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NHL Playoff Game Night: 5-20-15 Rangers at Lightning

Track meet ends on a King-sized softie.

Eastern Conference Finals
Game Three

NYR-5
TB-6 (OT)

Tampa Bay Leads the Series 2-1

Ben Bishop allowed 5 goals on 28 shots for the OT victory. He looked tired and possibly a little hurt tonight. His positioning was off. Rebound control was poor. He was fighting it, but he's a battler and fortunately he got the goal support from the guys in front of him. Hopefully he can get some rest and treatment and get back in the groove for Game Four.

First Period
1:02 NYR Brassard (6), (Boyle, Stepan)(PP)
9:55 NYR Fast (2), (Kreider, McDonagh)
11:07 TB Stamkos (5), (Killorn)

Second Period
10:32 TB Palat (5), (Johnson, Stamkos)(PP)
13:17 TB Johnson (12), (Palat, Hedman)
17:18 TB Killorn (6), (Hedman)
17:47 NYR Fast (3), (Klein, Stepan)

Third Period
2:28 NYR McDonagh (3), (Hayes, Yandle)(PP)
14:05 TB Palat (6), (Nesterov, Kucherov)
18:04 NYR Boyle (3), (Miller, Yandle)

Overtime
3:33 TB Kucherov (7), (Nesterov)

The Lightning deserved to win tonight. Let's say that right from the jump. They may not have deserved to win Game One and may not have been 4 goals better in Game Two, but they had the run of play in their favor most of the night tonight and deserved the "W". They possessed the puck most of the night, they were extremely physical, and they produced tons of scoring chances. That's the glass half full. They absolutely deserved the result they got tonight.

On the flip side, there were a lot of mistakes in this game that the team still needs to clean up if they are going to take this series. They ultimately got off the hook tonight because of the horrific softie allowed by Lundqvist in Overtime, but on most nights they're not getting off the hook with the bevy of mistakes they made. The first goal was a PP goal on a very dubious roughing call on the first shift on Paquette. I call baloney on that, and we'll put it aside. The second goal was on a bad line change compounded by Matt Carle getting hurt in the neutral zone, thereby putting the Lightning in a situation where they had 1/2 of a defenseman on the ice. Not ideal. We'll see when/if Carle can return. Looked like maybe a concussion situation to me, but we'll see. Those 2 goals put the Lightning behind the 8-ball early and it was a critical goal by Stamkos on the rebound on a 2-on-1 that allowed the Lightning to stay in the game in a First Period that they otherwise dominated.

They built a 2 goal lead in the Second Period through superior play and really deserved to have a much easier way to the finish line in this one, but they let New York off the hook. The Lightning had a lapse in the shift directly after their 4th goal that allowed Fast to get a greasy goal, and that allowed the Rangers to hang around going into the Third Period. The team made some great strides in the Detroit and Montreal series protecting leads, but they blew a pair of 1 goal Third Period leads tonight. Johnson had a neutral zone turnover that led to a Sustr tripping call that yielded New York's 4th goal, and then they had an unforced icing and a bad loss on a defensive zone draw that led to New York's 5th goal. Again, a slew of little mistakes that marred a game that the team otherwise dominated. So, there's tons to clean up. Additionally, the Lightning PK that has been so fantastic all playoffs long has looked very vulnerable the past 2 games. A more disciplined Lightning team would be in a very advantageous position, because from here on out I suspect they'll be the better team at even strength as they get stronger over the course of the series. Don't give the Rangers power plays and allow them to manufacture goals and stick around in games and the series with the man advantage.

All that said, though, the genie looks to be fully out of the bottle offensively for the Lightning and Lundqvist has looked extremely mortal against the Lightning this year. The power play in on track and both the Stamkos and Johnson lines are creating a slew of chances. On the Stamkos line, in particular, Stamkos and Killorn have looked fearsome on the forecheck in this series with a mix of brutality and skill that forms a thunder/lightning contrast to the surgical precision and speed of the Johnson line. It's got to be in New York's head a bit, at this point, frankly. I firmly believe if the Lightning get to 3 goals in any given game in this series, there's an extremely high chance they'll win the game because it forces the Rangers to play the Lightning's style and not their own, and right now the Rangers don't look like they're holding the Lightning to 2 goals or less anytime soon. They almost stole a game playing more of a Lightning-style high scoring game tonight, but ultimately lost their opportunity and it may really be the first big nail in their coffin in this series.

