Tampa Bay Lightning
Western Hockey League
Eastern Conference Semifinals
East-2 Medicine Hat Tigers 4 @ East-3 Calgary Hitmen 5
Calgary leads best-of-7 series, 2-1
D Ben Thomas, CAL: 0-0-0, -1, 0 PIM
Playoff totals: 10 GP, 0-3-3, -1, 2 PIM
Season totals: 60 GP, 7-24-31, +16, 28 PIM
2013-14 totals: 72 GP, 7-24-31, +11, 39 PIM
Calgary won a coveted odd-numbered game in the series to take a 2-1 series lead on Medicine Hat. The Hitmen were down 2-0 early, but had a three-goal lead entering the third period at 5-2. They had to hang on to put away the Tigers, 5-4. The Tigers outshot the Hitmen 12-2 in the third period. Game 4 is in Medicine Hat Wednesday.
A brief moment of sweet schadenfreude before the bullets fly for real next week.
Ben Bishop allowed 2 goals on 38 shots and stopped all 3 shooters in the penalty shot session for the SO victory. He was sharp as a samurai sword tonight. That's good to see heading into the playoffs.
5:08 TB Marchessault (1), (unassisted)
6:00 BOS Eriksson (22), (Kelly, Seidenberg)
5:12 TB Nesterov (3), (Carle, Marchessault)
18:54 BOS Marchand (24), (Krug, Krejci)
Boston played the bulk of this game very desperate and very hungry, and the Lightning held back a lot of their injured players to rest with a view toward the playoffs starting next week. The shot deficit (38-25) and possession advantage Boston had reflects that they were the team that had more to play for (up until halfway through the Third Period when Pittsburgh put the last shovel-full of dirt on their graves). With that said, I give credit to the Lightning for matching Boston's intensity level and physicality, even though they didn't have the same urgency stalking them. They hustled. They scrapped. They got sticks and bodies in passing and shooting lanes. They manufactured a win. They'll have to do that a few times when they don't have their A-game in the playoffs coming up.
Tampa Bay gets Detroit in the First Round. I'm not scared of the matchup. If the Lightning play their game, they can beat Detroit. Handily. Time to start burying the memories of last April.
Marchessault had 1 goal and 1 assist and was +2 with 2 shots and 3 hits in 11:20. His goal was a beauty of a shot from the RW faceoff circle, and he was dangerous offensively in his TOI. He had at least one issue hanging in physically to get a puck out at his own blueline, but more good than bad. He's in a rough spot given how deep this organization is, but he's definitely knocking on the door of being an NHLer.
Luke Witkowski was -1 with 2 penalty minutes, 1 shot, 8 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 18:14. He was one of the tone setters physically, and he darn near sawed McQuaid in half on one hit in this game. He even had a pretty fancy rush late in the game to nearly get the winner. Thought we were looking at Luke Witk-Orr for a minute. I suspect he'll head back to Syracuse now with Marchessault and bolster the Crunch's division title and playoff hopes.
Nesterov had a goal and was +1 with 2 penalty minutes, 3 shots, 1 hit, and 1 blocked shot in 19:39. NBCSN's broadcasters gushed about Nesterov's offensive assertiveness all game, and rightfully so. He's a classic pace-pushing offensive defenseman who comes out ahead on the ledger because he helps create way more chances than he surrenders. Yes, he got beat physically out of the corner by Marchand on one play in the First Period and had to take a minor. Yes, there's a turnover here and there. But, he comes out way ahead on the ledger, overall. Garrison, Sustr, and Coburn are all slated to return at some point in the opening round against Detroit. I'm not sure Nesterov sits, though. I think he may have earned a look-see in playoff action, a la Paquette last year, and maybe a guy like Barberio or Sustr sits instead.
P.S. Kick rocks, Jack Edwards.
Down to the wire.
Ben Bishop allowed 3 goals on 24 shots for the OT victory. The stat line was ugly, but the Devils got some puck luck in this game, and Ben made the toe save of the game on Cammalleri late in the Third to keep the Lightning alive.
