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Success of 'junkyard dog' power play not difficult to figure out, Cooper says

Ryan Callahan has two goals, six points and is plus-1 in 10 games with the Lightning.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Ryan Callahan has two goals, six points and is plus-1 in 10 games with the Lightning.

In its past seven games, the Lightning has gone 9-for-29 on the power play. The reasons are not that complicated, coach Jon Cooper said. Steven Stamkos is back from a broken right tibia and playing at a high level and the addition of Ryan Callahan, a player, Cooper said, who is "fearless" in front of the net.

An interesting take since the power play is now without one of its main facilitators, Marty St. Louis, who was sent to the Rangers in the deal for Callahan.

"It's weird," Cooper said. "We kind of traded a passer for a shooter, and it's made a huge difference. Not to say Marty wasn't a big part of our power play. But you put the shooter (Stamkos) in there, and you put a guy in there who is fearless in front fo the net and that equates to power-play goals. Honestly, it's almost that simple."

It is difficult not to notice the difference in stats between Callahan and St. Louis since the trade.

Callahan has two goals, six points and is plus-1 in 10 games. St. Louis has zero goals, three points in 12 games. …

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Video: Steven Stamkos' baseball-swing goal vs. the Senators

In case, you missed it, Lightning star Steven Stamkos scored with a baseball swing goal Monday against the Senators. The goal tied the game 3-3 and sent it into overtime. Tampa Bay eventually lost 4-3 in a shootout, but the play was the No. 2 play of the day on ESPN's SportsCenter and reminded everyone that Stamkos was a pretty good ballplayer back in Unionville, Ontario, playing shortstop and pitcher until he was about 14.

Stamkos was at the side of the net when teammate Ondrej Palat took a shot that deflected off the crossbar and into the air. Stamkos -- with 21 goals, including seven in 10 games since his return from a broken right tibia -- waited until the puck was beneath the crossbar, choked up and whacked it in.

"Right off the blade, choked up a little bit," Stamkos said. "Maybe those are the baseball instincts. When you choke up it gives you a better chance to make contact." …

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Kucherov, back in the lineup tonight, admits confidence is low

Rookie wing Nikita Kucherov has only two goals in his past 21 and zero in his past 14.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Rookie wing Nikita Kucherov has only two goals in his past 21 and zero in his past 14.

Lightning rookie wing Nikita Kucherov sat at his locker last week in Toronto and admitted his confidence was low. He had not scored in 14 games and was about to be scratched for a third straight game in a stretch that would reach five and seven of eight.

So instead of excitement, Kucherov showed reserve on Monday when talking about getting back into the lineup against the Senators.

"It's hard," he said about playing without confidence. "When you have the puck and don't have the confidence, it's hard to beat someone in this league. I'll do my best. We'll see what happens."

Kucherov, 20, got off to a great start when he was called up in November from AHL Syracuse with three goals in his first eight games. He had goals in three straight games from Jan. 1-5. But he has only two goals in his past 21 and zero in his past 14.

"He's 20," coach Jon Cooper said. "He's learning about the NHL. He's not disappointing me in the slightest. I'm really happy where he has been. I'm really happy where he's going. He's going to be a good player in this league." …

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Lightning signs college standout Cody Kunyk

The Lightning on Thursday signed center Cody Kunyk, a free agent out of the University of Alaska-Fairbanks. It is a one-year, two-way deal, meaning Kunyk will be a restricted free agent at the end of the season. He will be assigned to the Lightning, Tampa Bay assistant general manager Julien BriseBois said.

With 22 goals, 43 points and at plus-13 in 37 games, Kunyk, 5 feet 11, 197 pounds, who last summer attended the Lightning's prospect camp, was the WCHA player of the year.

"Strong skater," said Tom Kurvers, Tampa Bay's top college scout. "He's strong and balanced on his skates. He's got speed, he's got hockey sense, he can shoot the puck."

The one-year deal seems restrictive, but BriseBois said under the collective bargaining agreement, because Kunyk turns 24 this year, he can only be signed to a one-year deal. The contract could have started in July, BriseBois said, but it was clear in negotiations the Kunyk camp wanted it to begin immediately.

Here is the announcement from the team:

The Tampa Bay Lightning have signed free agent forward Cody Kunyk to a one year, two-way NHL contract, vice president and general manager Steve Yzerman announced today. …

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Video: Alex Killorn's hit on Toronto's Paul Ranger

Maple Leafs defenseman Paul Ranger was taken off the ice on a stretcher and taken to a Toronto hospital as a precaution after this hit from Tampa Bay forward Alex Killorn. The Leafs reported Ranger, who played for the Lightning from 2005-10, was "stable, conscious and alert." Killorn received a five-minute boarding major and a game misconduct for the hit that came with 4.1 seconds left in the first period. There will be no supplemental discipline from the league.

