Ondrej Palat

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.

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.

Paquette sparks quick-start Lightning in Game 5

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It took the Tampa Bay Lightning all of 19 seconds to get themselves into Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Washington Capitals.

Yes, the Lightning scored on their first shot on goal as Cedric Paquette took advantage of a neutral-zone giveaway and then some questionable defending by the Capitals in response (and a nifty play by Ryan Callahan).

Tampa has been plagued by slow starts in this series, so getting a goal within the first thirty seconds of the game couldn’t have been scripted much better.

Ondrej Palat scored later in the period to give the Lightning a 2-0 lead after 20 minutes.

Both of Tampa’s goals also came 5-on-5, which hasn’t exactly been their strong suit in the Eastern final.

Neither team has won at home in this series, but Tampa took two big steps in the right direction in Game 5.

• Stream here
Series preview
Capitals vs. Lightning: Three questions facing each team

Capitals’ Burakovsky will be Game 5 scratch
Lightning survive barrage to even series with Capitals
• Baseball team to wear Washington Capitals-inspired jerseys (Photos)
Capitals confident in ability to continue road advantage vs. Lightning
Lightning power play, Capitals penalty kill will make or break series

MORE:
Conference Finals schedule, TV info
NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub


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

Lightning bounce Bruins from playoffs in five games

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The Tampa Bay Lightning will play for a spot in the Stanley Cup Final.

The Lightning earned a 3-1 decision in Game 5 on Sunday afternoon against the Boston Bruins, sending the Bruins into hibernation mode after taking the series 4-1.

The series will be largely defined by what the line of Brayden Point, Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson were able to accomplish after Tampa’s top line of Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov and J.T. Miller took a back seat.

Point scored his third goal of the series to erase David Krejci‘s first-period tally, slotting home after making a patient play around Tuukka Rask.

Point, who finished with seven points in the series, helped the Lightning rebound from their 6-2 Game 1 defeat with a four-point night, a performance that one could argue was a turning point in the series. The Lightning cruised from there, allowing eight goals during their four-game winning streak.

Point’s time-on-ice jumped by over two minutes from Game 1 to Game 5, and it was well-deserved.

Contributions from Tampa’s top line weren’t as relevant as they were against the New Jersey Devils. Kucherov had 10 points in that series but just two points in the second round. Stamkos had a pivotal goal in Game 4 to force overtime, but had only an empty-netter otherwise.

Miller made his presence felt in Game 5, first by knocking David Backes out of the game with a crushing hit in the second period, and then minutes later, offering up the go-ahead goal that stood as the game-winner.

Boston, meanwhile, couldn’t find much in the way of scoring outside of Game 1.

Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak combined four just four goals over the final four games of the series and secondary scoring from the Bruins was virtually non-existent, ultimately spelling the end to Boston’s season.

The Lightning now waits for the winner between the Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins. Washington leads the series 3-2 after a 6-3 win on Saturday.


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

The Buzzer: Lightning take lead, Jones’ shutout evens series

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Wednesday’s results

Tampa Bay Lightning 4, Bostons Bruins 1 (Tampa leads series 2-1): Ondrej Palat scored twice in 1:32 early on in the first period and the Lightning shut down the Bruins top line outside of a goal from Patrice Bergeron. Andrei Vasilevskiy made 28 saves in the win. The Bruins need to start scoring, with only three goals in their past two games after scoring six in Game 1. Tuukka Rask has allowed eight goals in his past two starts.

San Jose Sharks 4, Vegas Golden Knights 0 (Series tied 2-2): Martin Jone made 34 saves and the Sharks shut down William Karlsson and the rest of the Vegas Golden Knights to even the best-of-7 series 2-2. Even Marc-Andre Fleury‘s heroics throughout the playoffs were no match for the lack of run support.

Three stars

Ondrej Palat, Lightning: Two goals and the game-winner for the Lightning. Palat now has three goals in his past two games and is providing the Lightning secondary scoring on a line with Tyler Johnson and Brayden Point. It was his second game-winner in as many games.

Martin Jones, Sharks: Jones made 34 saves for his sixth career playoff shutout, including stopping seven off the stick of James Neal and another five from Karlsson.

Victor Hedman, Lightning: Hedman had two assists in the game and fire four shots on Rask while playing a series-high 26:18 on Wednesday. And he did all this while having the unenviable spot trying to shut down Boston’s top line.

Highlights

Marcus Sorensen‘s goal was a special effort:

Saucy goal:

Factoids

Thursday’s schedule

Washington Capitals vs. Pittsburgh Penguins, 7 p.m. ET (NBCSN) — Capitals lead series 2-1

Nashville Predators vs. Winnipeg Jets, 9:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN) — Jets lead series 2-1


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