Right now complacency is the big enemy for the Lightning, though. They HAVE to come out with the same intensity and physical approach in Game Four, while also cleaning up some of their mistakes. New York's like a fighter that's been stunned by a good haymaker. Their legs are a little weak, and they're looking a little wobbly, but they're not down and out yet. The Lightning have to put them on the canvas in Game Four. If they do so, they haven't lost 3 straight games all season long, so... well... you can do the math. If they don't, this is a 3 game series with the Rangers holding home ice, which is a much harder road for the Lightning to traverse.

Nikita Nesterov had 2 helpers and was +1 with 2 penalty minutes, 1 shot, and 1 hit in 14:14. He got a little extra IT to help compensate for the loss of Carle, and give him credit, he made some good passes as a puck mover to get his forwards off and running on the rush for two key late goals. That makes up for the penalty he took in the Second Period when, thankfully, the PK let him off the hook at a danger time in the game with the Lightning down 2-1. It's a different game if they fall back behind by 2 early in the Second Period.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

The Bolt Prospects Podcast, Volume 29

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

· The No. 29
· Playoff lessons learned and not learned
· Shutting down the #FreeDrouin campaign
· Would the real Andrej Sustr please stand up?
· #BPMailbag (Draft predictions … Drouin in the AHL … Drouin vs Connolly … More Drouin ... Prospects on the hot seat … Palat for Selke any time soon? … Justin Courtnall’s future … Tim Tebow)

CHL Playoffs Game Night: 5-18-15

Quebec Major Junior Hockey League
Finals

QMJHL-4 Quebec Remparts 1 @ QMJHL-1 Rimouski Oceanic 2 (2OT)
Rimouski wins best-of-7 series, 4-3

W Adam Erne, QUE: 0-0-0, E, 0 PIM, 7 SOG, 1/8 FO, 0 Hits
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

Rimouski won the President’s Cup as QMJHL champions with a 2-1 double-overtime win Monday night. The game was wide open and tense and both teams had dozens of chances to win the game in a scoreless third period and first overtime. The Nics finally took advantage of a penalty taken when a Rimouski player got behind the Quebec defense and was hauled down.

Adam Erne finished with 21 goals in 22 playoff games and was second in playoff scoring to Halifax’s Nikolaj Ehlers (Jets). Despite not being on the winning side, Erne won the Guy Lafleur Trophy as the playoff MVP -- a huge honor.

Both teams will go to the Memorial Cup tournament in Quebec City, hosted by the Remparts, starting next week.

NHL Playoff Game Night: 5-18-15 Lightning at Rangers

Manufactured smack down.

Eastern Conference Finals
Game Two

TB-6
NYR-2

Series Tied 1-1

Ben Bishop remains my #1 story of the playoffs, allowing just 2 goals on 37 shots for the victory. With all due respect to Tyler Johnson, Bishop's carrying this team on his back right now. He's erasing copious amounts of defensive mistakes in front of him and giving the Lightning an opportunity to win every single night, like he did again here in Game Two. His stop with the left pad on Fast at 3-2 in the Third Period may not have only been a game saver, but a series saver, too.

First Period
5:38 TB Johnson (9), (Killorn)(SH)
8:50 NYR Kreider (6), (St. Louis, Boyle)(PP)
11:15 TB Johnson (10), (Stamkos, Kucherov)(PP)

Second Period
8:17 TB Johnson (11), (Palat, Kucherov)
14:17 NYR Stepan (5), (St. Louis, Boyle)(PP)

Third Period
3:09 TB Killorn (4), (Hedman, Filppula)
6:28 TB Stamkos (4), (Coburn, Kucherov)(PP)
17:58 TB Killorn (5), (Garrison, Filppula)(PP)

Johnson, Alex Killorn, and Nikita Kucherov were the game's three stars. Ben Bishop's my guy in this playoff run, but there's little doubt that if the Lightning go all the way Johnson will win the Conn Smyth. His hat trick tonight puts him 1 goal shy of the Lightning record for goals in a playoff season, and we're sitting at Game Two of the Eastern Conference Finals. Bishop, Johnson, and the Lightning PK have been the reason the Lightning have gotten this far, but the suddenly white hot PP may be what puts them over the top. They were 3/6 tonight and continue to flirt with 50% with the man advantage over the last 7-8 games. I don't know how the team loses a series with the power play clicking at this level, given they led the league in goals during the regular season with nothing resembling a PP from November on.

