Ondrej Palat

WATCH LIVE: Canadiens vs. Lightning on NBCSN

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Tuesday’s matchup between the Montreal Canadiens and Tampa Bay Lightning. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

These Atlantic Division foes meet for the first of four times this season as the Canadiens continue with the third game of their four-game homestand. The Lightning, on the other hand, play away from home for the fifth time in six games this season.

One of the biggest questions for Tampa entering this season was when Brayden Point would re-sign. The 23-year-old is coming off a season in which he set career best marks in goals (41), assists (51) and points (92). On September 23, he signed a three-year contract to stay with the Lightning, the only team he’s played for as he begins his fourth season. Point missed the first three games this season while recovering from off-season hip surgery but made an immediate impact in his season debut, scoring twice against Toronto and adding an assist.

While the Canadiens, who are looking to return to the playoffs for the first time in three years (2017), are coming off an encouraging early-season win, the Lightning, after a record-setting regular season, have already lost as many games this season as they did the entire opening month of last season

Jonathan Drouin played a career-high 81 games last season (tied career high with 53 points). The 2013 third overall pick by Tampa has started this season by recording a point in every game for a total of six points in five games. If he adds to that in this game, he’ll be the fourth Canadiens player in the last 32 seasons to open the year with a point streak of six-plus games.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

WHAT: Tampa Bay Lightning at Montreal Canadiens
WHERE: Bell Centre
WHEN: Tuesday, Oct. 15, 6 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Lightning-Canadiens stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

LIGHTNING
Steven Stamkos – Brayden Point – Nikita Kucherov
Alex KillornAnthony CirelliMathieu Joseph
Ondrej PalatTyler JohnsonYanni Gourde
Patrick Maroon – Carter Verhaeghe – Luke Witkowski

Victor HedmanErik Cernak
Ryan McDonaghKevin Shattenkirk
Braydon CoburnMikhail Sergachev

Starting goalie: Andrei Vasilevskiy

CANADIENS
Tomas TatarPhillip DanaultBrendan Gallagher
Artturi LehkonenMax DomiJordan Weal
Jonathan Drouin – Jesperi KotkaniemiJoel Armia
Paul ByronNate Thompson – Nick Suzuki

Victor MeteShea Weber
Brett KulakJeff Petry
Ben ChiarotChristian Folin

Starting goalie: Carey Price

MORE: Offseason work paying off for Canadiens’ Drouin

Paul Burmeister will host Tuesday’s coverage on NHL Live alongside analysts Jeremy Roenick and Anson Carter. Gord Miller and Pierre McGuire will call the action from Bell Centre in Montreal, Quebec.

What if the Lightning don’t win it all?

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Three pressing questions for the 2019-20 Tampa Bay Lightning.

1. What if they fall short again?

Looking at a season as a failure because it does not result in a championship is a foolish approach to take in sports. Even if you are the best team in the league on paper the odds of actually winning it all are overwhelmingly stacked against you. One team against the field is always a bet you are more than likely to lose.

But the 2018-19 Lightning season, for as great as it was, has to be looked at as at least some kind of a failure. Maybe not a total failure, but definitely a failure to some degree. Not because they didn’t win it all, but because of HOW they did not win it all — quietly bowing out in four games against the No. 8 seed. Also because after years of collapse and near-misses in the Eastern Conference Final and Stanley Cup Final (blowing two 3-2 series leads in the ECF, and a 2-1 series lead in the SCF) that was supposed to be the team to get it done. Then it did not even win a single playoff game.

Expectations will be through the roof again with this roster, and the pressure is only going to be mount because they have to show they are a championship team instead of a paper tiger. But what if they fall short again? It probably depends on how far they go. A Round 1 or 2 loss, especially one like this past season, means someone almost certainly gets fired — whether it is the coach  or the GM — or gets traded (break up the core?)

[MORE: 2018-19 Summary | Under Pressure | X-Factor]

2. What will Brayden Point‘s new contract look like, and how will they make it work?

To answer the first part of that question, it will probably look significant. Point is one of them any unsigned restricted free agents on the open market and is coming off a monster season offensively that saw him establish himself as a key part of the Lightning’s core and one of the top offensive players in the league. He is only 23 years old, has improved every year he has been in the league, and is just now entering the prime of his career. He should easily get more than $7 or $8 million per year.

