Author: Mike Halford

2015 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Five

Bolts have no update on Kucherov; Cooper thought he’d return


TAMPA — The first question Jon Cooper fielded after the Lightning’s 2-1 loss in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final was about the health of injured forward Nikita Kucherov.

Not surprisingly, Cooper didn’t have much to say.

“I don’t have an update on [Kucherov],” he explained. “I thought he was going to come back, and then I got word he wasn’t coming back. He’ll be evaluated probably tonight and tomorrow.”

Kucherov, who came into tonight’s contest sitting second in playoff scoring with 22 points, was injured early in the first period after crashing into Corey Crawford’s net:

The 21-year-old was in significant pain skating off and, despite Cooper’s optimism, didn’t return to play. It’s unclear if he’ll be able to suit up for Monday’s Game 6 in Chicago, where the Lightning will face elimination for the first time this series.

With 10 goals through 25 games — that after scoring 29 during the regular season — it’s clear Kucherov is a vital contributor for a Lightning team that, suddenly, is struggling to find the back of the net.

It’s something Cooper discussed in his postgame address.

“He’s a point-per-game guy in the playoffs and a big part of our offense,” Cooper said. “In a series where goals are at a premium, it’s tough when you lose one of your guys.”

Vermette comes up big again, ‘Hawks take 3-2 series lead


TAMPA — Antoine Vermette hasn’t scored much this postseason.

But when he has, he’s made it count.

Vermette came up large once again on Saturday night, scoring his third game-winning goal of the playoffs to give Chicago a 2-1 victory in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final, and a 3-2 series lead over the Lightning in the process.

Vermette, one of Chicago’s pickups at the trade deadline, has gone from maligned to magnificent in the span of a few weeks. Tonight’s goal, banged in off a Kris Versteeg rebound two minutes into the third period, wasn’t just his third-game winner — it was his third game-winner in the last nine contests.

Yep, safe to say No. 80 has developed something of a knack for big goals. Previously, he notched the deciding tally in Game 1 against Tampa Bay and, in the Western Conference Final against Anaheim, scored a double-OT winner in Game 4.

Not bad for a guy that opened the playoffs as a healthy scratch.

Vermette wasn’t Chicago’s lone clutch performer in Game 5, though. Corey Crawford — who’s faced his fair share of scrutiny this postseason as well — allowed just one goal for the second consecutive contest and, over his last 120 minutes of action, has now stopped 55 of 57 shots for a .965 save percentage. The ‘Hawks tender also saved his best for last, making 15 saves in the third period.

While Crawford was stellar at one end, Ben Bishop had his issues at the other.

Back in goal after missing Game 4 to an undisclosed ailment, Bishop made an egregious judgement call by colliding with Victor Hedman midway through first period while trying to play a puck, paving the way for Patrick Sharp to score one of the easiest goals of his career:

Tampa Bay erased Bishop’s gaffe courtesy Valtteri Filppula’s goal midway through the second period, his fourth of the playoffs and first of this series. But Filppula’s marker was the Bolts’ lone bit of offense on the night; with the club having scored just twice over its last two games, there will almost certainly be pressure to score more as the team now heads to Chicago, where the ‘Hawks will look to win the Cup at home for the first time since 1938.

The ‘Hawks will hope tonight’s win follows in the historical trend of Game 5 winners. Since 1939, the winner of Game 5 after a split of the opening four contests of the Final has captured the Stanley Cup 16 of 23 times, a success rate of nearly 70 percent.

The Lightning, however, will hope to lean on a different piece of history. Recently, there have been four teams to lose Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final, yet go on to win it all — and one of them was the 2004 Lightning, the first and only championship team in franchise history.


Nikita Kucherov left tonight’s game in the first period with a suspected shoulder injury, and didn’t return… With his goal, Sharp moved just three back of Steve Larmer (45G) for fifth all-time among Blackhawks playoff goalscorers… More good history for the Lightning: the club that has lost Game 5 after a split of opening 4 games of the Final has rebounded to win the #StanleyCup in 4 of past 7 occasions.

Cooper hopes there’s decision to make on Bishop, who felt ‘terrible’ watching Game 4


TAMPA — Another day, another series of questions left unanswered.

In what’s become the biggest story — or, as some have started to suggest, sideshow — of the Stanley Cup Final, the Tampa Bay Lightning were once again mum on who their starting goalie would be as both Jon Cooper and Ben Bishop met with reporters prior to tonight’s Game 5 at Amalie Arena.

Cooper’s media availability lasted less than 30 seconds, and was comprised solely of this remark:

Q. Do you expect Bishop to be available tonight?

COACH COOPER: I don’t know. To be honest, I didn’t see him since he got off the ice. I’m hoping. I hope I have a decision to make between him and Andrei [Vasilevskiy], that would be great.

