Lightning GM BriseBois not overreacting to playoff loss

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TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Tampa Bay general manager Julien BriseBois said Thursday he is not going to overreact to the Lightning’s historically quick postseason exit and he still has confidence in coach Jon Cooper.

After tying the NHL record for wins during the regular season, the perennial Stanley Cup contender became the first team in the expansion era to be swept in the first round of the playoffs after leading the league in points. Three of the four games against Columbus were decided by at least two goals.

”What really compounds the disappointment is that we didn’t play anywhere near our best hockey during the series. And now, the question is why? Why didn’t we play our best when it mattered the most,” BriseBois said.

”The reality is it’s not something that I’m going to be able to pinpoint to any one thing,” BriseBois added. ”I know it would make it a lot easier for all of us if we could have a clear narrative. We lost because of, fill-in the blank. The reality is it’s a lot more complex than that.”

The Lightning won 62 games, matching the league mark set by the 1995-96. While the players said they believe they are a team built for success in the playoffs, an inability to get back to the Stanley Cup Final the past four years suggests otherwise.

”Now is not the time to make excuses, it’s a time to show some humility,” BriseBois said. ”It’s the time for us to lick our wounds. Roll up our sleeves, get to work and focus on doing what we need to do so that next year we’re more successful.”

Cooper, in the final year of his contract, was given a multiyear extension on March 26.

”My faith in Coop has not waivered at all,” BriseBois said.

Tampa Bay had three players – Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point – score 40-plus goals. Kucherov had a league-leading 128 points, the most by any player since 1995-96 when Pittsburgh’s Mario Lemieux had 161 and teammate Jaromir Jagr had 149.

All three were mostly non-factors against the Blue Jackets.

Stamkos had one goal and one assist, and finished minus-8. Kucherov, suspended for Game 3 for a boarding penalty the previous game, picked up two assists and was minus-4. Point scored one goal and was minus-5.

”It’s just another opportunity wasted,” Stamkos said. ”We have all the players in place but at the end of the day you’re judged on winning championships. There’s no real words. We say a lot of things, but you have to go out on the ice and do it, and we didn’t do it.”

Tampa Bay scored 325 goals in the regular season – most by any team in 23 years – but was outscored 19-8 by the No. 8 seed Blue Jackets.

The first-round debacle was just the latest in a string of postseason disappointments. The Lightning held a 2-1 lead in the 2015 Stanley Cup Final before losing to Chicago in six games. In 2016 (Pittsburgh) and 2018 (Washington), Tampa Bay failed close out 3-2 series leads in the Eastern Conference finals.

This year’s collapse stung, too, because it not only came against a team the Lightning dominated during the regular season, but Columbus is also coached by John Tortorella, who was behind the bench for Tampa Bay’s only Stanley Cup championship in 2004.

”We put ourselves in this position because we didn’t meet our expectations,” Cooper said. ”I’m going to relish the moment when we’re all back here again and we have met those expectations as a group.”

WARNING SIGNS?

The Lightning had a tendency to fall behind during the regular season, posting 29 comeback wins, an NHL record.

”In a lot of those games we out-skilled out of those games,” left winger Alex Killorn said. ”But in the playoffs, there’s times where you’re not going to be able to skill your way out of it. I think just we have to play a more playoff mentality throughout the season. Build your way into playoffs.”

PLAYER MOVEMENT?

Point is a restricted free agent who is in line for a potential offer sheet. Defensemen Anton Stralman, Dan Girardi and Braydon Coburn are all unrestricted free agents.

INJURIES

2018 Norris Trophy winner Victor Hedman (upper body) played in Games 1 and 2 after missing the final four regular season games but sat out the final two playoff games. … Stralman (lower body) never got on the ice. … Killorn played Game 4 with a slight MCL tear that won’t require surgery.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Lightning limp into Game 4 without Hedman, Stralman

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The Tampa Bay Lightning are facing a potential sweep in Game 4 on Tuesday (7 p.m. ET; CNBC; Live stream), and they’re going to have to find a way to win without Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman.

Head coach Jon Cooper announced that Hedman and Stralman are out, while Alex Killorn is a game-time decision. Of course, the biggest lineup note is that Nikita Kucherov is back in the mix after sitting out Game 3 thanks to his one-game suspension, but these are big absences on the defensive side.

Via The Athletic’s Joe Smith, the Lightning will continue to roll with:

Mikhail SergachevDan Girardi
Ryan McDonaghErik Cernak
Braydon CoburnJan Rutta

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

In a detailed, fantastic piece for The Athletic (sub required), Alison Lukan detailed how the Blue Jackets’ forecheck (by way of a 1-2-2 setup) has been giving the Lightning fits so far in this Round 1 series.

