Tag Archives: Tyler Johnson

Numbers Game: 2018-19 League Forecast Entering December

We’re just over a week into December, I know, but let’s all hop in the time machine and take a retroactive look at how the rest of the season should pan out based on how the league standings were through November 30, 2018.

Things have started to cool in places around the league (like Carolina), while other clubs (like Buffalo) have heated up to become serious playoff contenders– so let’s take a look at how everything should shake out between now and the first couple of weeks of April.

There’s no guarantees with any forecast, but general indications start to get a little clearer once the season’s hit the quarter-mark and American Thanksgiving has come and gone.

Realistically, if your team is anywhere between 1st and 5th in your division, you’re in for the ride of your life still from now through the end of the regular season. If you’re 6th, 7th or 8th, well, it’s never too early to start thinking about the Draft lottery (plus the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship’s coming up at the end of the month, so that’s exciting too) or about how many games it would take to go on an incredibly hot streak and jump back into the playoff picture.

Nothing’s impossible.

Without further ado, it’s time to glance around the league and breakdown some of the unforeseen circumstances that are yet to come.

Projected Standings After Two Months

Eastern Conference

Atlantic Division

  1. y-Tampa Bay Lightning, 108 points (26 GP so far)
  2. x-Boston Bruins, 104 points (25 GP so far)
  3. x-Toronto Maple Leafs, 101 points (26 GP so far)
  4. wc1-Buffalo Sabres, 91 points (27 GP so far)
  5. Montreal Canadiens, 91 points (25 GP so far)
  6. Detroit Red Wings, 85 points (25 GP so far)
  7. Florida Panthers, 84 points (24 GP so far)
  8. Ottawa Senators, 83 points (26 GP so far)

The Tampa Bay Lightning rightfully lay claim to the crown as the leader of the Atlantic Division at regular season’s end. It doesn’t matter that Steven Stamkos has yet to record a point in six career Game 7s. The Lightning have Nikita Kucherov, Tyler Johnson and Brayden Point on a line of their own. They don’t even need Stamkos.

Just kidding, they still do, because that other No. 91 signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs in the offseason and just think how explosive a playoff matchup of Tampa and Toronto could be in the Battle of John Tavares Signed Where Leafs Fans Wanted Steven Stamkos To Sign Just A Couple Of Offseasons Ago, But Didn’t Because He Stayed With The Lightning.

You know it’s going to happen.

Actually, in the latest forecast entering December, the Boston Bruins slide out of the top spot, because injuries continue to plague their season. However, if they can recover to full health, there’s a good chance they might usurp the Maple Leafs and finish 2nd in the division, unlike what current standings dictate.

But regaining full health is a major stipulation and part of the reason why– while Toronto is 3rd in this forecast– there’s a good chance the Bruins might (probably will) slip further as January’s forecast nears.

This is about the time where it’s important to note the overarching focus on this forecast should be on where each team is positioned and how close in points they are to those above and below before placing any concrete emphasis on how things play out from now through the first week of April 2019.

The Buffalo Sabres make the biggest gain in the Atlantic Division, jumping up four spots in the division standings from the basement to 4th place and a playoff berth (albeit a wild card spot).

The Sabres 10-game winning streak– combined with the additions of Rasmus Dahlin and Jeff Skinner in the offseason– proved to be a season-defining stretch of games as Buffalo returns to Stanley Cup Playoff action for the first time since 2011 (despite the current 0-3-2 run in their last five games).

On the outside looking in, the Montreal Canadiens slipped a spot and might be a pretender– especially if Carey Price (11-8-4 record, 2.92 goals against average, .902 save percentage in 23 games played) continues to struggle. To his credit, his GAA is under three now, so there’s that.

The Detroit Red Wings gained some traction with the ongoing lack of focus in Ottawa Senators video reviews and the Florida Panthers injuries.

Metropolitan Division

  1. p-Washington Capitals, 108 points (25 GP so far)
  2. x-Columbus Blue Jackets, 99 points (25 GP so far)
  3. x-Pittsburgh Penguins, 98 points (24 GP so far)
  4. wc2-New York Rangers, 92 points (26 GP so far)
  5. New York Islanders, 90 points (24 GP so far)
  6. Carolina Hurricanes, 87 points (25 GP so far)
  7. Philadelphia Flyers, 86 points (24 GP so far)
  8. New Jersey Devils, 81 points (24 GP so far)

The Washington Capitals remain in control of the Metropolitan Division with the Columbus Blue Jackets and Pittsburgh Penguins in tow.

Of course, Columbus and Pittsburgh are worth keeping a close eye on as the Blue Jackets have been all over the place near the top and the Penguins have yet to be in playoff position since– actually, pretty much never so far this season.

Plus there’s the whole “second-half of the season surge” we’re still waiting to see from Mike Sullivan’s bunch. That’ll almost assure Pittsburgh of a playoff berth, if not in a divisional spot, at least.

The New York Rangers gained two spots since entering November, which means the rebuild’s over!

Just kidding.

Look how close the Rangers, New York Islanders and Carolina Hurricanes are forecasted to be in points. Even the Philadelphia Flyers have a chance– mathematically speaking, of course.

The battle for the last wild card spot in the Eastern Conference is going to come down to one of the teams in the Big Apple and Carolina, especially since the rest of the division lacks clarity.

Meanwhile, the New Jersey Devils are in the dumps. Taylor Hall isn’t a flash in the pan, but the rest of the Devils are, it appears.

Western Conference

Central Division

  1. z-Nashville Predators, 104 points (26 GP so far)
  2. x-Minnesota Wild, 98 points (25 GP so far)
  3. x-Winnipeg Jets, 97 points (24 GP so far)
  4. wc1-Colorado Avalanche, 93 points (26 GP so far)
  5. wc2-Dallas Stars, 90 points (26 GP so far)
  6. St. Louis Blues, 88 points (24 GP so far)
  7. Chicago Blackhawks, 87 points (26 GP so far)

Both the Nashville Predators and Minnesota Wild remain in the 1-2 spots in the latest forecast. Despite the current hot streak from the Calgary Flames, the Predators are going to be the best team in the conference by the end of the regular season.

The Winnipeg Jets are starting to become like the Penguins under Sullivan’s reign in that Paul Maurice is bound to lead his team to a second-half of the season surge into a divisional spot (or higher).

