#BoltsSocial Report - 4/18 vs. Montreal, Round One, Game Two

The Bolts are in the hunt for a W tonight as the Montreal Canadiens lead the Lightning 1-0 in the First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

White Out

Don’t have a white jersey on hand? We can help: More than 20,000 white “I am the Thunder” Lightning shirts have been placed on every chair in the Times Forum courtesy of Kane’s Furniture. 

Show that you #LoveFL

Stop by #BoltsSocial Central behind section 128 to get a FREE digital postcard in our photobooth courtesy of Visit Florida. Connect your STM card to your Facebook page to put the photo right on your timeline. Not an STM? We’ve got your back. We have free #BoltsSocial Fan Cards so you can get in on the action, too.

Tweet To Win 

#LightningStrikes

As always, get your picks in for a chance to win a limited edition Lightning Strikes winner T-shirt provided by Old Time Hockey. Submit your prediction for who will score the first Tampa Bay goal tonight on Twitter using the hashtag #LightningStrikes. One lucky winner who picks the first goal scorer correctly will win the T-shirt. 

#47AtTheForum

If you’re headed to the game tonight, tweet your seat location with hashtag #47attheforum for your chance to win a gift certificate for a 47 Brand Lightning playoffs t-shirt and cap of choice.

94 plays

Extra Shift: Montreal Canadiens 5, Lightning 4 – OT Game One

If the Lightning are going to defeat the Montreal Canadiens in this series, they’ll have to play a lot better than they did in Game One.

It’s not only that the Lightning were outshot, 44-25.  They struggled with many of the little details of the game – little details they had executed well during the regular season.  The Lightning didn’t manage the puck well enough, lost too many puck battles, struggled to cleanly clear their defensive zone and generally gave the Montreal players too much time and space to make plays.  As a result, it was the Canadiens who had the puck most of the night – and the Bolts were left defending.

As I’ve written before, both teams contribute to write a game’s narrative – and both clubs had their fingerprints on this one.  For Montreal, Game One was, by a country mile, its best performance of the season against the Lightning.  For most of the night, the Canadiens broke out of their own zone effectively, were hungry and hard on pucks, repeatedly forced turnovers and gave the Lightning little time and space.

So, now, looking ahead to Game Two on Friday, what do we make of what transpired? 

Was it that the Lightning, who dressed eight players making their NHL playoff debut (and two others, Mike Kostka and Anders Lindback, who had one game of NHL playoff experience), had trouble adjusting to the heightened intensity?  Steven Stamkos has stated that it took him some time to get acclimated to NHL playoff hockey when he first experienced it in 2011.  If that’s the case, the Lightning, now with a game under their belt, should look more like themselves in Game Two. 

And what about Montreal?  The Canadiens did make a few mistakes in the game - and the Bolts were able to exploit some of those errors for goals – but overall, the Habs played a terrific game.  Is this going to be Montreal’s standard for the rest of the series?  Or is it going to dip?

From Tampa Bay’s perspective, though, it can’t matter how well or poorly the Canadiens play.  The Bolts will need to be better in handling the details of the game, whether Montreal is bringing its “A” game or not. 

And there are things the Lightning can build upon.  Twice they rallied from third period deficits.  They did put four goals past Carey Price and generated several great scoring chances in overtime.  And there’s the knowledge that, while not playing nearly their best, they did take the game into overtime.

Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito): Dale Weise’s overtime winner.

Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito): 

  1. Thomas Vanek – Canadiens. Goal. Team-leading seven shots.
  2. Steven Stamkos – Lightning. Two goals. 
  3. Dale Weise – Canadiens. Overtime winner.

#BoltsSocial Report - April 16 vs. Montreal Canadiens

The First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs gets underway tonight at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. The Bolts will battle the Habs in the first of the best-of-seven series.

#BoltsFreeze 

We spent the afternoon freezing over Tampa Bay with our passcodes encased in ice. Didn’t get the chance to find one? We’ve got an ice block in #BoltsSocial Central behind section 128 – go find it and plug in the passcode to your mobile device before it melts and see what you can win! 

Tweet To Win

#LightningStrikes

As always, get your picks in for a chance to win a limited edition Lightning Strikes winner T-shirt provided by Old Time Hockey. Submit your prediction for who will score the first Tampa Bay goal tonight on Twitter using the hashtag #LightningStrikes. One lucky winner who picks the first goal scorer correctly will win the T-shirt.

