The Tampa Bay Lightning grabbed home-ice advantage over the Montreal Canadiens thanks to a shootout win (1-0 via “the skills competition”) against the Washington Capitals on Sunday.
It seems like a fitting victory in a number of ways. For one thing, the gap between the Lightning and Canadiens has been razor-thin this season; the Lightning won three of the four meetings, but most came down to the wire. The Bolts won 2-1 (SO) in Montreal on Nov. 12, the Habs won 2-1 (SO) in Tampa Bay on Dec. 28, the Lightning won 2-1 (OT) on the road on Feb. 1 and Tampa Bay closed out the only regulation win between the two by a score of 3-1 at home on April 1.
The loss was also fitting for the Capitals. Washington participated in an NHL-record 21 shootouts in 2013-14, going 10-11 in that regard. (Place “What if the Caps mastered the shootout instead of being merely average in that regard?” on the team’s pile of “What if?” questions.)
Amid a week of turmoil for the Lightning with Ben Bishop’s injury and Ryan Malone’s arrest, the Bolts must feel heartened to see strong play from Anders Lindback. He’s now a three-game winning streak with two shutouts, only only two goals in that span (stopping 77 out of 79 shots).
The towering 25-year-old still sports an ugly 8-12-2 record and poor individual stats over the long haul of this season, but the Lightning need him to play at his highest level against a Montreal team that clearly seems capable of pushing them in this upcoming first-round series.
Steve Stamkos began to practice again on Tuesday and he was back out there on Wednesday and Thursday, which some might interpret as him being close to returning. It seems premature to say that definitively.
“It could be weeks. It could be months,” Stamkos said of his timetable, per ESPN. “That’s the tough part.”
The problem isn’t getting back into game shape after undergoing vascular surgery in early April. He feels he’s already close to reaching that objective. The issue is that Stamkos is on blood thinners, which prevents him from taking any contact. It remains to be seen how long he’ll be on blood thinners.
For what it’s worth, Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy underwent the same surgery and was out for two months and the original timetable provided on April 4 for Stamkos was one-to-three months. So based on that, it sounds like it would be surprising if he returned anytime soon.
Will Patrice Bergeron join Bob Gainey as the only players to have ever won the Selke Trophy four times?
That’s a distinct possibility after the Bruins center was named as a finalist along with Anaheim’s Ryan Kesler and Los Angeles’ Anze Kopitar.
The Selke Trophy honors the league’s top defensive forward and for three of the last four years, that distinction has gone to Bergeron. However, Kesler and Kopitar have been popular with the voters of this award as well.
Kopitar has finished second in the voting in each of the previous two campaigns while Kesler won back in 2011, though he finished outside of the top-five in each of the last three years prior to the 2015-16 campaign.
Among the trio, Kesler excelled this season on the draw with a 58.5% success rate, which was good for second in the league among forwards who took at least 200 faceoffs. Bergeron was up there too, winning 57.1% of his draws while Kopitar posted a 53.5%. Meanwhile, Bergeron ranked seventh in the NHL with 67 takeaways compared to Kesler’s 39 and Kopitar’s 43. Where Kopitar stood out was in plus/minus as he finished second in the league at plus-34. Kesler was plus-five and Bergeron was plus-12.
Kopitar similarly led the trio with a 57.4% Corsi For versus Bergeron’s 55.9% and Kesler’s 52.9%.
Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik missed half of Washington’s first round series, but he’s back in time for the opener against his former team.
Orpik last played on April 18 and was regarded as questionable going into tonight’s contest against Pittsburgh. He’s expected to be paired with John Carlson throughout the contest.
Washington’s other projected pairings are Karl Alzner and Matt Niskanen as well as Dmitry Orlov and Nate Schmidt.
Orpik was limited to 41 games during the 2015-16 regular season, but when he did play he averaged 19:48 minutes per contest. He also recorded 125 hits and 102 blocked shots despite missing half the season. The 35-year-old blueliner got his start with Pittsburgh and played in 703 regular season contests with them and an additional 92 postseason contests. This is his second season with Washington.
Thomas Vanek hopes he’s not bought out, but his rough 2015-16 campaign has made that a possibility.
Wild GM Chuck Fletcher certainly isn’t ruling it out, but at the same time he also presented an assessment for Vanek that was in a way more of a mixed than negative review.
“I thought Thomas in October and November was arguably our best forward – or certainly played as well as any body on our team,” Fletcher said, per the StarTribune. “He seemed to lose confidence. But I thought he really shot the puck well and did a lot of great things early. And there’s no question he pressed after that and then got banged up. He’s a goal scorer and we need to find a way to score more goals. Our cap situation is much better this year.”
That last point is particularly relevant given that a buyout essentially boils down to missing out on the chance of Vanek bouncing back in exchange for some short-term cap relief. To put figures on it, buying out Vanek would save Minnesota $5 million in cap space for the 2016-17 campaign, but then it will cost Minnesota $2.5 million in 2017-18, per General Fanager.
With Vanek in the books, the Wild are projected to consume $63.8 million in cap space next season and that figure doesn’t including pending restricted free agents Jason Zucker, Jordan Schroeder, Zac Dalpe, Matt Dumba, or Darcy Kuemper. If the 2016-17 ceiling is $74 million, as has been previously suggested, then it seems reasonable to believe that Minnesota can lock up its RFAs, keep Vanek, and still have some flexibility left over to engage in other changes over the summer. Although obviously gaining an extra $5 million would make it easier for them to make more sizable moves.
“I’m much more comfortable with our flexibility this year than last year. It’s going to give us more options,” Fletcher said.
The plan is for Fletcher to take a couple weeks before deciding on what to do with Vanek.
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