With all that said, this game was tighter than the score indicates. The Lightning matched the Rangers' effort level tonight, unlike Game One, and produced the chances they needed to win. But, they still made a large sackful of turnovers and mistakes that could've ended in catastrophe were it not for Bishop's ongoing excellence. Jon Cooper and his staff will look at the tape and have plenty to clean up, but I feel pretty safe in saying the Lightning just played their 2 worst games of the series and they only lost Game One 2-1 and they eventually blew out NY in Game Two 6-2. Game Three will be a lot more tight checking, so the Lightning need to refocus going home to Tampa in good position with everything reduced to a 5 game series with the Lightning holding home ice advantage.

Nikita Nesterov had 2 hits and 2 blocked shots in 12:49. He had a goal on a 2-on-1 and took his eye off the puck trying to one time it into the open side. He didn't have the anxious moments on defense he had in the Montreal series, and having him in the lineup in a 7 D alignment provides the team an assertive pace pusher and scrambles the forward lines enough to make it harder for a team that likes to play matchup as much as the Rangers do.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

CHL Playoffs Game Night: 5-17-15

Quebec Major Junior Hockey League
Finals

QMJHL-1 Rimouski Oceanic 5 @ QMJHL-4 Quebec Remparts 4 (OT)
Best-of-7 series tied, 3-3

W Adam Erne, QUE: 2-0-2, E, 2 PIM, 4 SOG, 3/5 FO, 3 Hits, *Second Star*
Playoff totals: 21 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 had leads of 2-0 after one period of play and 4-2 after two periods, but couldn’t hang on to win the QMJHL championship after regulation. They had another chance in overtime, but Rimouski scored on their 40th shot of the game to force a Game 7 Monday in Rimouski. Quebec had just 18 shots on goal in Game 6. With four goals in his last two games, Erne is back to a goal-per-game pace in the playoffs. His second goal of the game gave the Remparts a 4-1 lead midway through the second period. Rimouski scored the game-tying goal with 1:01 left on the clock. Jan Kostalek (Jets) scored the game-winning goal.

NHL Playoff Game Day: 5-16-15 Lightning at Rangers

Little things cost the Lightning again...

Eastern Conference Finals
Game One

TB-1
NYR-2

New York Leads the Series 1-0

Ben Bishop continues to sparkle, allowing just 2 goals on 30 shots for the loss. I can't fault Ben on two greasy goals, one of which was a puck deflected off a body in front. He game the Lightning every opportunity to win the game while the team figured out an approach that would work against the Rangers.

First Period
NO SCORING

Second Period
19:47 NYR Stepan (4), (Kreider, McDonagh)

Third Period
6:45 TB Palat (4), (Johnson, Hedman)(PP)
17:35 NYR Moore (1), (Hayes, Brassard)

Ondrej Palat was the game's third star.

The Rangers probably deserved the win today, given the overall run of play, but the Lightning did a lot of good things and put themselves in position to steal Game One. They weathered a very spirited First Period by New York with the Rangers coming out flying, largely on the strength of Bishop's goaltending. Then, with fatigue slowly starting to creep in for New York and nerves wearing off in the Second Period, the team started to slowly turn the momentum until a little disaster struck late in the period. Steven Stamkos failed to pay the price to take a couple of extra strides to get the red line and get the puck deep late, and the Rangers took the resulting turnover and eventually cashed on a greasy goal that hit traffic in front and found Stepan at the side of Bishop's cage. The Lightning really came on in the Third Period, drawing 3 PP's from The Rangers, but in a game that tight it just takes a bounce to lose. Kevin Hayes threw a sharp angle shot off Moore in front of the net and in, and the Lightning find themselves down 1-0 in the series.

If you're a glass half empty person, you'll note that the third pairing of Carle/Sustr (particularly Carle) is the most glaring weak spot on the team right now. It's bad. The Lightning had a high amount of turnovers in the game, some of which were the result of the Rangers flying on the forecheck to start the game, but there were a ton of really stupid unforced errors, too. And, Carle seemed to be at the heart of a lot of those unforced errors. Also, the team had nothing resembling support from the bottom two lines with Boyle a late scratch and Marchessault a liability in this contest. Namestnikov also showed a lot of jitters and withered a bit in the big moments, like a 2-on-1 he meekly centered right into a sprawled Rangers defender in the Third Period. It's not like the coaches have a ton of choices, though. They either bite the bullet and give Drouin a chance or they don't.

