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KHL Playoff Game Day: 4-12-17

KHL Gagarin Cup Final
St. Petersburg 2 vs. Magnitogorsk 1 (OT)
St. Petersburg Leads the Series 2-1
Nikita Gusev, St. Petersburg, 0-1-1, E, 0 PIM, 7 SOG
Playoff totals: 16 GP, 6-12-18, +1, 2 PIM
Regular season totals: 57 GP, 24-47-71, +33, 8 PIM

Nikita Gusev had a secondary assist on Evgeny Dadonov's Double OT winning goal in SKA's 2-1 Game Three triumph over Magnitka. Ex-Lightning pick Denis Kazionov had Magnitogorsk's lone goal while fellow ex-Lightning pick Vasily Koshechkin was heroic in defeat, stopping 58 shots as his club was outshot an absolutely staggering 60-28 in the match.

KHL Playoff Game Day: 4-10-17

KHL Gagarin Cup Final
Magnitogorsk 3 vs. St. Petersburg 1
Series Tied 1-1
Nikita Gusev, St. Petersburg, 0-1-1, -2, 0 PIM, 4 SOG
Playoff totals: 15 GP, 6-11-17, +1, 2 PIM
Regular season totals: 57 GP, 24-47-71, +33, 8 PIM

Nikita Gusev assisted on SKA's only goal, but was also -2 in their 3-1 Game Two loss to Magnitogorsk. He played 18:33 in the match. Ex-Lightning pick Vasily Koshechkin led the way for Magnitka with 43 saves in the match, helping his club survive a stunning 44-17 shot deficit in the contest.

NHL Game Night: 4-9-17 Sabres at Lightning

Lightning end a season of disappointment with an abundance of hope.

BUF-2
TB-4

Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 2 goals on 28 shots for the victory. He was solid as a rock again today, making situational saves when needed and staying sharp despite long stretches where he had very little work. One of the biggest reasons for the Lightning missing the playoffs this season was subpar goaltending the first two-thirds of the year that came from the weird limbo situation that Ben Bishop was in. Once Bishop was moved out at the trade deadline and Vasilevskiy clearly moved into the number one role, Vasilevskiy played outstanding. He justified the opinion of a lot of people that he's the best emerging young goaltender in the game.

First Period
13:56 BUF Carrier (5), (Nylander)

Second Period
5:59 TB Point (17), (Hedman, Dotchin)
12:20 TB Coburn (5), (Namestnikov, Killorn)(SH)

Third Period
11:17 BUF Kane (28), (Gionta, O'Reilly)
18:36 TB Point (18), (Kucherov, Stralman)
19:59 TB Hedman (16), (Stralman, Point)(EN)

Brayden Point, Vasilevskiy, and Victor Hedman were the game's three stars.

You never know what you're going to get in a game like this where there's nothing on the line after Toronto eliminated the Lightning last night with a late, come-from-behind win. I was pleased to see a pretty good overall effort from the Lightning, particularly for the first 40 minutes of the game, which I think in part stemmed from a smart decision by Jon Cooper to start Vasilevskiy and treat this more like a normal game. They were pretty sound defensively the first 40 minutes and, probably feeling a little more free with things settled in the standings, I thought showed more free-flowing offensive creativity. With tee times beckoning in the Third Period, I thought there were stretches it got a little too much like a QMJHL game with matching line rushes at both ends, but all in all I think the Lightning really closed the season strong and in style. Were it not for the heroics for Linus Ullmark in Buffalo's net, the Lightning could've easily put 7 or 8 goals on the board tonight.

