Lightning take a shocking 3-0 series lead; Who’s to blame in Washington?


The Tampa Bay Lightning might just be the hottest team in hockey right now. They won their sixth consecutive playoff game thanks to another strong third period performance, leaving the favored Washington Capitals on the brink of elimination.

Tampa Bay 4, Washington 3; Lightning lead series 3-0.

Expect plenty of “Lightning strikes twice/thrice” type puns from this one, as the game turned on a dime in the final frame. The Capitals managed to take a 3-2 lead into the third period, but the Bolts scored two goals just 15 seconds apart to win Game 3.

It’s natural to fixate on the Capitals blame game, but let’s give Tampa Bay their much-deserved credit first. Sean Bergenheim continued his unexpected hot streak by scoring the game’s first goal. Alex Ovechkin should not be a scapegoat in Washington, as the spirited Russian set up Mike Knuble’s 1-1 goal and also scored a goal. John Carlson made it 2-1 while Vincent Lecavalier is also red-hot lately, as he banged in a rebound to make it 2-2. Ovechkin pounced on a loose puck to give the Caps a 3-2 lead on the power play.

Tampa scores two goals in a stunning 15-second span

For yet another game, Ovechkin’s big goal wouldn’t be enough for a Capitals win. Steven Stamkos capitalized on a bad Eric Fehr turnover to fire an absolute laser to make it 3-3.

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Things went from troubling to downright heart-breaking when the Lightning took a lead thanks to Ryan Malone crashing the net. The puck went off of his skate, but it was ruled a good goal. That would ultimately be the game-winner in this contest.

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It might be easy to blame Capitals goalie Michal Neuvirth and it’s true that he allowed a goal or two that he would like to have back. Still, the tough-to-rattle goalie made some huge saves to keep Washington in the game. Neuvirth stopped a Bergenheim shorthanded chance and nullified a horrific Nicklas Backstrom turnover to keep the deficit at 4-3, but the Capitals couldn’t pierce the Lightning defense again.

The Capitals three biggest scapegoats

Naturally, the next question is: who or what should get the blame? Here are my three potential choices.

1. Horrible third periods: If there’s one signature thread to the first three games of this series, it’s that the Lightning finished games stronger. They out-shot the Capitals 15-5 in Game 3’s final frame, winning that period 2-0. Washington carried much of the play in Game 2, but Tampa Bay turned it around in the third with a 11-5 shot deficit (both teams scored one goal in that third period). The Lightning didn’t out-shoot the Caps in Game 1’s third, but they limited Washington to a 5-4 shot advantage as they sat on their lead and also scored an empty-netter.

So, overall, the Bolts out-scored the Capitals 4-1 (counting an empty-netter) and doubled their shots (30-15) in three third periods.

2. Bruce Boudreau: Personally, I think the Capitals might make a mistake if they get rid of Bellicose Bruce. Still, in this media congested age, it’s easy to lose patience after a few disappointments. While I’m easier on him than most, it’s tough to deny that Guy Boucher is coming out on top. Here’s what Keith Jones and Mike Keenan said about Boudreau in the first intermission.

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3. Nicklas Backstrom:
For years, Backstrom was the one Capitals star who jived with casual and hardcore hockey fans alike. The sweet-passing Swede has zero goals and two assists in eight playoff games, which is far worse than any supposed  Alexander Semin and Ovechkin stink-bombs from past years. Maybe he’s playing through an injury, but the Caps simply need more from their less-renowned star.

Final conclusions

Ultimately, the Capitals hope to be the fourth team in NHL history to come back from a 3-0 deficit. They’ll need to shake off tonight’s loss quickly because the two teams will meet again tomorrow night.

The Lightning simply need to continue their trend of timely scoring, sufficient defense and strong goaltending. Tampa Bay’s big three forwards Martin St. Louis, Lecavalier and Stamkos are coming up huge and support players like Dominic Moore and Bergenheim are playing over their heads. It wasn’t Roloson’s best game, but maybe that’s because he set the bar so high.

Boucher said he was happy Game 2 didn’t go too deep into overtime after his team slugged it out in a seven game series in the first round, so an early second round sweep would do wonders if the squad is truly tired.

Pens’ Pouliot on IR, after getting hurt in season debut

Derrick Pouliot
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Pretty lousy start to the campaign for Derrick Pouliot.

Pouliot, a healthy scratch for Pittsburgh’s first four games of the year, made his season debut in Thursday’s 3-2 win over San Jose — but played just over 12 minutes before getting knocked out with an injury.

And on Friday, the Pens put Pouliot on IR.

David Warsofsky has been recalled from AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton as a replacement, and could suit up on Saturday when the Penguins visit Nashville.

The bigger story, of course, is Pouliot.

The eighth overall pick in 2012 — taken ahead of defensemen like Jacob Trouba, Olli Maatta, Michael Matheson and Brady Skjei — Pouliot has struggled to make his mark at the NHL level.

After appearing in 34 games as a rookie, he dressed just 22 times last year, and only twice during the playoffs as the Penguins captured the Stanley Cup.

