Tampa Bay Lightning
Mirror Jon Cooper and the Lightning manufacture a key Game One win.
Eastern Conference Quarterfinals
Tampa Bay Leads the Series 1-0
Ben Bishop allowed 2 goals on 36 shots for the victory. The stat line looks good, but Bishop did not look comfortable in this game. That's actually a hopeful sign for this series. Bishop had a bit of a shaky performance and the Lightning still managed to get a big win. You have to figure Bishop will find his form and settle down.
6:23 TB Kucherov(1), (Johnson, Killorn)
2:11 DET Green(1), (DeKeyser, Tatar)
4:07 DET Abdelkader(1), (Quincey)
9:29 TB Kucherov(2), (Coburn, Nesterov)
8:52 TB Killorn(1), (Johnson, Kucherov)
Let's recap: the Lightning came into this game sans Stamkos and Stralman with some question marks about the health of Johnson. Ben Bishop looked uncomfortable all night long. Detroit got the benefit of some puck luck on at least one goal and, I would argue, of the officiating in the game, as well. The Lightning still fought through it and got the win. If you believe puck luck balances out and that Bishop will find his form (I won't blow smoke that the officiating against an Original Six team will ever even out for Tampa Bay in this league) there's a lot to be hopeful about as the Lightning look to survive and advance deeper into these playoffs where, hopefully, some healthy reinforcements await.
It was not without blemishes. The defensive coverage tonight was poor and the Lightning continue to retreat off their blueline against the rush far too easily without Stralman. Detroit got a ton of good scoring chances that they outright blew tonight. Needless to say, the Lightning need to tighten up defensively. And, they need to improve their discipline against a Detroit team that needs their dangerous power play to score goals to win. Grit and guts were a good enough spackle tonight, though.
Credit to Mirror Universe Jon Cooper for some excellent line combinations and player usage tonight. You know it was Mirror Universe Jon Cooper because he's growing a goatee... and because Jonathan Drouin started the game... and because Jonathan Drouin played 17:39... and because Jonathan Drouin saw key shifts late in the Third Period of a 1-goal game. Really, it wasn't that difficult a choice for Mirror Jon Cooper to make, because Drouin played a whale of a game. You can ding him for being a little overspirited physically tonight and in jumping offside on the Hedman goal that was overturned on replay, but you can also make a strong argument he was the best player on the ice tonight. He was creating chances and he was playing with an absolutely nasty edge to his game. That's some of the best hockey Jonathan's played in a Lightning uniform, bar none. It's enough to make you wonder what this team could look like if it can stay alive long enough to get Stamkos and Stralman back. It could be the most potent lineup the Lightning have ever iced if Mirror Jon Cooper can keep regular Jon Cooper stuffed in the mirror universe.
And, of course, credit to the Lightning for not sagging after Hedman's 3-on-2 goal was disallowed. That was a real maturity-testing moment, and they passed with flying colors as they surged like crazy after that play. Not only did they get the Killorn goal, but they also should've had the insurance marker with Coburn banging one off the crossbar staring at an open cage. When you consider they could've easily had 3 goals over a span of about a 5 minute span in the Third Period, you realize Detroit should probably feel a little lucky too that they hung into the game.
Side note: there's a big difference in quality between the was Mrazek was playing at this time last year and Jimmy Howard this year, and if the Lightning can keep the pressure up, it should mean the goals flow a little easier for Tampa Bay.
Another side note: I hate Justin Abdelkader, and I hope all the bad things in life happen to him and only him.
KHL Gagarin Cup Final
Magnitogorsk 1 vs. CSKA 0
Series Tied 2-2
Vasily Koshechkin, Magnitogorsk, SO, 30/30, 0.00 GAA, 1.000 sv%
Playoff totals: 16 GP, 12-4-0, 3 SO, 1.57 GAA, .947 sv%
Regular season totals: 50 GP, 22-15-9, 4 SO, 2.12 GAA, .925 sv%
Vasily Koshechkin rebounded from an off Game Three to blank CSKA on 30 shots for a huge 1-0 Game Four win. 23 year old undrafted Czech centerman Tomas Filippi had the game's lone goal for Magnitka.