The Lightning ultimately finish 2 points shy of a playoff berth with 94 points. Remember how we keep harping on that 96 point number? Yep, that's the number that would've gotten them in. There's no mysticism about it, and the Lightning learned a painful lesson this season about early season complacency. The good news, I'm happy to say, is that it seems that the team understands what happened, and after their first summer of rest in a long time seem ready to return next year with a renewed team identity and a chip on their shoulder. That's not to say there won't be changes to the roster. There are warts on this team, and players on the roster who either have plateaued as players or simply can't cut it on an elite-level NHL team. I trust that Steve Yzerman will make the changes necessary to address those issues, and have a lot of hope in my heart seeing the emerging young talent on this team.

Going into next season, you can see the Lightning have five forwards in particular that look to me to be capable of being among the NHL's best. Steven Stamkos, returning from injury, obviously is already well proven as an NHL superstar and Nikita Kucherov added himself to that echelon of players with his 40-goal, over a point-a-game campaign this year. Beyond those two, you saw two other players who I think have the capability of becoming top-10 NHL scorers: Jonathan Drouin and Brayden Point. Drouin's talent is undeniable, and it remains not a question of "if" but rather "when" he makes that transition to being a 30 goal, 80+ point a year player. He could've had 4 goals easily today were it not for Ullmark's heroics. Point, on the other hand, came into this year with significantly lower expectations as a guy who was selected outside of the top-60 in his draft year who wasn't even expected to make the NHL roster this year. Had he not missed a month with a broken paw, he would've topped 20 goals this season and something about his rookie campaign gives me all the same feels that Brad Richards' rookie campaign in Tampa Bay did as a third round pick who played like a high first rounder. Rounding out this group is veteran Ondrej Palat, who has looked lost at times over the past two seasons but down the stretch of this year started to look like the two-way beast of a player he's shown he can be. Those give on the Lightning's forward corps give me the belief the team will be dynamic offensively next year.

The defensive corps is a bit more unsettled, but Victor Hedman made a serious campaign for the Norris Trophy down the stretch of this year in finishing second in the NHL in points among defensemen. I wouldn't bet against him winning it next year, and what we saw in Hedman's game this season was the checking off of the last boxes he needed to in order to transition to becoming a great NHL defenseman. Namely, the rise of the Lightning power play this year can be directly traced to the rise of Hedman as a legit power play threat. Maybe that's the silver lining of Stamkos' injury. With Stammer out, the Lightning became a much more "left handed" power play with things primarily playing off of Kucherov's triggers in the right wing circle. Hedman at the center point fed into that change from a "right handed" power play, and he started to really sharpen up his shot and improve his distribution skills. We always knew he was a wizard off the rush, but Hedman learned to thrive in the more stationary/lateral third-ice game of the power play. Supplementing Hedman is stalwart righty defenseman Anton Stralman and the found money that was youngster Jake Dotchin. Anybody who tells you they saw the rise of Jake Dotchin coming is either a (bleeping) liar or has a time machine. One of the magical things in sports is that sometimes a guy just "gets it" out of the blue and comes out of nowhere to become a good player. That was Dotchin this year. Those three form half of a solid NHL defense corps, and with two righties already nailed down, the job of filling out the rest of the Lightning blueline becomes a lot easier for Steve Yzerman to deal with. Lefties are a lot easier to come up with. Righties are rare as hen's teeth.

And then there's Vasilevskiy. Russia's answer to Carey Price. Mark my words: as talented as the Lightning are there will be other clubs in the NHL that will have better skaters and more skill... and the Lightning will have the answer in the form of Andrei Vasilevskiy. Watching him become what he looks destined to become is going to be fun.

Luke Witkowski had 1 shot, 1 hit, and 1 blocked shot in 16:25.

Greg McKegg played 10:51.

Dotchin had a helper, 1 shot, and 1 blocked shot in 17:07. I'd be interested to know if he draws any attention from the Canadian hockey program as a potential IIHF World Championships player.

Gabriel Dumont had 1 shot, 3 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 13:13 and was 63% on 8 draws. He will be headed back to Syracuse to help the Crunch in the playoffs, which Syracuse clinched a spot in today.

