Wednesday, May 4, 2016

We Take a Break From the Playoffs to Check Out Some Cards

It's time for another CheckOutMyCards quasi-blaster. Flush with some PayPal funds and the need to polish off the 1983 Topps set I fired up the browser and went searching for some more cards to make the shipping worth it. Since you'll see pictures of the front, let's also highlight some notes on the back.

1983 Topps George Brett All Star

The back of the card recounts the 1935 All-Star Game held in Cleveland. Jimmy Foxx drove in 3 of the AL's runs in the 4-1 win. Lefty Gomez picked up the win by pitching 6 innings. Imagine a starter in the All Star game going six innings nowadays? The internet would lose its collective mind. Also, we need more people named “Arky” in pro sports. Arky (given name Joseph Floyd) Vaughn scored the lone National League run.

1983 Topps Rickey Henderson

Hey, Rickey was born in Chicago! Didn't know that. Also, through the 1982 season, his 4th in the majors, he already had successfully stolen 319 bases. The current active stolen bases leader in the majors right now is Ichiro with 500. However, it took the Japanese superstar 16 seasons to get there. Which means he should tie Henderson's record of 1,406 sometime around 2045.

1983 Topps Pete Rose Super Veteran

In '83, Rose had 20 years of service time in the major leagues. Right now the only active players to eclipse that mark are Alex Rodriguez (22 years) and David Ortiz (20 years). Ortiz is planning on retiring after this year and Rodriguez after next. Who knows if anyone else will get close to that number anytime soon?

1983 Topps Randy Jones

In 1974 Jones lost 22 games for the San Diego Padres. The next two years he won a combined 42 and pitched 600 innings and won the Cy Young award in 1976. That workload took a toll on his arm and he never recovered from a nerve injury he suffered in the last start of that year. In fact, he never posted a winning record in his remaining 6 seasons and finished with an overall losing record of 100-123.

2012 Topps Heritage James Shields

Shields had 11 complete games in 2011. He is still the franchise leader for the Rays with a total of 19 (also with 8 shutouts). The closest current Ray is Chris Archer with 3. Shields is currently tied with Clayton Kershaw for 4th among active leaders with 22. If you're looking for records that are never going to be broken Cy Young's 749 complete games has to be number one.

2015-16 Nikita Kucherov O-Pee-Chee Retro Variant

The information is a little sparse on the back of this one despite the fact that everything is in English and French. Kucherov is listed as being born in Maikop,Russia. It appears to be a small typo as a quick search lists the town name as “Maykop”. The name translates to “Valley of apple trees”. That's nice.

1983 Topps Ozzie Smith

Woo-hoo! Set complete! Ozzie is shown in a Cardinals uniform as he was picked up from the Padres in a trade on 2-11-1982. The trade was Smith, Steve Mura, Luis DeLeon to the Padres for Sixto Lezcano, Gary Templeton and Al Olmsted. According to The Sporting News the trade almost fell apart due to Smith's demand for a higher salary. The negotiations led to a great quote from then St. Louis manager Whitey Herzog, “Ozzie is a great fielder and baserunner. I'd like to have him. But if he doesn't want to come to St. Louis, I don't want him. No .220 hitter is worth what he's asking [$750,000]”. Restrosimba has a great post on the troubled trade.

(ed note – Upon further review. The set is not complete. Apparently I still need a Robin Yount. Damn my fading memory.)

2012 Topps Heritage Eric Hosmer

Hosmer played two seasons in the Carolina League for the Wilmington Blue Rocks. My parents live in Wilmington, North Carolina. It's a nice little city just a hop, skip and a jump from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Another awesome fact – it was where Dawson's Creek was filmed.

2013-14 Panini Contenders NHL Link Ondrej Palat Autograph

A poorly worded anecdote on the back:

Palat was on a road trip with his AHL club in Hershey, Pa., when he received a call on March 3, 2013 telling him he'd be playing WITH the Penguins that night. His team had a casual dress code, so Palat had to run to a store in Hershey to buy a suit before jumping in a car for the three-plus-hour drive.

OK. So there are two issues with that description. The glaringly obvious one being that Palat played against the Penguins not with them. Also, the game was played on the 4th, not the 3rd. Tighten your fact checking game, Panini.

In case you were wondering, Palat picked up an assist on a Tom Pyatt goal in the 4-3 loss to the Penguins.

2014-15 Upper Deck Premier Rinks of Honor Autographed Booklets #RH-JD - Jonathan Drouin - Courtesy of

2014-15 Upper Deck Premier Rinks of Honor Autographed Booklets #RH-JD

Not a bad card for less than a lunch in the city. I didn't realize it was an autograph until I read the back of the card. Drouin signed it in gold ink and it looks really, really nice. It doesn't show up on the scan, but in person it's quite nice.  Now I just have to figure out if I want to display it or just throw it in the Lightning box. I'm going to say that depends on what happens in the offseason with young Mr. Drouin.

According to the back of the card the official seating capacity of the Amalie Arena is 19,204. Upper Deck did check it's facts as the official Amalie Arena website confirms that number. For the 2015-16 season the Lightning averaged 19,092 fans for their home games, good enough for 8th in the league. And they said hockey wouldn't work in Florida.....

1983 Topps Pete Rose Super Veteran

Wait, what? Yup. I managed to order the same card twice in one order from COMC. Looks like it was left in my cart from a previous visit to the site. Make sure to check your orders, kids. That's $.60 I could have spent on another card.

So that's another quasi-blaster break from our friends at Check Out My Cards. Seriously, check them out and buy something.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Six Thoughts on a Not So Easy Night for The Lightning

Playoff losses used to be more difficult to take. The passions of youth I guess. It's either that or I've developed adequate coping mechanisms for normal playoff losses. Overtime losses....I'm not sure yet. So on Wednesday night, after the Lightning fell a bit short on their comeback in Game One I turned off my slightly, possibly less-than-legal video stream, started running all of my anti-malware programs and fired up the iTunes.

