Tampa Bay Lightning

Killorn, Lightning jet ski their way to NHL return in ‘Bolts are Back’

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During some of the dog days of the pandemic pause, Alex Killorn gathered Lightning teammates for some tremendous-cheesy “Dock Talk” videos. It only makes sense, then, that he gathered the gang (“the boys?”) for the best segment yet to celebrate the NHL’s return to play. Yes, the “Bolts are back,” indeed.*

* – In small groups

Killorn, Steven Stamkos, and other Lightning teammates celebrated this announcement — on jet skis, with humor — to the tune of Thin Lizzy’s “The Boys are back in town.”

(Warning: that song will probably get in your head if you watch the video above. Maybe it already is?)

Enjoy some of the best moments of Killorn’s great “Bolts are back” video.

Splashy highlights of Killorn, Stamkos, other Lightning players in “Bolts are back”

Killorn makes his “directorial debut” with an honestly very nice overhead pool shot. The video starts strong with Stamkos and Killorn being goofy on their jet skis.

Stamkos "Bolts are Back"
What, Stamkos didn’t spring for fancy airpods? (via Killorn)

In a moment of poor sportsmanship/skismanship, an unnamed Bruin (or, most likely, someone wearing a Bruins shirt?) gets splashed. Figure this one out, Internet. I believe this is the same person who gets dumped in the water (while wearing a Maple Leafs shirt?) later on?

Bruins guy in "Bolts are Back"
Well, that’s rude. (via Killorn)

While there’s plenty of room for debate, I’d argue that Andrei Vasilevskiy (aka “Big Cat”) earns the nod for best cameo. We catch him lifting weights, and grunting something — maybe “you’re the man?” — before spotting his Lightning pals.

Vasilevskiy Big Cat "Bolts are Back"
Do goalies need to be that ripped? Asking for Dominik Hasek. (via Killorn)

Like many great filmmakers, Killorn tackles class when he features Lightning teammate Anthony Cirelli in one of the more memorable sequences of “Bolts are Back.” Notice that Cirelli (“Rocco”) is waiting tables before being summoned. You see, Cirelli is on an entry-level contract. Is his artificially deflated contract being referenced by Killorn?

Clearly.

Judging by Cirelli abandoning his duties, it’s not only good that the Bolts are back, and so seemingly is the NHL. It’s also promising that Cirelli’s due a raise as a pending RFA.

Other cast members

Not every appearance was as strong as a grunting big cat. Then again, maybe it boils down to repeat viewings, because Mikhail Sergachev‘s fanny pack and cat moved up the power rankings over time:

Sergachev cat
Almost a dog-like pose? Not complaining. (via Killorn)

Clearly, Braydon Coburn and/or Killorn are well-schooled on action movie tropes. At least, that’s my headcanon for Coburn being interrupted while cutting wood. Doesn’t that happen in every thriller involving a reluctantly returning hero? Anyway, Coburn joining the group with an open shirt earns one of the bigger laughs:

Braydon Coburn cameo
Alrighty then, “Kobayashi.” (via Killorn)

Killorn isn’t yet at that “obsessive auteur director” level just yet, as I imagine a control freak would have been maddened by the imperfect skiing V:

imperfect V "Bolts are back"
Maddening. (via Killorn)

(Seriously, who is the straggler? Could Cirelli’s jet ski not keep up? Class rears its ugly head again.)

Killorn ties it all together with another great joke: “The Bolts are back” — in small groups.

"Bolts are Back" -- in small groups
(via Killorn)

Killorn actually might be right about the whole “breakout influencer of the year” thing, honestly.

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.

NHL monitoring situation before choosing where to play games

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Concerns about Canadian coronavirus restrictions could push hockey south of the 49th parallel into the U.S. this summer.

Seven of the 10 locations the NHL has zeroed in on to hold playoff games if it resumes are American cities not restricted by Canada’s 14-day mandatory quarantine upon arrival. As 24 teams figure out how to squeeze an expanded roster and limited personnel into one of two ”hub” cities, the Vancouver Canucks are even considering relocating training camp to the U.S. if the situation doesn’t change in the coming weeks.

”It’s something that we’re thinking about, but also too we just want to give it a few more days just to see if something is going to change,” Vancouver general manager Jim Benning said Wednesday. ”The perfect scenario we’d like to use our facilities. We’re probably going to have 30, 32 guys here and we have great facilities for our players, so we would like to do that first and foremost. But we’ve talked about moving it off site.”