Yanni Gourde had 1 shot in 16:35 and was 40% on 10 draws. What a weapon for Syracuse to be getting back into the lineup.

Adam Erne was -2 with 4 hits and 1 blocked shot in 13:01. The stat line looks ugly, but I thought he played a whale of a first 40 minutes in the game. The whole reason Drouin could've had 3-4 goals in this game was that Erne was absolutely dealing on the forecheck and was super-creative distributing once he forced Buffalo to turn it over. He needs to follow up this stretch run with a strong playoffs for Syracuse. He'll enter next season on the roster bubble, and if he approaches the task with the proper intensity and focus he can help this Lightning team. He has obvious size and strength and surprising explosiveness and skill. The fact he can work so well with Drouin like he did today speaks to the upside he has. He's not some bogus faux power forward plugger. He's got the tools to be a serious scoring line contributor in this league. You all saw the flashes of it over the last month.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

ECHL Game Night: 4-7-17 & 4-8-17

4-07-17: Kalamazoo Wings 2 at Wheeling Nailers 7
4-08-17: Wheeling Nailers 2 at Kalamzoo Wings 5

F Brian Hart, KAL, 2gp, 1-0-1, -2, 2 PIMS, 11 SOG
Season Totals (ECHL): 33 GP, 6-5-11, -7, 6 PIMs, 71 SOG
Season Totals (AHL): 33 GP, 3-4-7, E, 26 PIMs, 50 SOG

F Cameron Darcy, KAL, 2gp, 0-2-2, +1, 0 PIMS, 4 SOG
Season Totals (ECHL): 20 GP, 5-20-25, +11, 10 PIMs, 51 SOG
Season Totals (AHL): 34 GP, 3-4-7, -3, 14 PIMs, 40 SOG

Other Notables
G Nic Riopel, KAL, 1gp, L, 60:00 MINS, 27/34
Season Totals: 31 GP, 18-11-0-1, 3.00 GAA, 0.903 SV%, 1 SO

Kalamazoo closed out its regular season this weekend, splitting a home-and-home with Wheeling. Friday night, Nic Riopel allowed 7 goals in the loss, while on Saturday night Lighting prospect Brian Hart scored one of the five K-Wings goals. Cam Darcy assisted on goals both nights, and finished his 20 game stint with 25 points. Kalamazoo now turns its attention to the Brabham Cup winner Toledo Walleye as the league's best team in the regular session, as their best of seven playoff series begins next weekend with the first two games in Toledo.

Howden Scores First Pro Goal, Crunch Top Devils


By Jeremy Houghtaling

In just his second pro grame, Brett Howden was focused on doing what he was told.

Drive to the net with his stick down.

Howden did just that and Tanner Richard found him on the back door with 3:22 remaining in regulation and the 19-year-old recorded his first pro goal, as the Syracuse Crunch topped the Albany Devils, 3-2, and moved closer to clinching a postseason berth at the Onondaga County War Memorial Saturday.

“He’s been telling me these last two games to just go to the net with my stick on the ice,” Howden said of Richard. “He’s been trying real hard to feed it to me, and he found the seam there.”

AHL Game Night: 4-8-17 Devils at Crunch

Syracuse finally gets on the right side of a key divisional tilt.

ALB-2
SYR-3

Kristers Gudlevskis allowed 2 goals on 26 shots for the victory.

First Period
NO SCORING

Second Period
5:20 ALB Auvitu (5), (Quenneville, Camper)(PP)
10:51 SYR Richard (14), (Kurtz)(SH)
17:14 SYR Masin (3), (Condra, Peca)
19:12 ALB Rooney (12), (Gibbons, Stollery)(SH)

Third Period
16:38 SYR Howden (1), (Richard, Comrie)(PP)

Brett Howden, Dominik Masin, and Tanner Richard were the game's three stars. Howden's game winner was also his first professional goal.