Music definitely helps sooth the angry, well slightly-disappointed, beast. Instead of firing off a bunch of angry comments I flipped around the play list and tried to organize my thoughts so I could write about something three days after it happened. Why not organize my thoughts based on an album? Everyone loves a themed post!

I think we can all agree that the team and the fans had themselves a rather hard night, right? So here you thoughts on Game One based on the Beatles third studio album – A Hard Days Night.

(ed note – I was originally going to come up with some thoughts for each track on the album, but then I got a little wordy so I made some cuts. Sorry all of you “Can't Buy Me Love” fans.)

If I Fell – Erik Condra

Condra's Game One experience is not one he's going to want to remember (if he even can). It lasted 57 seconds and he managed to dish out one hit before he was destroyed on a hit by Casey Cizikas. The bewildered look on his face and the fact he wasn't moving his lower body made things momentarily tense. Anytime one of your players is laid out on the ice with a blank look on his face you immediately think “Dirty Hit!”

In this case, it wasn't. Condra just managed to get caught in an awkward spot when Cizikas unloaded on him. He was also in a position where his head snapped pretty violently when he hit the ice. Hockey is a contact sport and hits like that happen. As of Friday it seems like Condra is doing better but is questionable for Game 2.

In the dictionary this is the picture posted next to "woozy".  Photo by Scott Audette NHLI/Getty

One of the major talking points of the game was that the hit “changed the momentum” of the game. After all the Lightning were leading before the hit and then the wheels came flying off after the hit. So it makes a nice tight story. I'm sure there may be a ring of truth to it. The Lightning were definitely controlling play up until that point. However, for me the turning point was Thomas Greiss' stop on Alex Killorn's breakaway.

If Killorn buries the puck on that play, the Lightning are up 2-0, the Amalie Arena is rocking and Greiss' confidence is a little shaken. The Islanders would be forced to play catch up and Tampa could take advantage of their aggressiveness.

Instead, the Islanders get a reprieve and then go down and score the equalizer and all of the momentum that the Lightning had earned in their first five minutes of play were washed away.

I’m Happy Just to Dance With You - Vlad Namestnikov/Johnathan Drouin/Ondrej Palat

Well, wasn’t this a fun line to watch? Namestnikov returned from his 4th line duties and replaced Val Filppula on the Lightning’s “Other” Line. For most of the night they were the best line on the ice for the Lightning. Drouin’s creativity and vision led to the opening goal as he pivoted along the boards and hit a streaking Palat in stride in a prime scoring area.

While his ornery streak wasn’t nearly as evident as it had been against Detroit, Drouin continued to play well in the offensive zone, building on the excellent play from the first series. Defensively, ehhh. Could he have back-checked harder on Shane Prince’s first goal? Probably. But the same could be said for the entire line that was on the ice.

In the past, being on the ice for a goahead goal probably would be enough to relegate him to the bench for the remainder of the game. But out of trust or necessity, Coach Cooper had to keep playing top line minutes. While his leash might be a bit longer than it has been in the past, Drouin should remember that defense is just as important as offense on a Cooper-led team.

It was nice to see three goals from three different lines (and some help from the blueline) on the scoresheet. Relying on one line is rarely successful in the playoffs and if the Drouin line continues to play well together, it’ll open up the ice for Tyler Johnson and his running mates.

Namestnikov looked rejuvenated early in the game when he was getting shifts with Drouin and Palat. He played with speed and confidence (kind of like earlier in the season when he was paired with Stamkos and Kucherov) and generated a number of chances. It was his puck handling across the blueline that led to Drouin’s nice play on the first goal.

So it was a little shocking when I looked at his final numbers and saw that he only had 9:43 of ice time. I remembered that Coach Cooper had reunited the Triplets during the 3rd period, but didn’t realize Vlad was the victim of the line shuffling. With Drouin skating with Killorn and Filppula, Namestnikov didn’t see the ice at all in the last 15 minutes of thegame.

This stop on Drouin late in the game was probably Greiss' best save.  Photo by Scott Audette NHLI/Getty

I’m thinking it was more of a numbers game then any knock on his performance or injury. Coach Cooper rolled the top two lines for most of the comeback attempt and Vlad just happened to be the odd man out. A quick check of Twitter and it doesn’t look like he was hurt. Hopefully he’s back out there again on Saturday.

And I Love Her Him – Nikita Kucherov

MY BOY NIKITA KUCHEROV! You really can’t stop him this year. He tapped in a nice cross-ice feed from Matt Carle to start the attempted comeback. It was his team leading 6th goal of the post season and will probably result in him playing for another team in the not too distant future. I’m sure every time he scores from here on out all Steve Yzerman hears is a cash register. Between Stamkos, Hedman, Bishop and Kucherov there has to be a point where they all can’t be signed. And what team wouldn’t want a 30 goal scorer who is in his mid-20s? If anyone is getting an offer sheet this summer, it will be him. Then the decision for Mr. Yzerman will be – match it and lose someone else or let him go and recoup future assets. Last year the compensation for signing away a restricted free agent was a 1st and 3rd if the average was between 3.6 and 5.4 million or a 1st, 2nd and 3rd for between 5.4 and 7.3

I don’t see the Lightning matching at over 3.5 million and I don’t see them letting him walk for less than that. Even though their record with number one picks under Mr. Yzerman has been a bit spotty, getting that kind of asset from a team could help in the long run.

Of course, that means I’d have to buy yet another jersey. Perhaps it’s throwback time. Lightning sleeve Zac Bierk, maybe?

Tell Me Why – Shane Prince’s Two Goals

I’m sure Shane Prince is a fine individual despite the fact that I had no idea who he was until about a week ago. And to give him credit, he had two opportunities to score and he took advantage of them. But both of his goals were more a result of defensive ineptitude than his individual effort.

