Guy Boucher

Is Boucher on the hot seat in Tampa Bay?

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At 11-15-1 and seven points back of a playoff spot, the Tampa Bay Lightning have to be disappointed at how this season has unfolded.

Which begs the question: What will be done in response?

The answer could lie with the head coach, Guy Boucher, who’s fallen on hard times after breaking onto the scene three years ago with a 46-win regular season and a surprise appearance in the Eastern Conference finals.

Since then, Boucher and the Bolts have gone 49-51-9 and appear destined to miss the postseason a second straight time.

That’s not the only reason Boucher might be shown the door, though, as there are other issues surrounding his job security.

Frustration

This has been off the charts in Tampa this season.

The goaltending situation has caused a great amount of acrimony, sure, but there have also been numerous quotes regarding the team’s overall lack of cohesion and ability to “put it all together.”

Steve Stamkos blasted the squad following a late February loss to the Rangers, calling Tampa’s effort ‘embarrassing.’ (Of note, it was the second time that month Stamkos referred to the Bolts’ play as embarrassing.)

Two weeks ago, Boucher said the Bolts were sabotaging themselves, making bad decisions at key moments of games.

After Thursday’s 2-0 loss to the Islanders, Boucher was visibly frustrated at the Lightning’s failure to play a complete game.

“It’s the story of our year,” he said. “We can’t get everything together on the same day. It’s tough. It’s tough.”

The frustration theme has even worked its way into Boucher’s practice regimen.

On Friday, Boucher said he burnt out some of his guys prior to Tuesday’s 3-2 win over the Panthers, admitting difficulty in gauging his team’s energy level.

“The game against Florida, I’ll be honest, we had a hard practice on the Monday and we didn’t have the same legs the next day,” Boucher explained. “It’s very, very delicate, the balance.

“Chicago just took two days off, completely, two days off, for their guys. So that balance this year is very difficult to find.”

Jon Cooper

Cooper is the head coach of Tampa’s AHL affiliate in Syracuse and is believed to be among the hottest young NHL coaching prospects around.

He led Norfolk — Tampa’s previous AHL affiliate — to a Calder Cup championship last year and captured the Louis A.R. Pieri Award as the league’s most outstanding coach.

The concern for Bolts GM Steve Yzerman? Losing Cooper to another club.

Given the amount of coaching turnover in the NHL — there were seven in-season changes last season alone — it’s fair to suggest Cooper will garner some interest once the season ends and GMs go looking for new bench bosses.

Yzerman could nix all of this, of course, by promoting Cooper.

At the same time…

Yzerman essentially gave Boucher a vote of confidence earlier this month, saying not in the organization’s character to make knee-jerk reactions.

“We try to think things through and if something makes sense we’ll move on with it proceed with it,” he told the Tampa Tribune. “Virtually 12 months out of the year you are exploring ways to improve your team you are looking for opportunities you stay in touch to see if there is anything going on and occasionally something pops up that makes sense and you find a fit.

“But again nothing is going to be done as a knee-jerk reaction.”

Yzerman said Boucher and his coaching staff were “doing a good job” and “working hard,” suggesting changes weren’t imminent.

At the same time, it’s curious to note that Boucher has just one year remaining on his contract while his assistants — Dan Lacroix and Martin Raymond — have their deals expire in June.

Related

Boucher on slumping Bolts: ‘We have to find a way not to sabotage ourselves’

Bolts captain Lecavalier (lower body) out indefinitely, headed to IR

Yzerman: Lightning aren’t looking to trade for a rental

Pens coach praises Murray: ‘He doesn’t get rattled’

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Hot take: the Pittsburgh Penguins probably won’t deal with a goalie controversy going into Game 7.

(Ugh, that’s a failed hot take … you can’t use “probably” in those things, right?)

Matt Murray was fantastic at times during Game 6, much like his counterpart in the Tampa Bay Lightning’s net in a 5-2 win. Granted, there were some tense moments during the Bolts’ late-game push:

Much has been made about experience, especially from those calling for Marc-Andre Fleury earlier in this series. It’s telling that the praise Murray draws sure sounds like what you’d expect from a “veteran.”

“He has a calming influence,” Sullivan said. “He doesn’t get rattled. If he lets a goal in, he just continues to compete. That’s usually an attribute that usually takes years to acquire that, and to have it at such a young age is impressive.”

Thanks in part to Murray’s efforts in Game 6, he’ll get a chance to prove his resolve in something new: a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Final.

Once again, his teammates seem pretty confident in this elimination situation.

Lightning lament Game 6 effort, Cooper doesn’t blame disallowed goal

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The Tampa Bay Lightning seemed to sleepwalk through the first two periods of Game 6, and waking up in the final frame wasn’t enough to edge the Pittsburgh Penguins.

On the bright side, at least the Lightning aren’t in denial about that weak first 40 minutes.

It seemed like everyone on the team more or less admitted as much in unison.

Brian Boyle added that he felt like the Lightning tiptoed around this game. Jon Cooper often provides great quips, yet he was pretty matter-of-fact in this case.

Many will linger on this disallowed goal for Jonathan Drouin, which would have provided a 1-0 lead for Tampa Bay in the first period.

Let’s face it; that moment came pretty early in the game. To Tampa Bay’s credit, they’re not pinning the loss on that setback.

Now they must set their sights on competing throughout Game 7 … and maybe earning some bounces of their own in the process.

Read more about Game 6 here.

Penguins force Game 7 after holding off Lightning rally

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The Pittsburgh Penguins played with fire late in Game 6, but they also showed plenty of fire in beating the Tampa Bay Lightning 5-2.

With that, this thrilling Eastern Conference Final will go the distance with Game 7 on Thursday.

There are at least a few “What if?” scenarios to consider, especially for the Lightning.

What if that offside goal counted?

Jonathan Drouin played some fantastic hockey on Tuesday, yet his most memorable moment came via something that ultimately “didn’t happen.” An offside call on a goal review kept a 1-0 lead from happening for Tampa Bay:

Instead, the Penguins poured it on during the first period and eventually went up 1-0. They then carried that momentum over through the second period, adding two more goals to go up 3-0 heading into the final frame.

What if Tampa Bay played more like they did in the third period?

The difference between the level of play in the first 40 minutes and the final frame were night-and-day.

Now, you can make a chicken-and-the-egg argument here. Did the Penguins take their feet off the gas with that lead? Maybe Jon Cooper finally unleashed the hounds when the Lightning were facing a big deficit?

Maybe it’s a combination of those factors; either way, the Bolts couldn’t come all the way back even after making it interesting. At one point the game was 3-2 before a Bryan Rust breakaway goal and an empty-netter put things out of reach.

Both Matt Murray and Andrei Vasilevskiy faced plenty of tough chances and came through more often than not. We’ll see if there are any goal controversy rumblings, but each netminder came through at times tonight.

***

Now the series shifts back to Pittsburgh for Game 7 with a Stanley Cup Final on the line. Excited and/or nervous yet?

More: Great goals by Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel.

Sidney Crosby scores a superstar goal

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With the Pittsburgh Penguins’ season on the line in Game 6, plenty of eyes are on big guns Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Phil Kessel.

Those marquee names are really coming through so far as they’ve now built a 3-0 lead through two periods against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

You likely already saw Kessel’s display of high-end hand-eye coordination (if not, check it here). Kris Letang scored his first goal of the series to make it 2-0 on a very tricky, well-placed shot.

The highlight really might be Crosby’s tally, though. He left multiple Lightning players baffled and beat a very-much-game Andrei Vasilevskiy to beef that lead up 3-0.