The Sore Thumb: Tampa Bay Lightning

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With the conference finals primed to kick off on Saturday night (8 p.m. ET on Versus, to be exact), we have a little more time to explore the two matchups. The NHL’s final four teams have plenty of strengths, but even these squads have a weakness or two. With that notion in mind, we asked: what flaw sticks out like a sore thumb?

To best answer that question, we provided our own hypothesis and also polled a blogger from each team.

Let’s take a look at the Tampa Bay Lightning. (Click here for the Boston Bruins’ version.)

Our choice: Tampa Bay’s defense.

Much credit should be given to Guy Boucher’s 1-3-1 trap. It bottles up offensive attacks and allows the Lightning to camouflage a pedestrian group of defensemen.

I’m sorry, but when Eric Brewer is most indispensable blueliner, you might not have the most talented D corps. That’s not to say that Brewer is outright awful, but the Lightning allowed 35.5 shots per game in the playoffs so far. Only the Buffalo Sabres (35.6) and Los Angeles Kings (38.9) gave up more shots per game in the postseason. You cannot say that the Lightning are just engaging in shot-happy games that throw off the numbers, either. They’re averaging just 26.7 shots per game, the lowest rate in the 2011 playoffs.

Then again, the Boston Bruins allowed 34.4 shots per game in their two series*, so perhaps both sides should worry about their defenses a bit (and thank their goalies Dwayne Roloson and Tim Thomas). It seems like Roloson saved their defense and bolstered Boucher’s system, but we’ll see if the 41-year-old goalie can do it again.

Speaking of Roloson, Cassie McClellan of the SBN blog Raw Charge imagines a Lightning world without the veteran goalie in her own “sore thumb” piece.

Who is Tampa Bay’s sore thumb? Two words: Mike Smith.

While no one was thrilled with the 10-day layoff between series for the Lightning, it did give 41-year-old goalie Dwayne Roloson some time to rest. And that one fact put a lot of fans’ minds at ease. The chances of Roloson getting injured are about the same as any goaltender left in the playoffs, so that’s not really the issue. However, the harrowing couple of minutes when Roloson went down during the Washington Capitals series after Alex Ovechkin grazed his windpipe with the blade of his stick was a wakeup call. It made everyone realize that, well, what would happen if Dwayne had to sit for a while? And the answer to that question horrified a lot of people.

Roloson is everything Lightning fans could’ve asked for in a starting goaltender. But at this point, if the worst-case scenario were to happen and he were to go down, I think fans would rather take their chances with fourth-stringer Dustin Tokarski (third-stringer Cedrick Desjardins is out with a shoulder injury) than with backup Mike Smith. That’s how little faith the fanbase puts in him – despite becoming a lot more consistent this past regular season.

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So it looks like Cassie and I are worried about the Lightning in their own end. The biggest difference, obviously, is that she worries about Roloson going down with an injury while I worry more about his defense exposing him to another heavy barrage of shots. I’m unsure if Roloson can bail that shaky defense out for another playoff round, but Cassie is most concerned about any other goalie attempting to do the same.

*- The Bruins didn’t deal with the same glaring shot disparity, though, since they also fired 33.8 shots per game through 11 contests.

Leafs’ Marleau becomes 18th NHL player to reach 1,500-game milestone

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Patrick Marleau’s three-year contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs will end two months before his 41st birthday, a summer when many believe his NHL career will come to an end.

But as he celebrated game No. 1,500 Wednesday night against the Detroit Red Wings, the veteran forward was talking about reaching another kind of milestone.

“I’m going to keep going as long as I can,” he said Wednesday morning via Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston. “I don’t know if my wife’s ready to have me at home full-time yet. If I feel good and still think I can contribute then I’ll keep it going.”

Marleau is the 18th player in NHL history to reach the 1,500 game mark. Should he stay healthy and play the entire 82-game slate or close to that, he’ll enter the 2018-19 season 11th all-time in that category. Gordie Howe holds the record with 1,767 games played.

Health has helped the 38-year-old Marleau reach the mark in his 20th NHL season. He hasn’t missed a regular game since the 2008-09 season and hasn’t played fewer than 74 games in a full season in his entire career.

Marleau has gone from being the youngest player in the league to the sixth-oldest in the span of 20 years and considering his history of good health, better fitness regiments of players and treatment by training staffs, challenging Howe may not be a crazy idea.

Of course, that is unless Jaromir Jagr sticks around. If that happens then Marleau would likely have to settle for No. 2.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

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WATCH LIVE: Blackhawks at Blues

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This week’s edition of NBCSN’s Rivalry Night will feature a central division clash between the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues.

It’s still early days, but the two sides are battling atop the Central, with the Blackhawks powered by great starts from a number of players including Brandon Saad and Ryan Hartman. The Blues, meanwhile, are looking to halt a two-game skid after winning their first four games of the season. The game also features the return of NHL on NBC analyst Ed Olczyk to the booth.

You can check out tonight’s game on NBCSN (8 p.m. ET) or online via the live stream.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

Here are some links to check out for tonight’s game:

Blues get Alexander Steen back against Blackhawks

Return to the booth is Eddie Olczyk’s ‘best medicine’

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

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Former NHL agent Stacey McAlpine charged in fraud case

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WINNIPEG, Manitoba (AP) Former NHL agent Stacey McAlpine has been charged with fraud in a case involving former Ottawa Senators players Dany Heatley and Chris Phillips.

Winnipeg police said Wednesday that the 54-year-old McAlpine bilked Heatley and Phillips out of $12 million between January 2004 and June 2011. McAlpine is charged with two counts of fraud over $5,000, two counts of theft over $5,000 and laundering proceeds of crime.

Heatley and Phillips sued McAlpine and McAlpine’s parents, claiming money was being invested in unapproved real estate deals, including an Ottawa condominium. CTV Calgary has reported that Heatley was awarded more than $6 million by an Alberta court.

Rask hurt in Bruins practice; Spooner out 4-6 weeks

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Well, the good news regarding injuries and the Boston Bruins didn’t last very long.

Earlier this week, PHT noted that forwards Patrice Bergeron and David Backes are expected to return in the near future, possibly as soon as Thursday. That’s great, but Wednesday turned out to be lousy thanks to one injury scare and one sure-thing that’s a negative.

The biggest concern is that of Tuukka Rask, and it’s something that might not clear up for a while. Rask was helped off the ice during practice today after being “bowled over” by young forward Anders Bjork.

The Bruins might dodge a bullet there, which would be huge if their backup work in anyway resembles the woes of 2016-17.

While we don’t know the severity of Rask’s issues just yet, there’s flat-out bad news for Ryan Spooner.

The Bruins estimate Spooner’s window of recovery at four-to-six weeks for a (cringe) “right groin adductor tear,” which he suffered on Oct. 15. Adam McQuaid suffered an injury in that same contest, so that could go down as a costly date for a Bruins team that has been fairly described as top-heavy.

Spooner, 25, was off to a slow start so far this season. He didn’t score a goal and managed one assist in five games, averaging 13:17 TOI per game. Even during that time, he was deployed in a very protected way, so the B’s can’t really claim that this is more than a body blow.

Even so, the Bruins might sport a patchwork lineup if Bergeron and/or Backes can’t play on Thursday. They’ll likely chalk it up as a win if Rask avoids anything significant, though.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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