The Canucks are in the same boat as the NHL, which is in no rush to choose among the 10 finalists: Las Vegas, Columbus, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Dallas, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Los Angeles, Toronto, Vancouver and Edmonton. It will in the next few weeks select two or three to host Eastern and Western Conference brackets and then the Stanley Cup Final by factoring in government regulations, the frequency of COVID-19 in the community and availability of testing.

”We want to just be in a position to, in real time, have lots of options once we understand what the state of play is at the time we need to make the decision,” Commissioner Gary Bettman said. ”We could pick one or two locations, but that might, if we made the decision today, not turn out to be as good a decision as one that we make three, four weeks from now because things are continuing to evolve in all of the places that we play.”

The league told GMs on Tuesday to plan for a roster of 28 skaters and unlimited goaltenders for training camps that won’t begin before early July and games without fans several weeks later. Each team will have a personnel cap of 50 in the city where games are played, though the Montreal Canadiens could be without one of their top players.

Montreal GM Marc Bergevin said forward Max Domi, who is high risk because he has Type 1 diabetes, will not play if doctors deem it to be unsafe.

Before the NHL commits to where games could be held, officials are planning for multiple scenarios. Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly is engaged in regular dialogue with the U.S. and Canadian governments and medical experts to determine what the health and safety landscape might look like this summer.

”That doesn’t mean we get to look for any type of exception or any type of favoritism,” said Toronto Maple Leafs captain John Tavares, who’s on the Return to Play committee. ”I think we just want to continue to follow the guidelines that are set out for us and do the best that we can. Hopefully things improve to a point where those things could be possibly loosened up, not just for us but for all of society.”

Because testing is lagging in Ontario and British Columbia’s government isn’t expected to make exceptions for the NHL, Edmonton could be Canada’s best hope. Oilers GM Ken Holland said with an attached practice rink and hotel and nearby restaurants, ”Edmonton checks off in my opinion all the boxes.”

Except that Daly said Canada’s 14-day quarantine would be a nonstarter. The NHL is already facing what Winnipeg forward Andrew Copp called a ”time crunch” to fit in effectively five rounds of playoffs, and if the focus shifts solely on U.S. locations, Las Vegas and Columbus appear to be the front-runners.

Beyond the abundance of hotels and sparkling new rink the Las Vegas Strip can offer, the arena district in Columbus could serve as an effective bubble for the NHL.

”Whether it’s from the building or the facilities surrounding the building to accommodate hotel rooms, meals — whatever it needs to be, we’ve covered it,” Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen said. ”Also the state of Ohio is in pretty good shape as far as flattening the curve and providing a safe environment that way. The transportation is easy if needed between facilities in Columbus, and we have a lot of rink facilities that we can use for the amount of teams that would be in the tournament.”

There wouldn’t be much of a home-ice advantage without fans, and the league is considering moving the ”home” team to the other city. But that isn’t stopping NHL executives from pitching the ability to host playoff games.

”We have a state of the art facility in Cranberry, the Lemieux Center, and the medical center attached and we have plenty of hotels and everything like that,” Pittsburgh Penguins GM Jim Rutherford said. ”We meet the criteria but we understand there’s other cities that do, also.”

The two biggest surprises on the NHL’s list were Chicago and Los Angeles. The Blackhawks and Kings each said they were honored to be considered.

But not being a coronavirus hotspot and having a surplus of testing are key elements to the decision. Bettman said the league won’t interfere with an area’s medical needs or take up tests from the general public, and those in hockey hoping to land games know that.

”None of us would agree to a situation where we are taking away testing from people that need it,” Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan said. ”Several weeks from now, we would really have to be in a position where the health care community and the government community of whatever country we’re in, whatever city we’re in are in agreement that this can be done and it can be done in a respectful, conscientious way.”

PHT Morning Skate: Wilson on Sharks’ future; Miller helping charity

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Sharks GM Doug Wilson on Bob Boughner’s future, issues with his team, and the future. [NBC Bay Area]

• Why a 22-team format would work better for the NHL. [Jets Nation]

• Vancouver is among the potential cities that could serve as an NHL hub for the restart. But, according to health officials, British Columbia won’t bend the rules for NHL players. [CTV News]

• That could force the Canucks to hold their training camp in Washington state. [CTV]

• “In no way, shape or form should our federal government do anything “special” to relax border restrictions on Canadians coming back to the country or others trying to enter Canada simply to appease hockey fans who won’t be able to go see the games anyway.” [Toronto Star]

• How the Devils are preparing for the unique NHL Draft lottery. [NJ.com]

• The Penguins-Flyers five OT playoff game from 2000 will be featured as part of an NBC Sports RSN podcast anthology series: “Sports Uncovered,” which will be released June 25. [NBC Sports]

