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Memorial Cup Game Night: 5-29-15

2015 MasterCard Memorial Cup
Semifinals

Quebec Remparts 3 vs Kelowna Rockets 9

W Adam Erne, QUE: 1-1-2, E, 0 PIM, 7 SOG, 0 Hits
Memorial Cup totals: 5 GP: 3-3-6, +1, 6 PIM
QMJHL playoff totals: 22 GP, 21-9-30, +18, 17 PIM
Season totals: 60 GP, 41-45-86, +21, 102 PIM
2013-2014 Season: 48 GP, 21-41-62, -3, 65 PIM

Adam Erne’s junior career came to an end Friday night as the Remparts were blown out by the WHL champs, 9-3. Erne opened the game’s scoring for Quebec and the score was 1-1 after one period. Kelowna scored four times in the second period to break the game open, then coasted to the win. Habs prospect Zach Fucale allowed all nine goals for Quebec. The Rockets will play OHL champion Oshawa for the Memorial Cup.

Erne finished the tournament with three goals and six points in five games. He finishes his career with 118 goals and 275 points in 240 regular season games. He added 29 goals and 47 points in 45 playoff games over his four seasons, also. He’s been signed by the Lightning and will start next year either in AHL Syracuse or NHL Tampa Bay.

NHL Playoff Game Night: 5-29-15 Lightning at Rangers

Mission Impossible = Mission Accomplished

Eastern Conference Finals
Game Seven

TB-2
NYR-0

Tampa Bay Wins the Series 4-3

Ben Bishop looked sharp in light work stopping all 22 shots he faced for the shutout. He didn't face very many chances, but he was sharp on the ones that came at key moments of the game, particularly with the Rangers pushing after Tampa Bay went up 1-0 in the Third. In a spot where the New York media had preordained Lundqvist was going to roll over Bishop after Ben got a big number put up on him in Game Six, he doled out some U of Maine Justice and got the last laugh.

First Period
NO SCORING

Second Period
NO SCORING

Third Period
1:54 TB Killorn (7), (Carle, Filppula)
11:17 TB Palat (7), (Johnson, Bishop)

Bishop and Alex Killorn were the game's first and second stars.

One game after being shelled for 7 goals on their home ice and with the entire hockey world writing their epitaph, the Lightning defied conventional wisdom and turned in the single greatest defensive effort in the history of the franchise. Coming into this game, the northern hockey media pounded an incessant drum beat for 2-1/2 days about how the Lightning simply had no chance. The Rangers held a 7-0 lifetime in Game Sevens at home. They had won 6 consecutive playoff Game Sevens, an NHL record. And, yes, Lundqvist was nearly unbeatable in Game Sevens, having won all 6 of those Game Sevens. How would the young Lightning, after getting embarrassed in Game Six, possibly rebound in the face of a mountain of ominous statistics? It was 2-1/2 days of an all out national media blitz which screamed, "The Lighting are DOOMED! DOOOOOOOOOOOMMMMMED!"

From Jon Cooper (who was maligned by the likes of New Yorker Keith Olbermann as a "junior college coach" after Game Six) through Steven Stamkos, and down to the likes of Killorn, it seemed that every single member of the Lightning organization absorbed the hyperbolic shark jumping of the national media and chose to use it as a motivational lens to focus in on the task at hand and play about as close to perfect a defensive game as is humanly possible. The Lightning didn't just defend like demons in their defensive third like they did in Game Five, they contested every single inch of ice for the full 200 feet. It was a symphony of positioning, support, and pure hustle the likes of which have never been seen by players in Lightning jerseys, even in the 2004 Cup run. Combined with a forechecking/possession game that was far closer to their normal swarming effort of the regular season, this really was the complete game. Note: it wasn't just the Triplets or even the top two lines tonight, either. The checkers, oft maligned, were superb tonight. Ryan Callahan and J.T. Brown, in particular, were difference makers in all three zones and very threatening in the offensive zone. Were it not for some scintillating saves by Lundqvist, this could've easily a 4-0 or 5-0 win by the Lightning.

