McAvoy has goal, assist as Bruins top Lightning 3-2

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Charlie McAvoy had a goal and added a helper as the Boston Bruins knocked off the NHL’s top team in a 3-2 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday night on NBCSN.

The resurgent Bruins have now won five of their past six games after losing their previous four and leapfrogged the Detroit Red Wings into third place in the Atlantic Division.

Boston welcomed some reinforcements on Wednesday with the return of Brad Marchand, who had missed eight of the past 10 games for Boston, and David Backes, who had been out since Oct. 30 because of colon surgery.

Marchand chipped in with two assists, one on McAvoy’s opener and a second on Riley Nash’s slick wrist shot to give the Bruins a 2-0 lead after a 19-shot performance in the first period.

The Bruins continued the shelling in the second, firing 13-more on Andrei Vasilevskiy, who played a stellar game despite the result, finishing with 33 saves.

After two periods, Boston had outshot the Lightning 32-12, but Andrej Sustr was able to pot his first of the season to cut Boston’s lead to 3-1 after Torey Krug scored what eventually would be the game-winning goal to make it 3-0.

Tampa Bay played with a little more purpose in the third period and Steven Stamkos retained NHL points lead with his 11th goal of the season on a nice tic-tac-toe play in the third period.

Stamkos (37 points) leads teammate Kucherov by one point. Kucherov assisted on Stamkos’ marker, giving him at least one point in 20 of 25 games this season.

Tuukka Rask stood tall, stopping nine third period shots for just his fourth win of the season.

The Lightning has lost four of their past six games but remains atop of the Eastern Conference with 36 points.


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

Under Pressure: Andrei Vasilevskiy

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This post is part of Lightning Day on PHT…

By all accounts, Tampa Bay had a pretty good summer.

Captain Steve Stamkos recovered from major knee surgery, and will start next season at full health. GM Steve Yzerman deftly maneuvered under the salary cap, locking in Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov to team-friendly deals. That gave the Bolts enough money to add some veteran presences in free agency — Dan Girardi and Chris Kunitz, specifically.

Add it all up, and you’ve got the blueprint for a bounce back after a disappointing ’16-17 campaign.

So long as Andrei Vasilevskiy holds up his end of the bargain, that is.

For the first time in his five years with the Lightning organization, Vasilevskiy will enter as the club’s unquestioned No. 1 netminder. It was the role Yzerman envisioned when he took Vasilevskiy with the 19th overall selection in 2012 and now, the plan has come to fruition.

There were just a few roadblocks along the way.

The biggest one, literally, was the emergence of Ben Bishop, who played like one of the NHL’s top-flight netminders over the last few years — and, in doing so, created a conundrum. The better Bishop played, the more valuable he was to the Lightning. The more valuable he was to the Lightning, the more he cost to keep. Yzerman could’ve mitigated that cost by signing Bishop long-term, but that would’ve stunted Vasilevskiy’s development.

Having two talented goalies is a good problem to have. But it’s still a problem.

This is how the Lightning ended up in the uncomfortable situation of last year. Bishop, fresh off being named a Vezina finalist (and nearly being traded to Calgary) slumped through a campaign riddled with contract uncertainty. At the same time, the Bolts made the push to get Vasilevskiy more minutes, and more exposure as a No. 1 goalie.

It was a tough season. Pegged by many as a potential Stanley Cup finalist, the Bolts missed the playoffs entirely — and it’s hard not to look at goaltending as a culprit. The Lightning finished with a .910 team save percentage, 16th in the league. Bishop dealt with injury problems and Vasilevskiy, as some expected, struggled adjusting to a heavier workload.

Then Bishop was traded. And things changed.

It’s hard to ignore the uptick in Vasilevsky’s numbers after Bishop landed in L.A. The 23-year-old went 12-4-2 with a 2.27 GAA and .929 save percentage in 18 starts following the trade, playing a huge role in Tampa’s late-season playoff surge. (It should be noted the goalie brought back in the trade, Peter Budaj, was a journeyman veteran in a clearly defined backup role. He was in no way pushing Vasilevskiy for starts, and the tandem worked so effectively the Bolts re-upped with Budaj in June.)

There’s clarity in goal for the Bolts now. And there’s also a clarity in vision for the upcoming campaign — get back into the playoffs, and make a run at unseating Pittsburgh as power team in the Eastern Conference.

This is where the pressure comes in for Vasilevskiy. He will, almost undoubtedly, have to start more than his career-high of 47 games. He’ll need to be more consistent than last year, when his monthly save percentages went .929, .944, .892, .896, .919, .922 and .936.