TAMPA BAY – The Tampa Bay Lightning have signed defenseman Matt Spencer to a three-year, entry-level contract, vice president and general manager Steve Yzerman announced today.
Spencer, 19, skated in 60 games with the Peterborough Petes of the Ontario Hockey League this past season, recording five goals and 24 points to go along with 46 penalty minutes. He ranked third among all Petes defensemen for assists with 19 during the regular season. The 6-foot-2, 204-pound defenseman also appeared in seven OHL playoff games, posting one assist and 13 penalty minutes.
The Guelph, Ontario native has played in 191 career OHL games, all with Peterborough over the past three seasons, posting 12 goals and 69 points to go along with 143 penalty minutes.
Spencer was selected by the Lightning in the second round, 44th overall, at the 2015 NHL Draft.
Lightning mail in meaningless game before a very meaningful postseason.
Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 4 goals on 28 shots for the loss. Vasiy had a respectable season for a young backup, and I think anyone who didn't have such high expectations on him as Andrei does would take that at 21 years old and be pretty happy with it. That said, he can get a lot better and he eventually will.
5:11 MTL Galchenyuk(29), (Gallagher)
16:27 MTL Plekanec(14), (Eller, Emelin)
0:27 MTL Pacioretty(29), (Galchenyuk, Markov)
3:44 MTL Galchenyuk(30), (Pacioretty, Markov)(PP)
6:33 TB Palat(16), (Filppula)
13:00 TB Drouin(4), (Carle, Palat)
19:54 MTL Pacioretty(30), (Gallagher)(EN)
Jonathan Drouin was the game's third star. It may have been garbage time, but it's certainly nice to see him developing some chemistry with some of the Lightning's scoring liners like Palat.
Coming into the game with nothing to gain and Hedman and Kucherov being held out with nagging injuries, the only thing the Lightning wanted was to get out of town healthy. This game had less meaning than a preseason game, if that's possible, and unfortunately they couldn't even pull that off after Greg Pateryn boarded Tyler Johnson shoulder-first into the boards after the whistle late in the First Period. I am thoroughly unimpressed with Pateryn. The guy's a bum, quite frankly, and the play he made was about as blatant and egregious a late hit as it comes. The guy deserves a suspension that carries over into the next regular season, in my opinion.
The Lightning will draw Detroit in a rematch of last year's opening round series by virtue of the epic meltdown the Bruins had against Ottawa. Couldn't happen to a nicer bunch of guys (Boston melting down, that is). I'd like to say that's a favorable outcome for the Lightning, but with so much uncertainty now with Johnson possibly being banged up too, the biggest matchup of all looks like it's between Tampa Bay and the injury bug. The big thing in Game One, I think, will be Ben Bishop giving the Lightning a good performance and helping them ease their way into the series while they continue to figure out lines and pairing combinations and ice time rotations. There's just so much retrofitting on the fly and Ben's going to need to be the spackle to cover up some of that mess.
Matt Taormina had 1 shot and 1 blocked shot in 15:30.
Drouinsanity returns to the Lightning and helps secure home ice for the first round.
Ben Bishop allowed 2 goals on 22 shots for the victory. I reiterate one of the biggest virtues of Bishop since he's joined the Lightning: he typically does not have two clunkers in a row.
5:45 TB Condra(6), (Sustr, Boyle)
7:16 NJ Kalinin(7), (Moore, Gionta)
14:45 TB Paquette(6), (Filppula, Carle)
3:50 TB Drouin(3), (Namestnikov)
9:26 NJ Kalinin(8), (Farnham)
19:13 TB Filppula(8), (Kucherov, Carle)(EN)
Jonathan Drouin was the game's second star.
