Boston Bruins v Tampa Bay Lightning - Game Four

Bruins ‘choking’ talk obscures superior play from the Lightning

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Over the years, I’ve noticed that many sports fans truly delight in calling teams and/or players “chokers” even though that label is rarely accurate or fair. Beyond the armchair psychology one can implement in studying how “normal people” critique millionaire athletes, there are at least two fundamental problems with making these claims.

1. The premise ignores the accomplishments and talents of the opposing team.

2. Calling someone a “choker” hinges on the assumption that they truly have control over their successes and failures.

Both of those issues factored into the analysis of the Tampa Bay Lightning’s come-from-behind victory against the Boston Bruins in Saturday’s Game 4 match. While the Bruins should be deeply disappointed with how they played in the final two periods after building a 3-0 lead, that score was misleading in the first place. All three goals were the result of baffling blunders by the Lightning, but there was also more than a little bit of good fortune involved in each Boston goal. Michael Ryder’s 2-0 goal might symbolize those lucky bounces the best.

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Yes, there were moments in the first period when the Lightning looked rattled – especially after Dwayne Roloson allowed Patrice Bergeron’s 3-0 shorthanded goal to squeak through his five-hole – but they actually came out with a lot of energy in the opening frame. A lot of teams might have given up a little bit in that situation, but the plucky Bolts kept at it and their steady pressure was rewarded in the form of a three-goal outburst in the second period (and eventually the win).

Tampa Bay’s effort has been more consistent through the first four games.

In the big picture view of this series, the Lightning are consistently out-playing the Bruins. Both teams had one clunker of a game (Boston’s Game 1 was worse than Tampa Bay’s Game 3, but they were both contests the teams would like back) while the Bruins won a toss-up in Game 2 and the Lightning outlasted Boston in Game 4. Shot totals can be a bit misleading at times, but it’s still telling that the Lightning have out-shot the Bruins in all four games, with an overall 143-123 advantage.*

Bruins center Patrice Bergeron said “We knew they wouldn’t quit” and there’s good reason to believe that he wasn’t just providing lip service. My feeling was that the Lightning were getting some lucky breaks while being occasionally outplayed through much of the first two playoff rounds, but Tampa Bay is flipping that situation on its head in the Eastern Conference finals. Now the Bruins are the ones who are staying in the series thanks to some timely goals and sporadically brilliant goaltending from Tim Thomas.

The Bruins have been a bit schizophrenic in this series. They laid a total egg in Game 1, won a wide-open Game 2, played “Bruins hockey” in Game 3 and then went from high to low in Game 4. Meanwhile, the Lightning seem like they are getting the most out of their team more often than not, even if Dwayne Roloson is starting to look human again.

A lot of Bruins fans probably feel like their team choked this afternoon, yet the truth might be more unsettling for them. More often than not in the first four games, the Lightning have just been better.

* – If you want the game-by-game shot totals, here they are:

Game 1: 34-33
Game 2: 41-35
Game 3: 31-25
Game 4: 37-30

Senators, Ceci agree to two-year, $5.6M contract

OTTAWA, ON - FEBRUARY 6: Cody Ceci #5 of the Ottawa Senators skates against the Toronto Maple Leafs during an NHL game at Canadian Tire Centre on February 6, 2016 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)
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Ottawa Senators general manager Pierre Dorion predicted 11 days ago that a new contract with defenseman Cody Ceci would get done “within the next few weeks.”

His timeline proved to be quite accurate.

On Tuesday, the Senators announced they had re-signed the 22-year-old Ceci, a restricted free agent, to a two-year deal, worth a total value of $5.6 million.

The breakdown of the deal from the Senators states Ceci will receive $2.25 million in the first year of his new contract and $3.35 million in the second.

As per General Fanager, Ceci is slated to be a restricted free agent at the end of this deal, which means the Senators would have to match the salary Ceci made in the final season of the contract in their next qualifying offer to him two years from now.

It’s also a raise from the $1.369 million average annual value he was making with his entry-level contract. It was previously reported that the Senators offered Ceci both long and short-term deals.

The Senators put out a teaser of the news on Twitter, minutes before the announcement.

Ceci is from Ottawa, where he also played his junior hockey, and a first-round pick of the Senators in 2012.

In his second full season with the Senators, he posted a new single-season career high in goals with 10 and points with 26.

