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Lightning didn’t just come for meatballs, they came to play

The Bolts have enjoyed their week in Stockholm, but after a lot of talk, the games are finally imminent - and important
Braydon Coburn (55) of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Pat Maroon (14) of the Tampa Bay Lightning battle for the puck at practice during the 2019 NHL Global Series Sweden, at the Ericsson Globe on Thursday, Nov. 7, 2019 in Stockholm, Sweden. (Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images/TNS) [DAVE SANDFORD/NHLI | TNS]
Published Nov. 7

STOCKHOLM — Nikita Kucherov passed his stick into the crowd of kids above the tunnel as he came off the ice from Thursday’s practice. Many hands grabbed for it and two held on.

At the first session open to the public, the two kids played tug-o-war over the stick for more than five minutes, getting increasingly aggressive until security separated them.

That wasn’t the only tussle, but players issued other sticks in a more peaceably manner. Kevin Shattenkirk grabbed a couple of pucks to toss into the crowd and held onto his sticks. Ryan McDonagh found a girl off to the side some and gave his stick to her.

MORE LIGHTNING: Wander (and eat) Stockholm with Diana C. Nearhos

Swedish hockey fans, clearly amped, don’t get many chances to see NHL players. The Lightning and Sabres have been in Stockholm for the whole week, but Thursday represented fans’ first opportunity to see them skate.

The other opportunities occur Friday and Saturday, when the reasons they’ve spent talking and touring Sweden all week give way to something more important: the games.

Steven Stamkos, interviewed on the video board during the mini-skills competition between the Lightning and Sabres’ practices, commented they’ve done everything but play.

“I’d be lying if I said this is just another regular-season game,” defenseman Victor Hedman said. “But at the end of the day, it’s too big games. I can’t wait for (Friday) to really start focusing on the game.”

These two games count. All games count in the standings, but the match against the Sabres pits two division rivals against each other. It’s not a two-off against a Western Conference team they won’t see again this season.

The Lightning haven’t started the season the way they wanted to, but the Sabres feel good about their play. Right now, Buffalo sits at second in the Atlantic Division with 20 points. The Lightning are sixth with 14.

Coach Jon Cooper isn’t going to get too caught up in the standings. The Lighnting are tied for fewest games played in the league at 13. The Calgary Flames have played 18, which means they’ve had an opportunity for 36 points vs the Lighnting’s 26. Buffalo has played 15 games.

“While you have these games, you do have to get points out of them,” Cooper said. “I’m not going to sit here and say we have to win both of these games. I want us to play well.”

He’s looking for consistency more than he’s demanding two wins. But the coach also figures if they consistently play well, they have a good chance at the points.

Consistent has been the buzzword, thus far. The Lightning has been up and down and all around through their first 13 games.

MORE LIGHTNING: Swedish hockey has an very different atmosphere than North American

They’ve swiveled between allowing too many chances and not allowing many. They’ve scored seven goals twice and only one or two in five other games. Penalties have been an issue as well.

Buffalo brings the third best power play in the league into these games, against the Lighnting’s fifth-worst kill. Victor Olofsson has six power-play goals on the season. The Sabres have four players (Olofsson, Jack Eichel, Jeff Skinner and Rasmus Dahlin) with more than 10 power-play shots. Nikita Kucherov is the Lightning’s only player above that mark.

Eichel leads the Sabres with 17 points. Five players have more than 10 points on the season. Steven Stamkos leads the Lightning with 13 points and three others have reached double digits.

The biggest question going into this game has been Hedman’s status. The defenseman was hurt in in the Oct. 29 game against the Rangers and hasn’t played since. He practiced Tuesday and Thursday.

“I’m up for it,” Hedman said about playing Friday. “I felt good again today. The final decision is tomorrow. We’ll see how it goes, but I’m hopeful.”

That’s not a hard yes, but it certainly sounds likely that Hedman plays before a crowd longing to see their native on the ice.

Contact Diana C. Nearhos at Follow @dianacnearhos.


  1. The Lightning's Victor Hedman (77). Alex Killorn (17) and Nikita Kucherov (86) celebrate after an NHL hockey game against the Sabres in Globen Arena, Stockholm last week. ANDERS WIKLUND/TT  |  AP
    Tampa Bay’s schedule returns to a more normal pace tonight when it takes on the young, gritty Rangers.
  2. In this March 24, 2010, file photo, hockey personality Don Cherry, right, speaks during a news conference as actor Jared Keeso is displayed on a video screen while playing Cherry in the bio film "Keep Your Head Up Kid: The Don Cherry Story" in Toronto. Sportsnet cut ties with Cherry on Monday, Nov. 11, 2019, after the veteran hockey commentator called new immigrants "you people" on his "Coach's Corner" segment while claiming they do not wear poppies to honor Canadian veterans. DARREN CALABRESE  |  AP
    Cherry has not apologized for his remarks.
  3. The Stockholm City Library turned out to be the perfect place to get engaged. SPECIAL TO THE TIMES
    Stockholm City Library has a beautiful round hall that turned out to be the perfect place to get engaged
  4. Patrick Maroon of Tampa Bay Lightning against Buffalo on Nov. 9 in Stockholm. JONAS LJUNGDAHL  |  Bildbyran via ZUMA Press
    The team got practice, a reset and bonding from the week in Stockholm.
  5. Members of the Tampa Bay Lightning look on during the 2019 NHL Global Series Sweden, at the Ericsson Globe on Thursday, Nov. 7, 2019 in Stockholm, Sweden. DAVE SANDFORD/NHLI  |  TNS
    Plus, a challenge to the NHL Challenge system, Tyler Johnson’s Sweden highlights and a Jon Cooper question. | Diana C. Nearhos
  6. A full-color model of the Vasa sits in front of the 391-year-old reconstructed Swedish warship at the Vasa Museum in Stockholm. DIANA NEARHOS  |  TIMES
    Swedish travels continue with two of the most popular attractions in Stockholm.
  7. Tampa celebrates after Victor Hedman, left, scored, during a NHL Global Series hockey match between the Buffalo Sabres and Tampa Bay Lightning at the Globen Arena, in Stockholm Sweden, Saturday. JESSICA GOW/TT  |  AP
    Yanni Gourde scored twice and Pat Maroon once as Tampa Bay swept the Globe Series back-to-back against the Sabres
  8. Andrei Vasilevskiy (88) of the Tampa Bay Lightning tends goal during practice at Ericsson Globe on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019 in Stockholm, Sweden. BILL WIPPERT/NHLI  |  TNS
    Ondrej Palat, Erik Cernak, Andrei Vasilevskiy and others get to play nearer to home.
  9. Stockholm Ice Hockey Federation project leader, Simon Stigenberg, was recognized with some local children as the Community Hero alongside Lightning owner Jeff Vinik during the first period of Saturday's game in Stockholm. Courtesy of NHL Images
    Tampa Bay recognizes Stockholm Ice Hockey Federation for its effort to make hockey accessible to immigrants.
  10. Buffalo Sabres' Vladimir Sobotka (17) works the puck as Tampa Bay Lightning's Ryan McDonagh (27) and goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy defend during an NHL hockey game in Globen Arena, Stockholm Sweden. Friday. Nov. 8, 2019. (Anders Wiklund/TT via AP) ANDERS WIKLUND/TT  |  AP
    Lightning 3, Sabres 2: Andrei Vasilevskiy’s 20 saves help lift Tampa Bay in the first game of Global Series.