I read a book once that explored why people do stupid things and one of the tangents was how things like plane crashes happen when so much of the process is automated and redundant. The explanation – it isn’t one thing that goes wrong. It’s usually a multitude. The plane didn’t crash because a computer relay broke. It’s because the relay broke, the pilot was at the end of a long day and there was bad weather on the approach.

If allowing a goal can be considered a disaster, it’s usually the result of many things going wrong, not just one. For instance, here is Prince’s first goal.

Of course, a guy named Brock should win a lot of battles

As the clip starts, Matt Carle loses a battle along the boards. That frees Brock Nelson to hit a wide open Ryan Strome with the puck. Breakdown 1.

Hedman is playing it pretty well. The stick is just on the wrong side.
Victor Hedman, who hustled back to support Carle, drops to a knee to block a pass but he puts his stick to the left and can’t bring it back in time to cover the open ice. Breakdown 2.

Even in a bad position look how much net Bishop covers.  Unreal.
Ben Bishop, the long-legged mack daddy, is usually pretty good at moving from post to post. In this case he’s a little slow to react and can’t square up on the wide open Prince. Breakdown 3.

Namestnikov is that guy on his belly. If the pass gets through it's one-on-one for the Islanders
Vlad Namestnikov comes zooming into the play 5 seconds too late to cover Prince. If you watch the top of the screen during the replay, you’ll see Vlad dive after the puck. It's actually a nice hustle play as he deflects the puck from getting to Prince in open ice. Unfortunately, it goes straight to an Islander and it takes the Russian awhile to get back on his skates and chase down the play. Sometimes good hustle leads to bad luck. Breakdown 4.

If just one of those breakdowns don’t happen, there is a good chance Prince doesn’t score. There was a central theme to all of the goals that the Lightning surrendered – being outworked. That is something that didn’t happen in round one and can’t happen in the rest of this series if they want to advance.

Things We Said Today – Ben Bishop

“I felt good. Just one of those nights where it wasn't really hitting me.” That's what Bishop had to say to the Tampa Bay Times following the game. Nice to know the Vezina-finalist has a complicated philosophy when it comes to goaltending.

Of the four goals that Bishop gave up in his half-hour of action, two of them were ones we're used to seeing him stop. The first goal, a wrister from Travis Harmonic seemed innocent enough. Bishop was square to him and there was only a minimal screen in front of him. It hit him yet trickled behind him and into the net.

The fourth goal, a power play goal by Jonathan Tavares, seemed similar. The Islanders captain just put the puck on net and somehow it made it up and over Bishop's shoulder. Which, seeing how he is a long individual, was not a good goal to let him.

The good news is that we've been down this road before. Remember that Bishop got lit up a couple of times against the Rangers last year and both times he bounced back. It is a reminder, however, how much the 2015-16 Lightning rely on their big netminder. He's managed to bail them out time and time again when they've forgotten how to play defense (see Shane Prince's two goals). And when he's been merely mortal, they've struggled.

Coach Cooper isn't about to panic. “Bish is Bish. The kid bounces back”. If he isn't concerned, why should we? Right?

You Can't Do That – Johnathan Marchessault

At the 8 minute mark of the second period, and the Lightning down 3-1, Marchessault was beat along the boards by Jonathan Tavares. Marchessault, in his first game of the playoffs, got his stick around the Islanders forward and impeded his progress. The ref's arm went up and Marchessault skated to the Shame Box for two minutes. Forty seconds later Tavares beat Bishop on a wrister and the game was all but over.

The hooking call was one of four penalties that the Lightning took as a team on Wednesday night. Unlike the Red Wings series where a lot of the penalties were of the bullying/roughing type, the ones against the Islanders were lazy penalties. Marchessault and Tyler Johnson picked up hooking penalties, Alex Killorn had a kneeing/interference/tackling penalty while Ryan Callahan added a holding penalty.

It's indicative of the lack of pace that they were playing with when they picked up those penalties. Their skates aren't moving and the Islanders were basically outworking them. It's not a surprise that all of the penalties happened in the first two periods, once the Lightning found their legs in the third all of that nonsense seemed to have disappeared.

Marchessault did not have his best game in a Lightning uniform. He may get a chance to redeem himself due to the Condra injury, but he is going to have step up his play quite a bit.

I'll Be Back – The Tampa Bay Lightning

No one likes losing Game One on home ice, especially with a sub-optimal performance. It is, however, only one game. The rust of a week-long layoff should be gone and the Lightning should be back in the playoff groove. If they win Game 2 then they just need to split in Brooklyn to recapture the home ice advantage. No one picked this series to be a sweep, so they just need to get over it and move on.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Some Thoughts on Round Two

You may have noticed that I never got around to a Game 5 review. Sorry about that, it's not like it hasn't been a week since it happened. You know how times is, ever elusive. Things just got away from me. Throw in a little minor surgery and a week goes by in a bit of a haze. Now that the painkillers have worn off enough that I can string a coherent thought or two together (well, as close to coherent as I normally get) it seems we've gone to far to go back now.

Moving forward, a little faster than anticipated, we are on to round two. After a week of relaxing, rehabbing and hopefully remembering how to score the New York Islanders come to town. With the Lightning wrapping up early, they were more than happy to see the Islanders slug it out with the Florida Panthers over 6 games, including two that went to double overtime.

I watched most of the Islanders Game 5 through a slight drug-induced haze. The one benefit of being confined to a hospital bed was double overtime hockey. It killed a bunch of hours. The nurses thought it was funny that I would doze off and then snap awake when the announcers voices hit that rising crescendo. The only regret was that the Lightning weren't involved, it would have been interesting to watch my vital signs spike and freak out the attendants.

Game 6 I managed to watch most of as well. And in the span of the 7 or 8-ish periods I saw, I really don't have a feel for them. I really don't know what to expect in this series. It's odd to watch a lot of hockey and not have a feel for a team. For instance, you knew going into the Detroit series that it was going to be a grind. They were going to check close, get in your way and make you skate through mud to score. If the Lightning advance and play Washington or Pittsburgh you know it's going to be fast moving and high scoring. Lots of pressure, lots of open ice.

With the Islanders....I just don't know. They're just kind of there. I recognize some of the names, others not so much. I know John Tavares is a stud and the Lightning should really, really do their best to keep him off of the puck. Looking at the numbers they did score 232 goals as a team (five more than the Lightning) and gave up 216 (15 more than the Lightning), but pretty comparable. I had no idea where they stood in either category. I know they were in a bit of a battle at the end of the season to make the playoffs and then get out of the final wild card spot, but finding out they had 100 point, wow.

Their scoring was more balanced as they boasted four 20+ goal scorers in Tavares (33), Brock Nelson (26), Kyle Okposo (22) and Franz Nielsen (20). Another four players scored at least 10 during the season. That makes things a little difficult to defend. They've continued to spread the scoring out in the playoffs as they've had 9 players combine for their 15 goals. Compare that to the Lightning who have 12 goals from five players. Shut down one line and the Lightning struggle. Shut down one Islanders line and another one might find a way to score.

The question mark for them in the series is going to be in the net. Thomas Greiss signed a nice little backup goalie deal at the beginning of the season. The Islanders agreed to pay him $3 million over two years to sit on the bench wearing pads and a baseball cap and every once in a while come in to give starter Jaroslav Halak a day off. That plan veered off the tracks in March when Halak blew out his groin and Greiss became the number one. He has responded well.

He finished the regular season with personal bests in almost all categories, picked up 23 wins in 38 starts and had a respectable 2.36 GAA and .925 save percentage. The German continued his hot run against the Panthers in the first round and gave up only 2 goals over the last two games despite facing 90 shots.

Can he hold it up against an offense that figures to put more pressure on him than Florida did? If I knew the answer to that, I'd be a rich man. Not that the regular season has anything to do with it, but he did beat the Lightning 2 out of 3 times in the regular season (got a bit roughed up in the one loss, though). From what I saw, he didn't look like a goalie riding a hot streak. He was in control, limited his rebounds and made pretty good reads. Heck, he even stopped a penalty shot in overtime. That' not something a career back up gets to do much of in the playoffs.

So I apologize for not being more helpful, but I really don't know what's going to happen. I'm inclined to think it's going to go six or seven games and be close. There could be a blowout, but momentum could be hard to maintain due to the erratic nature of the schedule. They start on Wednesday, have two days off. Play Saturday and have two days off. Play Tuesday and have two days off. (Seeing a theme here, yet?)

That kind of staggered schedule is beneficial to both teams. The Islanders who had a pretty good battle with the Panthers get to recharge a bit after a short rest before Game 1 and the Lightning's walking wounded get a little healthier. While it's not drawn out long enough to expect Steven Stamkos to return to action (hey, did you here he was on the ice today?), it might be enough to get JT Brown back and maybe even Anton Stralman.

Stralman's return could be huge for the back half of the match up as it would decrease the work load for Matt Carle and some of the other blueliners. For the record if Stralman does return I think it's Nikita Nesterov or Jason Garrison that gets benched before Carle. Hey, I've been hard on him all year, but he's played his Alaskan ass off in the playoffs. Still, I'd rather be cheering his 15 minutes of play rather than his 20 minutes of play.

If the Lightning don't find a way to support Tyler and his linemates then it's going to be a frustrating series. Having to hope for two goals then watch Ben Bishop make 35 saves is not good for my well being. The Ondrej Palat, Val Filppula and Jonathan Drouin have to start cashing in the chances they create during even strength. They've been having fun with the puck, now they got to make the other team pay.

So, gun to my head I say the Lightning win in 6.

How am I doing with my predictions so far:

Alex Killorn will score two big goals – He's scored two game winners. WINNER
Lighting win in six – They won in five. NOT A WINNER
Bishop with 2 shutouts – He got one, but it was a 1-0 shutout. PART TIME WINNER

Drouin will score more points in the postseason than the regular season – he's 40% of the way there!
Marchessault with Kucherov award – winning in five games kept Coach Cooper criticism's to a minimum. There is still a chance.
Will Stamkos play over/under Game 4 – didn't happen until the second round. NOT A WINNER

Series Predictions:

Panthers over Islanders in five – whoops
Washington over Philadelphia in four – took five, but got it
Pittsburgh over New York in seven – only took five, but got it

Dallas over Minnesota in five – took six, but got it
St. Louis over Chicago in seven – NAILED IT
Anaheim over Nashville in six – missed the six, still got a chance to pick the winner
Los Angeles over San Jose in seven – missed it.

Based on my history not too bad. As for the second round:

Caps over Pens in seven in the best series
San Jose over Anaheim/Nashville in six
Dallas over St. Louis in five

Thursday, April 21, 2016

One, Two, Three, FOUR - Now Go Win One More

Somewhere in the three or four posts that I’ve written about this series I’m sure I mentioned that it would be in the Lightning’s best interest to keep the game five-on-five as much as possible.  So what do they do?  Score all of their goals with the man advantage in a 3-2 victory that puts the Red Wings on the brink of elimination in the first round series.  As usual my prognostication skills are spot on!

Moving young Jonathan Drouin to the point on the first power play unit seems to have sparked the struggling unit as they converted on three of their five opportunities. Drouin picked up assists on all three goal. The Prodigal Son had his breakout game as he tied a post-season Lightning record with his 3 helpers and was dancing with the puck all night long.