For a Lightning team that hasn't had a ton to feel good about lately, tonight was a bit of psychological salve for their wounds. For the second time in the past few weeks, the Lightning played the style of game they need to in order to be successful without Stralman and Stamkos and secured a win against a hard working, fairly well structured opponent. In doing so, they got some positive results from players who have had a tough time of it all season who they now need to step up if they're going to weather their early opponents in the postseason. There's no doubt Erik Condra's playing some of his best hockey of the season lately after having gone missing for some 3/4 of the campaign. Cedric Paquette finally got back in the goal column for the first time in a blue moon, which is also a hopeful sign. It's hard to believe Paquette has sagged to just 6 goals after how well he played in the postseason last year including actually outplaying Jonathan Toews head to head in the early games of the Stanley Cup Final. And then there's 2/3 of the Dead Money Trio: Matt Carle and Valtteri Filppula. Is Matt Carle still a turnstile with eyeballs at times? Yes. Does Matt Carle still do some gobsmacking idiotic things when he has the puck at times? Yes. Has he improved somewhat, though, to help fill minutes in the absence of Stralman and Hedman? Absolutely. No denying it. And then there's Valtteri Filppula, who might be the single biggest source of my personal frustration this season. He actually provided a multi-point night tonight and I would've lost a bet if anyone had asked me to go in on whether he'd have another goal by the end of the regular season. Are 8 goals sufficient for a centerman at his salary price point? You all know the answer to that. But, a good postseason performance has a way of glossing over a disappointing regular season.
And then there's Jonathan Drouin. I feel really happy for both the Lightning organization and Drouin in how things have unfolded since Drouin decided to report back to Syracuse. The Lightning got to enforce organizational discipline and got Drouin the instructional coaching and conditioning he needed. And, Drouin capitalized when the opportunity to get back into the NHL finally came, which again proves what upside he has as a player. So, at this hour, both sides have to feel like they "won" something in a scenario where neither can have felt all that great about everything that's happened. Where it goes from here? That's another matter. Short term, Drouin's walking into a situation that seems tailor made for him to step up and prove he's a budding superstar. But, being asked to fill Steven Stamkos' shoes is a double edged sword that is, frankly, an unreasonable expectation for Drouin to have to live up to. Reason needs to prevail here in the expectation game. Drouin's not going to score the GWG every night and he's not going to instantly fill the shoes of one of the 10-20 best scorers in the game overnight. Fans, the organization, and the Drouin camp alike need to have reasonable targets for his performance, such as ensuring that scoring chances he helps create outpace those he surrenders (he won't be perfect defensively, some mistakes will happen) at a reasonable ratio, and that he's chipping in every 2-3 games. If he can do that, all sides involved should be happy with that, and it should open the door to any number of scenarios that include everything from Drouin's trade request being honored for a solid return or Drouin returning to Tampa Bay as a valued member of the organization (Vincent Lecavalier ultimately learned to live with and respect John Tortorella, so all things are possible with patience and if people act like adults). Anything more will be gravy.
The win clinches the #2 position in the Atlantic Division and home ice in the first round, while the Lightning also leapt over that 96 point target line for the season just 1 game behind schedule. That means they'll draw Detroit or Boston in the first round. Detroit would be more ideal, in my opinion, and they'd be the opponent if the shooting began right now, but they got smoked head to head by Boston tonight heading into their regular season finale against the Rangers whereas Boston draws a seemingly less difficult challenge against the Senators. Both teams are knotted in points, but DET has the tiebreaker because of their ROW advantage of 1 whole game. It's that tight.
Matt Taormina had 2 blocked shots in 17:01. It's a nice little late season reward for Taormina to get to suit up against his old organization and get a W against them.
"Try hard" Lightning back into the playoffs.
Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 3 goals on 28 shots for the loss. His soft goal on Stepan's second on a slapper off the board was the margin, as soft goals often are.
2:42 TB Sustr(4), (Namestnikov, Marchessault)
6:07 TB Boyle(13), (Palat, Johnson)(PP)
16:55 NYR Stepan(21), (Zuccarello, Yandle)(PP)
2:33 NYR Stepan(22), (Zuccarello, Klein)
4:46 NYR Kreider(21), (M. Staal, Stepan)
Ondrej Palat was the game's third star.