Of course, there’s always a wild card– both in the literal wild card berth and dark horse standpoint– and that’s the Colorado Avalanche.

The Avs have a great chance at jumping up into a divisional spot, since they’ve gained three positions from the previous forecast entering November to the current forecast entering December. The fact of the matter is the Avalanche are a playoff contender– like last season– but with the added improvement of having built on last season’s experience.

Then there’s the Dallas Stars, who might find themselves landing in a wild card position by circumstance (have you even seen the Pacific Division?) and by luck in Jim Montgomery’s first season behind the bench.

Towards the cellar of the Central Division, the St. Louis Blues are bad, but not as bad as they are currently, which isn’t great news if you’re trying to lose for Jack Hughes.

But if you’re a Blues fan who hates rivals more than losing, there’s a positive takeaway– the Chicago Blackhawks are destined to finished last in the Central. They’re bad. Very bad.

Pacific Division

  1. y-San Jose Sharks, 97 points (26 GP so far)
  2. x-Anaheim Ducks, 97 points (28 GP so far)
  3. x-Calgary Flames, 93 points (26 GP so far)
  4. Vegas Golden Knights, 85 points (27 GP so far)
  5. Edmonton Oilers, 82 points (25 GP so far)
  6. Los Angeles Kings, 79 points (26 GP so far)
  7. Arizona Coyotes, 78 points (24 GP so far)
  8. Vancouver Canucks, 78 points (28 GP so far)

The San Jose Sharks’ grasp on the Pacific Division is loosening as the Anaheim Ducks are heating up as one of the hottest teams out west– and that’s not including the one with fire in their name.

San Jose should– should— hit their stride at some point and have everything click into place, but if they don’t the Ducks are hot on their tail. How close? Close enough to show there’s no difference in their forecast total points in the standings by the end of the regular season.

The Sharks could be first or they could be second. Perhaps the Calgary Flames have something to say about that.

It’s anybody’s game in the Pacific Division playoff berths, but one thing’s for sure, there’s not going to be a wild card team coming out of the Pacific.

For the Vegas Golden Knights, that means they’re really going to have to soar and never let their foot off the gas. Vegas only survived so much without Nate Schmidt in the lineup on their blue line– they can’t afford any more major bumps in the road.

The Edmonton Oilers have Ken Hitchcock behind the bench and while they might appear to be gaining ground, they’re sure to be just outside of the playoff window looking in like how Hitchcock’s Stars were last season. Just wait for the implosion.

In the bottom three, the Los Angeles Kings might not be as terrible as they have been if 1) Marco Sturm gets named head coach and Willie Desjardins’ interim basis comes to a close and 2) the Kings light a fire under their grizzled veterans and revive whatever’s left of them this season.

The Arizona Coyotes are on par with how Arizona’s been the last few seasons. Not great, but not terrible and sometimes downtrodden due to injury.

The hype surrounding the Vancouver Canucks in October and early November was just that– hype. No amount of Elias Pettersson, Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser can compensate for the holes on the blue line and lack of goaltending. It’s almost as if Canucks General Manager Jim Benning has been living a Groundhog Day career from year-to-year with Vancouver.

Their offense is good, their defense is suspect and their goaltending isn’t starter quality.

Lightning strike B’s, 3-2, in Tampa

Anthony Cirelli’s shorthanded goal in the third period was enough to hold off a potential comeback from the Boston Bruins Thursday night as the Tampa Bay Lightning went on to win, 3-2, at Amalie Arena.

Louis Domingue (12-4-0, 3.07 goals against average, .903 save percentage in 14 games played) made 33 saves on 35 shots against for a .943 SV% in the win for the Bolts, while Tuukka Rask (6-6-2, 2.62 GAA, .914 SV% in 14 GP) stopped 27 out of 30 shots faced for a .900 SV% in the loss.

The Bruins have now lost four out of their last five games and have fallen to 14-10-4 (32 points) on the season– sliding to 5th place in the Atlantic Division and the 2nd wild card in the Eastern Conference as a result of the Montreal Canadiens’ win over the Ottawa Senators Thursday night.

Tampa improved to 22-7-1 (45 points) on the season and remained 1st in the Atlantic with the win.

Earlier in the day on Thursday, Charlie McAvoy was activated from the injured reserve and set to partake in pregame warmups. Kevan Miller was placed on the injured reserve having sustained a throat injury on Nov. 26th in Toronto.

The Bruins claimed Gemel Smith off waivers from the Dallas Stars on Thursday. Smith, 24, had two goals and one assist (three points) in 14 games for Dallas this season.

As a result of their roster moves, Connor Clifton was assigned to the Providence Bruins (AHL) after appearing in nine games for Boston– including his NHL debut– this season.

Boston also announced five of their prospects that will be attending preliminary World Junior camps for their respective countries next week, including D Daniel Bukac and F Jakob Lauko for Czech Republic, G Kyle Keyser for Team USA, F Pavel Shen for Russia and F Jack Studnicka for Team Canada.

The 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship is being held in Vancouver and Victoria, British Columbia and begins later this month with round robin group play.

Bruce Cassidy shook up the lines with McAvoy returning from an upper body injury (concussion) after missing the last 20 games. The 20-year-old defender was paired with John Moore on the bottom defensive pair with Matt Grzelcyk playing alongside Brandon Carlo and Torey Krug partnered with Steven Kampfer (back in the lineup since being a healthy scratch for the last two games).

Jeremy Lauzon joined Smith and Chris Wagner as Boston’s healthy scratches, while Zdeno Chara (lower body, left MCL), Patrice Bergeron (upper body), Urho Vaakanainen (concussion) and Miller (throat) remain out of the lineup.

Among the forwards, Cassidy left the first line of Brad Marchand, Colby Cave and David Pastrnak intact, while placing Joakim Nordstrom to the left of David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk on the second line.

Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson was back in the lineup– centering the third line with Ryan Donato to his left and Noel Acciari to his right– and Danton Heinen was demoted to the fourth line with Sean Kuraly and David Backes with Wagner scratched.

Pastrnak (20) recorded the game’s first goal at 2:04 of the first period on a rebound given up by Domingue after Cave initially recorded a shot on goal. Pastrnak collected the puck with Domingue out of position and buried the loose puck in the twine to reach the 20-goal plateau for the third consecutive season.

