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NHL Playoff Game Night: 5-13-16 Lightning at Penguins

Somehow. Some way.

Eastern Conference Finals

TB-3
PIT-1

Tampa Bay Leads the Series 1-0

Ben Bishop stopped all 9 shots he faced before leaving the game on a stretcher from a freak injury where he landed awkwardly on his own left leg. I'm going to guess it's a high ankle or knee sprain, as x-rays have already ruled out a break. Either way, Bishop looked in anguish on the ice and it looks at this hour like his postseason may be done. Stepping into another moment of panic in his young career, like in the Stanley Cup Final last year, young Andrei Vasilevskiy again proved himself by stopping 25 of 26 shots the rest of the way for the victory. He looked fantastic under the circumstances, and you can see bits of his game he's picked up from Ben like smart stickwork around his crease. Athletically he's capable of giving the Lightning a chance to still advance, but losing Bishop clearly nullifies the biggest advantage the Lightning had coming into this Eastern Conference Finals. Bishop was, on paper, the best and most experience netminder still standing among the NHL's final four teams. Vasilevskiy isn't drastically less experienced than Murray, so it's not like Pittsburgh gets a dramatic goaltending advantage like Montreal got when Bishop got hurt late in the regular season 3 years ago. But, it's a blow to the team's hopes, for sure. There's no sugar coating that.

First Period
18:46 TB Killorn(4), (Hedman)

Second Period
2:33 TB Palat(3), (Filppula, Garrison)(PP)
18:25 TB Drouin(2), (Palat, Filppula)
19:05 PIT Hornqvist(6), (Crosby, Kessel)(PP)

Third Period
NO SCORING

Ondrej Palat and Jonathan Drouin were the game's first and second stars. How the heck Vasilevskiy didn't get a star is beyond me.

Wow. I confess to being a little speechless. I have no idea how the Lightning survived a First Period that we may well refer to from here on out as "The Period From Hell," much less how they got out of it with a 1-0 lead. Even before Bishop's injury, Ryan Callahan took a 5 minute boarding major that will likely lead to a 1 game suspension. The Lightning somehow managed to kill that off against the best power play unit in this playoff year thus far. The Lightning lost all their early 5v5 momentum after that kill and looked on the ropes at times before Bishop got injured. Somehow, some way, the Lightning managed to reset their composure in the 10-15 minutes it took to stretcher their MVP off the ice, and they started to play an efficient, opportunistic game. A Hedman stretch pass found Killorn at the Pens blueline and he worked his way into a breakaway where he sweetly stashed a backhand deke under Murray to make it 1-0. But "The Period From Hell" wasn't done with the Lightning yet, as Chris Kunitz hit Tyler Johnson knee to knee very late in the period leading Johnson to leave the ice until deep into the Second Period. Thankfully he returned and didn't look too limited after coming back.

So, you had a team head into the locker room that could've gone into shock, but they instead dedicated to put their noses to the grindstone and see what they could work out of the game. They got an early power play and with some good work by Killorn and resulting puck movement, Filppula made a nice play with a shot-for-rebound that found Palat for the goal that put the team up 2-0. Later in the period, Palat teed up Drouin on a 2-on-1 and the Lightning put themselves in position for a nearly perfect road win at 3-0, especially under the circumstances. Unfortunately, they put themselves in some jeopardy by allowing a power play goal late in the period that gave the Pens a chance to make a Third Period push. They're lucky that didn't come back to bite them, as Pittsburgh outshot the Lightning 16-5 in the final frame, forcing young Vasilevskiy to make some big stops. But, they ultimately did enough to get it done.

Tampa Bay came to Pittsburgh with the mission of getting at least one of the first two games on the road. Mission accomplished. Now they are playing with house money heading into Game Two. They can play free and fast and see if they can steal another one out from under Pittsburgh before the scene shifts back to Tampa Bay. Once back in Tampa, if not sooner, I'd expect to see Anton Stralman, and eventually I'd expect to see Steven Stamkos back late in this series. The urgency for them to return only goes up now with Bishop's injury. If the Lightning can get at least Stralman back and continue to play a structured game in front of Vasilevskiy, they've still got a decent shot of advancing, even with the Bishop injury. Certainly there's 26 other teams in the league that wish they were in the Lightning's shoes at the moment, so there's no time for hand wringing for pity parties. This team's story is still to be written and it still can have a happy ending.