Drouin was skating circles around red uniforms all night.  Photo by Greg Shamus Getty

Detroit’s Luke Glendening and his linemates did another stellar job of shutting down the Lightning’s top playmakers as Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov and Alex Killorn were shut out at even strength during both games at Joe Louis Arena. I’m sure Johnson (who did manage one assist in the game) will be glad to match up against someone other than Glendening when the series returns to Tampa and the Lightning get to change lines last.

Even though they might not have scored at even strength, the Lightning played much, much better than they did in Game 3.  They drove most of the action in the first period as they fired 14 shots on net in the first 20 minutes of the game.  Since they only managed 16 shots in total in the previous game, things were looking pretty positive - especially since they also had a 1-0 lead.

They added another 11 shots in the second (and another goal), mostly in the first half of the period.  Then, the wheels kind of came off for a bit.  Drouin stumbled on a check and allowed Luke Glendening to slip around him and set up Darren Helm for a goal that sliced the Lightning lead in half.  Detroit pressed the advantage for the rest of the period and you could feel the momentum swinging.

As the period started winding down, Gustav Nyquist made contact with Ben Bishop.  Bishop, who is a large individual went down like he got hit with a steel chair.  I’m not saying that he embellished, but somewhere in Montreal Carey Price applauded quietly as the refs called Nyquist for interference.  As ironclad proof that karma exists in sports, Nyquist bounded from the penalty box after his two minutes of reflection and scored the game tying goal with 10 seconds left in the period.

Joe Louis was rocking and all of the hard work that the Lightning had put forward in the first periods looked like it was coming undone.  It was probably for the best that the period ended at that point as Tampa Bay was on their heels.  Seventeen minutes in the locker room helped get them back on their feet and they came out battling in the third.

It was a tight period with both teams getting chances.  At the 7:29 point the game turned.  It’s possible that the series turned as well.  Dylan Larkin, the precocious young Detroit forward, made a great move in front of the net and lifted a backhand over Bishop’s shoulder and under the crossbar.  The announcer claimed it was a goal, all of the people in the stands thought it went in, the players on the ice thought it went in.  Basically everyone but the refs thought it went on and play continued for several disjointed moments.

So close young Mr. Larkin?  Photo by Dave Reginek/ NHLI Getty

Upon review the puck went off the underside of the bar, behind Bishop, out of the crease and just past Larkin. It clearly never went in and the game remained tied.  If Larkin scores, the lid blows off the joint, the Wings have ALL of the momentum and the Lightning have to start chasing a goal.  Instead it’s tied and seven minutes later Tampa Bay finds themselves with one last power play.

In a tied playoff game, the last five minutes of the third period might as well be the first five minutes of sudden death.  It certainly felt that way Tuesday night.  When Jonathan Ericsson slammed his stick into the back of Ondrej Palat and drew a crosscheck, there was the feeling that they really, really needed to score.  And they did.

With time winding down, Drouin found himself at the right hash mark with the puck and a semi-clear shot at the net. He drew back as if to shoot, but instead slid a pass to a surprisingly wide open Palat in front of the net.  All the Czech had to do was redirect into the net - he did.  And then there was joy on the Tampa bench.  The Lightning had the lead and they held on to it. Now they get to go back to Amalie with a chance to end the series.

Drouin’s play in this series makes his situation extremely unique.  He has answered the challenge presented by the coaching staff. He has stepped his game offensively and been the strongest player on the puck in the offensive zone.  Kucherov and Johnson might have all of the goals, but Drouin has been on the puck a lot during the first four games.

At the worst he’s increasing his trade value. At best he’s proving that he could fill the hole voided if Steven Stamkos does decide to bolt from the team.  Of course, he could have done this three months ago if he had accepted his punishment and just played his ass off in Syracuse.

It will be interesting to see how his play continues as the playoffs continue.  He has shown his elite talent in stretches before, but then seems to taper off and disappear.  Will he continue to play with the confidence and aggression that he has played with so far or will he relax and start coasting again?

If I was wrong about special teams, at least I got the Victor Hedman thing right. Despite only picking up 1 point in the first four games, The Big Swede has been logging a ton of ice time.  He has been over 26 minutes in every game except Game Two (where he did spend an inordinate amount of time in the penalty box) and logged a Duncan Keith-like 30 minutes in Game 4 despite Coach Cooper dressing 7 defensemen.

Matt Tamorina got the call as the extra blue liner, but was barely a footnote in the game as he played less than three minutes.  According to the CBC broadcasters one of the reasons he was dressed was because there was questions about Jason Garrison’s health after he took a slash at the end of Game 3.

Garrison played almost 17 minutes and picked up an assist, but looked slower than normal.  Several times some of the faster Detroit forwards were working him pretty hard, especially when he was killing penalties. Both Garrison and Braydon Coburn struggled at times with the speed Larkin, Tomas Totar and Andreas Athanasius (who I thought was one of Detroit’s best forwards) brought to the game. Anton Stralman’s absence was very noticeable during that stretch of 15 minutes or so when Detroit was pushing for the lead.

The Lightning survived and have a chance to move on.  With the Islanders and Panthers looking like they might be engaged in a pretty intense series, having a few extra days of rest would be most beneficial for Tampa Bay.

The Hopeful Chase 3 Stars:

3. Petr Mrazek - Without his play in the first period, the Wings are probably down by two or three goals.  He wasn’t the problem for the Wings as he made several great saves throughout the game.

2. Jonathan Drouin - Three assists and several close chances for the young guy.  It is fun watching him with the puck in tight spaces. His hands are incredible, but he has to make sure he doesn’t get too pass-happy.  Defenders are giving him space because they think he might shoot, if he takes that out of his arsenal, he might find a little less space to work with.

1. Nikita Kucherov - Two more goals and an assist for the Russian dynamo. Not only that, but he also fired 7 shots at the net.  Somehow he keeps finding himself open at the right circle and he hasn’t been missing from there.  The first goal was a one-timer on a pass that was in his skates. It was a remarkable job of adjusting his body in position to get a shot off.

