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NHL Playoff Game Night: 4-27-15 Lightning at Red Wings

You gotta believe, daddy!

Eastern Conference Quarterfinals
Game Six

TB-5
DET-2

Series Tied 3-3

Ben Bishop allowed 2 goals on 24 shots for the victory. Would he get style points for how he played tonight? Likely not. He looks nicked up and he was fighting the puck a bit all night long. Buy he battled like a maniac to get the job done.

First Period
3:47 TB Johnson (5), (Kucherov, Hedman)
11:10 TB Garrison (1), (Stamkos, Kucherov)

Second Period
9:09 TB Johnson (6), (Palat, Kucherov)
12:26 DET Tatar (2), (Kronwall)(PP)

Third Period
1:39 DET Tatar (3), (Datsyuk)
14:51 TB Killorn (2), (unassisted)
19:03 TB Paquette (1), (unassisted)(SH)(EN)

Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov were the game's first two stars.

It's hard not to be proud of the way the Lightning played tonight. It was gritty and gutty. They were being physically assaulted by Detroit throughout the game as uncalled interference escalated to uncalled head shots like Kronwall's obvious elbow to the chin of Kucherov. They battled on. In fact, the refs took it a step further and decided they were going to punish Jon Cooper for openly questioning the lack of interference calls in this series by awarding Detroit a 7-2 power play advantage and allowing Detroit to get away with anything short of murder in this contest. True, they blew a call that led to the Lightning's third goal on an uncalled trip in the neutral zone, but fairness never entered into the equation tonight. It was 7-on-5, at best, most of the night, but unlike the Montreal series last year the Lightning battled on.

And, yes, I'm deliberately mocking Coach Babcock's mindless platitudes earlier about fighting through his team's clearly illegal strategy of throwing the kitchen sink at the faster, more skilled Lightning team to try to nullify their athletic advantage. It was a pretty overt admission his team is cheating their rear ends off, couched in some hot garbage about having the heart of a champion. Whatever. He and his gaggle of clutch and grab cheap shot artists can battle their rear ends onto a charter flight to Tampa for Game Seven on Wednesday.

The Lightning made a conscious decision tonight to stay true to themselves. It's not easy when things are stacked up against you to stay in character and not deviate from your structure. In fact, when guys start trying to execute flying elbows on your star players, it's a whole lot easier to let things degenerate into an Ultimate Fighting match, which appeared to be Detroit's preference at times tonight. The Lightning played their brand of hockey, got the all important first goal, and won. Note: that's the key. If you get one on Mrazek, chances are he's going to give up 2-3 more, often quickly, so the same recipe will be required for Game Seven success. It wasn't perfect. The power play was still 0-for-2 and neither Stamkos nor Kucherov managed their first goals of the postseason. But, hey, that just means they're due in the biggest game of the year on Wednesday, right?

Coach Cooper said tonight they exhibited that they learned something from the Montreal series last year. True. But, I think they learned 10x more protecting that lead in the Third Period. The plays made by young guys like Paquette, Sustr, Killorn, etc. are all invaluable experience that will help this team turn the corner from a regular season team to a team that can confidently do business in the second season. I really liked what I saw on that front.

On a side note: that steal, deke, and insurance score by Alex Killorn? That man has a way of scoring big goals, doesn't he?

Nikita Nesterov had 1 hit in 5:16. The Lightning coaches weren't going to let Detroit matchup against him at even strength and with the Lightning only getting 2 power plays out of the zebras, Nesterov didn't see the ice very much. Understandable.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

CHL Playoffs Game Night: 4-26-15

Ontario Hockey League
Western Conference Finals

West-1 Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds 2 @ West-2 Erie Otters 4
Erie leads best-of-7 series, 2-1

D Anthony DeAngelo, SOO: Did not play
Playoff Totals: 10 GP, 0-14-14, +14, 10 PIM
With SSM: 26 GP, 15-36-51, +33, 51 PIM
With Sarnia: 29 GP, 10-28-38, +1, 64 PIM
Season totals: 55 GP, 25-64-89, +34, 115 PIM
2013-14 totals: 51 GP, 15-56-71, -34, 90 PIM

Anthony DeAngelo was out of the lineup Sunday as the Soo fell on the road to Erie, 4-2, despite outshooting the Otters, 35-22. DeAngelo is reportedly injured and considered day-to-day and “close.” Connor McDavid had two more goals for Erie to give him 18 in 12 playoff games. Game 4 is Tuesday in Erie.

