to the Rochester Americans at the Onondaga County War Memorial Saturday. The Utica Comets, who are directly ahead of Syracuse for third place in the North Division, won both of their games and lead the Crunch by eight points.

Although the Crunch and Comets meet Sunday and two more times in the final six games of the regular season, Syracuse’s playoff hopes have already taken a huge hit.

“We put ourselves in a tough spot,” Crunch assistant captain Jeff Tambellini said. “Now we need a lot of help. Not only do we have to win every game, but we have to get a ton of help. It’s not the spot we wanted to put ourselves in, but we’re in it now and we’re going to go down swinging.”

NHL Game Night: 4-2-16 Devils at Lightning

Lunch bucket win puts the Lightning within an eyelash of clinching a postseason berth.

NJ-1
TB-3

Ben Bishop allowed 1 goal on 26 shots for the victory. He wasn't called on much, but he was there when he needed to be.

First Period
NO SCORING

Second Period
9:03 TB Hedman(9), (Palat, Kucherov)
19:32 NJ Henrique(28), (Kennedy, Severson)(PP)

Third Period
11:32 TB Boyle(12), (Nesterov, Kucherov)(PP)
19:27 TB Kucherov(30), (Hedman, Paquette)(EN)

Victor Hedman, Brian Boyle, and Bishop were the game's three stars.

I don't want to overplay the quality of this victory because, frankly, they played a very offensively challenged New Jersey team and should have won that game. Putting that aside, though, the Devils aren't a soft out and the Lightning were playing without Steven Stamkos and still in the wake of the Stralman injury trying to figure out a defensive rotation that worked. It wasn't perfect. There were still some gap control issues at times and there was clear miscommunication on New Jersey's lone goal and a handful of other plays... but... it had to feel good to get that win in the fashion they got it. They ultimately got the W by outworking a team that is well known for being a very hard working team and they got the winner on a clutch Third Period power play. That's going to be good for the team's confidence as they hit the road to close the regular season and head on into the postseason. And, if I'm being honest, it will probably take some mix of that work ethic plus Bishop heroics for the Lightning to survive and advance out of the first round of the playoffs to have the chance to possibly add a healing Stralman back into their lineup and eventually add Stamkos back after the blood clot clears and make a run.

With Koekkoek a scratch, the Lightning coaches went with Option B and played Hedman 25:59, and it worked. He was fantastic tonight. That's always a card the Lightning can choose to play because Victor skates so well: just play the big fella every other shift and let the chips fall where they may. It's not something he's used to and in the past he's struggled with the heavier workload once he got above a certain minutes threshold, but the best in the game at that position can play half the game.

With 2 games left in the final 10-game segment of the season, the Lightning have 10 points for the segment and are 1 point off of the 80-game-mark goal of 96 points to make the playoffs comfortably. Their magic number, with Detroit winning tonight, is still essentially 2 points, but it's fair to say if they get anything out of the final 4 games of the regular season they'll be in. Making up the 2 points on Florida in the final 4 games of the year to win the Atlantic crown, therefore, may be the last real order of business that has any intrigue to it. The Lightning's matchup in the first round is going to be a pretty key thing, though, and there's no real way of predicting whether finishing 1st or 2nd in the division yields the most benefit. For the record, I think the Isles or Wings would be the most ideal matchups for the Lightning to make it out of the opening round.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

AHL Game Night: 4-2-16 Americans at Crunch

Crunch playoff hopes evaporate against Rochester.

RCH-5
SYR-1

Adam Wilcox allowed 4 goals on 31 shots for the loss.

First Period
RCH O'Dell, (24) (Goulakos, Rodrigues), 19:10

Second Period
SYR Drouin, (11) (Peca, Taormina), 3:39 (PP)
RCH Bailey, (18) (Sdao, Donovan), 6:02
RCH Goulakos, (1) , 11:55

Third Period
RCH Bailey, (19) (Schneider), 15:19
RCH Baptiste, (12) (Catenacci, D'Amigo), 18:49 (EN)

Matthew Peca was the game's third star.

Syracuse came into this weekend with little or no margin for error, and they couldn't afford this little hard luck 2 game losing streak. They outshot Rochester 43-31 tonight, but the Americans have Vasilevskiy's old Russian national team tandem mate, Andrey Makarov, and he was the first star tonight.

At this hour, the Crunch are 8 points behind Utica for 3rd in the North Division with the Comets holding a game in hand and they're 8 points behind Portland with the Pirates holding a game in hand and Portland set to cross over from their division into Syracuse's spot in the postseason. Barring an absolutely epic collapse by one of those teams coupled with Syracuse just about running the table, that may be all she wrote.

Syracuse closes out their weekend against Utica tomorrow, after which we'll see if they try to use the handful of remaining games in the regular season on a bevy of potential junior ATO's.

Box score from TheAHL.com.

AHL Game Night: 4-1-16 Marlies at Crunch

Streaking Crunch lose tight one to league's most talented team.

TOR-4
SYR-3

Kristers Gudlevskis allowed 4 goals on 28 shots for the loss.

First Period
SYR Drouin, (10) (Thomas), 18:04
TOR B. Smith, (9) (Kolomatis, Leipsic), 19:00

Second Period
TOR B. Smith, (10) (Stanton, Doherty), 15:01
SYR Taormina, (13) (McGinn, Peca), 19:04 (PP)

Third Period
TOR Leivo, (17) (Arcobello, Brown), 6:56
SYR McGinn, (20) (Peca, Taormina), 14:36 (PP)
TOR Frattin, (12) (Leipsic), 15:28

Matt Taormina and Tye McGinn were the game's second and this stars.

