Vincent Lecavalier, Steven Stamkos

2011-12 season preview: Tampa Bay Lightning

2010-11 record: 46-25-11, 103 points; 2nd in Southeast, 5th in East

Playoffs: Defeated Pittsburgh 4-3 in Eastern quarterfinals, defeated Washington 4-0 in Eastern semifinals, lost to Boston 4-3 in Eastern finals

After new GM Steve Yzerman’s first summer of moves, people expected the Lightning to improve last season. Few expected them though to fall one win short of the Stanley Cup finals. While it might be difficult to match that encore effort, the Bolts still employ an enviable trio in Martin St. Louis, Steven Stamkos and Vincent Lecavalier. Their top players give them a fighting chance against any team, as their East opponents found out in the 2011 playoffs.


Stamkos became the cover star of NHL 12 and signed a hefty new contract, but St. Louis was the Hart Trophy finalist for a reason: he’s one of the best right wings in the league. Stamkos would be a threat on most teams, but St. Louis’ pitch-perfect passes make him a top five sniper. Those two shouldn’t have much trouble rekindling the magic from the first half of last season, but keeping that going for a full campaign would make the Lightning even scarier.

Then again, Tampa Bay could use some help. Unless he plays with them on the top line (as he did fairly often during the playoffs), Lecavalier will be responsible for generating much of the team’s secondary scoring. The Lightning’s hopes of wrestling the Southeast title from Washington probably rests on the work of Leavalier, Ryan Malone, Steve Downie and breakthrough playoff player Teddy Purcell.

The East’s second-highest scoring offense might dip a little bit with Simon Gagne and playoff surprise Sean Bergenheim having departed, but Tampa Bay’s top-end players should fill the net enough to make up much of the difference.


On paper, Tampa Bay’s defense is pretty bad. That played itself out in the regular season, as the Lightning allowed 240 goals (just seven less than they scored). For starters, Mattias Ohlund just isn’t the same stellar Swedish blueliner that he was during his prime years with Vancouver.

That being said, the Lightning improved after the addition of Eric Brewer late in the season. He logged big-time minutes and helped the Bolts deal with some tough matchups, especially in their sweep of Washington.

Brewer’s steadiness and the continued development of Victor Hedman give the Lightning some reason to believe that their defense will be better this season, although it is likely to still rank as an area of weakness.


Last season, things just weren’t working with Mike Smith and Dan Ellis, so Yzerman shrewdly traded for Dwayne Roloson. While Roloson’s numbers were up and down during the regular season, he gave the team a stabilizing presence in net during the playoffs. His often-dazzling playoff performances earned him another contract.

The obvious worry is Roloson’s age. A potential Eastern contender is weighing its hopes on the shoulders of a man who will turn 42 on Oct. 12.

Thankfully, Yzerman found a solid backup in Mathieu Garon. That doesn’t change the fact that the Lightning is taking a substantial (if short-term) risk with Roloson, but at least they can spell their old goalie when necessary.


Guy Boucher stands out thanks to his charm, that 1-3-1 system and a facial scar that demands ‘James Bond villain’ jokes. He would be noteworthy for his coolness alone, but Boucher produced fantastic results in his first season as an NHL coach. Naturally, he’ll face a significant challenge to match that debut campaign.

Breakout candidate

Hedman could make a big leap. He’s getting the experience needed to adjust to the NHL game and has the greed-based motivation of a contract year on his side, too.

The big Swedish defenseman probably ‘broke out’ already, though. If you need a more obscure player, how about Mattias Ritola? The former Detroit Red Wings prospect could have a shot of stepping into Sean Bergenheim’s role if the bounces go his way.

Best-case scenario

Roloson produces an outstanding season, but most importantly gets plenty of rest with Garon receiving 25 starts. Lecavalier finally earns his ridiculous paycheck by producing a healthy point-per-game season while St. Louis and Stamkos work their magic for even more impressive results. The defense comes together thanks to a maturing Hedman and the leadership of Brewer. Tampa Bay makes another deep run in the playoffs, only this time it gets over the hump and makes it to the Cup finals.