Syracuse now pulls to within 1 point of Toronto for the North Division crown with both clubs having just 3 regular season games left on their schedules. Syracuse finishes with Utica on Wednesday, Binghamton on Friday, and the regular season finale against Utica, again, on Saturday. Utica is in a street fight with two other teams for two playoff spots while Binghamton is out of the playoff race.

Box score from TheAHL.com.

KHL Playoff Game Day: 4-8-17

KHL Gagarin Cup Final
Magnitogorsk 4 vs. St. Petersburg 5
St. Petersburg Leads the Series 1-0
Nikita Gusev, St. Petersburg, 0-2-2, +1, 0 PIM, 1 SOG
Playoff totals: 14 GP, 6-10-16, +3, 2 PIM
Regular season totals: 57 GP, 24-47-71, +33, 8 PIM

Nikita Gusev had a pair of helpers, one of which game on the power play, as SKA edged Magnitogorsk 5-4 in Game One of the Gagarin Cup Final. Gusev played 16:49 in the victory, which came on Magnitka's home rink. The wild game included a pair of brilliant goals by ex-NHL'er Evgeny Dadonov for SKA on the rush, a pair of ejections (one for each team) that included ex-NHL'er Ilya Kovalchuk being sent off for a hit to the head, and a power play goal by Swedish national and SKA defender Patrik Hersley that came on a point blank slapper that actually went through the Magnitogorsk net. Ex-Lightning pick Vasily Koshechkin took the loss for Magnitogorsk after allowing 5 goals on 34 shots. Fellow ex-Lightning pick Dmitry Kazionov was scoreless in 7:07 in the loss for Magnitogorsk, as well.

AHL Game Night: 4-7-17 Crunch at Senators

Crunch choke in ongoing listless crawl to the finish line.

SYR-3
BNG-4 (OT)

Mike McKenna allowed 4 goals on 26 shots for the loss. My goodness was he awful tonight.

First Period
9:28 BNG Varone (15), (Akeson, Blunden)
16:22 SYR McGinn (8), (Richard, Blujus)

Second Period
14:57 SYR Ikonen (5), (McGinn, Thomas)

Third Period
9:22 SYR McGinn (9), (Condra)(PP)
15:45 BNG Akeson (20), (Varone, Rumble)
15:54 BNG Rodewald (18), (unassisted)

Overtime
1:01 BNG Paul (15), (Rumble, McCormick)

Tye McGinn was the game's second star.

At this time of year, if you get to under 6 minutes left in a game with a 2 goal lead, that's got to get you 2 points in the standings. Having failed to accomplish that, the Crunch still linger 3 points back of Toronto for the lead in the North Division. Syracuse will make the postseason, but a 3-4-1-2 record in their last 10 points to the probability they won't stick around long unless they find some consistency and some ability to make some situational plays in a hurry.

Box score from TheAHL.com.

NHL Game Night: 4-7-17 Lightning at Canadiens

Carey Price FEARS Yanni Gourde.

TB-4
MTL-2

Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 2 goals on 29 saves for the win, including a couple of brilliant jaw-dropping saves to put a national TV audience on notice. From here on out, there's a crime wave coming any time you play Tampa Bay. #Vasilarceniy

First Period
11:42 TB Gourde (5), (Kucherov, Witkowski)
19:50 TB Kucherov (40), (Palat, Point)

Second Period
9:59 MTL King (9), (Lehkonen, Nesterov)
14:19 TB Killorn (19), (Conacher)

Third Period
4:36 MTL Lehkonen (17), (unassisted)(SH)
4:57 TB Gourde (6), (Conacher, Dotchin)

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

I'm done talking about the heart of this Lightning club. They just bounced Toronto and Montreal in back-to-back games on the road despite the slim odds they have to make the playoffs. They've got character and refusal to quit. It'll still take an inside straight for Tampa Bay to make it to the big dance, but kudos to them for making Toronto earn it. Worst case scenario, this is a club with a freshly minted 40 goal scoring superstar in Kucherov, one of the best emerging goaltenders in the game in Vasilevskiy, Brayden Point laying in the weeds to become another star in his own rights, and plenty of other talent coming with them. Jon Cooper's found a formula down the stretch here that, at a minimum, portend very very good things for next season.

