Author: Jason Brough

2015 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game One

On the ‘fine line’ between protecting a lead and sitting back too much


TAMPA — Not even a week after being lauded for stifling the New York Rangers in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final, the Tampa Bay Lightning were beating themselves up for sitting back and playing too passively in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Chicago Blackhawks.

Hockey is funny that way. One game, a strategy works out. The next, it fails miserably. Even if the process remains largely the same.

“What had worked for us a little bit in the past, maybe we sat back and thought, ‘Maybe this is going to work for us again,'” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said the day after after his team blew a 1-0 third-period lead in a painful 2-1 loss.

Captain Steven Stamkos called it a “fine line” between responsibly protecting a lead and becoming overly passive.

“I think everyone was trying to do the right thing last night,” he said. “We come in with a one‑goal lead into the third. The first thing on your mind is to defend that lead.”

The Lightning were doing exactly that until Teuvo Teravainen beat a screened Ben Bishop on a long wrist shot with less than seven minutes remaining.

“He threw a puck at the net that probably nine times out of ten doesn’t go in, but it went in for him,” said Cooper. “I think that’s what happens to players of his skill level. Pucks have eyes for those guys.”

Perhaps that’s the difference between going into a shell versus the Blackhawks and going into a shell versus some other team. Against the Blackhawks, it’s a more dangerous game to play. Those guys can pick you apart.

“We found out if we’re going to play passive in the third period against Chicago it may not work out too well for us,” said Cooper.

And so the Lightning are forced to approach Saturday’s game at Amalie Arena with the specter of losing and traveling to Chicago trailing 2-0.

There will be those who call Game 2 a must-win for the home team.

“I don’t think there’s a must‑win unless you’re facing elimination,” countered veteran winger Ryan Callahan. “We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to try to win every playoff game. I think that’s the way you approach it. You approach the game; you want to win it.”

Related: Bolts brush off talk of ‘must-win’ Game 2

Need a goalie? No shortage of options out there


Don’t underestimate the importance of the backup goalie. In today’s NHL, where parity reigns, it can be the difference between making and missing the playoffs.

Think that’s overstating things? Give Jim Nill a call in Dallas. The Stars’ GM gambled on Anders Lindback this season, and it cost his team big time. With a capable backup, the Stars wouldn’t have had to lean so heavily on a struggling Kari Lehtonen. Dallas went on to finish with the NHL’s second-worst team save percentage (.895). Also, seven points back of a playoff spot.

Meanwhile, remember what Andrew Hammond did for the Senators? And Eddie Lack for the Canucks when Ryan Miller went down with an injury? Do either of those teams make the playoffs without such solid play from their backups?

Having one capable goalie is nice. Having two is even better. Heck, in the Senators’ case, it was three.

Remember that on July 1 when unrestricted free agents are expected to include Antti Niemi, Karri Ramo, Michal Neuvirth, and Jhonas Enroth. (As of today, Devan Dubnyk can become unrestricted as well, but it would be a surprise if he doesn’t re-sign with Minnesota.)

And then there’s the trade market. The Senators are trying to trade Craig Anderson or Robin Lehner. The Canucks are expected to deal one of Lack or Jacob Markstrom. The Blackhawks have three goalies under contract; what could Antti Raanta fetch them? Would the Leafs trade James Reimer? They’d listen to offers, that’s for sure.

So yeah, lots of options out there.

In spite of all the supply, Canucks GM Jim Benning is confident there’s enough demand that he’ll be able to recover something for either Lack or Markstrom.

“I think there’s enough teams that need goalies that if we decide to move someone that we won’t have a problem doing it,” he said recently in a radio interview.

And according to a report in the Ottawa Sun, there are seven teams interested in the Senators’ goalies.

The Edmonton Oilers are probably one of those seven teams. They finished the season with the NHL’s worst team save percentage (.888).

“I’ve had discussions on teams with goalies,” GM Peter Chiarelli said yesterday. “We’ve got a goalie under contract in Ben Scrivens.”

We’ve speculated that the Oilers may have interest in a veteran like Anderson, but Chiarelli refused to get into specifics.

“Obviously I’m not going to comment on any discussions with specific teams,” he said.

So, expect plenty of goalies to change clubs this summer. And when the 16 playoff teams are finalized for 2016, don’t be surprised if we’re looking back at one or two moves that made a difference between making and missing.

Related: If Anderson is available, should the Oilers be interested?

Flyers won’t rule out drafting a defenseman, but forward is ‘obvious’ need

Ron Hextall

With plenty of talented, young defensemen already in the system, the Philadelphia Flyers seem likely to select a forward when they pick seventh overall at the upcoming draft.

But what if there happens to be a blue-liner they really, really like?

“From a needs standpoint, [a forward] would be obvious, but we’ve always had the philosophy of ‘best player available’ and [GM Ron Hextall has] been taking the same approach,” Flyers director of scouting Chris Pryor told the Daily News.

“A conversation is going to arise if there are two players you deem comparable, pretty close, and we’re going to have to make that call as a group at the table. But if there’s a discrepancy between the two and there’s a gap, you have to take the best player.”

Noah Hanifin and Ivan Pronorov are a couple of d-men that are expected to be snapped up early. But in what’s considered an especially deep draft, there won’t be any shortage of forwards after the first six players are off the board.

The Flyers also have Tampa Bay’s first-round pick from the Braydon Coburn trade.

Related: Difference of opinion: Craig Button has Hanifin 12th on final draft rankings