All in all, you have to be thoroughly impressed with it all. It really proves what I've always thought about this franchise: they play better the in the disrespected underdog role with a gigantic chip on their shoulder. In situations like this, they always play better than when they're too fat and happy on media plaudits or from the league banquet circuit. The Lightning are, and ever shall be, gate crashers in the NHL. Embrace it, bask in it, and use it as fuel, like they did tonight. I'm thoroughly impressed that a team this young could figure out how to strangle the life out of a grizzled, Presidents Trophy winning team in their barn under the harsh scrutiny of the biggest media market in the world and punch their ticket for the Stanley Cup Finals.

And, it's just the tip of the iceberg. Remember, Sinatra said if you can make it there... well, you know the rest. I said it after Game Six of the Montreal series, which was a gem in its own right, but were I Jon Cooper I'd tell this group, "Now that you've shown you can do it, especially on the defensive side of the ice, don't shortchange yourself and settle for anything less. You know how it's done and the sky is the limit. So go out and do it, now."

Now, I could use this moment to further expound on my thoughts about Rangers fans, the New York media, and Martin St. Louis, but nah. Success is the best revenge, so I'll take the high road instad. I would like to note, though, that the Lightning didn't get a power play the entire game, matching the Game Seven travesty in 2011 against Boston. The Rangers got 2 power plays in the Second Period with the game 0-0, one of which was a very soft "hooking" call on Morrow, showing the refs had no problem giving the Rangers some opportunities to score that all important first goal, whereas some obvious infractions like a high stick taken by Nikita Kucherov, went completely uncalled. So, as expected, and as has been the norm against the traditional, big market teams, there were times the Lightning had to play (and win) 5-on-7. And no, NHL, just because the Lightning won doesn't mean we forgive, or forget. And yes, NHL, you ought to be ashamed.

As a post script, Steven Stamkos treated the Prince of Wales Trophy like a piece of molten hot lava. That's good captaining. We'll pass the rest of the night away with NBCSN holding a wake for the New York Rangers rather than giving the just plaudits the Lightning deserve, and then see this weekend whether Chicago or Anaheim advances to the Finals. I will say this about both teams: after having gone through a very hot Petr Mrazek, the presumptive MVP in Carey Price, and a living legend like Henrik Lundqvist, neither of those teams have netminders that should intimidate the Lightning's snipers. And, if the Lightning start to play defensively on a plane closer to what they did tonight, consistently, then I really like their chances to go all the way.

Nikita Nesterov played just 3:10 tonight. Game Seven? 0-0 game most of the way? On the road with the Rangers holding the last change? Yeah, Nikita was there for moral support and water bottle filling only. Not surprising.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

Memorial Cup Game Night: 5-28-15

2015 MasterCard Memorial Cup
Tiebreaker

Quebec Remparts 5 vs Rimouski Oceanic 2

W Adam Erne, QUE: 1-1-2, +2, 0 PIM, 3 SOG, 2 Hits
Memorial Cup totals: 4 GP: 2-2-4, +1, 6 PIM
QMJHL playoff totals: 22 GP, 21-9-30, +18, 17 PIM
Season totals: 60 GP, 41-45-86, +21, 102 PIM
2013-2014 Season: 48 GP, 21-41-62, -3, 65 PIM

Quebec exacted some revenge on Rimouski, who defeated the Remparts in seven games for the QMJHL championship last week. Quebec won 5-2 Thursday in a rare Memorial Cup tiebreaker. The Oceanic beat the Remparts on Wednesday night, 4-0, setting up the tiebreaker. Thursday was the 17th time the two clubs have played each other since the start of the regular season. Adam Erne had an assist created when he carried the puck into the zone down the right wing and cut inside of a defenseman into the slot. The puck found its way to Anthony Duclair (Coyotes), who scored glove side. Erne’s goal came after Rimouski starter Philippe Desrosiers coughed up the puck behind the net, but managed to get a stick on the ensuing shot from Kurt Etchegary. Erne banged in the rebound before celebrating his second goal of the tournament. He also had a couple big hits in the game.