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Lightning vs. Maple Leafs tonight almost like a playoff game

Lightning right wing J.T. Brown battles Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Cody Franson (4) while getting checked during a game earlier this season in Tampa.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Lightning right wing J.T. Brown battles Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Cody Franson (4) while getting checked during a game earlier this season in Tampa.

The Lightning still has 14 games left in the regular season but coach Jon Cooper and his players said tonight's matchup with the Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre is almost like a playoff game.

"Neck and neck in the standings, we're getting down to almost single digits in games and we haven't beaten these guys yet," Cooper said.

Oh, and by the way, there is a chance Tampa Bay (separated by one point in the Atlantic Division) could meet in the first round of the playoffs. For the Lightning, establishing it can win in Toronto, where it has lost four straight (including one in overtime) while being outscored 17-9 is important.

"You don't want to look too far ahead," Cooper said, "but we could be playing each other. It's a time when points are paramount, so you just have to keep munching them."

The Lightning has been doing just that, lately, with three straight wins, the first time it has done that since Jan. 19-25. It hasn't won four straight since Dec. 17-23. But as Cooper said, "I like the way we're playing." …

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Will homestand be good or great? Tonight's game the key, coach Jon Cooper says

Ben Bishop will start in net for the Lightning tonight against the Canucks.

DANIEL WALLACE | Times

Ben Bishop will start in net for the Lightning tonight against the Canucks.

The Lightning's six-game homestand comes to an end with tonight's game with the Canucks. At 2-1-2 so far and points in four straight, coach Jon Cooper called the homestand "good."

A win tonight, he added, makes it great: "We can turn a good homestand into a great homestand."

An added element is the recognition tonight of the 10-year anniversary of the Lightning's 2004 Stanley Cup championship. It is being held tonight with the Canucks in town so 2003-04 Lightning coach John Torotrella, now Vancouver's bench boss, could attend along with 14 other members of that team.

"They'll be good energy in the building with all the old players coming back and the fiery coach that led the tropps 10 years ago," Cooper said. "I think it's pretty cool this whole thing that's going on, so for us to finish the homestand with a win in front of everybody here, that'd be great."

Tampa Bay, on a 5-8-2 streak, has two straight wins and hasn't won three straight since Jan. 19-25. The key in the team's improvement has been a calmer mind-set, Cooper said. …

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Johnson closing in on Stamkos' team rookie goals record

With 21 goals, Lightning center Tyler Johnson is just two away from tying Steven Stamkos' rookie team record of 23 set in 2008-09.

Johnson, 23, has been a horse lately with four goals and five points in a five-game points streak. Two of those goals were shorthanded. His four shorties are tied for the league lead.

But it was his proximity to Stamkos' record that drew the most attention heading into tonight's game with the Devils.

"I don't really think about it at all," Johnson said. "I'm just trying to help the team out and have as good a year as I possibly can."

Johnson, with 21 goals, 42 points and at plus-16 in 66 games, is having the kind of year that might get him some consideration for rookie of the year. His speed is a huge asset as is his ability to think the game and react quickly.

"He's gotten better as the season has gone on," Stamkos said. "He's a smart player, utilizes his speed. He's been great for us in all aspects of the game."

In a sense, Stamkos' absence for four months because of a broken right tibia contributed to some of Johnson's production.

"It forced (Johnson) into some situations he might not have played in," Cooper said. …

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Tonight's game vs. Florida 'pretty pivotal,' coach Cooper says

"We're running out of games," Jon Cooper said. "Now, all of a sudden we have games in hand, and this is a game in hand."

DIRK SHADD | Times

"We're running out of games," Jon Cooper said. "Now, all of a sudden we have games in hand, and this is a game in hand."

With just 17 games left in the regular season and Tampa Bay just four points ahead of the ninth team in the Eastern Conference -- the top eight make the playoffs -- Lightning coach Jon Cooper said tonight's game against the Panthers is "pretty pivotal."

"We're running out of games," Cooper said. "Now, all of a sudden we have games in hand, and this is a game in hand."

It also is against a Panthers team that is on a 3-10-0 streak, has allowed 116 road goals, worst in the East and has the worst power play and penalty kill in the league. Tampa Bay is not doing much better at the moment. The Lightning is on a 3-8-2 streak and is on a 3-for-37 streak on the power play, 1-for-16 in its past seven home games.

That is why Cooper said, "You can put a junior team up to play us now and we definitely wouldn't overlook it. That's definitely not an issue."

The issue for Cooper has been some loose play in the defensive zone. Tampa Bay has allowed an average 3.3 goals during its skid. For the season it has allowed an average 2.6. …

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Video: Lightning players cut their hair for a cause

Tampa Bay Lightning players and staff got their heads shaved Wednesday to raise funds for the Pediatric Cancer Foundation as part of the 5th annual Bright House Networks Cut for a Cure Charity Challenge.