Look at Toronto's lineup. Count the number of guys who have played in the NHL over the past couple of years. Look at their place in the standings. Then, realize the Crunch gave that team all they can handle. It points to a Syracuse team that has started to turn a corner and may be back on their way to being a very good team in the AHL. Unfortunately, at this time of year, there's no such thing as moral victories. The Crunch can't afford to spare any points in the short time left in the season if they'll have any chance of making the postseason. They're 6 points back of Utica for 3rd place in the North Division and 6 points back of Portland, which would crossover and take the 4th playoff spot in the North Division by virtue of the current playoff format. Both the Comets and Pirates also have a game in hand on Syracuse. So, it's going to just about take running the table for Syracuse to make the dance.

Matthew Peca, quietly, has 1 goal and 10 points in the last 10 games.

Ben Thomas got his first pro point on a helper on Jonathan Drouin's game opening marker.

Box score from TheAHL.com.

Juniors Playoffs Game Night: 4-1-16

Quebec Major Junior Hockey League

Acadie-Bathurst Titan 3 @ Saint John Sea Dogs 4 (OT)
QMJHL First Round
Saint John wins best-of-7 series, 4-1

W Bokondji Imama, SJ: 0-0-0, -1, 2 PIM, 1 SOG, 2 Hits
Playoff totals: 5 GP, 0-1-1, -4, 6 PIM
Season totals: 47 GP, 7-12-19, -3, 84 PIM

W Mathieu Joseph, SJ: 0-0-0, E, 0 PIM, 0 SOG, 0 Hit
Playoff totals: 5 GP, 5-2-7, +4, 8 PIM
Season totals: 58 GP, 33-40-73, +35, 57 PIM

Joseph sustained a significant cut on his leg early in the game, per Rogers TV, and left the arena on a stretcher put in an ambulance. He tweeted: "People who wanted to know, everything's fine! I'll know more tmr after the operation ! Thanks everyone for the support !" No timetable has been announced for his return, or if he will return. If not, that's a huge blow for the Sea Dogs.

Sens prospect Thomas Chabot scored in the first overtime to advance Saint John to the second round of the QMJHL playoffs.

Sherbrooke Phoenix 1 @ Shawinigan Cataractes 4
QMJHL First Round
Shawinigan wins best-of-7 series, 4-1

W Dennis Yan, SHAW: 0-0-0, +1, 4 PIM, 2 SOG, 0 Hits
Playoff totals: 5 GP, 2-2-4, +5, 16 PIM
Season totals: 62 GP, 32-37-69, +8, 86 PIM

The Cataractes moved on to the next round of the playoffs with a 4-1 home win over Sherbrooke to win the series, 4-1. Yan led Shawinigan in penalty minutes in the series.

Ontario Hockey League

Oshawa Generals 0 @ Kingston Frontenacs 6
Eastern Conference Quarterfinals
Kingston wins best-of-7 series, 4-1

C Anthony Cirelli, OSH: 0-0-0, E, 0 PIM, 4 SOG, 10/24 FO
Playoff totals: 5 GP, 2-3-5, -2, 0 PIM
Season totals: 61 GP, 21-36-57, -16, 27 PIM

Oshawa’s season ended in Game 5 against the Fronts, losing 6-0. Cirelli, who captained the Gens for the latter part of the season, had a fine year – his first as a scoring liner. He’s now a candidate to join AHL Syracuse, at least in practice.

Windsor Spitfires 2 @ Kitchener Rangers 5
Western Conference Quarterfinals
Kitchener wins best-of-7 series, 4-1

W Cristiano DiGiacinto, WSR: 0-0-0, E, 0 PIM, 1 SOG
Playoff totals: 5 GP, 0-1-1, -1, 2 PIM
Season totals: 63 GP, 16-26-42, +15, 105 PIM

The Rangers eliminated the Spits Friday night with a 5-2 win. DiGiacinto, who practiced with AHL Syracuse last season when Windsor was done, could return to the Crunch shortly. He’s up for a contract this spring, but his lackluster second half has added some doubt that will happen. At the least, the Crunch/Lightning can give him an extended evaluation in the next couple weeks.

Peterborough Petes 1 @ North Bay Battalion 2 (OT)
Eastern Conference Quarterfinals
North Bay leads best-of-7 series, 3-2

D Dominik Masin, PBO: 0-0-0, -1, 0 PIM, 5 SOG
Playoff totals: 5 GP, 0-3-3, +1, 12 PIM
Season totals: 57 GP, 8-32-40, +24, 50 PIM

D Matt Spencer, PBO: 0-0-0, -1, 5 PIM, 2 SOG
Playoff totals: 5 GP, 0-1-1, -2, 11 PIM
Season totals: 60 GP, 5-19-24, +1, 46 PIM

After shutting out Peterborough in Game 4, North Bay goalie Jake Smith (undrafted) stopped 34 of 35 shots to earn an overtime win for the Battalion and put the Petes on the brink of elimination. Game 6 is Sunday in Peterborough.

Western Hockey League

Moose Jaw Warriors 5 @ Prince Albert Raiders 0
Eastern Conference Quarterfinals
Moose Jaw wins best-of-7 series, 4-1

C Brayden Point, MJ: 0-2-2, +2, 2 PIM, *Third Star*
Playoff totals: 5 GP, 2-8-10, +2, 8 PIM
Season totals: 48 GP, 35-53-88, +24, 36 PIM

The Warriors knocked out the Raiders Friday with a 5-0 commanding win. Moose Jaw, in the playoffs for the first time in four years, moves on to the second round. Brayden Point averaged two points-per-game in the series.

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