Did Matt Carle Get a Point?

Nope.  Drouin took all of the assists!  He was second on the defense with 19:39 of ice time including a whopping 4 minutes of short handed time.  That’s almost too much for my heart to take, but he was up to the task as he helped the team kill off four more Detroit power plays. He has quietly been the second best defenseman in this series.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Three the Hard Way

So another playoff game that I missed most of because of work, but from what I read online and Twitter (after the game, of course, because I would never check Twitter at work) it wasn't the finest hour for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Based on the final score of 2-0 for the other guys I would have to agree. Just because I didn't see most of the game doesn't mean I don't have opinions. Let's go over three thoughts from Game 3 of the first round.

  1. You didn't think it would be this easy did you?

What have the Lightning done the easy way this year? All year it's been a struggle. Whether it is trying to score a power play goal, sign the best goal scorer in their history, or ice an entirely healthy team everything has been harder than a fat man putting a wet suit on. So why would winning a playoff series be any easier?

When Coach Cooper had last change on home ice he was able to get a favorable matchup for Tyler and the Killer K's (damn it, I'm making this work!). However, in Detroit it was a different story. The hottest line for the Lightning was held without a shot and net and the rest of their teammates only mustered 16. Peter Mrazek made the start for the Red Wings and was rarely tested throughout the 60 minutes as Detroit managed to clog things up and keep the Lightning on the perimeter.

Hey, did you know his mask glows in the dark? Photo by Greg Shamus/ Getty

The Bolts didn't do themselves any favors with their endless march to the penalty to the penalty box. The Red Wings had another 7 power plays and even though they didn't score on any of them, it still interrupted the 5-on-5 play and kept the Lightning from finding any balance. According to Twitter it was a case of the refs calling a one-sided game which, having not watched the game, I can't really argue. The common beef seemed to be that the Red Wings got away with their typical brand of interference and holding while the Lightning were getting called for every infraction. Lets face it, power plays aren't helping the Lightning win, especially on the road (10% success during the regular season!)

They have to be betting Game 4 and stay out of the box. They are the better team at even strength and they need to play at that level as much as possible. Speaking of stooping to their level:

  1. Brian Boyle and the chicken dance.

Sigh. Should Justin Abdelkader dropped his mitts and fought Boyle? Probably. Should Boyle have challenged him earlier in the game? Probably. Do the Lightning need to knock this shit off? Definitely. Standing up for yourself and bullying the other team a bit isn't a bad thing, letting them get under your skin and off your game is another thing.

I think Boyle has the reach. Photo by Greg Shamus/ Getty

Boyle is there to be a impediment to the Red Wings especially in front of the net. Pierre McGuire adequately (hey, he can't be wrong ALL the time) dubbed him, “The Human Eclipse”. While he is equipped to put Abdelkader in his place, it doesn't mean he should be trying to do it at the end of the game. If you're going to defend Mike Blunden's honor, square off in the first period and get it out of the way.

The chicken act was pretty damn funny. And let's not forget that he has only one less goal than the trio of Dylan Larkin, Hank Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk.

  1. A team is not in trouble....

..until it loses a game on home ice. C'mon. I didn't watch the game. I have to throw one cliché in this article. However, just because something is cliché, doesn't mean it isn't true. The Lightning still hold the hammer in this series. If they remember to shoot the puck on net in Game 4 and score some goals (mark it down, Jason Garrison game-winner) they will go back to Tampa with the chance to close out the series.

It wasn't like the Red Wings whipped them up and down the ice. Did they generate a lot of chances? No, but they did still do a lot of little things well. They continued to block shots and despite the Red Wings having SEVEN power plays they only gave up 30 shots. I thought Jonathan Drouin had another good game, during the 10 minutes of play I did watch he was forchecking like a crazy man and generated 3 or 4 turnovers. Heck, if nothing else he is driving his trade value back up.

Game 3 was a do-or-die game for Detroit. If they had lost, they don't come back. For the Lightning it would have been a nice game to win, but it a loss also helps them remember that they can't just throw their sticks on the ice and win (“throw the sticks on the ice and win” is a registered trademark to the I Couldn't Stand Barry Melrose As Lightning Coach LLC and cannot be used without express written consent).

My favorite Cooper look, The "You're an idiot" look.  Photo by Dave Raginek NHLI/Getty

All throughout the season, when the Lightning didn't HAVE to win, they didn't. They usually played like crap. Game 4 is a little different. If they lose, that's a little more hope for the Red Wings, and as Andy Dufresne reminds us, “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.

Wait, what? No we don't want them to have any hope. Hope sucks. Die Hope Die!

Three Stars of the Game:

No idea. So let me give a little unsolicited advice to fans of both teams. Lightning fans: settle down, the refs don't have anything against the Lightning. They may be inept, but they are not bias. Stop that shit, conspiracy theories don't look good when you have a Stanley Cup banner in your closet.

Detroit fans: Stop acting like Abdelkader is some kind of victim in all of this. Even if he was “jumped” by two players at the end of Game 2, you don't keep throwing punches into the back of the head of a player who is on the ice – that's not cool, that's how people get hurt badly.

And what's the deal with Journey? Honestly, the song references “South Detroit” so you act like its some kind of geographical cornerstone to your very fandom? I admit it is damn fun to sing, but its one of those weird songs with a catchy tune that is kind of depressing when you think about the lyrics. Don't stop believing because your life kind of sucks. Steve Perry wants to hold onto this “feeling” because not much else is going right.

Oh and if you're shopping at Modell's I could use a new hoodie.

Did Matt Carle Get a Point?