A little over 2 months ago this team was dead last in the Eastern Conference. It's Game 81 on April 7th and they're still playing meaningful hockey. Give these guys credit for what they've done and the resiliency and chemistry they've found.

Luke Witkowski had a helper and was +1 with 1 shot and 4 hits in 11:25.

Greg McKegg was 64% on 11 draws in 10:59.

Jake Dotchin had a helper and was +2 with 4 hits in 17:03. I still have it in my head there's a sweet spot of around 17-18 minutes where Dotchin goes from being a good player to a really good player.

Gabriel Dumont had 1 shot, 6 hits, 2 blocked shots, and was 58% on 12 draws in 13:48.

Gourde had 2 goals and was +3 with 3 shots and 2 hits in 14:57. He was also 38% on 8 draws. Fun fact: Yanni Gourde has 3 of his 6 goals this season against Carey Price. True story.

Adam Erne was -1 with 4 hits and 2 blocked shots in 9:40.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Game Night: 4-6-17 Lightning at Maple Leafs

As sun continues to sink on the season, Lightning continue to fight against the darkness.

TB-4
TOR-1

Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 1 goal on 27 shots for the victory. Another really strong performance down the stretch by Vasilevskiy, who has answered all of my questions about whether he's ready to be the starter in the affirmative.

First Period
NO SCORING

Second Period
7:34 TB Point (15), (Palat, Hedman)(PP)
9:42 TOR Kadri (32), (Hunwick, Bozak)
11:50 TB Kucherov (39), (Hedman)

Third Period
2:00 TB Bournival (2), (Sustr, Hedman)
14:11 TB Point (16), (Palat, Dotchin)

Victor Hedman, Brayden Point, and Vasilevskiy were the game's three stars.

Even as the Lightning's mathematical odds were dwindling ever closer to zero due to other results around the league, Tampa Bay reaffirmed their character in a convincing win over a Toronto team ready for a playoff coronation. There was a lot of, in my opinion unfair, hand wringing in the Lightning fan base after their loss to Boston with copious accusations that the Lightning somehow lacked heart in the game. Reiterating what I said after the game, I think the real culprit was the fatigue of trying to maintain a pace above .700 in the standings for close to two months with injury problems and trade deadline departures piling up around the team's ears. The truth is the complacency of the first two-thirds of the season caught up with the Lightning in Boston, as it was almost inevitably bound to do. But, that shouldn't invalidate the resolve the Lightning showed the final third of the campaign in fighting hard enough to still be playing meaningful games in April. That's no small feat, and a testament to both the coaching staff and the character of the team and its young, emerging stars. Tonight was the Lightning giving an RSVP for better things ahead next season.

With Ottawa defeating Boston in a Shootout tonight, the Lightning are now 3 points out of a playoff spot with 2 games left to play. Toronto still looks extremely likely to slip into the playoffs even despite tonight's effort and eliminate the Lightning, but credit to the Lightning for making them earn it.

Luke Witkowski had 2 hits in 4:53.

Greg McKegg was +1 with 1 hit in 9:16. He was also 38% on 8 draws.

Jake Dotchin had a helper, 3 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 20:43, and made friends and influenced people all throughout the metro-Toronto region stepping up at his blueline for an awkward leg to leg hit on Leafs golden child Austen Matthews.

Gabriel Dumont returned from paternity leave to deliver 1 hit and 2 blocked shots in 12:21. He was also 33% on 12 draws.

Yanni Gourde was 15% on 13 draws in 13:51.

Adam Erne had 1 shot and 2 hits in 11:54.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

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