Cave (2) had the only assist on the goal and the Bruins led, 1-0.

Only Jaromir Jagr needed fewer than 28 games to reach 20 goals in a season among all Czech born NHLers in history.

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After surviving an early onslaught from the B’s, the Lightning tied the game late in the opening frame with Brayden Point (21) firing a wicked wrist shot past Rask on a backhand pass from Nikita Kucherov.

McAvoy mishandled the puck, leaving Tyler Johnson in position to swipe at the rubber biscuit a couple of times before flinging a pass to Kucherov for the backhand drop pass to Point for the tying goal, 1-1.

Kucherov (31) and Johnson (9) had the assists on Point’s goal at 14:59.

Point now has 12 goals and seven assists (19 points) in his last 12 games.

Moments later, McAvoy was charged with the first penalty of the game for hooking Point at 18:50 while the Lightning forward was in the attacking zone. Tampa did not convert on the ensuing power play that would carry over into the second period.

Entering the first intermission, the game was tied, 1-1, and the Bolts were outshooting the Bruins, 15-11. Tampa also led in takeaways (5-3), while Boston led in blocked shots (10-4) and face-off win percentage (56-44). Both teams had two giveaways each and 12 hits aside.

The Lightning were 0/1 on the power play after one period.

Victor Hedman tripped up Donato almost midway through the second period and sent the Bruins on their first power play of the night– 7:04 into the middle frame.

Boston did not convert on the ensuing power play.

Neither team was able to break the tie as things went on in the second period and by the second intermission, the Bruins were outshooting the Lightning, 23-21. Boston led Tampa in shots, 12-6, in the second period alone.

The Bolts led in giveaways (9-4) and in hits (25-18) after two periods and the B’s maintained an advantage in blocked shots (11-10), takeaways (10-8) and face-off win% (52-48).

Both teams were 0/1 on the power play entering the third period.

Early in the final frame of regulation, Mathieu Joseph (9) picked up the puck on an unforced turnover, waltzed past Carlo and tucked the puck underneath Rask to give the Lightning their first lead of the night, 2-1.

Alex Killorn (10) and Dan Girardi (6) had the primary and secondary assists on Joseph’s goal at 2:40 of the third period.

About a minute later, Domingue sent the puck over the glass and was charged with a delay of game minor at 3:49.

While on the penalty kill, Steven Stamkos broke up a play by Backes as the grizzled Bruins veteran tried to work the puck back to Marchand, which led to Anthony Cirelli (5) scooping up the loose puck and skating right by Pastrnak and Marchand as the Boston forwards helplessly trailed behind.

Cirelli avoided a poke check from Rask with just enough of a deke to slip the biscuit past the Bruins netminder and into the goal at 4:03 of the third period. Cirelli’s short handed tally was unassisted and gave Tampa a two-goal lead, 3-1.

With a little under two minutes remaining in regulation, Cassidy pulled his netminder for an extra attacker.

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Krejci (3) fired a slap shot from the point at 18:15 (assisted by Pastrnak (12) and Backes (3)– the three David’s united!) and scored his first goal in 19 games to pull the Bruins within one, but it wasn’t enough.

As the final horn sounded, the Bruins suffered their third straight loss as the Lightning won their fifth game in-a-row. Tampa struck down Boston, 3-2, on the scoreboard, despite being outshot, 35-30.

The Bolts finished the game with the advantage in giveaways (10-6) and hits (33-22), while the Bruins led in face-off win% (56-44). Both teams had 16 blocked shots each and the Lightning were 0/1 on the power play, while the B’s were 0/2.

Tampa improved to 6-2-0 when tied after one period and Boston fell to 3-3-3 when tied after 20 minutes.

Boston travels home to host the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday before traveling to Ottawa to face the Senators on Sunday. The Bruins then host the Arizona Coyotes next Tuesday before a two-day break and a one-game road trip to Pittsburgh to face the Penguins next Friday.

Tampa Bay Lightning 2018-19 Season Preview

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Tampa Bay Lightning

54-23-5, 113 points, 1st in the Atlantic Division

Lost in the Eastern Conference Final to WSH, 4-3

Additions: F Andy Andreoff (acquired from LA), D Cameron Gaunce

Subtractions: F Carter Ashton (signed, KHL), D Mathew Bodie (signed, KHL), G Peter Budaj (traded to LA), F Erik Condra (signed with DAL), F Alex Gallant (signed with VGK), F Chris Kunitz (signed with CHI), F Matthew Peca (signed with MTL), D Andrej Sustr (signed with ANA)

Still Unsigned: D Jamie McBain

Re-signed: F Adam Erne, D Slater Koekkoek, F Kevin Lynch, F Cedric Paquette

Offseason Analysis: The 2017-18 Tampa Bay Lightning had their best season in franchise history. Well, regular season, that is. Jon Cooper led his team from behind the bench to a 54-23-5 record (113 points) and the first seed in the Eastern Conference all the way to the 2018 Eastern Conference Final against the Washington Capitals– their former division rival in what was once the Southeast Division.

It was their first postseason meeting since 2011 and the Bolts had home ice advantage in a Game 7. What could possibly go wrong? Washington was never supposed to get past the Second Round, let alone beat the Pittsburgh Penguins en route to landing in the Eastern Conference Final– plus Alex Ovechkin was always criticized for his Game 7 play in his career– and the Lightning had all of their offensive weapons, including Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos.

But Stamkos had no points in Game 7 against Washington, similar to the last five Game 7s he’s played. In six career Game 7s, Stamkos is pointless. Both literally and figuratively, if you may.

Tampa was shutout on home ice and their 2018 postseason run came to a crashing halt, one win shy of reaching their second Stanley Cup Final in three years.

For a team that’s made the Eastern Conference Final in three of the last four calendar years (2015, 2016 and 2018)– they’ve only gotten better, yet they haven’t had the results they’ve wanted (or expected) by now.

Steve Yzerman walked into the Lightning front office with Stamkos and Victor Hedman already on the roster, he left its day-to-day duties having drafted Kucherov (2011) and Andrei Vasilevskiy (2012), while signing an undrafted Tyler Johnson and acquiring Ryan Callahan, Mikhail Sergachev, Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller over the years.