Thursday’s win by Quebec sets up a tournament semi-final game between Quebec and WHL champion Kelowna. The Remparts beat the Rockets in the tournament opener last Friday. The winner of the semifinals faces OHL champ Oshawa in the finals.

The Bolt Prospects Podcast, Volume 30

This week's “Ben Bishop Edition” of the Bolt Prospects Podcast (also available on Lightning Radio's iHeart station) includes the following topics:

· The No. 30
· Ben Bishop’s consistency … or is it inconsistency?
· Power forward Adam Erne’s chances of making the Lightning in the fall and which TB player’s game he needs to emulate
· #BPMailbag (Camp predictions for Vladdy, Drouin, Marchessault … TB’s youth showing in playoffs … If Carle goes, who’s his replacement? … This player is a Bear Face … Gusev watching Kucherov? … Sustr’s ceiling … Is Carle the cornerback opposite Deion Sanders?)

Syracuse to host 2016 AHL All-Star Classic


By Jeremy Houghtaling

David Andrews planted the seed before the last American Hockey League All-Star Classic in January.

The AHL president was in the office of Syracuse Crunch owner Howard Dolgon and made his case: The league would be playing its 80th season in 2015-16. Syracuse is one of the league's charter members. Would the Crunch want to host the 2016 all-star game?

"Over a period of a few weeks or a month or two, we chatted about it and tried to arrive at a formula for hosting it," Andrews said.

With many of the details ironed out, the AHL officially announced the Crunch would host the AHL skills competition on Jan. 31 with the All-Star Classic on Feb. 1 at the Onondaga County War Memorial.

NHL Playoff Game Night: 5-26-14 Rangers at Lightning

Game Four redux, unfortunately.

Eastern Conference Finals
Game Six

NYR-7
TB-3

Series Tied 3-3

Ben Bishop allowed 5 goals on 26 shots for the loss before giving way to Andrei Vasilevskiy, who allowed 1 goal on 7 shots the rest of the way. Bishop never looked completely comfortable in this game, but I can't really fault him on any of the 5 goals he allowed. The Rangers' first two goals had distinct puck luck elements to them off of soft point shots that hit traffic in front. The remaining 3 goals in the Third Period resulted from a complete defensive meltdown by the Lightning in front of Bishop, as they neglected to even attempt to play that side of the game down 2-1 coming out of the Second Intermission.

First Period
3:36 NYR Brassard (7), (Miller, Boyle)
15:30 NYR Yandle (2), (Brassard, Nash)
17:20 TB Callahan (1), (Stralman, Bishop)(PP)

Second Period
NO SCORING

Third Period
3:02 NYR Miller (1), (Brassard, Nash)
6:00 NYR Sheppard (1), (Moore, Glass)
7:14 NYR Brassard (8), (Miller, Nash)
7:50 TB Kucherov (8), (Johnson)
10:21 NYR Nash (5), (Yandle, Miller)(PP)
13:21 TB Kucherov (9), (Johnson, Nesterov)
18:19 NYR Brassard (9), (unassisted)(EN)

I'm just at a loss to explain what's transpired in both Game Four and Game Six of this series. I honestly can't fault the effort of the team in both games. As with Game Four, the Lightning had the majority of possession, shots, and chances through the first 40-45 minutes. Perhaps they didn't have the same quality of chances tonight as they did in Game Four, but still, they didn't necessarily deserve to be down 2-1 heading into the Third Period either. The Rangers rode a bit of puck luck and good goaltending to the advantage heading into the final frame. There, as in Game Four, the Lightning just absolutely left any pretense of playing defense in the locker room and just got burned to death because of it. They were so impatient to fly the zone to seek the equalizing goals they just absolutely went brain dead with turnovers and poor defensive zone coverage. Maybe it's better that Game Seven is on the road, because the team seems to have a healthy fear of those types of mistakes playing in the other team's barn that doesn't exist when they play at home lately.