• It’s look like Sabres Lawrence Pilut is about to leave for the KHL. [Buffalo Hockey Beat]

Ryan Miller is making charity a priority during his downtime by auctioning off game-worn gear. [OC Register]

Adam Pelech (Achilles) and Casey Cizikas (leg laceration) will be ready to go the Islanders in their matchup against the Panthers. [Islanders Insight]

• Could a salary cap squeeze end Jaden Schwartz‘s time in St. Louis? [St. Louis Gametime]

• Lias Andersson could be loaned to Sweden’s HV71 for the 2020-21 season. [Blueshirt Banter]

• Craig MacTavish has been named head coach of Swiss side Lausanne HC. Former NHL defenseman Petr Svoboda is one of the club’s new investors as well as the Director of Hockey Ops. [Swiss Hockey News]

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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.

Lightning coach Cooper on NHL playoff format, possible games without fans

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Lightning coach Jon Cooper covered an array of NHL playoff-related topics during an interview with Mike Tirico on “Lunch Talk Live.”

You can watch the full interview in the video above, complete with some fun razzing. (Even with some ribbing, Cooper’s route to the Lightning really is remarkable.)

Cooper explains qualms Killorn/Lightning had with playoff format

Early on in the interview, Cooper discussed why the Lightning joined the Hurricanes as the two dissenters in the 29-2 vote for the return-to-play proposal. Cooper repeatedly insisted that Alex Killorn and the Lightning want to return to hockey. They just disagreed with the format to do so.

To be more specific, Cooper explains that Killorn & Co. are worried that the qualifying round winners will end up more “battle-tested.” Can you really blame the Lightning for fearing being caught flat-footed? Such thoughts must give the Lightning flashbacks of that Blue Jackets sweep.

For more details, check out Killorn’s explanation in this post.

“ … I don’t know how competitive the games will be going forward where the teams at the bottom will be playing playoff games right away and [would be] potentially more prepared for the real playoffs,” Killorn said.

Different times, but maybe exciting ones?

If you want insight on how the Lightning and others may handle the return to play, Cooper provided interesting thoughts:

  • For one thing, Cooper wonders if the experience might be a little like the world championships. Players from different teams likely would be staying in the same hotels, possibly eating in similar areas. If you’re like me, you’re picturing awkward breakfast buffet run-ins between Matthew Tkachuk and Zack Kassian.
  • Another interesting remark is that this feels like a reset for Cooper and the Lightning. Take the rest of an offseason and then factor in how, after most summers, you have to adjust to new players. Instead, the Lightning and other teams have a chance to play at close to full-strength.
  • Finally, Cooper didn’t seem too worried about a lack of fans.

Looking back at typical circumstances, the Lightning would practice without fans. Even without thousands of roaring fans, Cooper explains that Lightning practices could get intense. Now just imagine the intensity against “foes.”

If the Lightning get their chance to make that playoff run, Cooper might just back up Tirico’s quip regarding smoothing out the “parade route” for Tom Brady and the Buccaneers.

Of course, the Bolts have a long way to go to make that happen — even if outside forces don’t shut this whole thing down altogether.

(Note: no, as far as we know, John Tortorella isn’t an outside force.)

More on Lightning, Cooper, and the NHL’s return to play

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.

Sweet 16: NHL playoffs qualifying round tough to predict

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The NHL’s regular season is over and the chase for the Stanley Cup is on if hockey returns this summer.

The league settled on a 24-team postseason format that Calgary Flames captain Mark Giordano supported back in March as the coronavirus was shutting down sports.

”You can’t eliminate teams who are out on points percentage or stuff like that,” Giordano said. ”I think you go 12 and 12. More teams get in this year, maybe a couple of byes at the top and play it out.”

The top four teams in the Eastern and Western Conferences get byes into the final 16 except for a handful of round-robin games to determine seeding. That’s Boston, Tampa Bay, Washington and Philadelphia in the East and St. Louis, Colorado, Vegas and Dallas in the West.

”It rewards those teams that had a good regular season, and it’s going to serve as almost a little bit of a preseason for those top four in each conference,” said NBC Sports analyst Patrick Sharp, who won the Cup three times as a player with Chicago. ”There’s standings on the line and you want to position yourself the best you can, but it’s an opportunity for those guys to kind of get the rust off and get ready for a tough opponent because whoever they face in that first round is going to be coming off a pretty intense series.”

