What Went Wrong: Tampa Bay Lightning

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Once again a team pushed a series to seven games and once again they’ve fallen short of their goal of moving on. Tampa Bay was able to force a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference finals against Boston only to come up short losing 1-0 in Game 7 after playing inspiring hockey throughout the playoffs that saw them flip the switch from defensive stalwarts to offensive juggernaut when they wanted to. Against Boston, however, it wasn’t meant to be. So what caused them to bow out against the Bruins? Despite pushing a seven game series, we’ve got a pretty good list of problems to work with.

1. Defensive effort not good enough
We talked a little bit about the one missed play defensively in Game 7 that ended up costing Tampa Bay the game and the series, but overall the Lightning’s defensive effort was lacking. Early on in the series you saw Victor Hedman making many youthful mistakes. With it being just his second year in the NHL and him being just 20 years-old and in the midst of his first playoffs, it’s understandable. He improved though but his teammates also had issues.

Eric Brewer and Mattias Ohlund had some struggles later on in the series while Marc-Andre Bergeron was essentially an offense-only option as his defensive play was highly suspect. When the Bruins turned up the pressure on their attack, Lightning defense was hard pressed to fight it off.

Perhaps the most emblematic guy showing off the Lightning’s problems was Brewer. For the amount of ice time he saw (averaged 24:46 per game) he had just one assist and had a plus/minus rating of -4. If you’re going to be a minus, you’d better score points to go with it (Martin St. Louis had seven points and was a -3 for example). Brewer wasn’t helping produce enough and wasn’t helping out enough stopping the opponent. And yes, Brewer was one of the defensemen on the ice for Horton’s game-winner in Game 7 (Ohlund being the other).

2. Dwayne Roloson wasn’t consistent enough
Dwayne Roloson’s play in Game 7 will go down in history as one of the more inspiring performances of the playoffs. 37 saves and an unfortunate loss for the 41 year-old goaltender will leave a bitter taste in his mouth but what will irk him more is his play the rest of the series. Before last night’s Game 7, Roloson was rocking a 4.33 goals against average and a .851 save percentage, numbers that are stunningly poor for the playoffs.

Considering that Roloson was 3-2 in the games he started before Game 7 it’s remarkable the Lightning were even tied in the series. Had he been better though, Tampa Bay may not have gone seven games and would be working on strategies of how to contain the Sedin twins and Ryan Kesler. Instead, they’re done for the year with some important questions waiting to be answered before next season.

3. Sean Bergenheim was a lot more important than you think
When Sean Bergenheim went down with an injury in Game 5 of this series the main thing most of focused in upon was how the Lightning were losing one of their top goal scorers in the playoffs. After all, when you’re second in the entire playoffs with nine goals that’s difficult to ignore. Of course, Bergenheim was a star on Tampa Bay’s third line and the traditional role of the third line is to lay the body and defend against the opposing team.

With Bergenheim out, the Lightning not only lost a goal scorer but a physical component of their team as Bergenheim was second on the team in hits against Boston with 16. Only Mattias Ohlund had more hits with 19 and given the apparent lack of physicality overall from the Lightning, losing a guy who was averaging over three hits a game hurts badly.

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Tampa Bay obviously has a lot of high end talent with St. Louis, Vincent Lecavalier, Steve Stamkos, and Victor Hedman. They’ve got the kind of role players you need to be successful in the playoffs as well but next season they have some questions to answer. Who will be their goalie? Both Roloson and Mike Smith are unrestricted free agents. Will they bring back Simon Gagne and Sean Bergenheim? They’re both free agents to be. How much money will they need to fork over for restricted free agent to be Steven Stamkos? GM Steve Yzerman worked wonders to assemble a team that was instantly successful in the league and went much deeper than anyone thought they would in he and Guy Boucher’s first season.

Expect Tampa Bay to build on this, bring a lot of the band back and help make the team much deeper in the offseason. After all, you build on success with guys like Yzerman in charge, it’s not hard to convince guys to play there especially when “there” is a sunny getaway in Florida.

Brock Boeser will make NHL debut for Canucks today after signing entry level deal

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After a deal appeared imminent on Friday night the Vancouver Canucks made it official on Saturday morning and announced the signing of 2015 first-round draft pick Brock Boeser to an entry level contract.

Not only is he under contract with the Canucks, but he will also make his NHL debut on Saturday afternoon against his hometown team when the Canucks visit the Minnesota Wild.

The Canucks selected Boeser with the No. 23 overall pick in 2015.

He played his collegiate hockey at North Dakota where he put up some massive numbers, recording 94 points in 74 games over two seasons. That includes 16 goals and 18 assists in 32 games this season.