I'll say this also: it's pretty clear if the Lightning are to win Game Seven it'll be a 5-on-7 victory, because the officiating tilted against the Lightning pretty hard tonight. For a team that had so much more possession, zone time, and the greater quantity of chances, the Lightning only got 2 power plays in the first 2 periods of the game, and none in a Second Period that they dominated. That just seems improbable bordering on impossible, and it's even more frustrating when you consider the phantom hooking call Nikita Kucherov got in the Second Period and the obviously embellished hooking call on Morrow that also came in the Second Period. When you contrast that against the pretty nasty slash Nikita Kucherov took away from the puck by Staal in this game (no call) and the pivotal non-call on a trip of Tyler Johnson that occurred early in the Third Period (again, no call), well...

I'll let you draw your own conclusions about which way the officiating will tilt in Game Seven. If I had my guess, it'll be an anything-goes affair where the refs will just about completely pocket their whistles and the Lightning will need a mixture of the defensive discipline they got in Game Five in MSG and the stellar goaltending they got against Detroit in their previous Game Seven in this playoff run. That's entirely possible, despite the media's breathless rush to proclaim the Lightning DOA based on the Rangers' all-time home Game Seven record. But, it requires the Lightning to buckle down mentally again like they did for Game Five. Honestly, they just need to realize they're still in a great spot. If you offered any team in the league the opportunity to play in Game Seven of their conference finals at the start of the year, they'd have taken it gladly and thanked you for the opportunity. That's all the Lightning need to take to heart after tonight. 7-3 aren't the numbers that matter. 3-3 and the chance to advance to the Stanley Cup finals with a single victory are. Things are never as bad as they appear, and a change of fortune and redemption are just a game away.

Nikita Nesterov was +1 with 2 penalty minutes in 11:00 of ice time.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

Memorial Cup Game Night: 5-24-15

2015 MasterCard Memorial Cup
Round Robin

Quebec Remparts 4 vs Oshawa Generals 5 (OT)

W Adam Erne, QUE: 0-1-1, E, 0 PIM, 2 SOG, 3 Hits
Memorial Cup totals: 2 GP: 1-1-2, E, 2 PIM
QMJHL playoff totals: 22 GP, 21-9-30, +18, 17 PIM
Season totals: 60 GP, 41-45-86, +21, 102 PIM
2013-2014 Season: 48 GP, 21-41-62, -3, 65 PIM

Oshawa fought back from a late 4-3 deficit to tie the Remparts, then dominate overtime before claiming the win. After tweaking his knee in Quebec’s opener, Erne wasn’t his usual fast, gritty self on Sunday, but earned an assist after his hard wrist shot in the slot caromed off the end boards and right to linemate Dmytro Timoshov. The Gens got the game-tying goal from Tobias Lindberg, a Sens prospect chosen with the fourth rounder the Lightning sent to Ottawa as part of the Bishop-Conacher trade. Stephen Desrocher (undrafted) scored the overtime winner. Quebec (1-1) next plays on Tuesday in a rematch against Rimouski. Oshawa (2-0) has secured a spot in at least the semifinals.

NHL Playoff Game Night: 5-24-15 Lightning at Rangers

Tampa Bay whips New York at its own game.

Eastern Conference Finals
Game Five

TB-2
NYR-0

Tampa Bay Leads the Series 3-2

Ben Bishop stopped all 26 shots he faced behind a masterful defensive effort to get the shutout. He was challenged pretty hard by the talking heads in the media after allowing 10 goals total in the previous two games of the series, and he smothered what few chances the Rangers developed tonight. He was especially strong in the First Period as the Lightning played a classic road strategy where they successfully weathered the home club's early charge. In the end, U of Maine Justice reigned supreme, and were I a superstitious man I might be advocating having Nesterov hit Bishop in the tender bits during warm-ups before every game from here on out if that's the performance you end up getting out of it.

