J.T. Brown nearing return for Lightning
Much has been made about how much the Lightning miss injured top scorer Steven Stamkos and top-pairing defenseman Anton Stralman, and deservedly so.
But wing J.T. Brown's absence, while under the radar, has left a noticeable void. That's what makes it so encouraging for the Lightning to see Brown getting closer to a return.
Brown skated with the fourth line for his second straight full practice, and while there's no guarantee he plays in Friday's Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final, it appears he'll be back soon. Brown has been out since suffering an upper body injury in Game 2 of the first round series.
"He's a guy that has been forgotten on the injury department, but I'll tell you we missed him in the Islanders series," coach Jon Cooper said. "We're a quick club, and he just adds to that. But he's got the speed, the grit, the tenacity. And he's one of those guys, because there's players that put the puck in the net or do some different things, he doensn't much press. But you walk into thee lockeroom and ask the worth of J.T. Brown and how much he's meant to us. In our third playoffs together, he's been as important as any player. So the quicker we get him back, the better off we're going to be."
Cooper didn't say whether Brown would play Friday, but the other forwards who would have played in his place (Mike Blunden, Jonathan Marchessault) skated with the black aces after Thursday's practice. Brown had a career high eight goals and 22 points this season, his plus 16 was tied for third on the team.
"Brownie is one of those guys that he just runs through a wall for anyone," C Tyler Johnson said. "He's moving 100 miles an hour all the time. He's like a little Energizer Bunny, he just keeps guys going. (His return) is going to be a big boost for us."
Stralman also participateed in his second straight full team practice, and did more contact than we've seen him go through since his return to skating. It still looks like he may not be ready for Game 1.
Captain Steven Stamkos also skated, albeit still in his red non-contact jersey.
LAY OFF: The Lightning, realizing its struggles early in Game 1 of the Islanders series after a week layoff, say it has learned from that experience. Tampa Bay fell behind 3-1 to New York in the first period before losing 5-3.
Ben Bishop, who was pulled in that game, said the layoff didn't impact him.
"It was lucky goals I'd say," he said. "I wouldn't change anything going back. It doesn't really effect you this time of year, how many games you played, a little break is not going to kill you. We need to be more aware. Last game (against the Islanders) we didn't come out with the jump that we needed after winning the first series. So hopefully we have learned from that and have a little bit more awareness in that first 20 minutes."
The Lightning had back-to-back hour long practices Wednesday and Thursday, which should help.
"That first game against the Islanders we were a little bit on our heels," LW Alex Killorn said. "That experience will help. Practices were a little bit more intense in the last couple days to get us ready.' And it's the Eastern Conference Final. We're definitely going to be a little bit more ready, more prepared."
MURRAY TIME: While the Lightning would appear to have the edge in goal with Vezina Trophy finalist Ben Bishop, the Penguins have been boosted by 21-year-old Matt Murray, who has a 7-2 record and 2.05 goals against average. Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said he'd announce his starter Friday.
"He's on a roll," Bishop said of Murray. "It's one of those things when you're feeling it, you're feeling it. He's feeling it right now."