Nope. He was on the ice at the end of the game mixing it up with everyone else and picked up a slashing penalty. So at least he was in the scorebook.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Two Down, Two to Go - Lightning Brawl Their Way to a 2-0 Series Lead

“He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster”

Play against a team that interferes, hooks, shoves, obstructs and bends the rules long enough and you might begin to pick up some of their habits. While the Lightning have too much talent to completely descend into Nietzche's abyss, after playing them 13 times in the last year (4 regular season games and 9 post season) they are definitely picking up some of the Red Wings' “bad” habits.

The good news for Bolts fans is that that style plays well in the post season. On Friday night, a night before Elton's good night for fighting, the Lightning bullied the Red Wings all over the ice, winning 5-2 and leaving Amalie Arena with a 2-0 lead in the series. As the game descended into chaos around him, Tyler Johnson continued to torture the Red Wings scoring 2 goals and pickinh up 2 assists. Through the first two games Detroit has yet to find a way to slow down Tyler and the Killer K's as Johnson, Alex Killorn and Nikita Kucherov have combined to score 15 points through the first two games.

The Red Wings literally can't keep Nikita out of the net. Photo by Mike Carlson Getty Images

However, the story of the game wasn't so much Johnson's performance, but the state of affairs between the two teams. It's not very cordial. Last year, the Lightning were frustrated by the way Detroit played hockey. They tried to continue to score pretty goals and were constantly taken aback by the borderline shiftiness that the Red Wings excel at. The after-the-whistle pushing and shoving, the borderline interference and obstruction, the elbows that got up a little higher than should be allowed.

This year the Lightning seem ready for it. Not only that, they are giving just as good as they get. They seemed inspired by the play of the Prodigal Son, Jonathan Drouin, who was just as surly in Game Two as he was in Game One. After getting bloodied by an elbow from Riley Sheahan midway through the second period, Drouin literally chased the young Red Wing around the ice trying to get him to fight. Sadly we were denied the opportunity of seeing how well the former number 3 overall pick could throw hands, but it was a prime example of how this team doesn't back down from anyone.

Drouin was involved in another example later in the game when he set Brian Boyle up for his goal (the only goal not scored by Tyler and the Killers so far this season). Boyle played pretty loose with the interference rules as he took Luke Glendening out of the play which freed up the puck to start Drouin on the offensive rush.

Hey, if Boyle hadn't shoved him, Glendening would never have even touched the puck!

I would like to see the Lightning win playing a hockey version of The Beautiful Game, but I would like to see them win the Stanley Cup more. In the playoffs you can get away with more than you would in the regular season and it looks like they are starting to realize that. They can still score goals with speed and talent (see Johnson's second goal where Kucherov blows by Alexey Marchenko and sets TJ up for the perfect one-timer) but they are now getting the ugly goals as well. Johnson scored the game winner by planting himself in front of three Red Wings and whacking at the puck while taking a shove in the back.

On defense they're doing the same thing. Detroit is getting time in the offensive zone, but they're having trouble getting shots through. When they do get a shot on net either Ben Bishop is soaking it up or whatever rebound is there is cleared by the Lightning. The Red Wings are frustrated, why else would former Lady Byng winner Brad Richards touch off a game-ending brawl with a viscous slash at Andrej Sustr's legs?

Things really escalated.  I think Brick killed a guy.  Photo by Scott Audette NHLI/Getty

There is a fine line between aggressive and reckless. So far the Lightning have toed it pretty well, but now that the line match-ups are going to favor the Red Wings they will have to be careful not to get caught out of position. Roughing and fighting penalties are one thing, but if they start picking up the hooking, holding and tripping penalties that indicate a player getting beat on a play then things could escalate in a bad way for them. At some point Detroit is going to start scoring with the man advantage.

The Lightning have done a great job of antagonizing the Red Wings through the first two games (speaking of antagonizing – props to the PA guy for playing “Separate Ways” during the official timeout after the brawl. That drove Detroit fans absolutely INSANE). Now that they have them on the ropes they have to make sure to finish them off. In tight, highly-charged series like this, giving the other team even a sense that they can come back could be disastrous.

The Hopeful Chase 3 Stars:

3 - Ryan Callahan – I know he didn't have a point, but he played 19 minutes of hard hockey. He was blocking shots and breaking up passes all night long. Also, you gotta get some credit when you dive on top of a scrum to pull players off.

Callahan has his "I'm gonna hit a rookie face" going. Photo by Scott Audette NHLI/Getty

2 - Ben Bishop – Another ho-hum 30 save game for Bish. While the Lightning dominated most of the game, the big netminder made saves when he needed to, including at the end of the first. He probably would have liked to have the Dylan Larkin goal back, but for the most part he has been the wall that the Lightning need him to be.

1 - Tyler Johnson - Two goals, two assists and another huge game for the Red Wing killer. I think it's safe to say there are no lingering effects from the hit he took in the last game of the season.

Did Matt Carle Get a Point?

He did! His clearing attempt was picked up by Alex Killorn and the Harvard Man slid it into the empty net. Maybe a cheap way to pick up a point, but it still counts. Carle was on the ice for almost 20 minutes (mainly because Victor Hedman couldn't stay out of the penalty box) and it shows Coach Cooper's growing trust in him that he was on the ice at the end of the game. If Anton Stralman comes back, Carle might not be the automatic scratch (I'm looking at you, Nikita Nesterov).

Thursday, April 14, 2016

One is the Loveliest Number

Let me start by saying this is not a traditional recap.  After all, how can anyone recap a game without actually watching it.  I love my job, but it is highly inconvenient to watching playoff hockey.  And while there are others out there that have a slightly higher work ethic, even I know that streaming a hockey game in the middle of the lobby while there are still 300 people left to check-in isn’t the best way to get a raise.

Checking in on the score via in between grabbing luggage for guests and directing all the priests in Chicago to the parking garage is a much more feasible way to know what’s happening and keeping my job. So consider this more of my thoughts and observations of the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 3-2 victory over the Detroit Red Wings in Game One.