Glass half full, it looks like the Stamkos line is going to be able to do some business in this series and the PP cashed in again. The Lightning also won the faceoff battle, at least on paper, even with Boyle out. And, Bishop. Enough said.

Game Two is going to be very big. The Lightning found some things that worked in the Third Period and I expect a big push from them to try to even up the series before it shifts back to Tampa.

Jonathan Marchessault had 2 shots in 11:40. He looked like a deer in headlights to me in the First Period, with some cringe-worthy turnovers. He settled down as things went along, but I'm just not sure this is a series that suits his game. He and Namestnikov (6:52 of IT), in particular, may need to draw out for Game Two. Obviously, you hope Boyle can go in Game Two and then Cooper will need to decide whether to go with 7 D or maybe try Drouin again. Some tinkering definitely needs to happen on the third pair and bottom two lines, though, because they were glaring liabilities, at times.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

CHL Playoffs Game Night: 5-15-15

Quebec Major Junior Hockey League
Finals

QMJHL-4 Quebec Remparts 3 @ QMJHL-1 Rimouski Oceanic 2 (OT)
Quebec leads best-of-7 series, 3-2

W Adam Erne, QUE: 2-0-2, +1, 0 PIM, 3 SOG, 9/21 FO, 3 Hits, *Second Star*
Playoff totals: 20 GP, 19-9-28, +18, 15 PIM
Season totals: 60 GP, 41-45-86, +21, 102 PIM
2013-2014 Season: 48 GP, 21-41-62, -3, 65 PIM

Adam Erne scored the game-opening goal in the first period, then again in the second half of the third period to force overtime, which the Remparts won 10 seconds in, 3-2. Road teams are now 5-0 in the Finals. The Remparts can claim the championship at home on Sunday. Erne pulled within three points of Nikolaj Ehlers (Jets) of Halifax for the playoff scoring lead. Erne’s 19 goals are six more than anyone else.

CHL Playoffs Game Night: 5-14-15

Quebec Major Junior Hockey League
Finals

QMJHL-1 Rimouski Oceanic 4 @ QMJHL-4 Quebec Remparts 2
Best-of-7 series tied, 2-2

W Adam Erne, QUE: 0-1-1, E, 2 PIM, 3 SOG, 3 Hits
Playoff totals: 19 GP, 17-9-26, +17, 15 PIM
Season totals: 60 GP, 41-45-86, +21, 102 PIM
2013-2014 Season: 48 GP, 21-41-62, -3, 65 PIM

The road team moved to 4-0 in the Finals as Rimouski topped Quebec in Game 4, 4-2. Quebec had a 2-0 lead in Game 4 by the mid-way mark of the first period, but the Nics had tied the game by the first intermission. Game 5 is Friday in Rimouski.

NHL Playoff Game Night: 5-12-15 Canadiens at Lightning

The night it all came together...

Eastern Conference Semifinals
Game Six

MTL-1
TB-4

Tampa Bay Wins the Series 4-2

Ben Bishop allowed 1 goal on 19 shots for the victory, with the lone goal coming off a play where a puck took a goofy hop off the glass. He didn't have a ton of work, but he continued to make the key saves when he needed to. The national press just realized Bishop is no fluke. It's no small thing to out-duel the presumptive MVP, Carey Price, in a 7-game series. Did he get some lucky, horseshoe breaks? Sure. But you make your own luck, and Bishop was the MVP of this Montreal series.

First Period
15:35 TB Kucherov (5), (Palat)

Second Period
5:12 TB Stamkos (3), (Killorn, Carle)
18:56 TB Palat (3), (Kucherov, Stralman)(PP)

Third Period
15:03 MTL Pacioretty (5), (Gallagher)
17:59 TB Kucherov (6), (unassisted)(EN)

Steven Stamkos, Bishop, and Nikita Kucherov were the game's three stars.