“(We are) trying to find ways to limit their opportunities through their speed and their skill,” Brandon Dubinsky said. “That’s making sure we play disciplined and stay above the puck. When you go, it’s about not getting beat up the ice, and if (a Lightning player) moves the puck and your partner goes, you have to make sure you get back and get ahead of that guy and reload for him.”

Earlier in Round 1, much was made about Hedman being on the ice for some glaring Blue Jackets goals, particularly a David Savard goal that was key in Columbus’ Game 1 comeback. It was tough to shake the impression that injury issues limited Hedman’s mobility, and the big Swede missing big games only strengthens that possibility.

Yet, as much as Hedman’s missed on the defensive side, his absence really hurts the Lightning’s ability to break Columbus’ system with crisp, clean passes (and also the ability to skate the puck up the ice, when that makes sense).

The Hedman loss stings, as you’d frankly expect when a team is missing a Norris-level defenseman. It also might push someone useful like Sergachev a little out of their (or Cooper’s) comfort zone.

On the bright side, Lukan points out that Kucherov isn’t just a great weapon for Tampa Bay in the offensive zone, but is also one of the Lightning’s best players when it comes to the transition game.

Heading into Game 4, the Lightning played into typical cliches by talking about taking things “one period at a time,” and there might be some wisdom within the well-worn words. More than anything else, the Lightning could really benefit from starting Tuesday’s contest with a lead, preferably an early one. If Columbus is chasing a score, the Blue Jackets might be a little bit more willing to “cheat” or get too aggressive, potentially opening up lanes and other opportunities for the Lightning to really get rolling.

Still, between the Blue Jackets’ commitment to clogging things up, officials generally putting away their whistles when it comes to obstruction, and Sergei Bobrovsky‘s bank-account-fattening brilliance, Columbus is unlikely to make this easy on the Lightning. Not having Hedman, Stralman, and possibly Killorn only makes the mountain taller.

The Lightning hope to avoid being swept by Columbus Tuesday night at 7 p.m. ET on CNBC (Live stream)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

The Wraparound: Blue Jackets aim to pad series lead

The Wraparound is your daily look at the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. We’ll break down each day’s matchups with the all-important television and live streaming information included.

Can the Columbus Blue Jackets do it?

After stunning the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 1 on Wednesday night, the Jackets will look to go up 2-0 in their best-of-seven series against one of the best teams in NHL history. Even the most optimistic Blue Jackets supporter probably didn’t expect them to take the first two games in Tampa, but they’ll have an opportunity to do so tonight (7 p.m. ET; CNBC; live stream).

There are several reasons why Columbus was able to overcome a 3-0 deficit in the first game. They started winning more 50/50 puck battles, Sergei Bobrovsky came up with some big saves, Tampa Bay took their foot of the gas, but the biggest reason they were finally able to climb that hill was thanks to their special teams.

When they were trailing 3-2 in the third frame, Brandon Dubinsky took a four-minute hi-sticking penalty on Cedric Paquette that could have put an end to the Blue Jackets’ comeback bid. Instead, Josh Anderson managed to score the equalizer while his team was shorthanded. You may not realize this, but Tampa Bay and Columbus both finished the regular season with the top penalty-killing percentage in the league at 85 percent. So it’s not surprising to see this team excel in that area of the game.

The surprise came just over two minutes later, when Seth Jones put his team ahead for good with a power-play tally. They ranked 28th in the NHL on the man-advantage during the regular season. That was huge considering they gave up a shorthanded tally to Alex Killorn in the first period.

Winning the special teams battle against a team that finished first on the power play and tied for first on the penalty kill won’t be easy going forward, but for one night the Jackets showed that they could get production from both of their units.

Can they do it again? That might be the difference between going up 2-0 or heading back home tied 1-1.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

TODAY’S SCHEDULE

Game 2: Penguins vs. Islanders, 7:30 p.m. ET (Islanders lead 1-0): The Penguins managed to overcome three one-goal deficits in Game 1, but they eventually lost in overtime. To make the Islanders truly uncomfortable, you have to make them open up. And the only way they open up, is if they fall behind and are forced to chase the game. That’s the key for Pittsburgh. Doing that at Nassau Coliseum in front of that lively crowd is going to be easier said than done though. (NBCSN; Live stream)

Game 2: Blues at Jets, 9:30 p.m. ET (Blues lead 1-0): If you like big bodies flying around at each other on a sheet of ice, you’ve come to the right place. We saw a tight-checking game with two confident goalies that played really well. As Mark Scheifele found out in the final minute of Game 1, solving Jordan Binnington isn’t going to be easy. The Jets will have to find a way to find the back of the net more than just once. If this series goes the distance, will either one of these teams have anything left in the tank? (CNBC; Live stream)