Yzerman’s seamless transition from Tampa’s face of the franchise star in Martin St. Louis to Stamkos, Kucherov and Co. was destined to win a Cup while the former face of the Detroit Red Wings superstar was at the helm of operations.

But Yzerman stepped down as General Manager, leaving the duties of cap management and roster creation to now former assistant GM Julien BriseBois earlier this month.

BriseBois’ transition to power will be peaceful, as Yzerman was sure to lock up core members of the roster in Kucherov and McDonagh to extensions beginning in the 2019-20 season this offseason.

It’d be unfair to grade BriseBois’ offseason maneuvers over the last 16 days at the same weight as the rest of the GMs in the league, but it’s worth noting– neither Yzerman nor BriseBois were able to snag Erik Karlsson in a trade with the Ottawa Senators.

Instead, the biggest prize on the trading block this offseason went to the San Jose Sharks– a team the Lightning can only face in the postseason in the Stanley Cup Final. If they make it that far.

Yzerman chose not to re-sign Chris Kunitz and Andrej Sustr, seeing the former as too old for Tampa’s core and the latter as an expendable asset that was a healthy scratch most nights. He did, however, re-sign glue guy forwards Adam Erne and Cedric Paquette, as well as defender Slater Koekkoek to one-year bridge deals.

Their successful roster is largely intact, despite trading backup goaltender Peter Budaj to the Los Angeles Kinds for forward Andy Andreoff early this summer, but as Cooper seeks to decrease Vasilevskiy’s workload, Budaj’s 3.77 goals against average and .876 save percentage in eight games last season weren’t going to cut it– even with his injuries.

Budaj’s back with the Ontario Reign (AHL) after Jack Campbell beat him out for the backup job behind Jonathan Quick in Los Angeles.

Meanwhile, Louis Domingue looks to improve on his 2.89 GAA and .914 SV% in 12 appearances with the Lightning last season, after going winless in seven appearances with the Arizona Coyotes (4.33 GAA, .856 SV%) before being acquired by Tampa.

Budaj’s eight appearances and Domingue’s 12 games in a Bolts uniform left Vasilevskiy to suit up for a career-high 65 games last season. He had a 2.62 GAA and a career-high .920 SV% in what was a Vezina Trophy finalist year with a 44-17-3 record.

While Vasilevskiy is one of the top-starting netminders in the league, 65 games played in the regular season, plus a maximum 28 potential games in the postseason is nearly 100 games of hockey. Multiply that by 60 minutes and, well, you get the point (hopefully).

Cooper has to rely on Domingue and his defense to reduce the minutes Vasilevskiy has to stand on his feet (or head) in order to keep his number one goaltender from getting fatigued.

Goaltending is all about finding that sweet spot– both in the rhythm of the game while making saves and in the ebbs and flows of the season-long schedule (including the possibility of a deep postseason run).

Offseason Grade: C+

So that’s it really.

Tampa didn’t create a mega-defense, because they didn’t get Karlsson. San Jose did.

They didn’t cause a disturbance in the Force with two potential No. 91s that would’ve seen John Tavares assume a new identity on the roster, because the Toronto Maple Leafs signed the biggest free agent on the market.

And that’s okay.

For Tampa, an “average” offseason meant sticking with their guys– the ones that reached the Final in 2015, almost reached it in 2016 and were brought in for the Conference Final run in 2018. Other than nailing down a backup goalie, the Bolts are ready to defend their top of the table standing in the Atlantic Division.

DTFR Podcast #123- 2018-19 Atlantic Division Season Preview

Nick, Colby and Connor talk the Max Pacioretty trade, Eugene Melnyk’s latest antics, John Tortorella’s extension, Adam McQuaid and Steve Yzerman stepping down in Tampa. Also in this episode– DTFR’s official 2018-19 Atlantic Division preview.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes)Stitcher and/or on Spotify.

Yzerman Steps Down as Lightning GM, BriseBois Takes Over

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There’s a new General Manager in town as Julien BriseBois was named to the position of Vice President, General Manager and Alternate Governor of the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday afternoon. Steve Yzerman stepped aside to become Senior Advisor to the General Manager in the final year of his contract with the franchise’s front office.

Yzerman cited wanting to spend more time with his family as the 53-year-old former NHLer has been commuting from Detroit to Tampa, The Athletic‘s Pierre LeBrun noted in a tweet.

BriseBois becomes the seventh General Manager in Lightning history, inheriting a team loaded with talent stockpiled over the tenure of Yzerman at the reins.

A native of Greenland Park, Quebec, BriseBois, 41, had served as Tampa’s Assistant General Manager under Yzerman since the 2010-11 season after previously working for the Montreal Canadiens as their Vice President of Hockey Operations. He also had been the General Manager of the Syracuse Crunch– Tampa’s current AHL affiliate– during his role under Yzerman.

Rumors have swirled before that the Detroit Red Wings are looking to shake up their front office during their ongoing rebuild, but the earliest the Red Wings could begin to interview Yzerman– should he be interested– wouldn’t be until his contract runs out with Tampa. Additionally, current Detroit GM Ken Holland, 62, signed a two-year extension last season through the end of 2019-20.

That’s right about the time the prospective expansion team in Seattle would be courting potential candidates for their General Manager position too.

For now, let the speculation run wild if you must, but The Athletic‘s Craig Custance has already laid out all the facts.

Yzerman’s tenure with the Lightning will go down as a memorable one– including a 2015 Stanley Cup Final appearance– despite not winning a Cup.

On a roster that already included Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman, Yzerman added players like Ryan Callahan in the Martin St. Louis trade with the New York Rangers, J.T. Miller and Ryan McDonagh in the Vladislav Namestnikov deal with New York and Mikhail Sergachev from the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for Jonathan Drouin over the years while drafting Nikita Kucherov in 2011 and Andrei Vasilevskiy in 2012.

He also was responsible for signing an undrafted Tyler Johnson in 2011.

Tampa had a 340-222-60 record with Yzerman as their General Manager (2010-18). During that time, the Lightning’s best season record (54-23-5, 113 points) in franchise history was just last season (2017-18).

2018 Offseason Preview: Tampa Bay Lightning

Our offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams continues with the Tampa Bay Lightning and their outlook for the summer.