On a tangent, with Callahan getting a 5 minute major for boarding Letang in the First Period and Palat getting a 2 minute minor for board Dumoulin late in the game, one of the Lightning's big strategic goals became obvious. Certainly no one's advocating dirty hockey, but the Lightning's agenda clearly seems to include testing a fairly soft Penguins defense physically. And, quite frankly, I don't think the Penguins passed that test all that well tonight. I think they showed they're not comfortable taking hits along the wall and they can be intimidated a little. Callahan's impending suspension shouldn't diminish that strategy, in my opinion. With the Lightning taking home ice away with the win tonight, they've put themselves in a position to, at a minimum, make this a very long series. If so, the cumulative effect of a constant pounding on the Penguins' D is going to yield dividends, and could be the difference between winning or losing this series.

Welcome back J.T. Brown. We missed you.

Slater Koekkoek had 1 shot, 1 hit, and 1 blocked shot in 9:31. When Stralman does return, there's no way Koekkoek should sit for Nikita Nesterov. No way. Koekkoek has clearly passed Nesterov on the depth chart, in my mind, and he seems to get a little steadier and a little more confidence with each shift.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

Juniors Playoffs Game Night: 5-12-16

Quebec Major Junior Hockey League

Shawinigan Cataractes 2 @ Rouyn-Noranda Huskies 7
QMJHL Finals
Rouyn-Noranda wins best-of-7 series, 4-1

W Dennis Yan, SHAW: 1-0-1, -1, 2 PIM, 3 SOG, 5 Hits
Playoff totals: 20 GP, 10-5-15, +2, 32 PIM
Season totals: 62 GP, 32-37-69, +8, 86 PIM

Rouyn-Noranda won the President Trophy as QMJHL champs with a 7-2 win Thursday over Dennis Yan and Shawinigan. The Huskies advance to the Memorial Cup where they will join tournament host Red Deer and OHL champ London. Seattle and Brandon continue to battle in the WHL for the last spot. Yan completes his year with a bounce-back post-season after a lackluster finish to the regular season. He finishes the playoffs 10th in league goal scoring and second in penalty minutes. He’ll return to the Q next year.

Ryan Zuhlsdorf of USHL Dubuque is the lone Lightning prospect left playing. His Saints take on Tri-City in the USHL Clark Cup Finals.

Juniors Playoffs Game Night: 5-10-16

Quebec Major Junior Hockey League

Rouyn-Noranda Huskies 4 @ Shawinigan Cataractes 6
QMJHL Finals
Rouyn-Noranda leads best-of-7 series, 3-1

W Dennis Yan, SHAW: 1-0-1, +2, 0 PIM, 2 SOG, 3 Hits
Playoff totals: 19 GP, 9-5-14, +3, 28 PIM
Season totals: 62 GP, 32-37-69, +8, 86 PIM

Shawinigan staved off elimination for at least one more game, avoiding a sweep at the hands of Rouyn-Noranda with a 6-4 win Tuesday. Dennis Yan’s ninth goal of the playoffs gave the Cataractes a 3-0 lead they’d later relinquish. The Huskies came back from 3-0 and 4-1 deficits to tie the game before Shawinigan went ahead for good late in the third period. Former Lightning camper Philippe Cadorette stopped 33 of 37 shots for Shawinigan, earning second star. Game 5 is Thursday in the Huskies’ arena.

United States Hockey League

Bloomington Thunder 0 @ Dubuque Fighting Saints 3
Eastern Conference Finals
Dubuque wins best-of-5 series, 3-2

D Ryan Zuhlsdorf, DBQ: 0-0-0, +1, 0 PIM, 1 SOG
Playoff totals: 9 GP, 0-3-3, +5, 10 PIM
Season totals: 46 GP, 0-27-27, -2, 59 PIM
(University of Minnesota signee)

Dubuque advanced to the Clark Cup Finals with a 3-0 shutout win over Bloomington Tuesday. Hunter Miska (undrafted Minnesota-Duluth commit) stopped 25 shots for the shutout win. The Saints will face Adam Wilcox’s old team, the Tri-City Storm, in the finals starting Friday.

