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Jon Cooper: Thought of benching Ben Bishop is 'asinine to me'

If Rangers coach Alain Vigneault looked at reporters as if they had three heads Thursday when they asked about benching star goalie Henrik Lundqvist, Lightning coach Jon Cooper went a step farther Saturday when the thought of a goalie change was brought up.

"I'll look at you like you have five heads," Cooper said before his team flew to New York for Sunday's Game 5 of the Eastern Conference final. "How's that? No change."

Cooper said he has plenty of confidence in goalie Ben Bishop, who's given up five goals in back-to-back games for the first time since March 2011. Bishop's defensemen took much of the blame for the Rangers' offensive success, and Cooper said Bishop has passed every test in the playoffs so far.

"I understand your question," Cooper said of a potential change at goalie. "For someone to sit here and say, are we changing (in) goal? That is asinine to me."

In injury news, Cooper said defenseman Matt Carle is improving after leaving Game 3 with an undisclosed injury. Carle didn't play Friday and is officially listed as day to day, but Cooper didn't sound particularly optimistic that he'd be ready to return for Sunday's game.

"I guess there's always a chance," Cooper said. …

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Steve Yzerman finalist for GM of the Year

Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman is one of three finalists for General Manager of the Year, the league announced Friday.

Yzerman, 50, joins the Rangers Glen Sather and the Ducks’ Bob Murray. Yzerman in his sixth year with Tampa Bay, was also a finalist in 2010-11, the last time the Lightning reached the Eastern Conference Final. This season, the Lightning set franchise record for wins (50) and points (108).

The award, voted on by the league’s general managers and some selected media members, will be announced in Las Vegas June 23.

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Lightning, Rangers looking for more defense in Game 4

"There's not a whole lot of times (when) you give up five goals you're going to win the game..." defenseman Victor Hedman said. "We have to make sure we can't get sucked into thinking that we can score six every night.

DIRK SHADD | Times

"There's not a whole lot of times (when) you give up five goals you're going to win the game..." defenseman Victor Hedman said. "We have to make sure we can't get sucked into thinking that we can score six every night.

For a team that enters Game 4 with a 2-1 series lead, the Lightning and has put up six goals in back-to-back games, the Lightning spent a lot of time Friday morning talking about one major negative - the five goals it allowed Wednesday.

"There's not a whole lot of times (when) you give up five goals you're going to win the game..." defenseman Victor Hedman said. "We have to make sure we can't get sucked into thinking that we can score six every night. We have to focus on our net and make sure we take care of that. We know our offensive skills. We know we have power up front that's going to score goals. We have to focus on our own net and make sure that we play well on that end."

Lightning coach Jon Cooper said neither he nor New York coach Alain Vigneault expects to put up that much offense, especially in the playoffs, when scoring is at a premium. But both teams had scoring success in the regular season; they were two of the three teams in the league to average at least three goals per game. …

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With Matt Carle out, Mark Barberio to make playoff debut

With defenseman Matt Carle (undisclosed) out, Mark Barberio (8) could be the sixth or seventh defenseman.

DIRK SHADD | Times

With defenseman Matt Carle (undisclosed) out, Mark Barberio (8) could be the sixth or seventh defenseman.

At the end of Friday's morning skate, associate Rick Bowness approached defenseman Mark Barberio to give him the news: he'll make his playoff debut tonight in Game 4.

With defenseman Matt Carle (undisclosed) out, Barberio could be the sixth or seventh defenseman.

"He asked me if I was ready to go," Barberio said. "(Heck) yeah!"

Barberio, 25, hadn't played since the regular season finale April 11 against Boston. And while he's had experience of going long stretches without games - he played in just 52 this season - watching the first few rounds of the playoffs from the press box wasn't easy.

"It's tough, you want to play for sure," Barberio said. "But I understand we have a really good team, a lot of good players, the team has been doing well, been successful. I'm getting a chance, I want to help the team. Will be a bit nervous cause I'm jumping right into the third round of the playoffs. But it'll be fun. I'm really excited." …

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Rangers' Lundqvist: "I have to be better"

By the end of the second round, the Lightning had arguably the best goalie in the world, Montreal's MVP finalist Carey Price, taking the blame for a conference semifinal series loss.