CHL Playoffs Game Night: 4-25-15

Quebec Major Junior Hockey League
Semifinals

QMJHL-4 Quebec Remparts 4 @ QMJHL-2 Moncton Wildcats 3
Quebec leads best-of-7 series, 2-0

W Adam Erne, QUE: 1-0-1, +1, 0 PIM, 5 SOG, 3 Hits
Playoff totals: 13 GP, 12-3-15, +5, 6 PIM
Season totals: 60 GP, 41-45-86, +21, 102 PIM
2013-2014 Season: 48 GP, 21-41-62, -3, 65 PIM

The Remparts upset the Wildcats yet again, defeating Moncton 4-3 Saturday to take a 2-0 lead in the series. Adam Erne scored his 12th goal of the playoffs in 13 games. Quebec has now won seven straight games, dating back to Game 7 vs Cape Breton in the first round. They’ll try to make it eight straight on Monday back in Quebec City.

Western Hockey League
Eastern Conference Finals

East-2 Calgary Hitmen 2 @ East-1 Brandon Wheat Kings 3 (OT)
Brandon leads best-of-7 series, 2-0

D Ben Thomas, CAL: 0-0-0, E, 0 PIM
Playoff totals: 13 GP, 0-4-4, -3, 2 PIM
Season totals: 60 GP, 7-24-31, +16, 28 PIM
2013-14 totals: 72 GP, 7-24-31, +11, 39 PIM

Brandon scored on their second shot of overtime to put away the Hitmen, 3-2, in Game 2. The Wheat Kings will travel to Calgary with a 2-0 series lead. Ben Thomas’ club did better than the 9-4 drubbing in Game 1, but will have a lot of work to do to get back in the series.

AHL Playoff Game Night: 4-25-25 Crunch at Penguins

One of the worst nights in Lightning organization history.

Eastern Conference Quarterfinals
Game Two

SYR-0
WBS-4

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Leads the Series 2-0

Kristers Gudlevskis allowed 4 goals on 29 shots for the loss. He played ok, from all indications, but the Crunch really need a goaltender to win a game for them right now.

First Period
WBS Megna, (1) (Ebbett, Sheary), 2:32 (PP)
WBS Rowney, (2) (Archibald, Harrington), 16:32 (PP)
WBS Kostopoulos, (1) , 19:59 (PP)

Second Period
NO SCORING

Third Period
WBS Kapanen, (3) (Sheary, Ebbett), 16:10

Zettler went with some wholesale lineup changes, but unfortunately that didn't lead to any offensive production. The good news, I suppose, is that the shot totals were nearly even at 29-27 in favor of the Pens. With that said, the Crunch continue to look like a team without much life, and Game Three may only offer an opportunity for players who will need to be key contributors in Syracuse next season, like Matthew Peca to get a little more seasoning.

Box score from TheAHL.com.

NHL Playoff Game Night: 4-25-15 Red Wings at Lightning

Soul searching time.

Eastern Conference Quarterfinals
Game Five

DET-4
TB-0

Detroit Leads the Series 3-2

Ben Bishop allowed 3 goals on 29 shots for the loss. The second goal was on him, after surrendering a lollipop of a rebound to Drew Miller after a long shot from the bad angle. That's an untimely goal, but I'm hard pressed to be too mad at Ben when he's gotten zero goal support. He can be better, but that's the same for the entire team at this juncture.