Lightning Name Benoit Groulx as 9th Head Coach of the Crunch

TAMPA BAY – The Tampa Bay Lightning have hired Benoit Groulx to become the head coach of its American Hockey League affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch, Crunch General Manager Julien BriseBois announced today.

Groulx, 48, was the head coach and general manager for the Gatineau Olympiques of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League during the 2015-16 season, guiding his team to a record of 46-19-2-1. The Olympiques were defeated in the 2016 QMJHL Quarter-Final by the Moncton Wildcats four games to two.

Groulx has worked 13 total seasons as a head coach in the QMJHL with the Hull/Gatineau Olympiques, posting a career record of 460-293-18-59. He led his teams to league championships in 2003, 2004 and 2008, earning QMJHL Coach of the Year honors for the 2003-04 season while coaching the Olympiques.

The Hull, Quebec native also served on the coaching staffs for Team Canada at the 2004 U18 World Championships as well as the 2014 and 2015 IIHF World Junior Championships. Groulx was an assistant coach for the Gold Medal winning Team Canada at the U18 World Championships in 2004. Groulx was also an assistant coach for Team Canada at the World Junior Championships in 2014 as Canada was defeated in the Bronze Medal game by Russia. The following year, Groulx was the head coach for Team Canada, winning the Gold Medal and earning a perfect 7-0 record during the tournament.

Juniors Playoffs Game Night: 5-8-16

Quebec Major Junior Hockey League

Rouyn-Noranda Huskies 2 @ Shawinigan Cataractes 1
QMJHL Finals
Rouyn-Noranda leads best-of-7 series, 3-0

W Dennis Yan, SHAW: 0-0-0, -1, 0 PIM, 1 SOG, 6 Hits
Playoff totals: 18 GP, 8-5-13, +1, 28 PIM
Season totals: 62 GP, 32-37-69, +8, 86 PIM

The Huskies are within one win of the President Cup after a 2-1 Game 3 win in Shawinigan Sunday. Rouyn-Noranda won the completion of Game 2 Saturday, 4-1. Game 4 is Tuesday. Yan is the last remaining Lightning prospect playing outside the NHL.

United States Hockey League

Dubuque Fighting Saints 2 @ Bloomington Thunder 3 (OT) (Saturday)
Eastern Conference Finals
Best-of-5 series tied, 2-2

D Ryan Zuhlsdorf, DBQ: 0-0-0, E, 0 PIM, 0 SOG
Playoff totals: 8 GP, 0-3-3, +4, 10 PIM
Season totals: 46 GP, 0-27-27, -2, 59 PIM
(University of Minnesota signee)

Dubuque outshot Bloomington 9-6 in overtime, but the Thunder snuck out the win to avoid elimination and force a deciding Game 5 in the USHL’s Eastern Conference Finals. The series will end one way or another Tuesday in Dubuque.

NHL Playoff Game Day: 5-8-16 Islanders at Lightning

Halfway to the mountaintop...

Eastern Conference Quarterfinals

NYI-0
TB-4

Tampa Bay Wins the Series 4-1

Ben Bishop stopped all 28 shots he faced for the shutout and the issuance of even more U of Maine Justice in a closeout game. He had 1-2 timely saves early in the game and one big time larceny on Boychuk to preserve his SO, but otherwise it was an afternoon of light work for Bish. His homework for the ECF: come out sharper for Game One, as he looked a little off in Game One of both the DET and NYI series, and the Lightning can't afford to spot any opponent a game here on out.

First Period
13:49 TB Hedman(3), (unassisted)
18:41 TB Boyle(3), (Carle, Paquette)

Second Period
4:22 TB Hedman(4), (Drouin, Johnson)(PP)

Third Period
4:40 TB Kucherov(9), (Killorn)

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

The Lightning took the Islanders' heart in OT wins in Game Three and Game Four and today they did a clinical job of taking their playoff lives. Sensing the advantage, the Lightning finally played an excellent First Period for the first time in the series to build the 2-0 lead. In the Second Period, they leveraged the power play to get the all important 3 goal advantage after 40 minutes. And, just to discourage the Isles from any thought of a comeback, Kucherov bagged the breakaway early in the Third Period to allow the Lightning to cruise to the Eastern Conference Finals.