And now, Tampa Bay's relentless offensive attack has overwhelmed another one of the league's greats, Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who has now allowed six goals in back-to-back games for just the second time in his 10-year career.

Lundqvist, who has been in the Conn Smythe Trophy conversation, has been human against Tampa Bay, boasting a 4.75 goals against average and .840 save percentage in six games this season.

"It’s really challenging for me the way they move the puck," Lundqvist said after the Lightning's 6-5 overtime win in Game 3. "The way they find open ice in the slot, and scoring chances right in front. I just need to dig deep here to try to be more consistent with my game plan. Try to challenge the shooter then they pass and sometimes you stay back. As a team, if we can be a little bit better, but also I have to be better. Honestly, you’re not going to win if I give up six goals." …

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Nikita Kucherov shows resiliency with Game 3 winner against Rangers

Nikita Kucherov, right, celebrates his game-winning goal with defenseman Nikita Nesterov.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Nikita Kucherov, right, celebrates his game-winning goal with defenseman Nikita Nesterov.

Before Nikita Kucherov was the hero of Wednesday night's 6-5 overtime win over the Rangers, the 21-year-old wing blamed himself for Game 3 of the Eastern Conference final getting to overtime in the first place.

Kucherov said he was in good position but failed to properly defend Dan Boyle, who poked a rebound past Ben Bishop to tie the game at 5 with 1:56 left in regulation.

"It was my mistake," Kucherov said. "I didn't see the puck. I should have probably boxed him out, but I didn't. I've got to learn from it."

If nothing else, he atoned for it.

He had a prime scoring chance three minutes into overtime when he streaked down the right side and cut to the middle, with two defenders closing on him. Earlier in the game, Kucherov had a similar chance but tried to beat the defensemen instead of shooting the puck.

Coach Jon Cooper reminded Kucherov that he doesn't have to get close to the goal to score.

"You have a phenomenal shot," Cooper said. "You can score from there."

So instead of advancing, Kucherov let a shot fly - right past Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist.

"Just trying to make a shot," Kucherov said. "Any shot in overtime is a good shot." …

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Marty St. Louis not worried about fan reception tonight

Martin St. Louis, right, and goalie Henrik Lundqvist react after the Lightning's Tyler Johnson scored a shorthanded goal following a St. Louis turnover early in Game 2.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Martin St. Louis, right, and goalie Henrik Lundqvist react after the Lightning's Tyler Johnson scored a shorthanded goal following a St. Louis turnover early in Game 2.

Former Lightning captain Marty St. Louis said he doesn't know what kind of reaction he'll get from fans at Amalie Arena tonight when he comes out for Game 3 of the Eastern Conference final as a member of the Rangers.

And he's not worried about it, either.

"It's always special, you know, coming here, obviously with my time here," St. Louis said after Wednesday's morning skate. "But right now my focus is not so much my time here. It's really, how do we get past these guys? This building is going to be loud. They feed off those fans. We need a good start and to keep pushing."

St. Louis had two assists in Game 2 but still hasn't scored during this playoff run for New York. He was booed in November when he returned to Tampa, where he played 13 year before asking to be traded.

St. Louis had good things to say about Lightning center Tyler Johnson, a fellow undersized, overlooked forward who developed into an NHL star.

"You can tell he's got great abilities - his speed, his shot, his mind for the game," St. Louis said. "He's a driven kid. He's had a great year, and he's had a good playoffs. We've got to find a way to make it hard on him." 

 

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Steven Stamkos feeling comfortable at wing

Steven Stamkos has found some success since getting moved over to right wing during last series against Montreal, racking up three goals and four points in four games since.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Steven Stamkos has found some success since getting moved over to right wing during last series against Montreal, racking up three goals and four points in four games since.

Lightning captain Steven Stamkos has played center his entire life, and is one of the best in the league.