The problem for the Lighting is making that fit within the structure of the team, where Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman, Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, Ryan McDonagh, Yanni Gourde, and Alex Killorn are all already signed to massive long-term deals. They have enough to sign Point for this season, but next season (when Vasilevskiy’s deal kicks in) it will get tight. Someone (Palat? Killorn?) will have to be on the move.

3. Will their offseason additions be enough to put them over the top?

Given the Lightning’s salary cap constraints they had to go bargain hunting this offseason and may have struck gold with Kevin Shattenkirk and Pat Maroon on one-year deals for under $3 million (combined). Shattenkirk will have far less pressure on him in Tampa Bay than he did in New York because he will not be counted on to be the top player on defense and they won’t need him to be a difference-maker. You also have to think he will have a chip on his shoulder have something to prove after a disappointing end with the Rangers.

As for Maroon, the size and intangible element he brings from a Stanley Cup winning team will almost certainly be dramatically overstated. Maybe it matters a little, but what is truly important is that he is an excellent depth player that will make their bottom-six better. They are not the big-name moves some other teams made, but the Lightning didn’t need impact. They just needed solid complementary pieces, and that may be just what they receive.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Lightning ‘optimistic’ in Point deal before training camp

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(UPDATE: The Lightning have freed up more room by sending Ryan Callahan’s cap hit to the Senators.)

At the present, they have roughly $5.5 million in salary cap space and a 40-goal, 90-point restricted free agent to sign, and the Tampa Bay Lightning are certain they’ll get him under contract before training camp begins.

Brayden Point is worth a whole heck of a lot of money and the Lightning don’t have that much to give at the moment, but general manager Julien BriseBois is optimistic nonetheless that a deal will be hatched before the middle of September.

“I fully expect to get it done before the start of training camp,” BriseBois said via NHL.com on Monday. “I don’t have a precise timeline. I feel very optimistic, but I don’t have any new information with regards to the Brayden Point contract.”

Easier said than done, as they say.

The Lightning have a nice cap crunch to deal with and a player of Point’s caliber, even if bridged, is worth more than what they currently have to spend (and they still need to pay Adam Erne, even if it’s around $1 million a season on his own bridge deal.)

But perceived worth and contract actuality are not one and the same. If this summer has taught us anything, it’s that very good players can sign on for very cheap deals. We see you, Kevin Labanc.

Of course, that’s a pretty extreme example of doing your team a solid. And Point isn’t the same player. He’s much better, so don’t expect that here.

Sure, there’s still a world where Point signs an uber-friendly bridge deal. But at $5.5 million? Probably not. Evolving Wild’s model has a two-year deal worth $1 million more than that. A three-year bridge? They have it pegged at over $7 million a season. He’s projected to get a five-year, $8 million contract using their formula. Even that might seem a little low for the 23-year-old.

Even in Florida, where there is no state income tax, Point will get more.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

The Lightning do have some reprieve, however. Despite there being some work to do to get Point’s contract done, they can essentially double the money they have to work with by putting Ryan Callahan on long-term-injured reserve.

That makes the situation disappear, for the time being, as it frees up $5.8 million in the process and allowing the Lightning to exceed the cap limit by that much. They can sign Point to whatever term/money makes sense and still fit under the cap.

And if BriseBois’s optimism surprises you, it shouldn’t. If any team can figure out how to keep some very, very good players happy financially, short-term and long-term and under the cap ceiling while remaining competitive, it’s the Lightning — even without Steve Yzerman.

They did it with Hart Trophy winner Nikita Kucherov and also with Vezina winner Andrei Vasilevsky, who became a very rich man on Monday.

“What I will say is there are all of these players that signed shorter deals coming out of their entry-level contracts who all ended up signing long-term deals and were able to stick with our organization, whether it’s Tyler Johnson or Ondrej Palat or Alex Killorn.” BriseBois said. “It’s worked out for all of them and it’s worked out for the organization. We’ve been able to keep a lot of great players in their prime.”

Next step: not getting swept up in the first round after a record regular season. And then sort out how you’re going to navigate the salary cap once again next offseason, where the Lightning already have $66.7 million committed to 13 players, and that doesn’t include whatever contract Point signs.