After muddling through much of the first dozen games of this playoff season, tonight the Lightning finally figured out how to translate their regular season style to a successful 60 minute hockey game. You could see it coming in their 5-on-5 play in Montreal in Game Five, and once the Johnson line worked their way into scoring the opening goal in the First Period, the Lightning were fully off and running. The Lightning completely dominated the Habs from there on out. Outshot them. Outchanced them. Outhit them. They even did a number on Montreal in the faceoff circles after struggling mightily in that department for most of the series. All in all, it was the first time in these playoffs that the Lightning played a full game of Lightning hockey, which points to the tremendous potential of this club. Even struggling to figure out postseason hockey, the Lightning had the talent to advance within 1 game of the Eastern Conference Finals. Tonight, all the pieces fell into place.

Moreover, the Lightning have filled in some important gaps in their game from the regular season, and may be be finally reaching their full potential as a team. That should be terrifying to the rest of the league, considering that the Lightning still managed to put up a 100+ point season and lead the league in goals even without a functional power play and without a really strong ability to close out close games in the Third Period. The Lightning got 7 goals on the power play in the Montreal series, and starting late in the Detroit series they started to really look more comfortable and efficient protecting Third Period leads and playing a more simple 200 foot game.

Oh, and after being MIA in the Detroit series, all of a sudden Kucherov is fully on track and Stamkos is getting on track. Yikes.

Credit BP member Bolthed with the following paraphrased point from the BP chat room, which I think strikes the right tone, post game: I hope Coach Cooper stood up in front of his team after the game and said something along the lines of the following...

"Boys, congratulations for advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals. It hasn't always been easy, and it darn sure hasn't always been pretty. But, you've worked hard and you've learned and gotten a little strong, bit by bit, along the way. Tonight, you finally put it all together, and I'm proud of you guys for that. But, you know what? Now there are no more excuses. Now that you've proven you can put it all together it's on you guys to play at that same level every game from here on out. You can do it. You've shown you can do it. You had the talent, and now you've got the experience. Anything less and you're cheating yourselves."

And at that point, I hope he asked Stamkos and Hedman to stand up in front of the team and talk about 2011, and guys like Stralman and Boyle about their experience with the Rangers, and what it feels like to come that close to winning it all. Once you get this deep in the playoffs and are one of the final four teams, you're in the rarefied air of an event that may never come in your life again. You only get so many kicks at the can and only so many real chances to get your name on the Stanley Cup.

Capitalize it, and as Tim Taylor said in 2004, your team will walk together forever. When you lose though, like the Lightning did in 2011 in Game Seven against Boston by such a slim margin, it's the kind of thing you take to your grave. As a fan, I'll never get over 2011 and how close the Lightning were to advancing and probably winning their second Stanley Cup. Maybe it's a sign of my lack of an adequate social life, but there's not a day over the last 4 years I haven't thought about it and wished they could've gotten those couple of more goals they needed to advance and how that would've changed the legacy of that team and the franchise. I can only imagine what the players like Stamkos and Hedman who were in that room and shed blood, sweat, and tears with that team feel. They have to understand the fierce urgency of this moment and impart that wisdom on their teammates who haven't experienced a deep run like this at the NHL level before. When you get this far, you've got to win it all. You've got to. You've got to sell out mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually for every single shift of every single game, because you don't want to cheat yourselves and you don't want to find yourself looking back and regretting what might have been. For the next 4-6 weeks (hopefully), the Lightning will put everything of themselves toward this singular goal. It'll be grueling. It'll be nerve wracking. It'll galvanize a city behind the team that wears their jersey and shares their community. And that, folks, is what makes the Stanley Cup Playoffs the most unique and exciting experience in all of professional sports.

Jonathan Marchessault had 1 shot and 1 hit in 11:15 in his NHL playoff debut. Credit the coaching staff for monitoring how well Marchessault was practicing and for having the guts to insert him in the lineup in such a big spot. He didn't score tonight, but he made smart plays with the puck and was poised defensively in a way the younger forwards haven't always been in these playoffs.

Nikita Nesterov had 1 shot and 1 hit in 6:19. He had some anxious moments in his own end in the First Period. That's been the trade off with Nesterov. You get some possession advantages, but he looks a little hairy at times in his own third. Hence the lower ice time.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

The Bolt Prospects Podcast, Volume 28

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

· The No. 28
· What the Black Aces roster tells us
· Prospects in the playoffs
· Accolades for DeAngelo
· #BPMailbag (Stress and the playoffs … Where does the blame finger point? … Odds on Erne and DeAngelo with TB next year … Crazy trade thoughts … Would you rather? … More on Drouin … Generational talent … Stamkos salary … Stamkos vs Johnson … Expansion Draft what-ifs)

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