Nikita Nesterov

Looking to make the leap: Slater Koekkoek

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Depending upon how you define “making the leap,” plenty of Tampa Bay Lightning youngsters could qualify for this post.

That’s part of what makes the group GM Steve Yzerman assembled so scary: there are a ton of quality prime-age players who broke through recently or may break through soon.

Even beyond the very-young Triplets, you have Jonathan Drouin, Nikita Nesterov and Andrei Vasilevskiy expecting bigger things, possibly as soon as 2015-16.

There are plenty of almost-there guys who can make the jump, too, from Adam Erne to Anthony DeAngelo.

Here’s a vote for Slater Koekkoek.

As the 10th pick of the 2012 NHL Draft, the 21-year-old seems like he’s primed for an arrival sooner rather than later.

He got his feet wet at the NHL level, playing in three games with the Bolts in 2014-15. While his AHL numbers won’t blow you away, the Lightning have every reason to give Koekkoek a chance to prove himself, as the likes of Nesterov, Andrej Sustr and even Matt Carle seemed to move in and out of Jon Cooper’s doghouse during the playoffs.

Speaking of Carle, he seemed impressed with the young blueliner’s skill when he debuted in April, as the Tampa Tribune reports.

“He skates really well, skated with the puck a lot and created a couple of chances on his own,” Carle said. “He was jumping up in plays. But I don’t think I played well enough to help him out. I kind of hung him out to dry on a couple of odd-man rushes. But he’s a talented kid who can skate well.”

Adding more mobility to a defense corps that includes Victor Hedman? That could leave Lightning fans leaping for joy.

Kucherov, Bishop and Drouin in for Lightning

On the brink of elimination, the Tampa Bay Lightning are going all hands on deck, even if some of their big guns are limping into Game 6.

The biggest question revolved around whether Nikita Kucherov would be able to face off against the Chicago Blackhawks. It’s anyone’s guess how healthy he is, but he’s suiting up in this elimination situation. He’ll suit up to complete “The Triplets” trio, even as many wonder if Tyler Johnson is also banged up.

From the “just in case you’re wondering” file: Ben Bishop is indeed playing tonight.

Finally, the Lightning are sticking with Jonathan Drouin in the lineup instead of Nikita Nesterov for another contest. Perhaps Jon Cooper acknowledges that the Lightning need that added scoring punch with some addled go-to point producers?

Ultimately, both the Lightning and Blackhawks are rolling with their Game 5 groups in Game 6, even if the Bolts’ roster looks a little less healthy.

Bishop is Tampa Bay’s Game 5 starter; Drouin’s in

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After a typical run of secrecy, Ben Bishop will be the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Game 5 starter.

We still don’t know what, exactly, is ailing the 28-year-old. Many believe he’s ailing on his left side. We are unlikely to find out for sure until after the Stanley Cup is raised. Andrei Vasilevskiy is available to step in if Bishop cannot finish Game 5, though.

Bishop was apparently the one to make the call to miss Game 4, as agonizing as that decision was.

He remarkably won Game 3 despite his limited mobility, stopping 36 out of 38 shots by the Blackhawks in an impressive showing of resiliency.

Overall, he has a .919 save percentage in the playoffs and has especially impressed as the games have gotten bigger. (In all three instances in which Tampa Bay eliminated an opponent in this posteason, Bishop notched a shutout).

Here’s a (subjective) side-by-side comparison of the two:

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In other lineup notes, Jonathan Drouin draws back into the mix, sending Nikita Nesterov to the press box. The Lightning return to a typical skating setup after multiple games rolling with 11 forwards and seven defensemen.

Oh, and here are the officials:

Oduya in for Game 4, no Drouin tonight

While you shake off the shock of Ben Bishop not even playing in Game 4 of the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, here are some other interesting lineup notes.

The Chicago Blackhawks see the most changes. Johnny Oduya and Kimmo Timonen are in the mix, while Kris Versteeg shuffles Bryan Bickell back into the press box. Timonen’s Cup Final appearance should feel quite different from his last one:

Joel Quenneville also might be mixing up the lines tonight:

On the Tampa Bay Lightning’s end, Jonathan Drouin is not getting in the lineup, as Nikita Nesterov keeps the Bolts in their 11-forward, seven-defensemen alignment. Other than that, nothing significant, right?

Bishop starts in Game 3 (Update: Drouin scratched)

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There are quite a few lineup questions coming into Game 3 of the 2015 Stanley Cup Final. Leading into puck drop, we finally have some answers.

The biggest one was: who would be the Tampa Bay Lightning’s starter after Ben Bishop’s mysterious exit from the third period of Game 2? It looks like Bishop will retain his perch after Andrei Vasilevskiy maintained Tampa Bay’s win on Saturday.

(It could all be a blessing in disguise to get Vasilevskiy to shake off some rust, just in case. Some wonder if Bishop is 100 percent, after all.)

Update: As it turns out, Nikita Nesterov will be in the Lightning lineup instead of Jonathan Drouin. Tampa Bay is going back to 11 defensemen and seven forwards despite winning Game 2.

Meanwhile, Trevor van Riemsdyk and Bryan Bickell are suiting up for Chicago. TVR replaces David Rundblad while Bickell is in for Kris Versteeg, respectively.

This post will be updated if anything changes in those cases, however.

Oh, in case you’re wondering, here are the officials for Game 3: