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Matt Baker, Times Staff Writer

Matt Baker

Matt Baker joined the Times as a sports reporter in 2011. In 2014, he started covering the Bucs, Rays and Lightning. He previously covered high school and college sports for the Tulsa World and minor league baseball for the Springfield (Mo.) News-Leader. His work has been honored by the Best American Sports Writing series and the Associated Press Sports Editors. He is a Hoosier native and graduated from Northwestern University in 2008.

Phone: (727) 420-9087

Email: mbaker@tampabay.com

Twitter: @MBakerTBTimes

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  1. Jon Cooper: Lightning special teams must improve

    Lightning Strikes

    When coach Jon Cooper broke down Friday's 5-1 loss to the Rangers, he liked a lot of what he saw on film. The Lightning had plenty of scoring chances and played with good effort.

    One thing that Cooper didn't like about Game 4 of the Eastern Conference final was his team's execution on special teams. "Our power play didn't get it done, and our penalty kill's been a little leaky the past couple games," he said in Tampa before Saturday's team flight to New York for tonight's Game 5. "When your special teams are rolling, it helps you roll. We've just got to tighten up in some areas."...

    Coach Jon Cooper says the power play and penalty kill have to “tighten up.” The power play was 0-for-4 in Friday’s Game 4 loss. The penalty kill has allowed six goals in the past three games.
  2. Lightning: Turning the page; swagger momentum; on taking a 3-2 series lead

    Lightning Strikes

    View from Tampa Bay

    "The series is 2-2. It's probably how it should be. These are two good teams battling it out. It's really exciting hockey. Got to turn the page."

    Lightning coach Jon Cooper, after his team's 5-1 loss in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference final

    View from New York

    "(We) did play with some swagger, and you want to keep that. I think swagger comes and goes. As a player, as a team, it does, and you have to fight to get it back when you don't have it."...

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

    Blog

    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."...

  4. Marty St. Louis, Rick Nash emerge in Rangers victory (w/video)

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — The Lightning entered Friday with a 2-1 series lead largely because its stars outshined New York's top scorers.

    That changed quickly and dramatically in Game 4, when Rick Nash scored the first goal and former Lightning captain Marty St. Louis added his first of the playoffs to help seal the Rangers' 5-1 win. The duo had more goals Friday (three) than it did in New York's first 15 playoff games combined (two)....

    Rangers left wing Rick Nash celebrates his second goal of the game, on a power play, for a 5-1 lead in the third period.
  5. Lightning's Yzerman finalist for GM of year (w/video)

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — The Lightning's 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 as finalists. Yzerman, in his sixth year with Tampa Bay, also was a finalist in 2010-11, the last time the team reached the Eastern Conference final.

    The Lightning set a franchise record for wins (50) and points (108) this season, buoyed by some key moves Yzerman made during the summer....

    Tampa Bay Lightning center Alex Killorn (17) checks New York Rangers defenseman Marc Staal (18) during first period action of game four of the Eastern Conference Finals at Amalie Arena in Tampa Friday evening (5/22/15).
  6. Lightning, Rangers looking for more defense in Game 4

    Blog

    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."...

    "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.
  7. Helio Castroneves undaunted by Indy 500 near-miss

    Auto racing

    Helio Castroneves hasn't tried to distance himself from the most heartbreaking second-place finish of his career. He keeps a clip of it on his phone.

    And a few days after finishing runnerup to Ryan Hunter-Reay at last year's Indianapolis 500, Castroneves decided to watch it, to see the four lead changes in the final five laps. His reaction wasn't anger or frustration; it was reluctant acceptance. After 21/2 hours of racing, he missed his shot at history by 0.06 seconds. All he could do was shrug....

    Helio Castroneves’ crew performs the winning service during Friday’s pit stop competition, one of the traditional events at Indianapolis Motor Speedway leading up to today’s Indianapolis 500.
  8. Alex Colome rebounds as Rays blank Athletics to open series (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays have used plenty of different characters and formulas to get into sole possession of first place in the AL East.