The Lightning had more than enough opportunities to win this game. They jumped out to the 2-0 lead and had plenty of chances to push it to a 3 goal margin with a bushel of power play opportunities including a 5-minute major. Ultimately, the Lightning just could not crack Lundqvist to put the kill shot on the Rangers and they invited the comeback given how shorthanded Tampa Bay was tonight. On top of the regular season-ending injuries to Stralman and Stamkos they also had Hedman and Callahan out of the lineup tonight. If you're a glass half full person, you can point to the fact the Lightning manufactured 41 shots tonight with that lineup. They tried hard, and with a little better goaltending they might've stolen a point out of the night. And, yes, they probably figured out some things about how to play without some of their big guns, which will have some value moving forward. But, in the end, there just aren't any moral victories at this time of year.
Fortunately, with the Bruins losing in the SO to Carolina, the Lightning backed into a playoff spot. That's notable given that the team missed the 96 point target at the 80 game market. In another season, they might be in real trouble right now. However, with how uneven the East is this year, they can actually clinch home ice in the first round with 1 more point. They'll need it. The "try hard" Lightning are better at home, where their power play is considerably less rancid than it is on the road.
Nikita Nesterov may want to join the witness protection program after that shift on the game winning goal. That's all I'll say about that.
Slater Koekkoek had 2 shots, 2 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 12:08. He wasn't perfect, but I thought he played reasonably well in a tight game against a quality opponent in a big market on the road. With efforts like that, I'd like to believe he'll earn some more game time to develop. I also thought he kind of surprised the Rangers a bit with the quality of his point shot in the game. He produced some rebounds with it tonight.
Oh look, a dumpster fire!
Ben Bishop allowed 5 goals on 23 shots for the loss, 2 of which were pretty heinous softies. Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped all 13 shots he faced the rest of the way. The good news is that Bishop typically never has two clunkers in a row.
13:18 NYI Pulock(2), (Okposo, Tavares)
2:08 TB Killorn(14), (Kucherov, Carle)
11:00 NYI Martin(9), (Clutterbuck, Cizikas)
15:23 NYI Nelson(26), (Kulemin)
16:15 NYI Tavares(30), (Nielsen, Okposo)(PP)
19:53 TB Hedman(10), (Carle, Namestnikov)
4:28 NYI Boychuk(9), (Tavares)
Other than Cedric Paquette beating the dog out of Ryan Pulock to the extent Pulock's ancestors probably felt that whoopin', there was nothing of merit to this game. The Lightning stunk in pretty much every aspect of the contest. If there was one thing I'd want the team to focus on immediately, though, it'd be to stop retreating off the blueline against the rush like the Visigoths are coming over the Seventh Hill at them. There's so much fear in that Lightning blueline right now, partially due to the stone footedness of Sustr and Carle, and it's killing them. You'll recognize Carle as the turnstile with skates in the video of the Islanders' second goal.
TAMPA BAY – The Tampa Bay Lightning have signed forward Mitchell Stephens to a three-year, entry-level contract, vice president and general manager Steve Yzerman announced today.
Stephens, 19, skated in 39 games with the Saginaw Spirit of the Ontario Hockey League this past season, collecting 20 goals and 38 points to go along with 14 penalty minutes. Stephens missed 29 games during the regular season but still ranked fifth on the Spirit for points and tied for fourth for goals. The Peterborough, Ontario, native also appeared in four games for Saginaw during the 2016 OHL Playoffs, posting two goals and three points.
The 6-foot, 193-pound forward has skated in 158 career OHL games, all with Saginaw over three seasons, recording 51 goals and 107 points. Stephens also suited up for Team Canada at the 2016 IIHF World Jr. Championships this past season, notching a goal and two points in five tournament games.
Stephens was selected by the Lightning in the second round, 33rd overall, at the 2015 NHL Draft.