For the first time ever, the Lightning are in the NHL's final four teams in back to back years. In other words, today they officially became elite.

Speaking of which... Victor Hedman's only roadblock to competing for Norris Trophies has been his inability to establish himself as a legit sniper from the point. In this series, he started to show the ability to find the range. If that continues and carries over into next season, he'll challenge the likes of Doughty and Karlsson and lay legit claim to being the league's best defenseman. And, he's learning how to lug the hefty minutes every game that those Norris-caliber defensemen often do for their teams, as well.

Now the Lightning get some crucial time off to rest as they await their next opponent. I'm not going to sugar coat this: the Lightning just cleared the JV side of the bracket in the Eastern Conference. The heavy lifting is definitely to come. However, you can only play the opponents on the schedule and the Lightning disposed of both of DET and NYI quickly, as a legitimate contender should have. It's a far cry from last season where the Lightning had already played 13 of a possible 14 games at this point of the playoff season.

Who do I root for between WAS and PIT on the other side of the bracket? An earthquake or other natural disaster. Frankly, I can't stand either one of them and the national hockey media will do their best to put the machine behind whichever one of Ovechkin or Crosby advances. Six/one half dozen. Either way the Lightning need to start getting Brown, Stralman, and Stamkos back if they're going to advance to the Stanley Cup Final, so protracted, bloody multi-overtime games between the Pens and Caps, and the extra time they would afford the Lightning, might be the best result of all.

Slater Koekkoek had 1 hit in 9:49. He's clearly supplanted Nesterov in the every day lineup for the team.

Luke Witkowski had 1 hit in 4:17.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

Juniors Playoffs Game Night: 5-6-16

United States Hockey League

Dubuque Fighting Saints 6 @ Bloomington Thunder 4
Eastern Conference Finals
Dubuque leads best-of-5 series, 2-1

D Ryan Zuhlsdorf, DBQ: 0-1-1, -1, 4 PIM, 0 SOG
Playoff totals: 7 GP, 0-3-3, +4, 10 PIM
Season totals: 46 GP, 0-27-27, -2, 59 PIM
(University of Minnesota signee)

Dubuque limited Bloomington to just 19 shots on goal in Game 2, but allowed 42 in Game 3. The result was the same, however: a Saints win. Dubuque will go for the series win Saturday in Indiana.

NOTE: Game 2 of the QMJHL Finals between Rouyn-Noranda and Shawinigan was postponed due to a coolant link under the ice. The game will be resumed Saturday afternoon.

NHL Playoff Game Day: 5-6-16 Lightning at Islanders

Smash. And. Grab.

Eastern Conference Semifinals

TB-2
NYI-1 (OT)

Tampa Bay Leads the Series 3-1

Ben Bishop allowed 1 goal on 28 shots for the victory. As with Game Three, Bishop made the key saves necessary for the Lightning to keep contact at 1 goal down and execute the perfect road smash and grab.

First Period
4:20 NYI Okposo(2), (Kulemin, Nielsen)(PP)

Second Period
NO SCORING

Third Period
7:49 TB Kucherov(8), (Johnson)

Overtime
1:34 TB Garrison(1), (Sustr, Palat)

Jason Garrison and Ben Bishop were the game's first and third stars.

The Lightning used guile and a dash of luck to get away with an extremely flat performance tonight and take a stranglehold advantage in the series. After a good initial push in the First Period the Islanders received a power play on a questionable exchange in a goalmouth scrum, and once Okposo scored on the ensuing power play the Islanders carried the bulk of the play thereafter. Mind you, the Isles didn't generate a ton of chances with their possession advantage, but they made it very difficult for the Lightning to break out of their own end and they were very stingy with the scoring chances. However, when the Isles had a chance to put the game away, such as their First Period 4 minute power play or Tavares and Okposo's 2-on-1 chance, they couldn't build the 2 goal advantage. When you allow a team as skilled as Tampa Bay to maintain contact on the scoreboard, you invite the smash and grab. Kucherov only needed a sliver of daylight to tie the game in the Third Period, and once they got it to the end of regulation tied, they simply believed they were going to win it. It was obvious, and they blew the Isles off the ice early in OT with a masterful shift punctuated by Garrison's point bomb for the winner.