It’s always nice to get the first win out of the way, especially when you have home-ice advantage in a series.  Now they aren’t chasing anything in Game Two, and the Red Wings might play a little more desperate in trying for the split. The Lightning won by the way the Lightning have won a lot of games this season.  Ben Bishop stopped enough pucks and Nikita Kucherov scored all of the goals.  Well not all of them, but enough to win.

The reconfigured Triplets…more of a Cousins…line with Kucherov, Tyler Johnson and Alex Killorn played the role of top line to perfection.  They generated all three goals and looked dangerous throughout the entire game.  MY BOY NIKITA KUCHEROV continues his quest to jump several tax brackets by scoring two goals and chipping in an assist.  Killorn scored the game winner on a nifty deflection while Johnson, concussed or not, looked like the Tyler Johnson of last year’s playoffs which doesn’t bode well for the Red Wings.

Moving Killorn to that line allowed Coach Cooper to drop Ondrej Palat to a line with Valtteri Filppula Jonathan Drouin.  While they didn’t record a point, they did generate some opportunities and looked like a viable offensive alternative.  Palat is the best two-way forward on the team and his play allows Drouin and Filppula to be their creative selves.

Speaking of Drouin, let’s get this out of the way.  If the Drouin that played 17 minutes against the Red Wings had played that way all season long he would not have been sent to Syracuse and then banished to his couch for part of the season.  This Drouin was much more aggressive (as seen by his cross-checking penalty and the hit he threw on Justin Abdelkader right before Abdelkader scored his goal.

That is part of what was lacking in his game.  He had a tendency to coast a bit and play reactionary hockey as opposed to asserting himself on the ice.  He doesn’t need to go full Doug Glatt, but he does have to show that he isn’t going to be pushed around the ice.  As Coach Cooper said in the post game presser, he earned those minutes on the ice.

Solid game by the Prodigal Son. Photo by Getty Images

My favorite moment of his was in the second period where he blocked a pass in the defensive zone, found himself on the open side of the defenseman at the blue line and took off like he was shot out of a cannon on a partial breakaway. Instead of looking for a pass he hesitated, drew the puck back and snapped a shot just wide of the net.  It showed his skill, his speed and a desire to score instead of setting up a teammate.

I did manage to watch part of the game on my dinner break (part of watching sports while working second shift is knowing when to schedule your meals).  I managed to get about 15 minutes of the second period in so I saw both Detroit goals, Kucherov’s game-tying goal, the afore mentioned Drouin play, and the little dust up in front of the Red Wings’ goal that led to a few penalties.

These teams are starting to not like each other very much.  This is what the NHL was looking for when they restructured the playoff format.  The Lightning and the Red Wings have now met in consecutive playoff years.  Last years series went 7 games and they split the regular season this year.  Bad blood is starting to develop and started to boil up at the 11:42 mark of the second period.

After the embattled Jimmy Howard made a save, Killorn was cruising by the net when 19-year-old Dylan Larkin thought he was getting a little two close and went to shoulder him out of the way. The young Red Wing didn’t take into consideration Killorn being a Harvard Man.  Using his knowledge of leverage and force, the Lightning forward dumped the rookie on his ass. Larkin’s teammates took exception and a good ol’ fashion scrm broke out.  I’ve read recaps from both sides of the aisle, Red Wing fans thought it was dirty, Lightning fans through it was just hockey.  I tend to lean toward the Lightning side of this one.  It happens every game. Larkin just went flying off his skates and it looked worse than it was.

The dust eventually settled and no one was worse the wear for it. Braydon Coburn managed to pick up two roughing calls at the same time (one against Darren Helm and one against Danny DeKeyser) which is awesome hustle. All of the penalties off set and they skated five on five.  But for the rest of the game both teams were on edge.

It’s nice to see the Lightning play with some anger in their game, but to quote Forest Whitaker in Rouge One, “If you continue to fight, what…will…you…become?”  The Lightning do not want to turn this into a special team’s battle.  They will lose that match-up.  Frustrating the Red Wings is one thing (hell Detroit has been doing it for years), taking stupid penalties is another.  Give a team like them enough opportunities and they will make you pay.

BRAYDON SMASH!!! Solid game from #55 Photo by Getty

While it was a little discouraging to see the Lightning get outshot in the first and second periods by a combined 26-20, it was nice that Tampa Bay tightened things up in the third and for the most part carried the play.  They also bounced back from giving up two quick goals and having a go-ahead goal wiped out by an off-side review. (Let the record show that the Lightning scored the first 3-on-3 overtime goal this year AND had the first video replay in playoff history go against them)

This is how the Lightning are going to win the series. By scoring ugly goals (Kucherov’s second was a result of him standing in front of the net and banging away at a rebound) and getting 30+ saves from Ben Bishop.  It’s not good for anyone’s health, but that’s the way it has to be.

The Hopeful Chase’s Three Stars:

3. Victor Hedman - The Big Swede played 26 minutes, had a game-winning goal wiped out by replay and was his usual calm, smooth-skating self.  Damn he’s fun to watch.

2. Ben Bishop - Another day and another 34-save game.  His stop on Brad Richards with the Lightning down 2-1 in the second was my key play of the game. If he doesn’t lunge across the crease and stop that shot, the Lightning don’t win.

1. MY BOY NIKITA KUCHEROV - Two goals and an assist.  His cap hit this year was $711,666.  His cap hit next year will be quite larger.

My next contract is going to be this big! Photo by Getty Images

Did Matt Carle Get a Point?

Nope.  He did dish out 3 hits and take one shot in his 16:17 of ice time.  That seems about right for him in the playoffs.  Coach Cooper did a pretty good job of balancing out his blue line.  Hedman and Jason Garrison were the only two that topped 20 minutes, but every one else was between 12 and 18 minutes.