First Period
NO SCORING

Second Period
13:29 TB Filppula (3), (Stamkos, Stralman)
18:22 TB Stamkos (7), (Palat, Kucherov)(PP)

Third Period
NO SCORING

Steven Stamkos, Bishop, and Valtteri Filppula were the game's three stars.

I am absolutely shocked at this result. Not so much that the Lightning won, mind you, but how they won was absolutely amazing. The Lightning essentially followed the Rangers' own recipe and baked up a sweet confection filled with defensive dominance. The Lightning typically do not play well without the puck. They are a possession team and they have looked lost for most of the past couple of years in games where the other team tilts the ice against them. Tonight, playing against an amped up Rangers team fresh off a 5-1 win on their home ice in MSG, they played a nearly flawless, defense-first road game where they comfortably absorbed the Rangers' pushes and eventually manufactured the goals they needed on a counter rush and late on the power play. At the heart of it all was a Herculean effort by the team's much-maligned penalty kill, which went 4-for-4 tonight and made the Rangers look positively non-threatening on their last 3 chances with the extra man. These are things I'm fairly certain the Lightning were not constructed for, and yet they executed that style with amazing efficiency. And, once they had that 2-goal lead, they put the lid on in the Third Period with a calmness they absolutely failed to muster in their Game Three victory that ended up getting pushed to Overtime.

So, I'll say this: If the Lightning continue to prove they can win games like this consistently when they don't have the lion's share of possession, I don't know how you can beat them in a 7-game series. They continue to shore up every major hole and weakness in their game little by little as these playoffs move along. Bad PK last year? Looked pretty good most of these playoffs. Non-existent power play all regular season? Now they're getting key goals at key times. Waiting on your franchise cornerstones (Stamkos and Hedman) to rise up and be the team's best players along with Bishop? Sure looked that way tonight. When you layer learning to play a strong defensive game without the puck and learning how to protect leads in tight games on top of that, they're on the verge of becoming positively terrifying to play against. And, imagine this: Vladislav Namestnikov, Jonathan Drouin, and Slater Koekkoek aren't even regular contributors to this team, yet. They'll be even more talented at this time next season. I won't throw the "dy" word out there quite yet, but you can see where this might be progressing. They haven't played their best hockey consistently yet, and yet they've still managed to put the veteran-laden President's Trophy winner on the ropes after disposing of the presumptive MVP netminder in the previous round and NHL royalty in the Red Wings in the opening series. It just shows how incredibly talented this team is.

Now, here's another test for the Lightning. Much like the Montreal series, you don't want this game to go to a Game Seven in their barn. You don't want to step foot in New York again until next season. Now: finish them. Put the offensive jump from Game Four together with the defensive play from Game Five and the finishing from Game Two and Game Three and put the Rangers away. Do so, and the team punches its ticket for the Stanley Cup Finals. To paraphrase Tyler Johnson, how cool is that?

Nikita Nesterov was +1 with 1 hit in 8:02, with his ice time limited in a tight game on the road with the team not holding last change. I have to say, I'm pleased how he's tightened up his game in the defensive zone after looking a little loose in that department in the Montreal series. He could be a monster in another year or two once he gets a full regular season in to develop further at the NHL level.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

Memorial Cup Game Night: 5-22-15

2015 MasterCard Memorial Cup
Round Robin

Quebec Remparts 4 vs Kelowna Rockets 3

W Adam Erne, QUE: 1-0-1, E, 2 PIM, 4 SOG, 1 Hit
QMJHL playoff totals: 22 GP, 21-9-30, +18, 17 PIM
Season totals: 60 GP, 41-45-86, +21, 102 PIM
2013-2014 Season: 48 GP, 21-41-62, -3, 65 PIM

Tournament-host Quebec won the opening game of the 2015 MasterCard Memorial Cup, 4-3 over the WHL champs. Erne scored an empty net goal in the game, which turned out to be the winner after the Rockets scored a late goal. Erne, per reports, appeared to twist his knee awkwardly in the first period and spent a good part of the second period in the locker room before returning to the game. Quebec next plays OHL champ Oshawa on Sunday.