Report: Boughner and Dineen ‘major candidates’ for Avs gig, Arniel out

WINDSOR, ON - JANUARY 20:  Assistant Coach Bob Boughner of Team Orr points to a play on the ice during the Home Hardware CHL/NHL Top Prospects game against Team Cherry on January 20, 2010 at the WFCU Centre in Windsor, Ontario. Team Cherry defeated Team Orr 4-2. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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Just weeks after Patrick Roy’s shock departure, Colorado’s search for a new head coach appears to be taking shape.

There’s plenty to get into, so let’s go bullet points:

Per the Denver Post, a pair of assistant coaches — San Jose’s Bob Boughner and Chicago’s Kevin Dineen — have emerged as “major candidates” for the job.

• Also per the Post, Jared Bednar — the head coach of Columbus’ Calder Cup-winning AHL affiliate in Lake Erie — is in the mix for the Colorado gig as well.

• Another guy with Columbus ties, former head coach Scott Arniel, is reportedly out of contention, per the Dispatch. Arniel’s currently serving as Alain Vigneault’s right-hand man in New York.

• Other names in the mix include Vancouver property Travis Green (currently with AHL Utica) and longtime Barry Trotz assistant Lane Lambert (currently with Washington).

• Brad Larsen, currently one of John Tortorella’s assistants in Columbus and a former Avs player, won’t be getting an interview. Larsen’s name had apparently been floated earlier.

• And finally, if you’re wondering why so many guys with Columbus ties are in the mix, the Dispatch’s Aaron Portzline explained that former BJ’s assistant GM Chris McFarland now has the same job in Colorado under Joe Sakic.

So there you go.

Poll: What’s a realistic point total for the Sabres?

Buffalo Sabres' Evander Kane (9) celebrates with teammate Ryan O'Reilly (90) after O'Reilly scored the winning goal during the overtime session of an NHL hockey game against the Los Angeles Kings, Saturday Dec. 12, 2015 in Buffalo, N.Y. Buffalo won 2-1. (AP Photo/Gary Wiepert)
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This post is part of Buffalo Sabres day at PHT…

Last year, Detroit snagged the eighth and final playoff spot in the East with 93 points.

Two years ago, Pittsburgh did the same with 98.

In light of those totals, it’s not surprising to hear what Sabres head coach Dan Byslma pegged as the mark for the upcoming campaign.

“We should expect to be 95 points or higher than that,” Bylsma told NHL.com earlier this summer. “We think we’re better on defense. We think we’re stronger. We’re deeper. If you’re looking at expectations from within, we should be above 95 points at the end of the season.”

It’s a lofty goal, to say the least. Buffalo only had 81 last season.

But there is something to be said for Bylsma’s prediction, because his previous one worked out pretty well. In that same chat with NHL.com, the Sabres head coach said he and GM Tim Murray pegged last year’s club as an 80-to-85 point team, which proved accurate.

And if the last few seasons have shown anything, it’s that Buffalo is on the rise.

The Sabres had a meager 52 points three seasons ago, and made the slight bump up to 54 in ’14-15. Last year signified a huge leap forward — 27 points — which is probably why Bylsma is banking on a 14-15 point improvement (or more) this season.

Of course, this next push will prove more difficult.

For the Sabres to snap their five-year playoff drought, certain areas will need to improve. The club’s 25th-ranked offense needs to find the back of the net with more regularity, and the addition of prized free agent Kyle Okposo should help in that department.

In goal, Robin Lehner will need to stay healthy and appear in significantly more games (just 21 last season). And it remains to be seen what the ramifications from Evander Kane‘s controversial offseason will be.

So… what do you expect from Buffalo next season? Vote away.

Wild officially change goal song to Prince’s ‘Let’s Go Crazy’

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In what might be the most Minnesota post you’ll ever see on Buffalo day, the Wild have announced they’ve officially changed their goal song to Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy.”

The announcement, made on Monday afternoon, came after the club surveyed season ticket holders to see how they felt about making the move a permanent one.

During the playoffs — Game 6 of their opening-round series against Dallas, to be specific — the Wild made the temporary goal song switch to commemorate their beloved hometown artist, who passed away on April 21.

“Our in-arena experience is designed for the fans, so it’s great to be able to show them we take their feedback to heart,” said Wild vice president of brand, content and communications John Maher. “At the same time, it’s our privilege to celebrate an iconic hometown artist that clearly has had an incredible impact on our community and the world.”