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General Manager Steve Yzerman added Mikhail Sergachev at the expense of Jonathan Drouin last June in a trade with the Montreal Canadiens, added some veteran leadership in four-time Stanley Cup champion, Chris Kunitz, and the Tampa Bay Lightning never looked back*.

*In the regular season, that is. The fun came to a halt in Game 7 of the 2018 Eastern Conference Final.

Jon Cooper out-coached the entire Eastern Conference in the regular season, leading his Lightning club to 1st place in the Atlantic Division with 113 points on the season and a 54-23-5 record.

The Bolts cruised through the New Jersey Devils in five games in the First Round, then lost Game 1 against the Boston Bruins in the Second Round. Tampa didn’t let another game slip away, winning four straight to eliminate the Bruins and advance to their third Eastern Conference Finals appearance in four years.

But then the Lightning caught up with the Washington Capitals and the Caps stole their thunder.

Washington won Games 1 and 2, Tampa stormed back for Games 3, 4 and 5. Braden Holtby and the Capitals settled in for Game 6 and Steven Stamkos still has yet to produce a point in a Game 7 after the Lightning were shut out 4-0 on home ice.

Just like that, one of the best teams in the NHL was eliminated.

For all of Yzerman’s magic, Tampa has only been to the Stanley Cup Final once, in 2015.

2018 NHL Entry Draft

Speaking of Yzerman’s magic, the Lightning GM acquired J.T. Miller and Ryan McDonagh from the New York Rangers in exchange for Libor Hajek, Brett Howden, Vladislav Namestnikov, a 2018 first round pick (28th overall) and a conditional 2019 second round pick.

If you thought Don Sweeney and the Boston Bruins overpaid for the services of Rick Nash, well….

Miller is a pending-RFA and the numbers– barring any trades– don’t look good at the forward sticking around long-term. But let’s ignore that trade for a second and focus more on the fact that Tampa doesn’t have a first round pick in Friday’s first round of the 2018 Draft.

Only time will tell if the Bolts find a way into the top-31 picks.

In defense of Tampa and Boston, sometimes these trades work out and are the difference maker between an exciting Stanley Cup champions DVD or not and sometimes they don’t pan out at all.

Pending free agents

Yzerman and Tampa’s front office staff have about $7.210 million to spend this summer with a mixture of talent and skill levels to re-sign.

Andy Andreoff, 27, was recently acquired from the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for backup goaltender Peter Budaj, which all but assures one of the pending free agents will be replaced heading into 2018-19.

In an evolving game where the emphasis on youth, speed and skill is more than ever before, logic indicates that 38-year-old, Chris Kunitz, will be on his way out the door, despite his 13-16–29 totals in 82 games.

For all that Kunitz did in the regular season, however, he only had one assist in 17 games this postseason.

Tampa has three pending-RFA forwards to re-sign this offseason in Adam Erne, J.T. Miller and Cedric Paquette.

Erne, 23, had three goals and one assist (four points) in 23 games with the Lightning this season and 6-1–7 totals in 49 career NHL games. Tampa’s 33rd overall pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft has yet to see full-time status at the NHL level and shouldn’t need a raise if Yzerman is set on keeping him around as a bottom-6 forward.

Miller, 25, is a little more complicated.

The durable forward had a $2.750 million cap hit on his most recent contract– a two-year extension signed with the Rangers– and 23-35–58 totals in 82 games with Tampa and New York this season, setting career-highs in goals, assists and points.

He’s going to need a bigger piece of the salary cap pie, having reached the 50-point plateau for the second time in his career and fourth season in-a-row of 40-points or more.

Unless the Lightning can convince Ryan Callahan to waive his modified no-trade-clause/no-movement-clause and dump his $5.800 million cap hit, there’s not a lot of wiggle room.

Yzerman’s roster is filled with NTCs, NMCs and modified versions of the two. It’s not as bad as the Detroit Red Wings, as most players with the aforementioned clauses in Tampa have one-year remaining on their contract and, again, a modified version of a no-trade clause (in which the player lists teams he can/cannot be traded to).

Tyler Johnson, in the meantime, is only 27, has a $5.000 million cap hit through the 2023-24 season and a no-trade-clause that doesn’t go into affect until July 1st.

If desperate times call for desperate measures any Johnson transaction would be a clear measure of Yzerman’s skill as a GM. The return wouldn’t be as much of a home run as Sergachev was for Drouin, but Yzerman would have to find a way to get it there.

Finally, the 24-year-old fourth line center in Cedric Paquette is due for a new deal.

Since amassing 19 points in 64 games in 2014-15 with Tampa, Paquette’s production has faltered to just five goals and four assists (nine points) in 56 games this season.

Anything more than a million dollars and longer than three years could come back to bite the Bolts, if they offer an extension.

27-year-old Andrej Sustr might have been bumped out of the Lightning’s top-6 defenders, considering he only played in 44 regular season games and appeared in zero postseason games.

Sustr’s next best deal is going to come from another team after spending the last six seasons in Tampa.

Slater Koekkoek, 24, had four goals and four assists (eight points) in 35 games with the Lightning this season, but was held out of postseason play. The pending-RFA should see another go around with the Bolts, especially if Yzerman pulls of a trade, but stranger things have happened and Koekkoek could end up looking elsewhere for employment.

In goal, the Lightning have 23-year-old starter, Andrei Vasilevskiy locked up for two more years at a $3.500 million cap hit. After that, they’re looking for one of their AHL guys to step into the backup role or searching the market.

Buyouts on the books: Matthew Carle at $1.833 million through the 2019-20 season.

Other pending free agents throughout the organization include:

Alex Gallant (RFA), Erik Condra (UFA), Jamie McBain (UFA), Louis Domingue (RFA), Matthew Peca (UFA), Mat Bodie (UFA)

Vasilevskiy makes ECF a best-of-three series

 

By winning Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals 4-2 at Capital One Arena, the Tampa Bay Lightning have reclaimed home-ice advantage from the Washington Capitals by leveling the series at two victories apiece.

With Washington out-shooting the visiting Lightning 38-20, no Bolt deserves more credit for the victory than First Star of the Game G Andrei Vasilevskiy. After allowing the first goal of the game to D Dmitry Orlov (F T.J. Oshie and D Matt Niskanen) only 4:28 into the contest, Vasilevskiy proceeded to post a 36-for-38 effort (.947 save percentage) despite facing no fewer than nine shots against per frame. In particular, Vasilevskiy stood extremely tall when taking on Washington’s four power plays, as he saved all nine shots faced while his club was shorthanded.

