Saturday, February 24, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Slate Koekkoek 'passes test' in Lightning playoff debut (w/ video)

TAMPA — D Slater Koekkoek said he was told there was a good chance he would make his Stanley Cup playoff debut for the Lightning in Saturday's Game 2 against the Islanders.

But after finding out for sure after warmups, Koekkoek knew nothing could prepare him for the experience.

"It was awesome," Koekkoek said. "When you skated out the first time with those blue (lights), I was (really) wide-eyed, to say the least."

But Koekkoek held his own in the 4-1 win; he was plus-1 in 6:47 of playing time. He got in the lineup partly due to an undisclosed injury to veteran D Matt Carle (day to day), joining D Matt Taormina in the lineup as the Lightning went with seven defensemen. Koekkoek's first shift was short, about 10 seconds due to a Ryan Callahan penalty.

"Just got my feet wet," Koekkoek said.

But Koekkoek settled in, nearly scoring midway through the third period on a back-door redirection of a feed by C Brian Boyle. G Thomas Greiss made the save.

"Close," Koekkoek said. "I don't know why I went back against the grain, but I had to get it off quick."

Koekkoek, the 10th overall pick in the 2012 draft, impressed coach Jon Cooper.

"I thought Slater made plays, defended well," Cooper said. "He had (Islanders C John) Tavares coming down on him pretty hard on a rush and he defended him extremely well. You're going to be put in situations like that. How are you going to respond? And Slater passed the test."

Koekkoek said playing in nine regular-season games this season gave him confidence and earned his coaches' trust.

"Obviously, playoff hockey is different," Koekkoek said. "But I got my first taste, and I'm hungry for more."

TALKING TRIPLETS: The Triplets line — Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov — was reunited for the game, and it paid off with the trio combining for the first goal. The three racked up seven shots and were plus-6.

"It's fun," Johnson said. "I love playing with those guys. We were getting some zone time, creating some space, and it kind of clicked. Hopefully we can get even better, and if we stay together, hopefully we can keep contributing."

MEDICAL MATTERS: Carle, RW Erik Condra and RW Mike Blunden were scratched, all considered day to day. Cooper indicated the trio is closer to returning than D Anton Stralman (fractured leg), RW J.T. Brown (upper body) and C Steven Stamkos (blood clot) but didn't have specifics.

"The Stralmans, Browns and Stamkoses are still in a holding pattern," Cooper said. "The Condras, Carles and Blundens, they're probably a little closer to coming back, but no way I can guess right now if those guys can come back."

NUTS AND BOLTS: Bucs first-round draft pick CB Vernon Hargreaves, a graduate of Wharton High, attended the game and got a nice ovation when shown on the JumboTron. … The Rays had the Lightning game on their big screen during batting practice.

Contact Joe Smith at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.

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