The Lightning come within an eyelash of taking a point away from a very fired up Capitals team.
Mike Smith allowed 3 goals on 31 shots for the loss. What a tough spot to be put in for your first game back. "So, uh, Smitty. You got the Caps tonight. They've won 9 in a row and they're super angry the way we whipped them last time we played them. Go get 'em tiger!" Give credit to Smith for battling and giving the Lightning a serious chance to get points out of this one.
WSH 0:57, Backstrom 23 (Ovechkin, Fleischmann)(PP)
WSH 12:56, Laich 16 (Semin, Fleischmann)
TB 5:00, St. Louis 16 (Foster, Stamkos)
TB 7:42, Stamkos 29 (Foster, St. Louis)(PP)
WSH 13:34, Ovechkin 35 (Backstrom, Poti)
There's no such thing as a moral victory, and I doubt the club feels very good about losing a point with under 10 to play. But, watching this game out of the corner of my eye while the Norfolk game was on, you could tell the Caps came out with playoff intensity and they were out there to try to embarass the Lightning after Tampa Bay spanked them so badly in the last meeting they had. For the most part, the Lightning handled the Caps' surges and they blocked a ton of shots to keep the overall shot total close at 31-27 even though they got outchanced. And, they played opportunistic hockey in the third and capitalized on a key power play opportunity that almost was enough to steal a point out of the capitol city. In other words, even in defeat, the Lightning managed to let Washnington know the last game in Tampa was not a fluke. The gap is closing in the Southeast.
How long has it been since a Lightning game didn't have a prospect in it? It's the first time in about a season and a half, at least, with Paul Szczechura being sent to the Admirals for a brief conditioning stint. On a somewhat related note, it'll be interesting to see if the Lightning send some reinforcements like Szczechura to Norfolk over the Olympic break to see if they can aid in the Admirals' own quest for the playoffs.
With the point, the Lightning have entered into a five team pile-up for the final two playoff spots in the conference. But, if they were even mediocre in shootouts, they'd be snugly in.
Antero Niittymaki allowed 1 goal on 32 shots before allowing 2 of 3 shooters to defeat him in the penalty shot session.
TB 9:47, St. Louis 15 (Stamkos)
ANH 6:36, Wisniewski 3 (Getzlaf, Whitney)(PP)
ANH- Getzlaf, Wisniewski
Do I really need to say much more about the Lightning's shootout futility this season? I don't know what it is about the Lightning that makes them so ineffectual at it, despite having some ridiculously skilled players. The gimmick at the end of the game aside (which I, A. Hate, and B. Isn't really that exciting), both teams played a strong game and both teams got strong goaltending. It was a chippy game, and the Lightning answered the bell fairly well against an Anaheim team that has a lot of size and toughness.
Paul Szczechura had 1 shot and 1 hit in 9:26. He's now 4 games from graduation here on Bolt Prospects.
In case you needed a reminder of what a special talent #4 is...
Antero Niittymaki stopped all 33 shots he faced tonight for the shutout. It's been a heck of a bounce back these past couple of games from Niitty after being somewhat terrible in 2 of the 3 games prior to that.
TB 9:50, St. Louis 14 (Downie)
TB 2:23, Lecavalier 14 (Tanguay, Downie)
TB 5:54, Stamkos 28 (Foster, Lecavalier)(PP)
Vincent Lecavalier, between the legs, 2-0 Lightning. Eat your heart out, Montreal. Have I professed my continuing admiration for Steve Downie and Matt Smaby lately? Downie had a pair of assists tonight and was second star of the game while Matt Smaby continues to single-handedly force opposing teams to respect the Lightning at Tampa Bay's blueline and in the neutral zone. Don't get me wrong, Mattias Ohlund will hit you. But, #32 will harm you. He only got credit for 1 hit tonight. As Bobby Taylor has said on the television broadcasts before, though, the scorekeepers seem to routinely short change Smaby on his hit totals at the Forum. Downie and Smaby: they're both gentlemen and scholars, I tell you.
Paul Szczechura had 2 penalty minutes, 3 shots, 1 hit, and he was 67% on draws in 10:54. Szczechura is now 5 games away from graduation from prospect status here on Bolt Prospects.