But Stamkos has found some success since getting moved over to right wing during last series against Montreal, racking up three goals and four points in four games since. Stamkos didn't attribute the scoring surge to the position switch, but said giving an opponent a different look can sometimes help.

"I think I'm pretty comfortable playing (wing)," Stamkos said. "I like to think I can play both positions. There's a little more board battle, a little more being smarter with the puck not trying to force things in the middle, sometimes the boards and the glass are your friend, especially in the d-zone, kind of learned that the hard way in Game 1."

Coach Jon Cooper said he likes Stamkos at both center and wing, but felt this move would help free him up and save his legs. …

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Brian Boyle 'pretty emotional' after birth of first child

Brian Boyle flew back after Monday night's Game 2 in New York to be there when his wife, Lauren, delivered a nine-pound baby boy, Declan Gabriel Boyle around 11 a.m.

AP photo

Brian Boyle flew back after Monday night's Game 2 in New York to be there when his wife, Lauren, delivered a nine-pound baby boy, Declan Gabriel Boyle around 11 a.m.

Lightning veteran center Brian Boyle was all smiles Wednesday morning, shaking many hands in celebrating Tuesday's birth of his first child.

Boyle flew back after Monday night's Game 2 in New York to be there when his wife, Lauren, delivered a nine-pound baby boy, Declan Gabriel Boyle around 11 a.m.

"I've never been that scared and happy at the same time," Boyle said.

It was a whirlwind for Boyle, who got back around 2 a.m, took a nap and went to the hospital. He said Lauren is pretty sore after the c-section, but is doing well. Boyle, one of 12 children raised in Hingham, Mass, said it was a "strong Irish name," with some meaning.

"When we first heard him, it was pretty emotional," Boyle said. "When I first saw him, I was petrified I guess, I was in charge of this human. It was just joy, holding him, being around him. When he sneezed it was the cutuest thing I've ever seen. It was cool."

The couple was married last July, after the Rangers extended playoff run to the Stanley Cup Final, with Boyle signing with Tampa Bay on July 1st. …

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Brian Boyle returns to ice, but status hasn't changed

Lightning center Brian Boyle on the ice before a 2014 game against the New York Rangers in Tampa.

[Associated Press (2014)]

Lightning center Brian Boyle on the ice before a 2014 game against the New York Rangers in Tampa.

Veteran Lightning center Brian Boyle participated in Monday's optional morning skate at Madison Square Garden, which would appear to be a sign of progress.

Boyle missed Saturday's Game 1 due to an undisclosed injury, and did not practice Sunday. Boyle skated Monday, including doing sprints, before consulting with head athletic trainer Tommy Mulligan.

But coach Jon Cooper didn't give any indication that Boyle would play tonight.

"The update is there is no update," Cooper said.

Boyle was not made available to the media, an "organizational decision," according to the Lightning. That would appear to be a violation of the Stanley Cup Playoff Media Regulation, which states that, "Upon conclusion of the on-ice portion of morning skates, all players are to be physically present and available in the main dressing room no later than five (5) minutes after leaving the ice surface for a minimum of 30 minutes and a maximum of 45 minutes, except for cases in which there are exceptional circumstances."

Boyle is a key cog on the Lightning penalty kill and a strong faceoff man.  He was missed in Saturday's Game 1 loss to the Rangers, though rookie center Vladislav Namestnikov played in his place. …

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Cooper: Game 1 tape made him "want to vomit"

Coach Jon Cooper said sometimes he watches film of a previous game, and realizes the team played better than he thought.

But Cooper had the opposite impression after looking at the Lightning's Game 1 loss to the Rangers.

"There's the times you think you played okay, and you watch the tape and you want to vomit," Cooper said. "And that was a little bit of how (Saturday) night went. For two periods, I thought we were a little better than we were until I watched the tape. The Rangers played extremely well, but we were stubbing our toe all night. So we were just handing them tickets to the movie, and we were a turnstile and watching them go by. We can't do that. We can't be giving pucks away, we can't be turning them over, we can't not make them go the 200 feet.