Game 2: Golden Knights at Sharks, 10:30 p.m. ET (Sharks lead 1-0): Game 1 couldn’t have gone any better for San Jose, as almost all of their top players managed to find their way onto the scoresheet. The Golden Knights have to find a way to slow down the Sharks and they need to stay out of the penalty box. Even though Martin Jones picked up the win in the first game, he still looked shaky at times. Vegas could stand to make his life a little more difficult. (NBCSN; Live stream)

SATURDAY’S SCHEDULE
Game 2: Hurricanes at Capitals, 3 p.m. ET (NBC)
Game 2: Stars at Predators, 6 p.m. ET (CNBC)
Game 2: Maple Leafs at bruins, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)
Game 3: Avalanche at Flames, 10:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN)

PHT’s 2019 Stanley Cup playoff previews
Capitals vs Hurricanes
Islanders vs. Penguins

Bruins vs. Maple Leafs
Lightning vs. Blue Jackets

Predators vs. Stars
Blues vs. Jets
Flames vs. Avalanche
Sharks vs. Golden Knights

Power Rankings: Why your team won’t win the Stanley Cup
• 
Roundtable: Goaltending issues, challenging the Lightning
NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs: Round 1 schedule, TV info

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Blue Jackets shock Lightning with stunning Game 1 comeback

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After the first period of Game 1, it seemed like the Blue Jackets would be lucky just to protect their dignity. Instead, they’ll leave Amalie Arena with an absolutely shocking 1-0 series lead against the mighty, historically-great Tampa Bay Lightning after Columbus won 4-3.

Tampa Bay took a commanding 3-0 lead during the opening frame, and considering some posts hit and jittery moments for Sergei Bobrovsky, the margin could have been even larger. This contest provided the first goal and fight of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and it seemed like Bobrovsky might be the first goalie replacement.

Instead, Bobrovsky helped the Blue Jackets pull off the first borderline-unthinkable upset of this young postseason.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

The Blue Jackets bounced back slightly during the second period, but they only managed to cut the Lightning’s lead to 3-1 going into the third. For a while, it seemed like the Lightning would cruise through this one.

Then things started to get strange. All due respect to a solid-enough defenseman in David Savard, but few would imagine him to pull off these moves and this goal, particularly in totally faking out Norris-winner Victor Hedman:

That goal gave the Blue Jackets some daylight for the first time in quite a while, but it seemed like a rally would be cut short by a stick that created a cut. Cedric Paquette was bloodied by Brandon Dubinsky‘s stick, prompting a four-minute minor. Perfect opportunity for easily the best power play in the NHL this season, right?

Uh, about that …

To start the metaphorical bleeding for the Bolts, Josh Anderson showed tremendous patience on a shorthanded breakaway, eventually waiting long enough for Steven Stamkos to slightly bump his own goalie, Andrei Vasilevskiy, and scored a stunning 3-3 goal.

Alex Killorn then committed a high-sticking penalty himself, short-circuiting the remainder of the Lightning’s power play, and opening the door for an abbreviated Columbus power play. Despite not having a ton of time, Artemi Panarin found Seth Jones, who scored a tremendous power-play goal. It was then 4-3 for Columbus with less than six minutes remaining, and Tampa Bay failed to shake off the shock of this comeback.

The Blue Jackets fought for their playoff lives during this stretch, making people wonder if management made a huge mistake in going all-in at the trade deadline. It wasn’t always pretty, but Columbus hung in there, and now they lead an absolute Goliath of a team 1-0 in this Round 1 series.

Blue Jackets-Lightning Game 2 from Amalie Arena will be Friday night at 7 p.m. ET on CNBC

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Blue Jackets – Lightning provide first goal, fight of playoffs

After a high-scoring 2018-19 regular season, the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs are off to a fast start.

The Columbus Blue Jackets and Tampa Bay Lightning are setting the tone in Game 1. About three minutes into the contest, Dan Girardi was whistled for illegal hit to the head on his former Rangers teammate Brandon Dubinsky, which inspired something you probably didn’t expect this soon: the first fight of the postseason.

Check out the hit and fight here:

The Blue Jackets ended up getting a two-minute power play advantage from that ensuing fracas, but it really just started the bleeding for Columbus. Alex Killorn snagged the puck from Seth Jones, opening up a breakaway and a shorthanded goal, the first goal of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. You can watch that video in the clip above this post’s headline.

Things didn’t get any better for the Blue Jackets from that 1-0 goal. Anthony Cirelli made it 2-0 on a goal Sergei Bobrovsky would want back, while Yanni Gourde‘s deflection on a 3-0 goal was something Bob really had no chance on.

So, two-out-of-three goals weren’t Bob’s bad, but he had some other shaky moments, and the conventional wisdom that the Blue Jackets will need brilliant goaltending to steal games from the Bolts continues to hold.

It begs the question: will the Blue Jackets also provide another first for this postseason: the first goalie change?

Game 2 of Blue Jackets-Lightning is Friday, April 12, at 7 p.m. ET on CNBC

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.