The top seeds would face the winners of these eight opening-round, best-of-five series:

EASTERN CONFERENCE

No. 5 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. No. 12 Montreal Canadiens

Penguins captain and three-time champion Sidney Crosby didn’t mind going directly into playoffs given the limited timing. His reward is a matchup against elite goaltender Carey Price and the Montreal Canadiens, who had 15 fewer points than Pittsburgh when the season was halted.

Season series: Penguins won two of three.

What Sharp says: ”Price could be key in this series. … Pittsburgh is a team that’s going to get healthy, hopefully. They had some key guys injured before the shutdown that were going to miss significant games down the stretch.”

No. 6 Carolina Hurricanes vs. No. 11 New York Rangers

Carolina was one of two teams (along with Tampa Bay) that voted against this playoff format. The Hurricanes shouldn’t need emergency goaltender David Ayres anymore with Petr Mrazek and James Reimer healthy and Dougie Hamilton ready to return on defense.

Season series: Rangers won all four.

What Sharp says: ”I like the way (the Hurricanes) compete, and they can shut games down with the best of them. Now they got their goaltenders healthy, Dougie coming back. I like their chances. … They were an exciting team to watch, the New York Rangers. (Winger Artemi) Panarin is making everybody better offensively.”

No. 7 New York Islanders vs. No. 10 Florida Panthers

This is a rematch of a 2016 series, but basically everything has changed for these teams since. Barry Trotz has put his stamp on the Islanders, and three-time Cup-winning coach Joel Quenneville is in his first season with high-flying Florida.

Season series: Islanders won all three.

What Sharp says: ”It’s two different styles of play. The Islanders and Barry Trotz and (GM Lou Lamoriello), they’re going to be a very disciplined, defense-oriented team … That neutral zone’s going to be clogged. And for a team like the Panthers that showed this season that they would trade a few chances to get a few chances … it’s going to be a tough matchup for them.”

No. 8 Toronto Maple Leafs vs. No. 9 Columbus Blue Jackets

If Toronto is to bring the Cup home for the first time since 1967, Auston Matthews and Co. first have to deal with the pesky Blue Jackets who eliminated the top-seeded Lightning in the first round last year.

Season series: Split two games.

What Sharp says: ”You know what you’re facing with the Blue Jackets. It’s going to be an in-your-face game, a hard-nosed matchup. And Toronto, you finally get away from Boston but now you’ve got to face a team like Columbus that we saw how well they played against Tampa Bay last year, so it doesn’t get easier for Toronto.”

WESTERN CONFERENCE

No. 5 Edmonton Oilers vs. No. 12 Chicago Blackhawks

Connor McDavid gets just his second taste of the playoffs in his fifth season. No. 97, who had 97 points in the regular season, gets to ride alongside NHL leading scorer Leon Draisaitl against an aging Blackhawks opponent.

Season series: Blackhawks won two of three.

What Sharp says: ”I don’t know if you can slow (McDavid) down in a playoff series any easier than you can in the regular season. … That’s a tough matchup for anybody, especially Chicago, a team that gives up more prime scoring chances than anybody that’s left in the playoff group.”

No. 6 Nashville Predators vs. No. 11 Arizona Coyotes

Nashville and Arizona each made a major in-season move. The Predators replaced coach Peter Laviolette with John Hynes and the Coyotes traded for 2018 MVP Taylor Hall. Only one of them will get into the final 16.

Season series: Split two games.

What Sharp says: ”It seems like the coaching change did make a little bit of difference for the Preds. … Arizona is a team that has trouble scoring goals, but they can clamp things down defensively. They have great goaltending, they keep the puck out of the net at a pretty good clip. Those are teams that are going to be tough to play in these short, best-of-five series.”

No. 7 Vancouver Canucks vs. No. 10 Minnesota Wild

The Canucks get goalie Jacob Markstrom back from a knee injury, and he has had the benefit of skating at home in Sweden during the pause. Minnesota interim coach Dean Evason gets a chance to show he deserves the full-time job.

Season series: Wild won two of three.

What Sharp says: ”They’ve got some core pieces there in Vancouver that are going to get a taste of the big stage, the big playoff matchups. It’s going to be great for their development. … (The Wild) have that one last crack to show what they have as a group. This might be the last chance that this core group in Minnesota has to kind of win a few playoff rounds.”

No. 8 Calgary Flames vs. No. 9 Winnipeg Jets

The constantly changing Flames face the continuity of the Jets, and the winner of this series could make some real noise in the West. Some big changes are probably coming for the loser.

Season series: Jets won only meeting in overtime.

What Sharp says: ”It seemed like (the Flames) were starting to find their groove. But they’re facing a team in Winnipeg that right before the shutdown, they were playing some intense hockey. They knew what they were up against. They kind of dug in for the playoffs.”