Arthur Blank owns the Atlanta Falcons, Liberty Media owns the Atlanta Braves, and Atlanta Spirit LLC owns the Atlanta Hawks, but Niitty owns the Atlanta Thrashers.
Antero Niittymaki allowed 1 goal on 38 shots and blanked the Thrashers on 5 shootout attempts to improve to 15-0-0 lifetime against Atlanta. He owns that team. It's hilarious.
ATL 5:23, Antropov 13 (Little, Kubina)
TB 7:28, Stamkos 27 (Foster, Malone)
The Lightning totally did not deserve to win tonight. After a strong opening, they really took their foot off the gas pedal toward the end of the first period. It was a slow, lethargic effort, and only by the grace of some luck and Niitty getting sharper as the game went on did they pull two points out tonight. They were ultimately outshot 38-27 in the game and they absolutely can't survive on efforts like this if they're going to make the playoffs.
Paul Szczechura was -1 with 2 shots and 2 blocked shots in 9:45.
The Lightning snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.
Antero Niittymaki allowed 2 goals on 22 shots for the win.
TOR 7:05, White 9 (Kessel, Gunnarsson)(PP)
TB 11:46, Stamkos 26 (Lecavalier, Foster)
TOR 9:08, Stajan 15 (Hagman, Kulemin)
TB 16:11, Malone 21 (Lecavalier, Stamkos)(PP)
TB 4:50, St. Louis 13 (Stamkos, Lecavalier)(PP)
If the power play stays hot, that's one thing that will give the Lightning a big edge down the stretch of this season. It saved the game tonight, and that was as close to a must-win as it could be.
Vincent Lecavalier has climbed up to a point a game pace for the season. Steven Stamkos goes over a point a game pace. Martin St. Louis remains well over a point a game pace for the season. And, the ironic thing is that Rick Tocchet might be right: Steve Downie might be playing better hockey than all of them.
Paul Szczechura had 2 penalty minutes and 1 shot in 10:05.
That was outstanding. The Lightning played hard and they played under control.
Antero Niittymaki allowed 2 goals on 22 shots for the win.
TB 11:07, Malone 20 (Foster, Veilleux)
CAR 16:28, Cullen 9 (Whitney, Staal)
TB 18:55, Lecavalier 12 (Meszaros, Halpern)(PP)
CAR 4:07, LaRose 2 (Gleason)
TB 9:11, Downie 11 (St. Louis, Smaby)
For one of the rare times in the past two seasons, the Lightning did not panic whenever the opposing team got a goal to even things up. They stayed under control, and they went right back to work to retake the lead. That's exactly the way they need to play down the stretch to piece together enough points to make the postseason.
Paul Szczechura had 2 penalty minutes, 2 shots, 1 hit, and 2 blocked shots in 13:41.
Late tonight, after the conclusion of the Admirals' game against the Adirondack Phantoms, the Lightning and GM Brian Lawton announced that Head Coach Darren Rumble has been relieved of his duties. Assistant Coach Jim Johnson has been named the new Head Coach and Assistant Coach Leigh Mendelson will remain with the team. Rumble departs the Admirals, officially, with a 50-61-6-5 record in one and a half seasons with the team, although he unofficially assumed the role of Head Coach midway through the 2007-2008 season. Norfolk is currently 17-23-2 this season, which is last place in the AHL's East Division and six points out of a playoff spot.
In my mind, two things contributed to Brian Lawton's decision to make a move. First, although the Lightning have promoted several players to Tampa Bay this season, Norfolk returned a very deep roster dotted with numerous NHL and AHL veterans. While it may not have been fair to expect this team to be competing with Hershey for the division title, this roster probably should be in the thick of the pack in the East Division fighting for second or third, not in last place. The second factor is that, although some prospects like Blair Jones and Dustin Tokarski are having excellent seasons, some of the Lightning's most prized prospects have struggled, namely Matt Lashoff and Dana Tyrell.
The loss on Thursday really stings now.