MORE: Jets, Lightning still face big RFA challenges

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Blue Jackets on verge of sweeping Lightning after Game 3 win

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The Columbus Blue Jackets are on the verge of making franchise history following their 3-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 3 Sunday night.

A win on Tuesday (7 p.m. ET; CNBC) would not only mean a shocking sweep of the Presidents’ Trophy winning Lightning, but also give the Blue Jackets their first ever Stanley Cup playoff series victory.

Remember when the Lightning jumped out to a 3-0 lead 17:50 into Game 1? No one saw this coming.

[2019 NBC STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS HUB]

Playing in front of an energetic Nationwide Arena crowd, the Blue Jackets continued their puck possession dominance and again piled on after scoring. Matt Duchene, who now has five points in the series, opened the scoring 1:44 into the second period.

Columbus built on that lead 6:41 later when Oliver Bjorkstrand made it 2-0 on the power play, which is now 4-for-8 in the series. The goal left the Lightning stunned.

Ondrej Palat gave Tampa a fighting chance with an early third period goal, but even as they continually tried to test Sergei Bobrovsky, they couldn’t solve the Blue Jackets’ netminder, who ended the night with 30 saves.

“I thought [Bobrovsky] came up really big in those 10-12 minutes when they really turned it on,” said Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella.

Already without Nikita Kucherov (suspension) and Victor Hedman (injury), the Lightning still had enough weapons to mount a comeback in the series starting with Game 3, but the suffocating play of the Blue Jackets kept Tampa’s stars quiet. Brayden Point and Steven Stamkos have yet to record a point while combining for 12 total shots on net.

Out of 32 Presidents’ Trophy winners, only eight have gone on to win the Stanley Cup. Zero have been swept in Round 1. The Lightning has no margin for error remaining.

The Blue Jackets will go for the sweep Tuesday night at 7 p.m. ET on CNBC

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Shocker: Blue Jackets blow out Lightning 5-1 to take 2-0 series lead

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The Columbus Blue Jackets needed to pull off a stunning comeback to capture Game 1. Going up 2-0 in the series against Tampa Bay was a far cleaner affair as the Blue Jackets cruised to a 5-1 victory Friday night.

After winning a record-tying 62 games in the regular season, Tampa Bay came into this game with something to prove, but the Lightning didn’t play like a team that just got a rude wake-up call. Instead, Columbus carried its momentum from Game 1.

Cam Atkinson managed to squeak one through Andrei Vasilevskiy just 5:05 minutes into the game. Rather than answer back, Ondrej Palat took a hooking call at 11:40 of the first that led to Zach Werenski almost immediately scoring on a rocket.

Trying to spark his team, Lightning forward Brayden Point fought with Werenski. It certainly wasn’t a likely matchup, but it didn’t end up being a turning point in the game.

Matt Duchene scored his first career playoff goal early in the second period to put the Blue Jackets up 3-0. Werenski got an assist on that marker to earn the Gordie Howe hat trick. Mikhail Sergachev gave Tampa Bay a sign of life 5:00 into the third when he made it 3-1 and soon after that, Nick Foligno took a tripping penalty to give the Lightning the man advantage.

Tampa Bay had the best power play in the league during the regular season, but the Blue Jackets managed an impressive kill to drain whatever momentum the Lightning had built. From there it was just adding insult to injury as Riley Nash and Artemi Panarin each scored to turn what was already looking like a decisive win into a blowout.

The Blue Jackets spent the final 4:26 minutes on the power play because of Nikita Kucherov‘s boarding major. We’ll have to see if the league feels that one warrants further discipline.

“This is a five-alarm fire. We are facing adversity. Sometimes that’s good to face adversity,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said after the game, per Pierre LeBrun.

What you’ll be hearing a lot about now is the fact that Columbus also started its Round 1 series against the Capitals with back-to-back wins in Washington last year. Of course, the Capitals won the next four games and went on to win the Stanley Cup. For Lightning fans, that’s a reason to remain hopeful. For the Blue Jackets, it’s a reminder that nothing has been decided yet.

Lightning-Blue Jackets Game 3 from Nationwide Arena will be Sunday night at 7:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN

Ryan Dadoun is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @RyanDadoun.