 

 

#47AtTheForum

If you’re headed to the game tonight, tweet your seat location with hashtag #47attheforum for your chance to win a gift certificate for a 47 Brand Lightning playoff ladies v-neck and hat. 

We look forward to seeing you tonight at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. #GoBolts

Mishkin’s Musings: First Round Analysis and Predictions – Western Conference

 

Pacific #1 Anaheim Ducks vs. WC #2 Dallas Stars: I’m likely in the minority here, but I think the Stars will upset the Ducks.  Much of my opinion is based on what I saw from the Stars in two late-season games against the Lightning.  Dallas was very impressive in both the Lightning’s 4-2 win on March 1 and the 5-2 Stars triumph on April 5.

I may not be giving the Ducks their due – I haven’t seen them live since the Bolts and Ducks played two games in November.  In a 5-1 Anaheim loss at the Tampa Bay Times Forum on November 14, the Ducks, who were at the end of a long stretch of road games, didn’t have their “A” game.  The other game between the clubs took place eight nights later – it was a wildly entertaining Anaheim 1-0 overtime win.  The teams traded glorious scoring chances throughout the game.

So as is the case in all four Western series, I’m basing my opinions on a very limited sample size.  It’d be easy to look at Anaheim’s successful season and just pick them.  But there’s something about the Dallas team that won’t let me. The Stars are a speedy, tenacious bunch.  According to broadcaster Ralph Strangis, with whom I spoke before the April 5 game in Tampa, the Stars’ problem has been inconsistency this year.  But when they’ve been on their game, their team speed has given opponents problems. 

The Ducks have star power in Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf – those two had another terrific season.  But the Stars have their own dynamic duo in Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn.  Anaheim has some goaltending questions, too.  Who will start the series?  Jonas Hiller, who allowed 11 goals in his final three regular season starts?  Or one of the rookies – Frederik Andersen or John Gibson?  I may be dead wrong on this one, but I’m taking the Stars. Prediction: Dallas in Six.

Pacific #2 San Jose Sharks vs. Pacific #3 Los Angeles Kings: It seems incredible that one of these clubs will be eliminated in the first round.  If the NHL’s playoff format hadn’t changed, it would not have been a surprise to see these clubs in the Conference Final.  But the playoffs are now division-based, so they meet in the first round.

The Sharks are explosive, skilled, big and strong.  The Kings are structured, defensively air-tight and tough as nails.  The teams have plenty of postseason experience between them.  They met last year in the second round and the Kings edged the Sharks in a tight, hard-fought seven-game series.  Expect a similar type of series this year, although unlike last season, the Sharks have home-ice advantage.

The Sharks are going to have to break down Los Angeles’ structure.  As I wrote about the Penguins and Kris Letang yesterday, having a dynamic puck-moving defenseman will help attack a structured opponent.  San Jose’s Dan Boyle will be an important key to the Sharks’ attack.

The Kings will need to score some goals – getting Marian Gaborik at the trade deadline likely will help.  The talented Gaborik, who posted 16 points in 19 games with the Kings, has fit in nicely with his new club, clicking on a line with Anze Kopitar.

Ultimately, I think the Kings, who have won a number of close, white-knuckle series over the past two seasons, will again prevail.  But they may need to beat the Sharks on the road in the seventh game to do it. Prediction: Kings in Seven.

Central #1 Colorado Avalanche vs. WC #1 Minnesota Wild: The Avalanche have had an incredible season.  They went from 29th in the NHL last year to 112 points, third-most in the league.  They’ve got a group of exciting, young forwards.  Semyon Varlamov was a stellar between the pipes, winning a league-leading 41 games.  And head coach Patrick Roy is going to get a lot of votes for Coach of the Year.

But many of these Avs have never before been to the NHL playoffs – and unlike, say, the Lightning youngsters – they have had little to no pro playoff experience.  Of course, their head coach has had plenty – and it’ll be interesting to see how Roy prepares his squad for what’s ahead.

The Wild had a short-lived postseason run last year, losing to the Blackhawks in five games, but, man-for-man, Minnesota has much more postseason experience than Colorado.  Zach Parise, Jason Pominville, Ryan Suter alone have a taken part in a combined 165 postseason games.  Enigmatic netminder Ilya Bryzgalov seems to have found his game since being traded to Minnesota.