"We've got to be much better than we were. And I'm quite convinced we will."

D Anton Stralman said the Lightning was "night and day" worse than it's impressive performance in Game 6 victory over the Canadiens. Stralman said they didn't manage the puck well, and forecheck wasn't a factor.  …

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Cooper expects Ryan Callahan to play in Game 1

It looks like veteran wing Ryan Callahan will play in today's Game 1 against the Rangers.

DIRK SHADD | Times

It looks like veteran wing Ryan Callahan will play in today's Game 1 against the Rangers.

It looks like veteran wing Ryan Callahan will play in today's Game 1 against the Rangers.

Callahan's status had been in doubt since he underwent an emergency appendectomy Monday night, and missed Tuesday's Game 6 against the Canadiens. But Callahan has practiced the last two days, encouraged with how he's felt, and Cooper said he will be in warm-ups today.

"Pretty tough kid so I expect him to play," Cooper said.

In Rangers news, coach Alain Vigneault said Tanner Glass will play today.

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Cooper: Decision to play up to Callahan

Veteran wing Ryan Callahan skated for the second straight day, saying he continues to feel better after Monday's emergency appendectomy. 

Though Callahan didn't experience contact in the skate, he said he wasn't limited and participated in all drills, including being in on line rushes with Cedric Paquette and Jonathan Marchessault. He also took his regular spot on the second power play unit. Whether he plays in Saturday's Game 1 will depend on how he feels in the morning. 

"It's going to be about pain tolerance," coach Jon Cooper said. "Ultimately it's up to Ryan Callahan." 

Rangers coach Alain Vigneault is preparing as if Callahan, his former captain, will be in the lineup. 

"I would expect him to be there tomorrow," he said. "Knowing who he is." 

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St. Louis: Lightning just a team in the way

Marty St. Louis forced a trade to the Rangers at last year's deadline.

Getty Images

Marty St. Louis forced a trade to the Rangers at last year's deadline.

One of the biggest storylines heading into the Eastern Conference Final is former Lightning captain Marty St. Louis facing his old team. 

St. Louis, arguably the greatest player in franchise history, acknowledges there's history here, having forced a trade to the Rangers at last year's deadline. But St. Louis said he doesn't need any more motivation. 

"It's the conference finals, there should be a lot of fuel on the fire," St. Louis said after practice Friday. "There's been a lot of good players on that team since I've been there, but I know the history and everybody will make a big story out of it and rightfully so. But for me it's just a team standing in my way right now." 

St. Louis said he has a lot of close friends on Lightning, though noting the roster turnover, a lot are on the training staff.

"This is playoff hockey," St. Louis said. "We have the rest of our lives to be friends." 

St. Louis said he's moved on. Have the fans?

"I don't know," he said. "I can't worry about that right now." 

 

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Stralman on facing Rangers: "Knew it was going to happen"

Anton Stralman, the former Ranger, said he had a feeling there would be a fitting reunion in the Eastern Conference final.

AP photo

Anton Stralman, the former Ranger, said he had a feeling there would be a fitting reunion in the Eastern Conference final.

Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman didn't watch Wednesday's Game 7 between the Rangers and Capitals.

He didn't have to.

Stralman, the former Ranger, said he had a feeling there would be a fitting reunion in the Eastern Conference final, with the Lightning heading to New York for Saturday's Game 1. And the Rangers 4-3 win over the Capitals, capping off a comeback from a 3-1 series deficit, only made it official.

"Obviously it's been in the back of my mind the whole time," Stralman said. "Ever since the playoffs started, I just knew it was going to happen. I just felt it. It's ironic for sure."

Much will be made about former Lightning captain Marty St. Louis taking on Tampa Bay in this series. But this time last season, Stralman and center Brian Boyle were leading the Rangers on a playoff run to the Stanley Cup Final. For those two, plus former Rangers captain Ryan Callahan, acquired at last year's trade deadline, they're trying to take the emotions out of returning to Madison Square Garden. …

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