05/23/15 Lightning Strikes
The Bucs. The Rays. The Lightning. • If you're a die-hard Tampa Bay sports fan, those teams are like your children. Ask any parent and they will tell you that they love all their children — with their gifts and flaws, different quirks and personalities — equally. But there is something special about the Lightning. • It is a little more likeable, a little more endearing. This might be an NFL market, and baseball is America's pastime, and hockey isn't everyone's cup of tea, but let's admit it: • The Lightning is Tampa Bay's favorite. • Of course it's easy to favor a winner, and the Lightning is having what could turn out to be a championship season. The Bucs haven't won a playoff game since winning the Super Bowl in January 2003. The Rays never have won a World Series. Right now everyone is caught up in Stanley Cup fever with the Lightning on the verge of playing for the NHL's famed trophy....
05/21/15 Lightning Strikes
It's the most dramatic moment in all of hockey. In all of sports, really. Is there anything more exciting, more agonizing, more gripping than sudden death overtime in the Stanley Cup playoffs?
And the phrase itself — sudden death — is the most provocative in sports. Isn't it fascinating that it is from the perspective of the losing team, not the team that wins?...
05/20/15 Lightning Strikes
Steven Stamkos darted into the Rangers zone with very bad intentions and a thirst for blood. You half expected to hear that ominous theme from Jaws.
Rangers right wing Kevin Hayes circled around the net with the puck, completely unaware that Stamkos was on a mission to do some damage and Hayes was the target.
Before anyone could yell "Heads-up!" Stamkos blasted into Hayes, sending the Rangers forward crumpling to the ice....
05/19/15 Lightning Strikes
The time has arrived. He has arrived.
Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman is no longer the kid with potential. He's no longer a future star.
When it comes to Hedman, it isn't about "someday'' or "eventually'' or "down the road.''
Hedman is a star. Right now.
It's happening right before our very eyes.
If you've watched the Lightning this season — if you've watched the Lightning in these playoffs — you've seen the maturation and evolution of a hockey player. From boy to man. From prospect to standout....
05/18/15 Lightning Strikes
Talk all you want about adjustments. Go ahead and dissect matchups. Study line combinations and defensive pairings and all that mumbo jumbo.
But if you really want to know why the Lightning rebounded from an opening game loss in the Eastern Conference final against the Rangers with a Game 2 victory Monday night, don't try to get inside Tampa Bay's head. You won't find the answers there....
05/17/15 Lightning Strikes
Sunday afternoon at Madison Square Garden and Lightning practice has been over for more than a half-hour. The Black Aces are now on the ice.
The Black Aces are not another hockey team. The Black Aces are a collection of players who are on a team but not in the lineup during the playoffs. They don't play in games. All they do is practice. They are the backups. Leftovers.
The star of the Lightning's Black Aces is Jonathan Drouin. Jonathan Drouin should not be a member of the Black Aces....
05/16/15 Lightning Strikes
No riot acts were read. No sticks were smashed into little bits. No trash cans were turned over.
Here, inside the Lightning dressing room after Tampa Bay's frustrating 2-1 loss Saturday to the Rangers in the opening game of the Eastern Conference final, there was no sense of alarm. There was no indication that a line of Fear, Worry and Concern was hanging gear inside the lockers....
05/15/15 Lightning Strikes
One year, two months, one week and four days ago. That's when The Trade was made, a trade that rocked the hockey world and the two organizations that made it. It's still hard to believe it happened. • Captains switched jerseys. Teams stunningly ripped out their hearts and swapped them with one another. The Lightning sent its Little Engine That Could, Marty St. Louis, to the Rangers for their blood-and-guts leader, Ryan Callahan. • Feelings were hurt. Emotions were stirred. Fans were torn. There were tears, boos, anger and sadness. • Even now — especially now — as the Lightning and the Rangers are about to meet for the right to go to the Stanley Cup final, aftershocks of the trade vibrate from Tampa Bay to the Big Apple. • "Made for TV," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. • Moments after the Lightning advanced to the conference final, the current captain got a text message from the old captain. St. Louis told Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos: "Good game."...
05/12/15 Lightning Strikes
It took a little longer than expected, but that doesn't matter now. Maybe the Lightning scared the thunder out of you, but who cares? It hasn't always been pretty or perfect, but that does not mean a thing.
One and only one thing does matter: The Lightning is moving on.
Two series down. Two to go. Survive and advance. The Stanley Cup dream remains alive and well.
Next up: maybe a familiar face (the Rangers' Marty St. Louis) or a familiar foe (the Capitals' Alex Ovechkin). The Big Apple or the nation's capital....
05/11/15 Lightning Strikes
He doesn't wear goalie pads. He doesn't have a C stitched on his chest or the No. 77 slapped on his back.
The most important person for the Lightning's success tonight in a pretty-close-to-a-must-win Game 6 against the Canadiens is not goalie Ben Bishop or leading scorer Steven Stamkos or top defenseman Victor Hedman.
In fact, he doesn't wear skates or sit on a bench. He wears a suit and stands behind it....
05/09/15 Lightning Strikes
The Lightning skated off the ice, heads down, dejected, eyes to the ground. The Bell Centre crowd, going insane, left the Lightning's ears ringing and its heads splitting.
As the Lightning stepped off the white sheet and down the tunnel toward the locker room, it surely had one thought in its mind: No way we want to come back here again.
That means the Lightning's hopes of moving on to the next round, its dream of a Stanley Cup and, more critically, everything it has accomplished this season will be on the line in Game 6 Tuesday night at Amalie Arena....
05/08/15 Lightning Strikes
MONTREAL — All it takes is one loss and suddenly the sky is falling.
Okay, maybe not falling, but some dark clouds are starting to gather.
Funny how quickly it all changes. After five consecutive victories in these playoffs, after eight victories in a row over the Canadiens and despite still holding what looks like a comfortable 3-1 series lead, the Lightning heads into tonight's Game 5 at the Bell Centre looking a little more vulnerable than it did only 48 hours ago, when everything was as peachy as could be....
05/07/15 Lightning Strikes
A reason for concern or merely a small bump in the road?
That's the question the Lightning is asking itself today as it boards a plane to play a game it never wanted to play Saturday night in Montreal. That game is now necessary because it dropped its broom while trying to sweep the Canadiens out of the playoffs in Thursday's Game 4.
The Canadiens showed up, as promised, and the Lightning did not. The result was a 6-2 mauling that keeps this series alive....
05/06/15 Lightning Strikes
TAMPA — While all of Tampa Bay was going completely bonkers, Tyler Johnson was upset.
Just eight seconds earlier, the Lightning center hopped over the boards, found his Superman cape and scored a goal on his first shot of the game to give his team the lead, the game and, you would think, this second-round series against the Canadiens.
The giant scoreboard above the suddenly quaking Amalie Arena said there was 1.1 seconds left in the third period Wednesday. Lightning coach Jon Cooper knew exactly how much time was left because he was watching the clock almost constantly for the final minute....
05/05/15 Lightning Strikes
TAMPA — Knocking over an unsuspecting goalie. Using your stick like an ax to chop an opponent across the forearm. Cross-checking guys in the neck, in the throat. Berating referees and the squealing about it afterward. Throwing your equipment. Whining about calls.
Sounds like scenes from Slap Shot.
Sadly, however, this isn't the ragtag Charlestown Chiefs we're talking about. It's the normally classy Montreal Canadiens, who have lost their minds and their poise and their dignity in only two games against the Lightning. ...