First Period
19:37 DET Sheahan (2), (Kronwall, Zetterberg)(PP)

Second Period
15:46 DET Miller (1), (Glendening, Ericsson)

Third Period
15:47 DET Datsyuk (3), (Ericsson, Helm)(PP)
18:22 DET DeKeyser (1), (Quincey, Andersson)(EN)

Contrary to what some are urging me to do, I'm not going to write a post mortem on a team that's only down 3-2 in a playoff series. There's still a lot of hockey left to be played in this series and the Lightning may still yet prevail, but a lot of issues have been exposed in the past three games, not all of which are within the team's control. The effort in the first 10 minutes of this game was exemplary, but unlike the regular season this team can't seem to buy a bounce lately. Combine that with a strong tactical approach by the Wings that often colors outside the lines of legality and some roster composition issues (self-inflicted), and you get this dark cloud of doom that now seems to be hanging over this team.

First, let me get this out of the way: the Detroit Red Wings are getting away with bloody murder from the officials. They're executing the old clutch and grab Devils playbook, and with the refs looking the other way, I can hardly fault them for it. NBCSN put together a "highlight" package at the Second Intermission of how Detroit is "defending" Tyler Johnson, and it mostly involves hitting him without the puck, tripping him without the puck, interfering with him, and just about every other underhanded trick in the book. Tyler Johnson couldn't have played in the NHL in the early 90's with the amount of clutching and grabbing that was going on, and if the league is going to allow a return to that brand of hockey, it's going to make it a lot harder for Tyler and some of the smaller Lightning forwards to make it in the league today. I would hope Yzerman takes that video to the league and makes enforcement of interference away from the puck a point of emphasis again, because it's absolutely had an impact on the last three games.

With that said, another reason Johnson and his linemates have struggled throughout this series is that the Lightning are essentially a one line team. Let's be honest about this. On paper, yes, there's a 40 goal scorer on another line and plenty of other talent that can chip in. None of those players have scored consistently all season long though, and the only line that has is the Palat/Johnson/Kucherov line. They're getting focused on right now, and other than the fourth line of Morrow/Boyle/Brown, no one else has showed much hope to step up. So you've got Steven Stamkos, who had 43 goals in the regular season, with 0, and he's helping to drag down Nikita Kucherov on another line (who isn't helping himself by playing a bit timid on the perimeter), who had 28 goals in the regular season and also is sitting on 0 in the playoff right now. That's 71 regular season goals doing squat right now.

Part of the issue that I think Jon Cooper and Steve Yzerman will have to do some soul searching about in the offseason, is that they've basically ignored the need to replace Martin St. Louis on Stamkos' wing. They need a pace-pushing playmaker with high hockey sense to help Stamkos play his best, a formula we know works from a half decade and two Richard Trophies of empirical evidence. The team has a logical candidate to fill that role in rookie Jonathan Drouin, but rather than let Drouin take his lumps during the regular season and groom him to be ready by this point of the season, they've used him sparingly. Because of that, you can't trust him to play 18-19 minutes with Stamkos right now and he's been a scratch for 4 of 5 games in this series. And, by now, I think it's fair to say it's been a mistake. Stamkos managed to score 43 goals with grinding types like Callahan and Killorn playing with him, but he hasn't looked like the same formidable player in the process, and it's been exposed in this playoff series so far. It's not rocket science, though. They know a formula that works and they already drafted the personnel needed to make this work. They just have to set it in motion now.

I'll also, again, mention the 0-for-3 power play. It looked a lot better in 2 of the 3 opportunities tonight, but it's been horribly inconsistent too. And, like Stamkos' line, it's not for a lack of knowing the correct formula to fix it. The Lightning need a righty PP QB manning the center point. Pop in any tape of when Adam Oates was running the PP here and you'll see what I mean. It's been a hole in this organization since Kurtis Foster packed his bags and until that hole is filled, the PP will never run at its highest potential.

With all that said, the Lightning still are very much alive in this series. It doesn't feel like it, but they are. Were I in the Lightning's shoes, I would simplify my approach for Game Six. Focus on getting the first goal. Make it a greasy one. If they can get that first goal, they give themselves a fighting chance. But, to get that first goal, they have to show a maturity and character beyond their young years. It's a gut check time. Time to grow up a little.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

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