Stephens is a young Callahan in effort and character, but can play both center and wing. He played center all year on Saginaw's top line and put up good numbers when healthy. He broke his foot early in the year and missed several weeks, but returned just in time to make Team Canada and perform well at the WJC's.
Stephens' hands are underrated and he's very poised with the puck. He's an excellent complimentary forward with some skill who will be a favorite of coaches throughout his career. He could have the same impact on the Lightning eventually as Ondrej Palat (or Callahan had with the Rangers earlier in his career).
The second rounder won't turn 20 until February, so while he can join Syracuse now, he has to go back to juniors next fall if he doesn't make the Lightning - which isn't expected. He will probably captain the Spirit next season and may wear a letter for Canada next Christmas.
Lunch bucket win puts the Lightning within an eyelash of clinching a postseason berth.
Ben Bishop allowed 1 goal on 26 shots for the victory. He wasn't called on much, but he was there when he needed to be.
9:03 TB Hedman(9), (Palat, Kucherov)
19:32 NJ Henrique(28), (Kennedy, Severson)(PP)
11:32 TB Boyle(12), (Nesterov, Kucherov)(PP)
19:27 TB Kucherov(30), (Hedman, Paquette)(EN)
I don't want to overplay the quality of this victory because, frankly, they played a very offensively challenged New Jersey team and should have won that game. Putting that aside, though, the Devils aren't a soft out and the Lightning were playing without Steven Stamkos and still in the wake of the Stralman injury trying to figure out a defensive rotation that worked. It wasn't perfect. There were still some gap control issues at times and there was clear miscommunication on New Jersey's lone goal and a handful of other plays... but... it had to feel good to get that win in the fashion they got it. They ultimately got the W by outworking a team that is well known for being a very hard working team and they got the winner on a clutch Third Period power play. That's going to be good for the team's confidence as they hit the road to close the regular season and head on into the postseason. And, if I'm being honest, it will probably take some mix of that work ethic plus Bishop heroics for the Lightning to survive and advance out of the first round of the playoffs to have the chance to possibly add a healing Stralman back into their lineup and eventually add Stamkos back after the blood clot clears and make a run.
With Koekkoek a scratch, the Lightning coaches went with Option B and played Hedman 25:59, and it worked. He was fantastic tonight. That's always a card the Lightning can choose to play because Victor skates so well: just play the big fella every other shift and let the chips fall where they may. It's not something he's used to and in the past he's struggled with the heavier workload once he got above a certain minutes threshold, but the best in the game at that position can play half the game.
With 2 games left in the final 10-game segment of the season, the Lightning have 10 points for the segment and are 1 point off of the 80-game-mark goal of 96 points to make the playoffs comfortably. Their magic number, with Detroit winning tonight, is still essentially 2 points, but it's fair to say if they get anything out of the final 4 games of the regular season they'll be in. Making up the 2 points on Florida in the final 4 games of the year to win the Atlantic crown, therefore, may be the last real order of business that has any intrigue to it. The Lightning's matchup in the first round is going to be a pretty key thing, though, and there's no real way of predicting whether finishing 1st or 2nd in the division yields the most benefit. For the record, I think the Isles or Wings would be the most ideal matchups for the Lightning to make it out of the opening round.
TAMPA BAY – The Tampa Bay Lightning have signed forward Jonne Tammela to a three-year, NHL entry-level contract, vice president and general manager Steve Yzerman announced today.
Tammela, 18, has skated in 37 games with Kalpa of the SM-liiga league in Finland, posting five goals and 13 points to go along with 16 penalty minutes. The 5-foot-10, 180-pound forward also appeared in three playoff games with Kalpa, registering two penalty minutes. Tammela has played in 69 games with Kalpa over the past two seasons, notching nine goals and 17 points.
The Espoo, Finland native is currently playing for the Finnish U-20 team, skating in seven games with the club while posting a goal and four points. Tammela was selected by the Lightning in the fourth round, 118th overall, at the 2015 NHL Draft.