This year, he was unable to crack a six-man defensive unit comprised of Kris Letang, Trevor Daley, Ian Cole, Brian Dumoulin, Olli Maatta and Justin Schultz. Letang missed the San Jose game with an upper-body ailment, which paved the way for Pouliot to draw in.



Dropped by Blues, Weber catches on with Wild’s AHL team

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 01: Mike Weber #6 of the Washington Capitals skates against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the first period at Verizon Center on March 1, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Mike Weber, the veteran blueliner who was dropped from his PTO in St. Louis earlier this month, has signed on with Minnesota’s AHL affiliate in Iowa, the club announced.

Weber, 28, has appeared in over 350 big league contests with Buffalo and Washington.

The move to the Minnesota organization is interesting. The club’s had some issues with its young defensemen lately — Mike Reilly has been up and down between the AHL and NHL, and head coach Bruce Boudreau nearly made Mathew Dumba a healthy scratch the other night, explaining that the 22-year-old is “trying to do too much.”

(Dumba was a late addition to the lineup after Marco Scandella went down with an illness.)

Jared Spurgeon, one of the club’s mainstays on defense, suffered an upper-body injury in Thursday’s win over Toronto on a big hit from Matt Martin. Spurgeon is currently listed as day-to-day.

Even with those developments in play, Weber still has to make some significant leaps to become a factor for the Wild. The team has eight d-men in its rotation.


A healthy Brandon Sutter has been a difference-maker for undefeated Vancouver

VANCOUVER, BC - OCTOBER 15: Brandon Sutter #20 of the Vancouver Canucks celebrates his game winning goal against the Calgary Flames during a shootout of their NHL game at Rogers Arena on October 15, 2016 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Ben Nelms/Getty Images)
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Brandon Sutter only got to play 20 games last season, his first as a Canuck, and the 33 games he missed with a hernia, quickly followed by the 29 games he missed with a broken jaw, were held up by the head coach and management as a prime reason that Vancouver struggled so badly.

Not everyone bought that excuse, but after four straight Canucks wins to start the current season, nobody can deny that Sutter has been a major factor. He has one goal and three assists, and his line, with wingers Jannik Hansen and Markus Granlund, has been Vancouver’s best.

“You always want to get a good start to the year,” Sutter said after last night’s 2-1 win over the Sabres. “You just want to be playing well. You don’t really pay much attention to the points of it all this early. I think the biggest thing, when you miss this much time, is just getting your timing back, and just getting back into form, and just playing your game the way you want to.”

If there’s a concern for the undefeated Canucks, it’s the play of the Sedins with new winger Loui Eriksson. They’ve had flashes of greatness together, but not the consistency. The twins were even split up for a short time last night, and that rarely happens.

Granted, Eriksson did set up Daniel Sedin for the winning goal on the power play, so it hasn’t been all bad. But the Canucks would love to see those three spend more time in the attacking zone together. At five on five, they spent most of their night defending the Sabres’ top line of Ryan O'Reilly, Kyle Okposo, and Sam Reinhart.

“Some games are going to be like this,” said Daniel Sedin. “I mean, that’s a good team over there, you’re not going to create chances each and every shift.”

Next up for the Canucks is a two-game road road trip. In their first action away from Rogers Arena, they play the Kings Saturday and the Ducks Sunday.

“It’s never easy going down to California, so it’ll be a good test for us,” said Sutter. “We’ve played some good teams so far, but divisional games coming up here, so we’ll be ready.”

Related: Desjardins sticks up for Horvat, whose job has been tough with Sutter missing

The injury situation in Dallas is out of control

Lindy Ruff

Patrick Sharp, Patrick Eaves, Cody Eakin, Ales Hemsky, Jiri Hudler and Mattias Janmark.

Those are the six — count ’em, six — forwards Dallas is currently without, at least as of this morning, due to a myriad of ailments.

Sharp and Eaves were lost in last night’s controversial OT loss to L.A. According to head coach Lindy Ruff, Sharp is dealing with concussion symptoms and will be out “a while,” and the club is expected to know more about Eaves’ lower-body ailment today (per the Morning-News).

So, what about the rest of the suffering six?

Hemsky (groin) appears the closest to a return, and could possibly make his season debut in Saturday’s tilt against the Blue Jackets. Hudler, dealing with what appears to be a serious case of the flu, is still a ways away from recovering (remember, Montreal goalie Carey Price missed three games and lost 7-8 pounds with a similar illness to start the year.)

Hudler’s unlikely for the Columbus game.

Eakin, who’s been out since late September with a knee injury, was originally slated to miss six weeks. That would put his return somewhere in the beginning-to-middle of November, which is still a ways away.

Janmark is out 5-6 months following knee surgery.

Add it all up, and Lindy Ruff’s team could be severely shorthanded at a tough time — after home dates on Saturday and Tuesday, the club will head out on a three-game road swing through Winnipeg, Minnesota and Columbus.

Ruff did say he will have to recall a forward from AHL Texas.

Heck, he might have to recall a couple.