So the experience edge goes to Minnesota – and I expect that the Wild will give the Avs a difficult series.  I’d be very surprised if Minnesota goes out as quietly as it did last year.  They’ll be some bumps along the way for Colorado, but I think the talented Avs will survive. Prediction: Avalanche in Seven.

Central #2 St. Louis Blues vs. Central #3 Chicago Blackhawks: What an interesting series this will be.  Both teams enter the playoffs on losing skids.  The St. Louis slump seems more problematic, though.  Chicago was without stars Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews for the last stretch of the regular season, but the ‘Hawks were essentially locked into third place.  The Blues also had a their share of injuries down the stretch.  They, however, had much more at stake than the ‘Hawks.  The Blues finished the season on a six-game losing streak, which cost them a chance at the President’s Trophy and first place in the division.

It sounds as though all of the top players – on both sides – should be ready to go when the series begins.  But can the Blues snap out of their slump, which featured uncharacteristically leaky defensive play?  The Blues, similar to the Los Angeles Kings, play a very structured game.  That’s been their trademark since Ken Hitchcock took over early in the 2011-12 season.  Through their first 68 games, the Blues lost only 14 in regulation, but then dropped nine of their last 14 contests.  They’ll need to rediscover their game in a hurry against the defending Stanley Cup Champs.

Chicago finished the season with a couple of defeats and had just four wins in its final nine contests.  But Kane and Toews are back for this series.  They are playoff-tested and shouldn’t be affected by starting the series on the road.  I’d probably have picked the ‘Hawks to win their first round series, no matter where they finished in the division.  If the Blues can revert to their previous stingy form, then this matchup will be a challenge for Chicago, but I think the Blackhawks will advance even if the Blues are back on their game. Prediction: Blackhawks in Six.

 

Mishkin’s Musings: First Round Analysis and Predictions – Eastern Conference (Excluding Lightning-Canadiens Series)

Today, I throw in my predictions for the three Eastern Conference series not involving the Lightning.  Tomorrow, I’ll look at the West.

Metropolitan #1 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. WC #1 Columbus Blue Jackets: The Blue Jackets earned their way into the postseason with an excellent finish – 6-2-1 in their last nine (and they got help from Toronto’s precipitous late-season fall).  They’re well-equipped to have success in the playoffs.  Sergei Bobrovsky gives them excellent goaltending.  They play a solid, structured game.  And while they don’t necessarily have a ton of offensive firepower, they’ve got enough.  Ryan Johansen is a budding star and their power play was really humming at the end of the season.  (Their PP put on an impressive display last Friday at the Tampa Bay Times Forum).  So even though Pittsburgh swept the season series from the Blue Jackets, this series will be a tough one for the Metropolitan Division winners. 

As long as Columbus can play its usual tight, structured game, the Blue Jackets will give themselves a chance to pull off the upset.  On the Pittsburgh side, I believe there are two crucial variables that might swing the series one way or the other. 

The first is the play of (sometimes) maligned goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.  Fleury won a Stanley Cup with the Penguins in 2009 and was brilliant in helping his team defeat the Red Wings in Game Seven on the road.  But since that game, postseason highlights have been few and far between for Fleury.  He struggled during Pittsburgh’s playoff losses in 2010 (second round), 2011 (first round – to the Lightning) and 2012 (first round).  Last year, in the first round against the Islanders, he lost his starting job to Tomas Vokoun, who carried the Pens into the Conference Final.  Vokoun is trying to return from a blood clot issue, so he’s likely unavailable this year (although he’s in the minors working on a rehab stint).  The other option is Jeff Zatkoff, who has never before played in an NHL playoff game.  Just like in the past four years, Fleury has produced another solid regular season.  The Pens will need him to keep the softies to a minimum in this series.

The second is the Kris Letang element.  The Penguins have a cavalcade of supremely skilled forwards.  But Letang is the straw that stirs Pittsburgh’s drink.  All teams covet a puck-moving defenseman who can skate.  Letang is that player for the Pens.  While Matt Niskanen and Paul Martin are also capable, Letang is one of the league’s elite puck-movers.  He’s also tenacious defensively, which makes him hard to play against.  From the Pittsburgh zone, Letang can skate pucks out of trouble.  He can get pucks to those skilled forwards in areas where they can do damage.  He’s a wildcard in the offensive zone, because he’ll roam all over the ice (he just scored a sixth-attacker goal on Saturday against Philadelphia from the top of the crease).  And he adds another element to Pittsburgh’s already-lethal power play.  So the variable is this: I have no doubt Letang, who suffered a stroke earlier this year, is healthy enough to play.  But sitting out three months and returning just before the playoffs is a challenge.  If Letang’s game is where it normally is, then the Penguins will have a huge weapon to help them counter Columbus’ structure.  If Letang’s timing is a bit off, though, it’ll change the dynamic.

