James O'Brien

Tampa Bay Lightning v Montreal Canadiens

Some question Tampa Bay for scratching Drouin again

If the Tampa Bay Lightning get bumped from the playoffs after struggling to score against the Detroit Red Wings in Game 6, many might linger on Jonathan Drouin being a healthy scratch once again.

The third pick of the 2013 NHL Draft sits at one game played in this series, and it wasn’t pretty. He was a -2 in Game 4 and received just 8:42 of ice time.

That argues for a lack of trust at this point from head coach Jon Cooper, although perhaps some could point to circumstance a bit.

Still, many wonder if the skilled playmaker might help the Lightning get over the hump. Here are a few arguments in that regard.

Tyler Johnson put the Lightning ahead early with a nice burst of speed, so it might be a moot point. Still, make a note of these doubts if things go sour for the Bolts.

(Whether those criticisms are fair or not, they’re there.)

2015 Norris Trophy finalists: Doughty, Karlsson and Subban

Ottawa Senators v Montreal Canadiens - Game Two
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The NHL named the three finalists for the 2015 Norris Trophy on Monday: Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings, Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators and the Montreal Canadiens’ P.K. Subban.

To review, the Norris goes “to the defense player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position.” The Professional Hockey Writers Association is responsible for the ballots.

All three blueliners rank as familiar faces.

Doughty hasn’t won a Norris at this point in his career, which is a point that comes up often (especially during the Kings’ Stanley Cup run last year). Injury and suspension issues forced the 25-year-old into the heaviest action of his career, as his 28:59 TOI average barely trailed perennial workhorse Ryan Suter. Doughty is aiming to be the first Norris winner whose team didn’t make the playoffs, at least according to Sportsnet.

Also:

Subban, 25, won the 2013 Norris. Here’s a little more on his great season from the Habs:

Subban, who previously claimed the award in 2013, enjoyed another remarkable campaign on the Canadiens’ back end. In his fifth full NHL season, the Toronto native finished in the Top 10 in multiple offensive categories among defensemen, registering career-highs with 15 goals, 45 assists, 60 points and a plus-21 differential in 82 games played. He also ranked second in the League among defensemen with eight power play goals, while logging a team-leading 26:12 of ice time per game. He was also the Canadiens’ most-utilized player with the man advantage.

Karlsson, 24, won it in 2012. His 27:15 TOI average trailed Doughty by a significant margin, yet it was a career-high and ranked third in the NHL. The splendid Swede’s 66 points led all defensemen while Subban was tied for second with 60 and Doughty finished with 46.

Notice that all three blueliners are in their prime years? A stat like this shows how advanced Karlsson is, yet they’re all at an elite level, which is confirmed by these nods:

WATCH LIVE: Tonight’s Stanley Cup Playoff action

Nicklas Backstrom, Johnny Boychuk , Thomas Hickey, Marcus Johansson

Monday’s pair of games include the first Game 7 of the 2015 Stanley Cup playoffs while the Tampa Bay Lightning aim to give the first round one more.

The coverage starts with NBCSN ramping up to the Washington Capitals hosting the New York Islanders in that decisive contest. You can watch it on NBCSN and also stream it online via the link below:

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

Meanwhile, the Bolts hope to force a decisive game, but they’ll have to beat the Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena to do so. You can watch the Lightning take on that tough task on CNBS and also stream it via NBC Sports Live Extra.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

Keith conquers: Blackhawks come back, eliminate Predators

Nashville Predators at Chicago Blackhawks
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The Nashville Predators aren’t a common playoff threat for the Chicago Blackhawks, so in some ways, this blistering first-round series feels different. Even so, the usual suspects keep coming up big for the Blackhawks, so the script ended up being familiar enough.

Brent Seabrook scored the game-winner in that epic triple-OT contest in Game 4. Duncan Keith was the difference-maker not once, but twice. Patrick Kane was shockingly productive in this series even short of 100 percent; Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa were their usual dominant selves.

It almost felt inevitable when Keith scored the last game-winner, as close as this series was:

With plenty of overtime action in this series, Predators – Blackhawks felt like a seven-game classic. Chicago was able to make enough plays to end it in six, however, beating Nashville in another thriller by a score of 4-3.

Things were wild and woolly in the opening frame. James Neal scored two early goals, and after the teams traded tallies for a 3-1 Nashville lead, Joel Quenneville gave Scott Darling the hook in favor of Corey Crawford.

It wasn’t advantage: Predators for very long, however. Jonathan Toews scored on the power play and Patrick Kane fired a laser beam home late in the first to tie it up 3-3.

There was plenty of action after that, but Chicago was unable to take advantage of a significant advantage in play in the second period, including a 12-7 shot advantage. In general, it seemed like the Blackhawks were locking in to try to put away the Predators, yet both Crawford and Pekka Rinne held strong through much of the action, making for more tight proceedings.

Ultimately, Rinne was unable to turn aside an unrelenting Blackhawks attack culminating with Keith’s game-winner.

With that, the Blackhawks advance to the next round while the Predators’ surprisingly excellent season ends in heartbreak.

Time will tell if Nashville can bounce back and turn this one-off series into a budding rivalry. Whatever happens in 2015-16 and beyond, this was one of those rare gems that may very well convert new fans to the sport.

… Even if the ultimate outcome might seem predictable to some.

Stamkos on slump: ‘Nothing is going right’

Detroit Red Wings v Tampa Bay Lightning - Game Five
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The Tampa Bay Lightning find themselves on the brink of elimination after a teeth-gnashing 4-0 loss to the Detroit Red Wings in Game 5, and their captain has appeared helpless to change things at times.

Steven Stamkos is easily one of the deadliest snipers in the NHL, yet in five contests, he has zero goals (and two assists) despite a healthy 17 shots on net. He also has six missed shots, so it’s not as if Stamkos is suddenly becoming afraid to pull the trigger.

The high-scoring forward sounded dejected after Game 5, but not necessarily dismissive of his efforts, as the Tampa Bay Times reports.

“Nothing is going right right now,” Stamkos said. “As long as I continue to compete, hopefully they change. It sucks to be going through something like this at this time of year when your team needs you. Hopefully I can come through.”

Some might say that this moment captures the frustration the 25-year-old has been feeling lately:

The effort is there, but playoff hockey is a results-oriented business, so Stamkos might be facing some serious heat if he can’t start to turn things around with the Lightning’s season on the line in Game 6.