5:06 NJ Bernier (15), (Henrique, Gomez)(PP)
6:26 TB Johnson (28), (Kucherov, Palat)
9:13 TB Nesterov (2), (Johnson, Kucherov)(PP)
10:17 NJ Elias (13), (Gionta)
17:42 TB Stamkos (43), (Palat, Hedman)(PP)
17:58 NJ Bernier (16), (Henrique, Gomez)
1:22 TB Johnson (29), (Kucherov, Palat)(PP)
Honestly, I wasn't that upset with the effort, even though it took OT for the Lightning to dispose of New Jersey. The Devils got some favorable bounces on blocked shots, etc., but for the most part the Lightning controlled this game, outshooting their opponent 31-24. My only disappointment was the mental let downs after goals scored, but that's correctable. The bright side was that the power play went 3-for-8 and continues to pile up some goals over the last couple of weeks. If the Lightning can muster a power play in the playoffs, they may be unbeatable. That's a big if, mind you.
Unfortunately, Montreal beat Detroit in OT, so Montreal would have to lose in regulation in their finale against Toronto for the Lightning to have a chance to take the Atlantic Division. If they win the division, they could face Ottawa, Pittsburgh, or the Islanders in the first round. Should Tampa Bay stay in the Atlantic second seed spot, which is more likely, they'll probably get Detroit, although Ottawa could still nudge past the Wings at the tape.
The Lightning's finale is a tantalizing opportunity to give a team they've traditionally had difficulty with an early trip to the golf course. Boston lost to Florida tonight, so they cannot get into the Atlantic three seed, and any type of loss, regulation or OT, and Boston is done like dinner. My 2 cents: the Lightning should relish this opportunity to put Boston away now rather than potentially having to do it in some sort of 7 game series somewhere down the line. Put them into an early grave, I say.
Luke Witkowski was -1 with 1 shot, 3 hits, and 2 blocked shots. He looks ticketed for a return to Syracuse with Andrej Sustr on track to possibly return for the Boston tilt. I'm thinking Luke's experience from this callup will allow him to focus his offseason attention on sharpening up some aspects of his game like handling and distributing the puck that he could get even more efficient at in order to become a regular NHLer. He's not quite there yet, but he's not a glaring liability, either. That next step's got to come, and I think it comes in the form of being a little bit less of a "hot potato" guy on the puck.
Nikita Nesterov had a goal and was -1 with 2 penalty minutes, 2 shots, 1 hit, and 1 blocked shot in 19:06. He changes the complexion of the Lightning's second PP unit with his shoot-first mentality, and the experience he's gained with the Lightning's injury issues will only benefit the squad in the form of reliable depth when other injuries happen in the playoffs. It's nice to know Nesterov can step up and play some quality minutes if necessary.
Ben Bishop stopped all 34 shots he faced for the shutout win. That's some U of Maine Justice right there for the Panthers. I think he's been off a little mechanically the past couple of games, either due to being banged up or being fatigued, but he's a battler and he battled his way to getting the goose egg tonight.
6:10 TB Stamkos (41), (Johnson, Nesterov)(PP)
11:19 TB Stamkos (42), (Callahan)
1:03 TB Callahan (24), (Stamkos)
18:13 TB Johnson (27), (Drouin)
There's so much good wrapped in this game, it's hard to make sure you hit all the high notes. From an in-game standpoint, the Lightning had 4 regular defensemen out of the lineup going against what should've been a desperate Panthers squad, and they managed to shut them out. Kudos to the young defensemen, and kudos to Coach Zettler and the staff in Syracuse. It's been fantastic to watch the sharp progress this season by Nesterov and the steady progress of the likes of Witkowski, Koekkoek, Blujus, and Dotchin. It's a really hard act following a guy who is arguably an all-time great AHL coach like Jon Cooper, but Zettler has shown some developmental mojo with these young defensemen and it makes you excited to see what he can accomplish working with a prospect like Anthony DeAngelo.
The Lightning also got a power play goal for the fourth straight game and Steven Stamkos snapped out of his funk with a vintage PP goal and a laser beam from the right wing faceoff dot. Stamkos needs to be Stamkos if the Lightning are going to do anything in the playoffs, and if he were to find his PP mojo, that alone could win the Lightning a playoff series or two they might not otherwise deserve.