Meanwhile, G Braden Holtby only wishes his play looked anywhere near as good as Vasilevskiy’s. His 16-for-19 performance (.842 save percentage) was borderline disastrous, especially given the incredible help his offense was providing him.

Wait, offense?

Yes, it was not the Capitals’ defense, but their offense that truly kept Holtby’s workload light. Not only did they more than double Tampa’s shots on goal in both the first and second periods (15-7 and 14-6, respectively), but the Caps also held extended possessions in their offensive zone. Pair that with Oshie’s two takeaways and W Devante Smith-Pelly‘s six hits, and you find a team that made life so easy on its goaltender that he just might have grown complacent.

That’s not to say the goals he allowed were soft. In fact, it was quite the opposite.

Take for example Second Star F Brayden Point‘s (F Yanni Gourde and F Tyler Johnson) tic-tac-goal only 1:10 after Orlov’s that tied the game at one-all. Holtby was forced to shade towards his left post when he saw Gourde – who scored 25 goals this season, the fourth-most among all rookies – all by himself inside the near face-off circle, but some deft passing across the slot to Point was all the second line needed to take advantage of a sloppy pass by D Michal Kempny.

Similarly, it’s hard to blame Holtby for his second goal allowed in the first period, registered only 2:54 after Point’s. This time, he was tasked with keeping Tampa’s lethal power play off the scoreboard thanks to C Lars Eller‘s holding penalty against RW Nikita Kucherov 1:05 before.

A power play that had scored at least once in eight previous contests is obviously in a groove, and that groove continued at the 8:32 mark of the game when C Steven Stamkos (Point and F J.T. Miller) set the score at 2-1 with a one-timer from the slot.

For those keeping track at home, the Lightning now sport a 30.8 percent power play conversion rate that is tops among the four teams still competing for the Stanley Cup, trailing only Boston – their opponent in the previous round – for the mark of best power play in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Though the score never changed, the remaining 11:28 of the first period was far from uneventful. However, the previously mentioned shots on goal were not the only activity as even the missed shots drew many a Capitals fan to his or her feet. In particular, W Alex Ovechkin had more than his fair share of salivating shots on net – both in this frame as well as the entire game – but many of those whizzed past the wrong side of the post and harmlessly crashed into the endboards.

Just when it seemed like Vasilevskiy was going to be unbreakable for the remainder of the tilt, Third Star F Evgeny Kuznetsov (Ovechkin and RW Tom Wilson) sprung hope anew in Washington with his wrist shot 5:18 into the second period.

With the exception of Kuznetsov’s path taking him along the left boards instead of between the face-off circles, this goal was eerily reminiscent of the marker that eliminated Pittsburgh from the playoffs for the first time since April 2015. A long pass from Ovechkin sprung his countryman for a breakaway opportunity against the goaltender (who, by happenstance, is also a fellow Russian), who he beat five-hole.

Thanks to some incredible defense played by both clubs (RW Ryan Callahan matched Smith-Pelly’s six hits and D Ryan McDonagh blocked a game-high four shots), that 2-2 tie lasted 26:39 before Tampa third-liner F Alex Killorn (W Ondrej Palat and D Mikhail Sergachev) provided the game-winning goal.

Struck six seconds after Eller was released from the penalty box (his second foul of the night, this time for hooking the eventual goalscorer), Killorn showed some impressive puck-handling skills inside the crease to convert a forehanded shot that would likely be stopped by Holtby’s left leg into a backhand that sneaked between the netminder’s wickets.

With 2:09 remaining in regulation, Head Coach Barry Trotz was forced to pull his goaltender for the second consecutive game. Tampa Bay was unable to convert on the empty net in Game 3, but rookie C Anthony Cirelli bested that effort with 62 seconds remaining to cement the Bolts’ series-evening victory.

Now that they’ve given up the home-ice advantage they worked so desperately to win in Florida, the Capitals must now find a way to win at least one more game at Amalie Arena. A good first step towards doing that – especially for Eller – will be to avoid the penalty box, as the Caps’ 73.7 percent successful penalty kill is the worst remaining in the playoffs.

Saturday is the day for the Eastern Conference Finals’ all-important Game 5. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:15 p.m. Eastern (right after the Preakness Stakes) and may be viewed on CBC, NBC and TVAS.

Victor’s Bolts “Heded” in right direction after Game 3 win

 

On a dark and stormy night in the District of Columbia, the Tampa Bay Lightning pulled off the Eastern Conference Finals’ third-straight road victory by beating the Washington Capitals 4-2 at Capital One Arena in Game 3.

Just like Game 2 was all about the Capitals’ offense, the same can be said about Tampa’s in Game 3. In particular, the Bolts’ power play was cruising early, as it provided two of Tampa’s goals en route to a 3-0 advantage.

Taking advantage of G Braden Holtby‘s trip against F Yanni Gourde (RW Alex Chiasson served the penalty) with 7:03 remaining in the first period, C Steven Stamkos (Second Star of the Game D Victor Hedman and F Brayden Point) ripped a Little Einsteins (Americans with the privilege of hearing Pierre McGuire’s analysis should know what I’m talking about) slap shot past Holtby to give Tampa the lead only 56 seconds after Chiasson took his seat.

Considering the score only read 1-0 in the first intermission, Washington seemed like it had kept things under control in the opening 20 minutes. After all, the Capitals fired a game-high 14 shots on goal in the first period – all of which were saved by First Star G Andrei Vasilevskiy.

However, that hypothesis was torn to shreds only 1:50 into the second frame, thanks in large part to C Lars Eller‘s unwise penalty for closing his hand on the puck. After only 16 seconds of five-on-four play later, Third Star RW Nikita Kucherov (Hedman and Stamkos) set the Bolts’ lead at 2-0 with a clapper from the right face-off dot.

An easy snap shot is all Hedman (Kucherov and W Ondrej Palat) needed to find his first goal of the 2018 postseason. With Holtby shading towards Kucherov in the right face-off circle, a quick pass allowed Hedman to capitalize on the gaping net and set the score at 3-0 only 1:47 after the Bolts’ first brace.

