Tyler Johnson

What if the Lightning don’t win it all?

7 Comments

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 bounce Bruins from playoffs in five games

Getty Images
41 Comments

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

Palat, Lightning strike down Bruins to take 2-1 series lead

Getty Images
21 Comments

In Game 2, Brayden Point was the hero and on Wednesday night as the best-of-7 series shifted to Boston, it was Ondrej Palat who sparked the Tampa Bay Lightning to victory.

Notice anything strange here?

If you guessed the answer was a question such as, ‘Where is Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov and J.T. Miller?’ then you’d be on the right track.

The line has a single goal so far in the series (Stamkos scored into the empty net to make Wednesday’s score a 4-1 final), yet the Lightning has rallied since a 6-2 loss in Game 1.

The reason? Secondary scoring, and a whole Palat of it.

It was Palat who scored twice in 1:32 early in the first period on Wednesday, his second and third goal in his past two games. Palat is up to four goals and eight points in eight games in the playoffs.

Both goals were all the Lightning needed as they kept the Bruins’ top line of Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand at bay (Bergeron scored the lone goal for the Bruins on the night).

The line of Point, Palat and Tyler Johnson has sizzled over the past two games, combining for 10 points as a unit during that time.

Tampa’s second line has picked up the slack with the Bruins paying a lot of attention to Stamkos and Co. It hasn’t been a winning formula as of late, however.

Andrei Vasilevskiy put in another solid performance, turning aside 28-of-29 for the win.

Both teams lock horns again on Friday for Game 4. For the Bruins, a victory will be a must as teams that go up 3-1 in a series have an 89 percent chance of moving on, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

For Boston, avoiding being sent to the brink of eliminations means getting their top line up and running again (they had 11 points combined in Game 1) or finding some scoring from literally anyone else.

Outside of Game 1, the Bruins have been steadily misfiring and need to curb it quickly before the Atlantic Division champs make that impossible.


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

Brayden Point has redemption game as Lightning even series with Bruins

16 Comments

Brayden Point wasn’t happy with his performance in Game 1.

You’d have a tough time arguing against the sophomore’s assessment. He finished with a minus-5 in a 6-2 loss, and despite having decent possession numbers in the game (52.94% CF%) against the top line of the Boston Bruins, there was no denying that Point and the rest of his line with Ondrej Palat (minus-4) and Tyler Johnson (minus-3) struggled mightily in the blowout.

Lightning head coach Jon Cooper tried to soften the blow following the game, but flawed stat or not, it never looks good when it’s that high.

Fast forward two days, then, and the redemption for Point and Co. must have tasted so sweet.

Point’s line combined for seven points in a 4-2 win against the Bruins to even the best-of-7 series 1-1 and Point was the focal point of the offensive surge, grabbing a goal and three assists for the first four-point night of his young NHL career.

Palat chipped in with a goal and an assist and Johnson added the line’s third marker.

The Bruins had little luck in this game.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Patrice Bergeron‘s line with Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak were clinical in Game 1, combining for 11 points as they cruised to victory.

The Lightning had answers 48 hours later, limiting Boston’s best line to four assists on the team’s two goals.

Torey Krug‘s third of the postseason in the third period to pull Boston to 3-2 kept things interesting momentarily, but Point put his final touch on the game with an empty-net goal with 24 seconds left, ensuring the split as the series shifts to Boston for Games 3 and 4.


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: Johnson’s hatty, Kane’s 5-point night, Laine hits 100

Associated Press
3 Comments

Players of the Night:

Tyler Johnson, Tampa Bay Lightning: He may not get the same recognition as guys with the last name of Stamkos or Kucherov, but Johnson has 16 goals on the season now after a hat-trick in a 5-4 win against the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday.

Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks: Kane had a goal and four assists for the Blackhawks, who dropped eight goals on the lowly Ottawa Senators in an 8-2 win.

Vincent Trocheck, Florida Panthers: Trocheck continued his fine season on Tuesday, grabbing two goals and pitching in an assist in a 7-4 win for the Panthers over the St. Louis Blues.

Highlights of the Night:

Tyler Johnson’s hat-trick goal came after quite the individual effort:

Kyle Connor‘s goal was pretty filthy:

Mike Smith and Mikael Granlund had quite the battle on Tuesday:

Factoids of the Night:

Patrik Laine put his name among Finnish greats tonight:

Not so boring, eh?

https://twitter.com/PR_NHL/status/950950069418721286

MISC:

Scores:

Jets 7, Sabres 4

Capitals 3, Canucks 1

Blackhawks 8, Senators 2

Lightning 5, Senators 4

Panthers 7, Blues 4

Predators 2, Oilers 1

Flames 3, Wild 2


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