Garrison played a great rebound game after looking like the dog's breakfast in Game Three. Perhaps the bizarre domino effect of Carle's minutes coming back into the lineup.

Isles fans are going to complain about the missed high sticking call on Garrison late in the Third Period. Rightfully so. But, then again, the refs completely changed the momentum of the game early on when Bishop got cross checked in the back of the head at the bottom of a scrum and only Blunden got a call in the resulting melee. Cooper's complaint about soft starts by the Lightning are valid, but I'd also point out I'm a little sick of seeing the momentum shift early in games because of ticky tack or uneven officiating. So, Isles fans can whine all they want, but they've been the beneficiary of poor officiating quite often in this series, too.

Sunday afternoon, the Lightning need to finish this. There's a chance Pittsburgh may close out the other side of the bracket early, and you don't want to put the team at any disadvantage in terms of energy or additional injuries. I expect (hope) the Lightning have learned a lesson and blow the Isles off the rink in the First Period and discourage the Islanders from hanging around any longer.

Slater Koekkoek had 1 shot in 10:17.

Luke Witkowski was +1 in 2:14 of ice time. He extended a clear invitation to any Isles player who wanted to dance. None wanted to take him up on it.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

Juniors Playoffs Game Night: 5-4-16

Quebec Major Junior Hockey League

Shawinigan Cataractes 2 @ Rouyn-Noranda Huskies 4
QMJHL Finals
Rouyn-Noranda leads best-of-7 series, 1-0

W Dennis Yan, SHAW: 0-1-1, -1, 2 PIM, 3 SOG, 1 Hit
Playoff totals: 16 GP, 8-5-13, +4, 28 PIM
Season totals: 62 GP, 32-37-69, +8, 86 PIM

The Huskies drew first blood in the Q finals, winning 4-2 Wednesday. Dennis Yan had an assist on a third period goal that gave Shawinigan a 2-1 lead. The Huskies scored the game’s next three goals. Game 2 is Friday. Rouyn-Noranda is the former club of current Lightning star Nikita Kucherov.

NHL Playoff Game Night: 5-3-16 Lightning at Islanders

Hit me with your best shot...

Eastern Conference Semifinals

TB-5
NYI-4 (OT)

Tampa Bay Leads the Series 2-1

Ben Bishop allowed 4 goals on 39 shots for the win. He was the victim of some very sloppy play by his defense tonight, and while his stat line is not impressive on its face, it included about a half dozen ten bell saves in key moments of the game that allowed the Lightning to maintain contact and eventually steal the win.

First Period
7:55 NYI Bailey(1), (Kulemin, Hamonic)
19:47 TB Callahan(1), (Killorn, Filppula)(PP)

Second Period
8:10 TB Hedman(2), (Johnson)
14:50 NYI Leddy(1), (Clutterbuck, Cizikas)

Third Period
2:27 NYI Bailey(2), (Hickey, Prince)(PP)
3:25 TB Namestnikov(1), (Filppula, Killorn)
11:23 NYI Clutterbuck(2), (Cizikas)
19:21 TB Kucherov(7), (Drouin, Hedman)

Overtime
2:48 TB Boyle(2), (Hedman, Callahan)

Brian Boyle and Victor Hedman were the game's first and second stars.