The Lightning are really rolling the dice with Roloson. Again, Garon is a capable backup, but not necessarily the ideal choice if Roloson gets injured – which is a realistic fear given his age. Even if Rollie stays healthy, who’s to say that he’ll be able to put together another great season? Whether it’s due to ability or opportunities, he hasn’t carried a big workload many times in his career – Roloson’s only played 60-plus games twice.

Depth scoring might also be a concern, especially if Lecavalier struggles again with injuries. One can’t help but worry that Boucher’s system won’t be able to cover up that defense’s blemishes for another season, too.

All that negativity aside, the Lightning should challenge for the Southeast title and fall somewhere in the fourth- to sixth-seed range. As long as they make the playoffs, they have the talent to make anyone sweat in a best-of-seven series.

Julien says Lundqvist’s acting ‘doesn’t need to be on the ice’

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The goalie interference penalty called on Brad Marchand late in Friday’s Thanksgiving Showdown didn’t sit well with the Bruins.

Marchand, whistled after making contact with New York’s Henrik Lundqvist midway through the third, said he thought “it was a bit of a weak call,” adding “[Lundvqist’s] out of the crease, and he lightly gets touched.”

While Marchand took issue with the call, his head coach took issue with King Henrik.

(In Julien’s defense, Lundqvist does have a pretty lengthy IMDB page.)

The interference penalty was nearly disastrous for the Bruins, as J.T. Miller scored on the ensuing power play to given the Blueshirts a 3-2 edge.

However, Boston replied with a power-play goal of its own — Ryan Spooner, at the 16:14 mark — which set the stage for David Krejci‘s dramatic game-winner with just under two minutes to go.

So, to recap: Today’s game had the Beleskey hit on Stepan, the Marchand-Lundqvist theatrics and a dramatic come-from-behind victory for Boston.

And so, to answer your next question:

These two teams next meet on Monday, Jan. 11, at MSG.

Related: Yep, Alain Vigneault went there — ‘I remember Aaron Rome in this building’

Video: Peluso, Gabriel throw down in spirited heavyweight tilt

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The big boys got after it early in Minnesota today.

Wild forward Kurtis Gabriel — all 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds of him — picked one of the toughest opponents in hockey on Friday, throwing down with Jets enforcer Anthony Peluso early in the first period.

And it was a pretty good tilt.

Peluso, one of the league’s most feared fighters, was coming off two pretty heavy scraps — one against Columbus tough guy Jared Boll, and another in which he landed some serious shots on overmatched Canucks d-man Luca Sbisa:

Of course, Gabriel’s no slouch.

He had one previous fight in the NHL this year (against Peluso’s teammate, Chris Thorburn) and five in the American League, where he’s spent the majority of this season.

Given the fisticuffs that occurred earlier in the Bruins-Rangers game, it seem the NHL has really gotten into the spirit of Black Friday.

(All videos courtesy

Yep, Alain Vigneault went there — ‘I remember Aaron Rome in this building’

Matt Beleskey, Derek Stepan

Alain Vigneault remembers a late hit that happened in Boston one time.

The Rangers’ head coach referenced it today after one of his top centers, Derek Stepan, was injured on a check that the NHL may need to review with a stopwatch.

“I remember Aaron Rome in this building, .6 seconds late, getting suspended four games in the Stanley Cup Final,” Vigneault said, per Pat Leonard of the New York Daily News.

For those that need their memories refreshed (nobody in Vancouver does, that’s for sure), here’s Rome’s late hit that knocked Nathan Horton out of the 2011 final with a concussion:

Now here’s the hit that Matt Beleskey put on Stepan:

According to Vigneault, Stepan has some broken ribs and is out indefinitely.

Over to you, Department of Player Safety.

High-flying Bruins (sounds weird to say) beat Rangers for fifth straight win


Somebody tell the Boston Bruins there’s a goal-scoring crisis in the NHL.

This afternoon, for the 14th time this season, a Bruins game featured at least six goals. The final score was 4-3, as Boston came back to beat the Rangers in a wildly entertaining Thanksgiving Showdown on NBC.

David Krejci scored the winner with 1:43 remaining. Krejci’s goal came just 2:03 after teammate Ryan Spooner had tied it on the power play.

The win was the Bruins’ fifth straight. Though the defensive mistakes remain…

…Claude Julien’s troops have been finding ways to overcome them.

The running and gunning Boston Bruins.

When was the last time you could call them that?