His addition to the Canucks lineup over the remaining nine games of the 2016-17 season will burn one of those years of his entry level contract, but it will give Canucks fans a glimpse of their future and maybe a reason for optimism in what has become a lost season. The Canucks enter the game having lost seven of their past eight.

 

Nikita Kucherov is trying to carry the Lightning to the playoffs

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Every time you think the Tampa Bay Lightning’s playoff chances might be finished this season, they always find a way to keep them alive and stay in the race.

Thanks to their 2-1 overtime win against the Detroit Red Wings on Friday night, the Lightning were able to keep pace with the New York Islanders and move to within a single point of a wild card spot in the Eastern Conference as we prepare to enter the final weeks of the regular season. It is still pretty amazing to think about them being this close to a playoff spot when you consider the injuries the team has dealt with this season. Steven Stamkos, their best player, has not played since November. Their center depth has been decimated in recent weeks with Tyler Johnson, Cedric Paquette and Vladislav Namestnikov all missing significant time in the month of March. They traded Ben Bishop, Brian Boyle and Valtteri Filppula at the trade deadline for nothing that will help this current team.

And yet, here they are, still right in the thick of the playoff race.

If they are able to pull this off and get one of the eight spots in the Eastern Conference is going to be because Nikita Kucherov has pretty much put the team on his back over the past month and single handedly carried it to one.

Kucherov scored another massive goal on Friday night when he scored the overtime winner in Detroit, and is currently in the middle of a four-game stretch where he has scored a goal in every game (for a total of seven) and recorded multiple points in each one (for a total of nine). If you go back over the past month, a stretch where the Lightning have managed to go 10-5-1 over a 16-game stretch to remain in the race, Kucherov has been the best offensive player in the league by a wide margin.

Since that stretch began on Feb. 20, Kucherov has scored 17 goals (four more than any other player in the league) and recorded 29 total points (eight more than any other player) to be the single biggest driving force behind the Lightning offense. His 29 points during that stretch mean he has had a hand (scoring or assisting) in 66 percent of the team’s goals (they have 44 during that stretch). He has scored close to 40 percent of them himself.

It is all part of an incredible season that has seen Kucherov climb to the top-five in the league in scoring even though he has missed seven games.

His 1.16 point per game average is third in the league among players that have played at least 60 games, trailing only Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid, and he is only 0.02 points off of McDavid’s pace. He is doing that while owning a 56 percent Corsi percentage that is in the top-25 of the entire league.

He has been one of the most dominant players in the league this season, and has taken his game to an entirely new level in the past month just when the Lightning have needed it most. If they get in, it’s going to be because of him.

Video: AHL goalie Jonas Gustavsson scores his first career goal

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He didn’t shoot, but Jonas Gustavsson still scored.

The former NHL netminder, now with the Bakersfield Condors in the AHL, scored his first career goal Friday, as part of his team’s victory over the San Diego Gulls.

From the AHL:

With San Diego goaltender Dustin Tokarski on the bench for an extra attacker and the Gulls working on a power play, Gustavsson made a save before an errant San Diego pass slid down the length of the ice and into the vacated net at 16:56 of the third period.

Gustavsson is the fifth AHL goaltender to be credited with a goal without actually shooting the puck into the opposition net. In addition to his goal, Gustavsson stopped 30 of 31 shots in the Condors victory.

Bolts and Islanders both win, which is bad news for Bruins

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The New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning each had to work overtime to decide their separate games, but when they ended, both clubs were victorious.

And that makes things even more interesting in the Eastern Conference wild card race.

With their shootout win in Pittsburgh, the Islanders tie the Bruins in points but take over the final playoff spot for now with fewer games played. The Lightning, despite an abundance of injuries all season, are just a point back of Boston and New York.

Nikita Kucherov scored the winner for Tampa Bay against the Red Wings. He’s up to 38 goals, which is second most in the league behind Sidney Crosby, currently at 42 goals.

Sellers leading up to the trade deadline, and without Steven Stamkos since the middle of November, the Lightning are in the thick of this race, even if others may have counted them out.

“Once again, people counted us out,” defenseman Victor Hedman told the Tampa Bay Times. “But we showed a lot of character. And we’re right back in it.”

The Bolts don’t play again until Monday, when they host the Chicago Blackhawks — only one of the hottest teams in the league.

Meanwhile, Saturday’s busy slate of games includes a showdown between the Bruins and Islanders. For Boston, it’s a chance for redemption after a particularly costly third period against Tampa Bay on Thursday.