Thursday, January 18, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Lightning's Kristers Gudlevskis should start Game 3

MONTREAL — Desperate teams call for desperate measures.

And right now the Lightning is one desperate hockey team.

So here is the desperate measure:

Turn to another goalie. Turn to the kid. Turn to Kristers Gudlevskis.

Hey, it's worth a shot.

What's the worst that can happen? The Lightning loses again? That it has the exact same result as the past two games?

Have you watched the first two games? Nothing else is working. The Lightning is down 2-0 in this best-of-seven playoff series to the Canadiens, and time is quickly running out to salvage this series and this season.

Now the Lightning is off to Montreal, approaching the corner of Down and Just About Out. It will take two more losses to officially end the season, but the Lightning realistically has one game to make this a series and give it any hope.

So why not try something new? Why not try a new goalie?

Maybe going with Gudlevskis tonight in Game 3 would be a colossal mistake. He's only 21 years old. His playing experience in the NHL is about as long as an episode of Game of Thrones.

This could be the worst hockey idea since Fox's glowing puck.

But it just might be the only thing to snap the Lightning out of its funk and get it back in the series.

MVP goalie Ben Bishop is out with a bad elbow. He's practicing, but after watching him practice, the only way he will play is if the Canadiens agree to lob soft shots at him.

Backup-turned-playoff-starter Anders Lindback, who was brutal during the regular season until a strong finish, has been okay in this series. Just okay. He has given up eight goals in two games, but you can hardly blame him for the Lightning's 0-2 deficit.

"We win as a team, and we lose as a team, so we're not pointing fingers at anybody," Lightning associate coach Rick Bowness said. "We're not pointing our fingers at the goaltending at all."

Nor should they. Lindback hasn't done anything to lose the first two games. But here's the thing: He hasn't done much to win them, either. And frankly, you still don't get the feeling Lindback is capable of flat-out stealing a game for the Lightning.

Maybe Gudlevskis isn't capable of doing that, either. But then again, maybe he is.

Why would anyone think that? Well, Gudlevskis backstopped what was nearly the greatest upset in Olympic hockey history. Playing for Latvia in February in Sochi, Russia, he made 55 saves in a 2-1 loss to mighty Canada.

The Lightning is better than Latvia, and the Canadiens are not the Canadians. So why not give it a shot?

Gudlevskis took over for Lindback late in Game 2 and gave up a goal in the 4-1 loss.

"We were down 3-0," Lightning coach Jon Cooper explained. "There were 10 minutes left in the game. We needed something. … Sometimes you try to give your team a spark. And we needed something because it was dire straits at that point. I was hoping it would give us a lift."

That's why the Lightning should go to Gudlevskis tonight. It needs something. It needs a spark. It needs a lift.

"As a coach, sometimes you're grasping for straws at some point," Cooper said, "because you're trying to win a hockey game."

And that's why you reach for another straw now by reaching for another goalie.

I'd be surprised if Cooper actually makes such a bold move, and he insisted after Game 2 there was no goaltending controversy. But he had a chance to name Lindback as his starter for Game 3 and refused to do so.

"I don't think we're prepared to say that at any time," Cooper said about naming a starting goalie. "Lindback made some big-time saves for us. And to get the hook, it wasn't (for his) play. … We'll digest this and get back to work."

What's the downside of going with Gudlevskis?

Well, the move could blow up in Cooper's face. The kid could turn into a revolving door in an embarrassing loss. Then he would be forced to turn back to Lindback, who certainly wouldn't be brimming with confidence in a must-win Game 4. Not only that, but Lindback's psyche could be shaken well beyond these playoffs.

But what's the point here? Is it to win playoff games or boost the confidence of an otherwise backup goalie?

Ultimately, this isn't so much about Lindback as it is about the team needing a jolt.

Other than shuffling around the lines or trying some different matchups, there's not much Cooper can do to change the momentum of this series.

Sure, you can go to Montreal and hope things get better. But if you're ever going to go for broke and try something this daring, now is the time to do it. Waiting until you're down 3-0 is way too late.

Something must be done now. If the Lightning wants to win this series, it must win tonight.

Playing what amounts to a third-string minor-league goalie certainly would be a desperate move.

But in case you hadn't noticed, this is suddenly a desperate hockey team.

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