He’ll be asked to shoulder a bigger load than ever before, while still learning his craft. Remember, Vasilevskiy only turned 23 a few weeks ago. He was the sixth-youngest goalie to appear in at least one game last season.

Now he’s tasked with taking the Bolts back to the dance.

Pre-game reading: Dillon and Watson fight, then make friendly summer workout plans

— Above, San Jose’s Brenden Dillon and Nashville’s Austin Watson exchange penalty box pleasantries following a scrap.

Here’s the transcript:

Dillon: Hey Wats… we gotta work on our cardio this summer, huh?

Watson: I’m dyin’ after like 10 seconds, man.

Dillon: Jesus.

Watson: I’ll come see Joey, we’ll mix it in.

Dillon: Joey doesn’t know cardio.

Watson: I know, that’s why I’m gonna come see him.

Dillon: Ah, I like it.

Watson: Good luck the rest of the year, bud.

Dillon: Thanks, you too buddy.

“Joey” is Watson’s teammate, Preds center Ryan Johansen. Johansen and Dillon are British Columbia natives and co-host a charity summer golf event in Whistler each summer. To the best of our knowledge, the tournament does not include cardio.

— On Feb. 3, the Lightning lost 5-2 to Ottawa, dropping them to 22-24-6 and seemingly out of playoff contention. Then, GM Steve Yzerman had a fire sale and traded away Ben Bishop, Valtteri Filppula and Brian Boyle, further suggesting the postseason dream was dead.

But after last night’s OT win over Ottawa, the Bolts are now 12-2-3 since that aforementioned loss on Feb. 3. They’re right back in the playoff picture and, what’s more, there’s a “light at the end of the tunnel” for injured captain Steve Stamkos, who’s missed the last four months following knee surgery.

— Chicago goalie Corey Crawford was hit in the head with a Shea Weber slapshot during last night’s game against the Habs. The Tribune’s Chris Hine wonders if NHL concussion protocol failed Crawford by not removing him from the contest.

— Vancouver won’t make the playoffs, so GM Jim Benning has a new goal in mind, and that’s to see how well his young prospects fare at the NHL level. But will head coach Willie Desjardins, who’s notoriously and fiercely loyal to certain vets, get on board?

“I talk to Willie on a day-to-day basis and we talk about that,” Benning said, per The Province. “Up to this point, his focus was to try and compete hard every night and win enough games to challenge for one of those last playoff spots.

“Now that reality has set in, he’s going to be on-board with getting our young kids more ice time.”

Bolts rule out Callahan indefinitely following second hip surgery

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Tampa Bay forward Ryan Callahan, who’s only played 18 games this year while recovering from offseason hip surgery, has undergone a follow-up procedure and will be sidelined indefinitely.

The Bolts made the announcement on Wednesday, just hours after a big 4-1 win over Edmonton. Callahan wasn’t in the lineup to face the Oilers — he hasn’t played since early January, when he skated just under 15 minutes in a loss to Philly.

The nature of this ailment has to be concerning.

Callahan, who turns 32 next month, is in the third of a six-year, $34.8 million deal with a $5.8M average annual cap hit. And this lingering hip problem comes on the heels of a disappointing ’15-16 campaign, in which Callahan scored just 10 goals and 28 points — the lowest marks since his rookie campaign.

As such, Tampa Bay is now bracing for an immediate future without a huge part of its leadership group. Captain Steve Stamkos has resumed skating, but there’s no set date for his return from major knee surgery.

Callahan, who’s been an alternate captain in each of the last three seasons, won’t be playing anytime soon either.

 

Stamkos resumes skating, but still no date for return

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Pleasant sight for the Bolts this week, as captain Steve Stamkos returned to the ice.

Stamkos, who has been out since undergoing major knee surgery in mid-November, took to the ice ahead of the team skate this morning, per the Times. He did stickhandling, shooting and fired some one-timers with assistant coach Brad Lauer but, according to GM Steve Yzerman, there’s still no set date for Stamkos’ return.

The 27-year-old was initially put on a 4-6 month timetable. If Stamkos’ recovery is closer to the four month estimate, there’s a chance he returns this season. If it’s closer to six, he could be done for the year.

Tampa Bay has struggled without Stamkos in the lineup, going just 16-18-7 since he got hurt. The team has experience a bit of an upswing lately, however, and head into tonight’s action just six points back of Boston for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.