Keeping the offense going, Washington finally got on the board with 9:29 remaining in the second period. Taking advantage of Hedman’s failed clear, F Chandler Stephenson dished to W Brett Connolly (Stephenson and D Matt Niskanen) to set him up for a solid one-touch snap shot that beat Vasilevskiy stick side.

However, any positive energy caused by that goal was quickly nullified 5:32 later when Point (F Tyler Johnson and D Braydon Coburn) squeaked a wrist shot past Holtby’s right pad to set the score at 4-1.

With the Caps entering the third period trailing by three goals, logic would lead us to believe they would be firing as many shots on goal as possible to try and shrink that gap. Unfortunately for them, Tampa’s defense was not interested in the slightest in allowing many scoring opportunities.

Due in large part to Tampa Bay’s 18 blocks over the course of the entire game, Washington managed only 13 shots on goal in the final 20 minutes. D Ryan McDonagh played a large role in that effort with his game-high four blocks in the match.

Of course, the Lightning’s solid defense was at its best during five-on-five play. Once Head Coach Barry Trotz upped the ante a bit by pulling Holtby for the extra attacker, the playoff’s best offense finally found its second goal of the game when F Evgeny Kuznetsov (F T.J. Oshie and Eller) scored a wrister with 3:02 remaining in regulation. However, the 4-2 score held until the end of the contest, securing the Bolts’ first Conference Finals victory since May 22, 2016.

The biggest takeaway from this game is that the Tampa Bay team that many pegged to win the Stanley Cup last summer is still well and alive in this tournament. The Lightning’s offense finally found its footing against Holtby and Washington’s defense, and it was paired by a solid defense that stood tall when the Caps’ offense put the pedal to the metal. If Tampa is allowed to dominate Game 4 like it did Game 3, the Capitals will spoil their solid work at Amalie Arena just like Columbus did against them in the First Round.

Speaking of that Game 4, the Bolts’ opportunity to level the Eastern Finals at 2-2 is scheduled for Thursday at 8 p.m. Eastern. The contest will be broadcast on CBC, NBCSN, SN and TVAS.

Caps’ attack too much for Bolts; win Game 1 4-2

 

After a 4-2 victory at Amalie Arena over the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 1, home ice in the Eastern Conference Finals now belongs to the Washington Capitals.

Between the actual 2-0 score and the fact that the Caps led 9-2 in shots on goal, we get a rather accurate impression of how the first 20 minutes went down.

The Caps almost exclusively dominated possession from the opening draw to the first TV timeout. They might have managed only two shots on goal in that time (which still exceeded Tampa’s zero), but the fact that they kept the puck in their offensive zone did a lot to wear out the Bolts’ defensemen early.

That pressure paid off in spades at the 7:28 mark when Washington drew first blood in the Eastern Finals. D Michal Kempny (Second Star of the Game F Evgeny Kuznetsov and D John Carlson) did the dirty work with a wrist shot from the blue line, his first-ever North American postseason marker.

Of course, the best weapon against possession is a stellar counterattack. RW Nikita Kucherov and the Lightning though they had done just that with seven seconds remaining before the first intermission, but it was ruled Tampa Bay had too many men on the ice, negating the goal and awarding a power play to Washington.

Entering the game with the best power play in the postseason (converting 30.9 percent of man-advantages into goals), the Caps completed their stellar command of the first frame by burying a man-advantage tally with only six seconds remaining in the frame.

Who else to score that power play goal than First Star W Alex Ovechkin (Kuznetsov and F T.J. Oshie)? Almost unexpectedly, Ovechkin departed from his usual spot in the left face-off circle and scored his patented one-touch slap shot from the blue line on a set play from Oshie’s face-off victory.

Washington picked up right where it left off 2:40 into the second period. Third Star F Jay Beagle (W Brett Connolly and D Dmitry Orlov) beat G Andrei Vasilevskiy five-hole from the slot, receiving an unintentional assist from D Braydon Coburn after Connolly’s centering pass bounced off his skate.

4:02 later, the score read 4-0 when C Lars Eller (Oshie and Ovechkin) converted a Kucherov roughing penalty into yet another power play goal – Washington’s final tally of the game.

What started as a 2-0 shot differential early in the first period became a 25-10 domination by the second intermission. It could be argued that LW Jakub Vrana‘s game-high five shots on goal is a major part of that, but I would instead point to Oshie’s two takeaways over the course of the game, as well as both Kucherov and FJ.T. Miller yielding two giveaways by the end of regulation.

Additionally, Washington was also excellent at blocking shots, as it managed 19 before retreating to its hotel that evening. Co-led by Carlson and D Matt Niskanen‘s three blocks apiece, the Caps’ blue line was a major reason for Tampa’s struggle to establish anything close to an offensive presence in the opening 40 minutes.

However, all that turned on its head in the third period when Head Coach Jon Cooper elected to bench Vasilevskiy, who saved 21-of-25 shots faced for a .84 save percentage, in favor of G Louis Domingue.

While Vasilevskiy could have certainly been better in this game, he didn’t give up any blatantly soft goals (looking at you, G Pekka Rinne). Instead, his benching was intended to be a message for his team, and the Lightning certainly responded just as Cooper wished.

It took 43:45 of play and RW Alex Chiasson sitting in the penalty box for slashing F Alex Killorn, but Tampa Bay finally got on the scoreboard when C Steven Stamkos (Kucherov and D Victor Hedman) did his best Ovechkin impression and scored a clapper from the left face-off circle, pulling the score to 4-1.

That was certainly more than enough to get the positive energy surging in the arena. Tampa out-shot the Capitals 11-7 in the third period, proving just how much of the game was  played in its attacking zone.

Keeping hope alive, another goal trickled by with 6:57 remaining in regulation when W Ondrej Palat (F Tyler Johnson and D Anton Stralman) beat G Braden Holtby short side with a wrister from the slot.

However, hope ran short in that remaining time due in large part to the solid effort of Holtby. Though it wasn’t his best game of the season, Holtby posed an imposing challenge even after the Bolts pulled Domingue for the extra attacker. In all, he saved his last four shots faced in the game, posting an 19-for-21 (.905 save percentage) overall performance.

If the Lightning learned one thing from this game, it is that they cannot continue committing penalties like they have been in these playoffs. Washington’s power play, which converted 50 percent tonight, is just too potent for the Bolts to continue serving the 14:41 penalty minutes per game that they’ve managed through the first two rounds.