From a standings standpoint, the Lightning clinched home ice in the first round of the playoffs and tied Montreal in the standings with the Habs holding a game in hand. The Lightning have the ROW tiebreaker, so all the pressure is on Montreal right now. The Lightning get 4 days to rest and heal now while Montreal has to keep getting points if they want to maintain control of their own destiny in the division title pursuit. If they lose a game, the Lightning may be able to get Hedman, Sustr, and Killorn back on the ice for the final 2 games at home with the real prospect of earning a banner in the balance.
Oh, and the Lightning eliminate the Panthers from playoff contention. It's never a bad thing to kick dirt on their grave, is it?
Slater Koekkoek was +1 with 2 penalty minutes, 1 shot, and 1 hit in 16:19. This wasn't quite the same effort for Slater as against Ottawa, IMO, but it was still a solid performance for the rookie. If I was a Syracuse fan, I'd be very excited to see him in the playoffs because he's going to go back to the Crunch with a ton of confidence.
Luke Witkowski had 2 penalty minutes and 1 hit in 15:34. Quiet is good.
Nikita Nesterov had a helper and was +2 with 4 shots, 2 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 21:18. There was a lot of gushing about Nesterov tonight and rightfully so. He ate big minutes and he changes the complexion of the Lightning power play with his shoot first mentality and ability to get pucks through and on net. Not to put too fine a point on it, but I think he's essentially running Barberio out of town for next season. They're similar players, but Nesterov's ceiling seems so much higher and he's already shown himself to be just as good, if not better, in his own third.
Vladislav Namestnikov played 11:36. He had one memorable rush where he slithered into the Panthers zone, but it was a quiet night for Namestnikov with Tyler Johnson returning and pushing him down off the line with Palat and Kucherov. Tonight was Namestnikov's 41st game of the season, so he graduated from prospect status on the website. Congratulations, Baby Faced Killer.
Lightning nearly steal both points.
Ben Bishop allowed 2 goals on 34 shots for the OT loss. His rebound control wasn't all that great tonight, but he was sparkling on first shots, which was nearly good enough to complete the larceny.
5:03 OTT Stone (20), (Turris, MacArthur)
16:53 TB Drouin (4), (Stralman, Filppula)(PP)
4:43 OTT Wiercioch (3), (Stone, Turris)
Bishop was the game's third star.
Most of the Lightning's injured players actually participated in the morning skate today, which signals to me that if tonight's game had been a priority some of them would have gone. As it was, it was clear that getting rest and getting healthy was deemed more important than still pursuing the division title. Fair enough, under the circumstances, and it reflected in a pretty flat First Period by the team. However, as the game wore on, I think the Lightning realized there were points to be stolen on the table and their intensity improved as the game went on. They got 1 point to keep pace with Montreal tonight, but couldn't thieve the 2nd. Still, it's more than I would've expected from the body language I saw in the First Period. They trail Montreal by 1 point with the Habs holding a game in hand and the Lightning having 3 games left on the slate. They would hold the ROW tiebreaker, which looms large if they can get some help and Montreal stubs their toe a couple of times in their last 4 games.
One other point of interest, pun intended, is the Lightning got their 12th point tonight in this 10 game segment. In other words, the Lightning hit 12 points in every 10 game segment of the season but 1, and the miss was an 11 point segment. They may not be consistent game to game, but their frighteningly consistent segment to segment, which is very good compared to last season when they had about 3 misses, as I recall, along the way. Maturation.
Slater Koekkoek had 3 shots, 1 hit, and 3 blocked shots in 17:55. He was a stud tonight. He was active in all three zones and particularly in clearing out his front porch. You saw the total package of what Koekkoek can do and he nearly had an OT winner jumping into the play, to boot. Very impressive.
Luke Witkowski had 1 shot, 3 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 18:19 to go with 2 PIMs. He didn't play a perfect game, but he played a good one. I think, in particular, when the game got chippy in the Second Period it got right into Luke's wheelhouse and he started to really come alive.
Nikita Nesterov was -2 with 4 shots, 5 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 19:38. The IT tells you the coaching staff appreciates what he's doing, but he's had some hard luck where his good two-way play hasn't paid off with pluses with the Lightning forwards struggling to pot goals.
Vladislav Namestnikov had 1 hit and was 55% on 11 draws in 9:50. IT was down tonight, and it was hard to tell if he got dinged or if it was a coach's decision. Vladdy is at 40 NHL games this season, which means his next appearance will mark his graduation from prospect status on the website.