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Video: After 2 years, Lightning D Mark Barberio cuts his hair

On Jan. 19, Lightning rookie defenseman Mark Barberio scored two goals in Tampa Bay's victory over the Hurricanes. After the game he revealed he told his teammates that he would cut his hair when he scored his first NHL goal.

It took three months, but Barberio finally did the deed as part of the Lightning's Cut For A Cure event at the Tampa Bay Times Forum in which several Lightning players and staff had their hair cut. Barberio's hair also was donated to Locks of Love, an organization that uses donated hair to create hair prosthetics for children who have lost their hair for any medical reason. The minimum length of hair needed to make a donation is 10 inches. Barberio said that was his length.

"A lot lighter," was how Barberio described how he felt after his hair was cut. "It's two years of my life without cutting my hair, to buzz it off in one shot was a little nervous," Barberio said. "But to do it for a good cause it's great."

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Marty St. Louis banner removed from Forum plaza

The bare wall that previously held the Marty St. Louis banner.

DIRK SHADD | Times

The bare wall that previously held the Marty St. Louis banner.

The giant Marty St. Louis banner was removed from the Tampa Bay Times Forum plaza today.

What would you put up in its place?

St. Louis, perhaps the greatest player in Lightning history and a Tampa Bay mainstay for 13 seasons, was traded to the New York Rangers last week at his request for Ryan Callahan, a first-round pick in 2015 and a second-round choice in 2014.

To the right of the vacant spot on the wall is a banner depicting Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman.

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Lightning owner Jeff Vinik to teach Hockey 101, public invited

Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, as part of the Lightning's celebration of the 10th anniversary of its Stanley Cup victory, will teach at Hockey 101 seminar Sunday at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

The seminar is part of the Sunday With Stanley event that begins at 11 a.m at Thunder Alley (west plaza). It is free an open to the public.

Members of the 2004 Stanley Cup team will begin greeting fans at 11:30. Doors to the Times Forum will open at noon. There will be autograph and photo opportunities with the Stanley Cup.

Vinik's Hockey 101 seminar will begin at 1 p.m. He will be joined by former Lightning captain Dave Andreychuk.

"We have a great weekend planned for our fans and I'm excited for the opportunity to personally lead a Hockey 101 seminar for those interested in learning more about the game," Vinik said in a release. "I love the game of hockey and I want more fans in the Tampa Bay area to share our love of this terrific sport."

A replay of the Lightning's Game 7 Cup win over the Flames will be shown at about 3 p.m. There also will be an open skate until 5 p.m. Two father/son clinics will be offered, beginning at 5:15 p.m.

To RSVP for the skate and clinics, go to tampabaylightning.com. …

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Lightning to honor Andreychuk with a statue

Soon, Phil Esposito's statue won't be the only one in front of the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

The Lightning announced Monday that it will honor former captain Dave Andreychuk with a statue on Ford Thunder Alley. They will unveil the statue in a pre-game ceremony at 6:30 p.m. before playing the Stars April 5. It will air live on CW44.

Andreychuk, now the team's vice president of corporate and community affairs, said he found out a couple months ago.

"Obviously it's a great honor," Andreychuk said. "I was overwhelmed."

The life-size bronze statue of Andreychuk will be located at the entrance to Ford Thunder Alley, just northeast of the intersection at Channelside Drive and Morgan Streets. The statue will depict Andreychuk hoisting the Stanley Cup over his head after the Lightning defeated the Calgary Flames in Game 7 during the 2004 finals. The Andreychuk statue will stand 9-feet tall and weigh approximately 600 pounds. It is being created by Steven Dickey, the renowned artist and sculptor that designed the Phil Esposito statue which graces the entrance to the Times Forum.

Andreychuk said the statue "symbolizes a moment for us," and is "something that the whole community should be proud of." …

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Stamkos still working on timing

Lightning star Steven Stamkos didn't participate in today's morning skate, but there's no cause for concern. He's playing tonight against the Coyotes.

With Stamkos having played just two games since returning from a broken right tibia, he said he's going to work with the training staff on taking a day, or skate, off to manage the recovery. Along with Sunday's team off day, he's got some extra rest.

Though Stamkos has no points in his first two games back, he's been playing well, logging more than 21 minutes each game, and a combined six shots on goal. He's also won more than 65-percent of his faceoffs.

"It's going to come," Stamkos said. "I've just got to stick with it. As much as I wanted to be back where it was before the injury, it might take some time. I'm hoping to gradually build that up."

Coach Jon Cooper said he's not surprised Stamkos has been able to perform well despite having missed 45 games, but the biggest things he needs to improve are is timing and conditioning. …

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