Tampa’s first opportunity to resolve that issue is in Game 2, which is right back at Amalie Arena and scheduled for 8 p.m. Eastern this Sunday. Fans unable to make it to Western Florida can catch the live broadcasts on CBC, NBCSN, SN and TVAS.

Lightning does strike twice: Bolts beat B’s 4-1 in Game 3

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The Tampa Bay Lightning took home a 4-1 victory in Game 3 over the Boston Bruins, leading the series 2-1 on Wednesday night at TD Garden.

Andrei Vasilevskiy had 28 saves on 29 shots against for an astounding .966 save percentage in the win, while Boston’s Tuukka Rask made 33 saves on 36 shots faced for a .917 SV% in 58:17 time on ice in the loss.

Ondrej Palat almost had a natural hat trick almost halfway through the first period as he scored a pair of goals to give the Lightning a 2-0 lead before the Bruins responded on the scoreboard.

But first, a breakdown of Boston’s defensive breakdown(s).

Palat (3) scored his first of the night just 1:47 into Game 3 after Anton Stralman sent a flip dump into the offensive zone off of Bruins defender, Matt Grzelcyk. The puck bounced off the blueliner, landed on Tyler Johnson’s stick, who promptly sent a quick pass over to Palat for the one-timer that beat Rask and made it 1-0, Tampa.

Johnson (2) and Stralman (2) had the assists on Palat’s first goal.

Less than two minutes later, Victor Hedman fired a shot from the point that was going wide until Palat (4) redirected it past Rask to give the Bolts a two-goal lead, 3:19 into the first period. Hedman (3) and Dan Girardi (1) had the assists on the goal.

Boston’s Riley Nash took an interference penalty just past the six-minute mark of the period and the Bruins killed off the minor with no major issues.

B’s defender, Charlie McAvoy, then roughed up Anthony Cirelli about four minutes after Riley Nash interfered with Cirelli, and was sent to the penalty box. Palat almost notched a natural hat trick on the ensuing power play, but Rask somehow reached behind himself and swatted the puck out of the crease with his stick.

Finally, as the Bruins got some zone time in the attacking zone, Stralman tripped up 21-year-old Boston forward, Jake DeBrusk, and gave the Bruins their first power play of the night at 13:43 of the first period.

It didn’t take long for the home team to take advantage of the man advantage as the Bruins converted on the power play with a goal from Patrice Bergeron (4) just 29 seconds into the advantage.

Bergeron found a rebound off Vasilevskiy while the Lightning goaltender was largely down and out of the play and fired one home to cut the lead in half and get Boston on the scoreboard, 2-1.

David Pastrnak (14) and Rick Nash (2) were credited with the assists at 14:12.

A couple of minutes later, Cirelli (1) scored his first career Stanley Cup Playoff goal on a rebound given up by Rask while his fellow teammates gathered around and watched. The Bruins lackadaisical defense cost them another goal and Tampa’s mouth watered over a 3-1 lead.

Yanni Gourde (3) and Ryan McDonagh (5) had the assists on Cirelli’s goal at 16:43 of the first period.

After one period, the Lightning led, 3-1, on the scoreboard and in shots on goal (19-14). Tampa also had an advantage in takeaways (4-1) and giveaways (5-3), while Boston led in blocked shots (6-5) and hits (12-6). The Bolts were 0/2 on the power play and the Bruins were 1/1 after 20 minutes of play.

Torey Krug was guilty of holding Tampa’s Brayden Point, 11:58 into the second period, and the Lightning went on the power play. The Bolts were not able to convert on the advantage.

Late in the second period, David Backes charged Girardi, hitting him hard into the boards and sustaining a minor penalty as a result. Cedric Paquette worked his way in as the third-man in and swapped punches with Backes in the ensuing fisticuffs.

Backes racked up a minor for charging and a major for fighting, while Paquette got the ol’ 2 + 5 = 10 treatment (two minutes for instigating, five for fighting and a ten minute misconduct). The penalties came at 15:12 of the second period.

Less than a minute later, Brad Marchand slashed Stralman and would serve a minor penalty in the box.

Nikita Kucherov got away with a high-stick to Bruins captain, Zdeno Chara, and that was all the action that was written for the second period. Nobody scored, nobody converted on any power plays.

The Lightning were still in the lead, 3-1, after 40 minutes of play. Tampa had an advantage in shots on goal (30-22), blocked shots (13-11), takeaways (7-2) and giveaways (12-11), while Boston led in hits (21-14) and faceoff win percentage (51-49). The Bolts were 0/4 on the power play through two periods and the Bruins were still 1/1 from the first period.

A lackluster third period effort from both teams resulted in a decrease in overall offensive production as Boston continued to leave chances unfinished and the Lightning played keep away the rest of the time.

Bruins head coach, Bruce Cassidy, pulled his goaltender for an extra skater with 2:50 remaining in regulation in an attempt to jumpstart his offense, but Rask would quickly find his way back to the crease after Krug tripped up Cirelli at 18:31 of the third period.

After clearing their own zone, Rask vacated the net once again for Boston, leaving them fully exposed on the penalty kill, as Steven Stamkos (2) capitalized on the empty net power play goal at 19:18.

J.T. Miller (4) and Hedman (4) had the assists on the goal that put the game out of reach, 4-1.

Marchand received a misconduct shortly after Stamkos scored his first goal of the series (presumably for mouthing off to the ref, though misconducts don’t have to be explained) and the final horn sounded from a subdued TD Garden crowd.

Tampa had secured the 4-1 win in Game 3 and now leads the series, 2-1, heading into Game 4.

Through 60 minutes of action, the Bolts dominated in shots on goal (37-29), blocked shots (19-12), giveaways (17-14) and faceoff win percentage (54-46). Boston led in hits (36-26) and was 1/1 on the night on the man advantage. The Lightning were 1/5 on the power play on Wednesday.

Puck drop in Game 4 is set for a little after 7:00 p.m. ET on Friday night in Boston. Viewers in the United States can catch the action on NBCSN, while fans in Canada can tune to CBC or TVAS. Tampa looks to take a commanding 3-1 series lead with a win on Friday, heading home for Game 5 on Sunday.