    On Thursday night, they needed a bounce-back start from right-hander Alex Colome and more timely hits by slugger David DeJesus to earn a 3-0 win over Oakland. With their fourth shutout of the year, the Rays (23-19) broke a tie with the idle Yankees to sit alone atop the division — somewhere they haven't been since April 2014....

    David DeJesus, heading home after a homer, high-fives third-base coach Charlie Montoyo.
  9. Rays' Smyly says rehab best choice for torn labrum

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — LHP Drew Smyly didn't seem pleased Thursday when he announced that he'll try eight weeks of rehab on his torn left labrum, with the hope of returning to the Rays' rotation in late July.

    But it beats the other possibilities, including the prospect of season-ending shoulder surgery.

    "It's better than missing a year and a half to two years," Smyly said. "I will take eight weeks to get better, get my shoulder right, get my body right and hopefully help this team down the stretch."...

    FILE - In this May 5, 2015, file photo, Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Drew Smyly delivers to the Boston Red Sox during the first inning of a baseball game at Fenway Park in Boston. Smyly will miss the rest of the season because of a shoulder injury. The Rays transferred Smyly to the 60-day disabled list Wednesday, May 13, and said Dr. Keith Meister will examine his torn labrum in Texas on Thursday. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola, File) NY161
  10. Rays-Athletics Friday preview

    The Heater

    Rays vs. A's

    When/where: 7:10 tonight; Tropicana Field

    TV/radio: Sun Sports; 620-AM, 680-AM (Spanish)

    Tickets: $7-$200, available at Tropicana Field box office, Ticketmaster, raysbaseball.com, team Tampa store; $3 surcharge within 5 hours of game time.

    Probable pitchers

    rays: RH Chris Archer (4-4, 2.47)

    a's: LH Scott Kazmir (2-2, 3.08)...

  11. Drew Smyly won't have surgery, hopes to return in late July

    Blog

    ST. PETERSBURG - Rays LHP Drew Smyly will try to rehab his torn left labrum instead of undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery, he announced today at Tropicana Field.

    "It's better than missing a year and a half to two years," Smyly said before tonight's game against Oakland. "I will take eight weeks to get better, get my shoulder right, get my body right and hopefully help this team down the stretch."  ...

    Drew Smyly will try to rehab his torn left labrum instead of undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery, he announced today at Tropicana Field.
  12. For starters, Rays vs. A's

    Blog

    DEVELOPING: The Rays are back at Tropicana Field to start a seven-game homestand, which begins with tonight's matchup against Oakland.

    RHP Alex Colome (2-1, 6.05) will make his fifth start of the season. Oakland will start RHP Jesse Chavez (1-3, 2.63).

    Today's lineups:

    Rays

    Kevin Kiermaier CF

    Steven Souza Jr. RF

    Evan Longoria 3B

    James Loney 1B...

    Alex Colome (2-1, 6.05) will make his fifth start of the season. Oakland will start RHP Jesse Chavez (1-3, 2.63).
  13. Nikita Kucherov shows resiliency with Game 3 winner against Rangers

    Blog

    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."...

    Nikita Kucherov, right, celebrates his game-winning goal with defenseman Nikita Nesterov.
  14. Lightning's Boyle, wife welcome son on off day (w/video)

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — Lightning C Brian Boyle said nothing prepared him for what he witnessed Tuesday: the birth of his first child, Declan Gabriel.

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

    It was a whirlwind for Boyle, 30, who flew back from New York after Monday night's Game 2 of the Eastern Conference final to be there for wife Lauren's 11 a.m. C-section. Mom and baby are doing well, he said....

    Lightning center Brian Boyle and his wife, Lauren, introduce their son, Declan Gabriel, born Tuesday morning in the bay area.
  15. Marty St. Louis not worried about fan reception tonight

    Blog

    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."...

    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.