FLA 4:07, Stillman 8, (Reinprecht, Ballard)(PP)
FLA 10:28, Stillman 9, (Ballard)
TB 11:44, Tanguay 7, (Lecavalier)
TB 16:31, Meszaros 4, (Halpern, Lecavalier)(PP)
FLA 17:03, Allen 3, (Stillman, Dvorak)
FLA 5:02, Olesz 12, (Campbell, Moore)
FLA 12:36, Olesz 13, (Ballard, Leopold)(PP)
Typical Lightning/Panthers game. The Lightning outshot the Panthers 46-23 and none of it mattered because every bounce went their way and every opportunity the Lightning had either skittered a half inch wide, drew iron, or was magnetically attracted to a goaltender who was standing on their head at the time. The Lightning were a little flat in the second period, true, but this is another game against the Panthers where the scoreboard and the actually level of play in the game didn't match. That's why the collapse in the third period on Thursday hurts so much. On the rare occassion the Panthers' voodoo curse on the Lightning isn't working, you'd better darned well step on their throats.
Paul Szczechura was -1 with 2 shots and 2 hits and was 33% on draws in 10:11.
Antero Niittymaki allowed 3 goals on 29 shots for the loss.
FLA 5:58, Horton 16 (Weiss, Frolik)
TB 9:40, Halpern 9 (Lecavalier, Tanguay)
TB 12:40, Downie 10 (Malone, Szczechura)
FLA 8:53, Stillman 7 (Reinprecht, Dvorak)
FLA 12:21, Olesz 11 (unassisted)
The Lightning played 40 minutes of very solid hockey, only to take their foot off the gas a bit and have a couple of mistakes by defensemen find their way into the back of the net to cost them the game in the third. It was very disheartening. This team, for some reason, insists on doing things the hard way this season.
Paul Szczechura had 1 assist, 1 hit, 1 blocked shot, and he was 64% on draws in 14:33.
That was another signature win by the Lightning, beating a team they haven't bested in what seems like forever.
Mike Smith allowed 2 goals on 12 shots before leaving with an injury likely suffered when Brooks Laich ran him in the first period. Antero Niitymaki allowed 2 goals on 23 shots the rest of the way for the win.
TB 6:34, Lecavalier 11 (Tanguay)
TB 12:03, Stamkos 24 (Bochenski, Foster)(PP)
WSH 14:05, Semin 19 (Fleischmann, Schultz)
TB 17:28, Stamkos 25 (Bochenski, St. Louis)(PP)
TB 18:35, Veilleux 2 (unassisted)
WSH 1:34, Green 11 (Semin, Ovechkin)(PP)
WSH 7:44, Fehr 11 (Morrison, Chimera)
WSH 12:08, Green 12 (Backstrom, Ovechkin)(PP)
TB 17:28, St. Louis 12 (Stamkos, Bochenski)(PP)
TB 4:00, Foster 7 (Hedman, St. Louis)
TB 9:54, Halpern 8 (Lecavalier, Tanguay)(PP)
God I hate the Caps. I hate their fans. I hate their players. I'll never forgive Alex Ovechkin for that disrespectful dancing bull crap last season. How do you say "punk" in Russian? "Ovechkin." Did I love Steve Downie popping him in the mouth in round one? You betcha. Did I enjoy the emasculation of Ovechkin when Matt Bradley had to jump in to fight his battle for him against Downie in round two? Oh yeah. And knowing what a chirper Downie is, he's got material for the next two seasons out of that. "Does he hold your hand when your cross the street too, Ovie?" Beautiful.
And then the coup de gras: Zenon Konopka beating David Steckel up one side and down the other. Steckel's ancestors felt that beating. He looked like a speed bag with eye balls: a 6'5" 222 pound speedbag who got the drum part from "Wipe Out" played on his skull by a man four inches shorter in height, but clearly at least that much bigger in cojones. Love it. The Lightning whipped them on the scoreboard and they whipped them physically, too. That was a statement. Not only did the Lightning let the Caps know that the days of them rolling up huge wins on them are over, but they informed them that on any street, alley, boulevard, overpass, or underpass (take your pick) the Lightning are ready to bloody their nose. When the Lightning pass the Caps in the standings within the next three seasons and take over as the dominant team in the division, remember this game. They don't have the talent to live in the penthouse yet, but tonight was their down payment.
Paul Szczechura had 1 shot and 1 blocked shot in 12:22.