The Islanders made it pretty clear going into this game they were determined to transform this series into a street fight rather than a hockey exhibition. After being dominated for much of the last 90 minutes of hockey in Game One and Game Two in Tampa Bay, the Islanders were busy splicing up hype videos glorifying Erik Condra's concussion (classy) and trying to start scrums in pregame warmups (Hamonic running into Boyle). There was no equivocating about the night's agenda: the Islanders were going to try to pound the skill out of the Lightning. And, to be honest, they nearly succeeded. In the First Period, Jonathan Drouin made an ill advised attempt to cut to the center of the ice that led to a bone-jarring hit by Hickey that put Jonathan Drouin into the quiet room until deep into the Third Period. With Drouin out and the Lightning playing a skeleton crew of 10 forwards and about 4.5 NHL caliber defensemen, the Isles fourth line waged a night-long campaign to pummel the Lightning into turnovers and mistakes. Back and forth they fought, with the Lightning amazingly answering Bailey's second goal of the night with a Namestnikov equalizer on the very next shift in the Third Period. But, eventually it all took a toll that put the team into a 4-3 hole midway through the Third Period after Jason Garrison (who had an awful case of the yips all game long) threw away a puck off of Cizikas' skate on what became a perfect centering feed to Cal Clutterbuck for what appeared to be the winning goal.

And then, out of the locker room, young Jonathan Drouin strode forth like a boss... the stuff of legend.

With the extra attacker pulled and under one minute to play, Drouin (who also absorbed a pretty nasty high stick that drew blood from his nose after returning midway through the Third Period) swooped down the left wing boards probing for a sliver of a crease through the Islander defense. Then, at the moment of truth, he found Nikita Kucherov (the finisher of #ThatLine) dead center of the slot. Bang. Bang. In the blink of an eye the Islanders' perfectly laid plans were obliterated by a player who they thought they had buried less than two periods earlier. And, the indignity was just beginning...

Recall that revenge is a dish best served cold (an old Klingon proverb, as the late great Ricardo Montalban would remind us).

Early in overtime, Brian Boyle crushed Thomas Hickey at the Isles blueline, forcing a turnover that eventually led to a 3-on-2 rush. The puck found the trailer, Victor Hedman, who in Hedman-esque fashion missed the net. The bounce found Boyle at the side of an open cage. Kisses to Travis Hamonic. Drive home safely, everybody. Lightning lead the series 2-1.

Was it artful? No. The Lightning's puck management was terrible in this game, and for a wide swath of the Third Period it looked like the Islanders' plan to pull the Lightning's collective punk card was going to work. But both the Lightning and Jonathan Drouin ultimately proved tonight that if you take a shot at them, you best not miss. And, you'd better be sure you kill them, or they're fully capable of rising back up and taking you out. That's the resilience of a team that, over the last calendar year, has been in a lot tougher spots and faced a lot deeper adversity than what they faced in that SUV showroom in Brooklyn tonight.

Now the series rolls onto Game Four, where a fragile young Islanders team that isn't overly skilled to begin with will have to manufacture a win to stay viable in the series. They just gave the Lightning their best shot and were less than a minute from victory before getting absolutely humiliated by the two tormentors (Drouin and Boyle) they probably least expected and least wanted to have the satisfaction. The Lightning, on the other hand, have already accomplished their mission in Brooklyn. They've wrestled home ice back from the Islanders and they move into Game Four playing with a heaping stack of the house's chips. Advantage: Lightning. They have a golden opportunity to apply the right pressure to end this series quickly while Stralman, Brown, and Stamkos continue to get healthier by the day and the Caps and Penguins continue to kill each other in protracted, bloody warfare on the other side of the Eastern Conference bracket. For a Lightning team that pretty much did everything the hard way in last year's postseason en route to a painful loss in six games in the Stanley Cup Final, this is a chance to set all their ducks in a row in nearly perfect fashion and give themselves the best possible strategic chance to win it all this year.

Matt Taormina played 2:43. He got 4 shifts all game. I'm not sure he got one after a glorious turnover that nearly ended up in the back of his own net. I'd expect to see him out of the lineup in Game Four.

Slater Koekkoek was +1 with 2 penalty minutes, 3 shots, and 1 blocked shot in 11:35. With Taormina and Nesterov hardly cloaking themselves in glory tonight, the coaching staff gave Koekkoek a little extra responsibility. And, with the exception of one really awful turnover in the Third Period on a failed breakout pass, he handled it pretty well, including some penalty kill time. Perhaps a silver lining of Stralman breaking his leg and Carle getting nicked up will be that Koekkoek plays enough to get a higher level of comfort from the coaching staff to feed him some minutes. Athletically, he's far better equipped to handle it than a lot of the other options available.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

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