Boom. Mic drop.

Bishop then took to the podium, much like he did prior to Game 3, a tilt in which he both started and stopped 36 shots en route to a 3-2 win.

The NHL’s tallest netminder said that while sitting out Game 4 was brutal and that “progress” was being made on his undisclosed ailment, he couldn’t say whether he’d be back in goal tonight.

“It’s terrible,” Bishop said of Thursday’s game. “I was more nervous for that game I’m not playing than for any game. I thought Vasi came in and did a great job. He did everything he needed to do. I thought he played a great game. We had a chance to win that game.”

Bishop then said he expected to meet with Cooper later today to figure out if he’ll play or not — or, presumably, if he’ll even dress. It was little-used Latvian Kristers Gudlevskis that donned the gear as Vasilevskiy’s backup for Game 4, forcing Bishop to watch in a suit and tie.

Neuvirth’s agent and Isles had ‘positive conversation,’ will resume in late June

New York Islanders v Dallas Stars

There’s been some traction between the New York Islanders and pending UFA goalie Michal Neuvirth.

“Garth [Snow, Isles GM] and I had a positive conversation regarding Michal coming back next season to play for the Islanders,” Neuvirth’s agent, Patrik Stefan, told PHT on Friday. “The Islanders are a well built young team with a bright future. Although it was for short time, Michal enjoyed playing there and was impressed with the organization.

“Garth is well aware of what the UFA’s market for goalies this summer and he and I agreed to continue our conversation at the end of this month.”

This development is interesting on two fronts. One, in mid-May, Stefan said he hadn’t heard anything from the Islanders about his client.

Two, Stefan continued to insist his client is gunning for a No. 1 job.

“The bottom line is Michal wants to and is ready to be a starter next season,” Stefan said of the 27-year-old, adding that Neuvirth “will be one of the top goalies on the UFA list July 1st.”

If Neuvirth (.914 save percentage between Buffalo and New York last year) really wants a starting gig, it’s hard to see him going back to the Islanders. Jaroslav Halak seems firmly entrenched as the starter, coming off a year in which he finished fifth in the NHL with 38 wins, made the All-Star team and helped the Isles get back into the playoffs.

In an opening-round loss to Washington, Halak finished with a .926 save percentage and 2.30 GAA.

If Neuvirth does decide to go elsewhere, he’ll dive into a goalie market that’s flush with options.

RELATED: Need a goalie? No shortage of options out there

Fellow (projected) UFAs include Antti Niemi, Karri Ramo and Jhonas Enroth. Devan Dubnyk doesn’t figure to get to market, but stranger things have happened.

On the trade front, several names are out there. Ottawa’s shopping Robin Lehner and Craig Anderson, and Vancouver GM Jim Benning revealed he’s getting calls on Eddie Lack and Jacob Markstrom. The Blackhawks have three goalies under contract; what could Antti Raanta fetch them? Would the Leafs trade James Reimer?

All this could have a major impact on Neuvirth’s goal of being a No. 1 next season.

Fewer faceoffs not a sign of injury, says Johnson

2015 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game One

TAMPA — Tyler Johnson took 1,103 faceoffs this season. Only one other Lightning skater took more.

Yet in the last three games of the Stanley Cup Final, he’s taken a grand total of…


And none in the last two games.

This, of course, has led to speculation that Johnson’s dealing with some type of injury preventing him from taking draws — a notion he shot down on Thursday in speaking with the media.

“[Ondrej Palat] beat me in practice, and he’s just better than me,” Johnson explained. “I’ve never been that good at faceoffs, so it’s alright.”

Given Tampa Bay’s series-long subterfuge regarding player health (see: Bishop, Ben), it’s not surprising to hear Johnson come up with an alternate reason as to why he’s not in the faceoff circle. While there’s some merit to his claim of not being great at it — he was at 48.7 percent during the year, the lowest winning percentage among the Bolts’ leaders — it’s a tough sell claiming Palat is far superior; the Czech forward took a grand total of 35 draws this year and only won 10 of them, a 28.6 percent success rate.

(In Game 4, Palat lost 10 of 14 draws for a 29 percent success rate. So it’s not like he’s gotten significantly better at this as the playoffs progressed.)

Chances are we’ll find out what’s ailing Johnson and the rest of his mates once the series is done. But for now, the only thing he’ll say about injuries is that all players probably have them.

“I think everyone’s banged up,” he explained. “When you play this long — I think it’s 104 games already — when you’re doing that you’re going to be bumped up a little bit but it doesn’t matter right now.

“It’s the Stanley Cup.”