My hunch is that Letang will be a factor and Fleury will be fine. Prediction: Penguins in Six.

Metropolitan #2 New York Rangers vs. Metropolitan #3 Philadelphia Flyers:

The series will come down to two questions.  Can the defensively-solid Rangers produce enough offense?  The Flyers, whose team defense improved substantially throughout the season, have high-skill players.  Can they solve New York netminder Henrik Lundqvist?

Both teams are playing good hockey entering the postseason.  The Rangers have been terrific defensively since the Olympic Break and they got even stingier in the regular season’s final weeks.  In six of their last seven games, the Rangers held the opposition to two or fewer goals and yielded a total of nine goals in those games.  Much of solid team ‘D’ has to do with Lundqvist, who shook off an uncharacteristically tough start.  He allowed just 17 goals in his final 10 starts.  But scoring goals continues to be an issue for the Rangers, even after adding Marty St. Louis.  They have, on paper, enough talented offensive players, but the floodgates just haven’t opened.

For the Flyers, Claude Giroux enjoyed another terrific season, averaging more than a point per game.  His line, with Scott Hartnell and Jake Voracek, is one of the NHL’s most dangerous.  And the Flyers have depth beyond that top line.  Vinny Lecavalier is centering their fourth line and he has posted another 20-goal season.    Mark Streit gives them a dynamic element on the blue line and Andrew MacDonald, a shot-blocking machine, was an excellent trade-deadline acquisition.

When the Flyers visited the Lightning on Thursday, the Flyers’ broadcasters told me they felt goaltender Steve Mason, who has had a nice regular season, would be the number one for the postseason.  But Mason got hurt in Saturday’s OT win over Pittsburgh.  If he’s unable to play, Ray Emery will be in net.  Either goalie is capable of winning this series, especially if the Flyers provide goal support.

That’s the big “if”.  I think it’ll be a very close, long series.  But the Rangers get the extra contest at home.  And Lundqvist is one of the game’s best for a reason.  He’ll help get his team to the second round. Prediction: Rangers in Seven.

Atlantic Division #1 Boston Bruins vs. WC #2 Detroit Red Wings: The Red Wings have now qualified for the playoffs for 23 consecutive seasons.  That streak was in jeopardy for much of the year, as Detroit battled injuries to key players – and an early-season inability to win shootouts.  (They lost their first six shootouts, leaving a number of points on the table).  But the Red Wings persevered, in large part because of their youngsters.  Like the Lightning, the Wings have relied on players who excelled in the AHL.  Grand Rapids beat Syracuse in the Calder Cup Final last year – and the Red Wings cupboard is full of excellent prospects.  Like the Lightning, many of those prospects became full-time NHL regulars this year.  And a number of those players had a taste of the NHL postseason last year, when Detroit advanced to the second round.  Gustav Nyquist, in particular, seems poised to become an NHL star.  Also, a few games before the regular season ended, the Red Wings welcomed back Pavel Datsyuk, who has been dealing with knee troubles most of the season.  There aren’t many players in the world that can create magic with the puck like Datsyuk.

Because of all these reasons, there are pundits that think Detroit is the most dangerous opponent the Bruins, who won the President’s Trophy this year, could have gotten in the first round.  Also, some might point to the fact that the Wings took three of four games from Boston during the regular season. 

It may be true that Detroit will give Boston some trouble.  It’s even possible the Red Wings will win the series.  After all, a similarly-strong Boston team lost a first round matchup in 2012 to Washington.  It’s also true that the first round hasn’t been easy for Boston in recent years. In addition to the Game Seven OT loss to the Caps in 2012, the Bruins needed Game Seven OT wins to get out of the first round in both their Stanley Cup 2011 season and also last year, when they reached the Stanley Cup Final.

So it may happen.  I just don’t think it will.  The Boston Bruins are a well-oiled machine.  They are structured.  They are skilled.  They are physical.  They don’t make many mistakes.  When they do, they have a great goaltender in Tuukka Rask, who swallows up mistakes.  They can beat any kind of opponent.  And they are playoff-tested and seasoned. Prediction: Bruins in Six.