NHL Playoff Game Night: 5-22-15 Rangers at Lightning

Rangers manufacture a smack down of their own.

Eastern Conference Finals
Game Four

NYR-5
TB-1

Series Tied 2-2

Ben Bishop allowed 5 goals on 24 shots for the loss. There was nothing super-soft in the five goals, but he did have a couple of rebound goals that went through him five-hole, and five-hole tends to be a spot where Bishop gets leaky when he's a little off. He actually looked sharper than in Game Three, to me, but he needs to be better nonetheless. It's an ugly, albeit deceptive, stat line.

First Period
17:18 NYR Nash (3), (Hayes, Hagelin)

Second Period
11:30 TB Stamkos (6), (Killorn, Filppula)
15:16 NYR Kreider (7), (Klein, Yandle)
17:04 NYR Yandle (1), (Klein, Nash)

Third Period
5:08 NYR St. Louis (1), (Brassard, Boyle)(PP)
11:33 NYR Nash (4), (Hayes, Yandle)(PP)

Alex Killorn was the game's third star.

This game, in many ways, was a mirror of the Lightning's win in Game Two in New York. They utterly dominated the Rangers for the first 45 minutes of the game, but New York got some good goaltending and some puck luck and eventually built a lead that they then took to blowout proportions with a couple of Third Period PP markers. The turning point of the game was a soft Brendan Morrow pass around the boards behind his own net with the score tied at 1-1 that became a cheap goal for the Rangers. They then got some puck luck on a point shot that bounced in off of Victor Hedman's leg, and things just went straight downhill from there for the Lightning. By the end, you had a Lightning bench that looked a little shell shocked because they, like a lot of Lightning fans, couldn't figure out how the heck they got clubbed by 4 goals in a game they absolutely dominated in shots, chances, and possession. That's the way hockey is sometimes, though.

It's very important right now for the Lightning to focus more on 2-2 (the series) instead of 5-1 (the Game Four score), which will be a test of their maturity. A Game Four hangover leading to a flat start in Game Five could well cost them the series. They need to take some solace in the fact they actually played pretty darned well through 45 minutes until garbage time set in and they need to recognize that they just need to bury their chances and continue to clean up the turnovers like Morrow's blunder. It's a three game series now and it wasn't unreasonable to expect this to be a six or seven game series when it started, so there should be no panic right now. It's a 2-2 series. Not a big deal. Not anything mind blowing. Not anything unexpected. Throw out this game's score as being partly as a function of buzzard's luck, tune out the northern media harping about Nash and St. Louis suddenly being let loose out of the barn, and just hunker down and win Game Five. That's what the approach, mentally, has got to be right now.

Lineup changes? I see a lot of people calling for Brendan Morrow's head and a lot of people calling for Cedric Paquette's head after he got pylonized dropping back on D on Nash's First Period goal. Here's the problem, though: I'm not sure you can trust what your second options (Namestnikov, Drouin, and/or Marchessault) will give you if they draw into the lineup, especially on the defensive end. My point being, I don't know that there are any really good options floating around out there, other than rolling the dice on Drouin's outstanding individual skill and speed.

Also, I must say, Kevin Hayes needs to get suspended for that dirty slash to Tyler Johnson's abdomen. Dirty, dirty play.

Nikita Nesterov had 1 shot, 2 hits, and 2 penalty minutes in 14:43. He had at least one glorious opportunity early in the game and has been better on the defensive end to boot.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

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