Thursday, April 14, 2016

One is the Loveliest Number

Let me start by saying this is not a traditional recap.  After all, how can anyone recap a game without actually watching it.  I love my job, but it is highly inconvenient to watching playoff hockey.  And while there are others out there that have a slightly higher work ethic, even I know that streaming a hockey game in the middle of the lobby while there are still 300 people left to check-in isn’t the best way to get a raise.

Checking in on the score via in between grabbing luggage for guests and directing all the priests in Chicago to the parking garage is a much more feasible way to know what’s happening and keeping my job. So consider this more of my thoughts and observations of the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 3-2 victory over the Detroit Red Wings in Game One.

It’s always nice to get the first win out of the way, especially when you have home-ice advantage in a series.  Now they aren’t chasing anything in Game Two, and the Red Wings might play a little more desperate in trying for the split. The Lightning won by the way the Lightning have won a lot of games this season.  Ben Bishop stopped enough pucks and Nikita Kucherov scored all of the goals.  Well not all of them, but enough to win.

The reconfigured Triplets…more of a Cousins…line with Kucherov, Tyler Johnson and Alex Killorn played the role of top line to perfection.  They generated all three goals and looked dangerous throughout the entire game.  MY BOY NIKITA KUCHEROV continues his quest to jump several tax brackets by scoring two goals and chipping in an assist.  Killorn scored the game winner on a nifty deflection while Johnson, concussed or not, looked like the Tyler Johnson of last year’s playoffs which doesn’t bode well for the Red Wings.

Moving Killorn to that line allowed Coach Cooper to drop Ondrej Palat to a line with Valtteri Filppula Jonathan Drouin.  While they didn’t record a point, they did generate some opportunities and looked like a viable offensive alternative.  Palat is the best two-way forward on the team and his play allows Drouin and Filppula to be their creative selves.

Speaking of Drouin, let’s get this out of the way.  If the Drouin that played 17 minutes against the Red Wings had played that way all season long he would not have been sent to Syracuse and then banished to his couch for part of the season.  This Drouin was much more aggressive (as seen by his cross-checking penalty and the hit he threw on Justin Abdelkader right before Abdelkader scored his goal.

That is part of what was lacking in his game.  He had a tendency to coast a bit and play reactionary hockey as opposed to asserting himself on the ice.  He doesn’t need to go full Doug Glatt, but he does have to show that he isn’t going to be pushed around the ice.  As Coach Cooper said in the post game presser, he earned those minutes on the ice.

Solid game by the Prodigal Son. Photo by Getty Images

My favorite moment of his was in the second period where he blocked a pass in the defensive zone, found himself on the open side of the defenseman at the blue line and took off like he was shot out of a cannon on a partial breakaway. Instead of looking for a pass he hesitated, drew the puck back and snapped a shot just wide of the net.  It showed his skill, his speed and a desire to score instead of setting up a teammate.

I did manage to watch part of the game on my dinner break (part of watching sports while working second shift is knowing when to schedule your meals).  I managed to get about 15 minutes of the second period in so I saw both Detroit goals, Kucherov’s game-tying goal, the afore mentioned Drouin play, and the little dust up in front of the Red Wings’ goal that led to a few penalties.

These teams are starting to not like each other very much.  This is what the NHL was looking for when they restructured the playoff format.  The Lightning and the Red Wings have now met in consecutive playoff years.  Last years series went 7 games and they split the regular season this year.  Bad blood is starting to develop and started to boil up at the 11:42 mark of the second period.

After the embattled Jimmy Howard made a save, Killorn was cruising by the net when 19-year-old Dylan Larkin thought he was getting a little two close and went to shoulder him out of the way. The young Red Wing didn’t take into consideration Killorn being a Harvard Man.  Using his knowledge of leverage and force, the Lightning forward dumped the rookie on his ass. Larkin’s teammates took exception and a good ol’ fashion scrm broke out.  I’ve read recaps from both sides of the aisle, Red Wing fans thought it was dirty, Lightning fans through it was just hockey.  I tend to lean toward the Lightning side of this one.  It happens every game. Larkin just went flying off his skates and it looked worse than it was.

The dust eventually settled and no one was worse the wear for it. Braydon Coburn managed to pick up two roughing calls at the same time (one against Darren Helm and one against Danny DeKeyser) which is awesome hustle. All of the penalties off set and they skated five on five.  But for the rest of the game both teams were on edge.

It’s nice to see the Lightning play with some anger in their game, but to quote Forest Whitaker in Rouge One, “If you continue to fight, what…will…you…become?”  The Lightning do not want to turn this into a special team’s battle.  They will lose that match-up.  Frustrating the Red Wings is one thing (hell Detroit has been doing it for years), taking stupid penalties is another.  Give a team like them enough opportunities and they will make you pay.

BRAYDON SMASH!!! Solid game from #55 Photo by Getty

While it was a little discouraging to see the Lightning get outshot in the first and second periods by a combined 26-20, it was nice that Tampa Bay tightened things up in the third and for the most part carried the play.  They also bounced back from giving up two quick goals and having a go-ahead goal wiped out by an off-side review. (Let the record show that the Lightning scored the first 3-on-3 overtime goal this year AND had the first video replay in playoff history go against them)

This is how the Lightning are going to win the series. By scoring ugly goals (Kucherov’s second was a result of him standing in front of the net and banging away at a rebound) and getting 30+ saves from Ben Bishop.  It’s not good for anyone’s health, but that’s the way it has to be.

The Hopeful Chase’s Three Stars:

3. Victor Hedman - The Big Swede played 26 minutes, had a game-winning goal wiped out by replay and was his usual calm, smooth-skating self.  Damn he’s fun to watch.

2. Ben Bishop - Another day and another 34-save game.  His stop on Brad Richards with the Lightning down 2-1 in the second was my key play of the game. If he doesn’t lunge across the crease and stop that shot, the Lightning don’t win.

1. MY BOY NIKITA KUCHEROV - Two goals and an assist.  His cap hit this year was $711,666.  His cap hit next year will be quite larger.

My next contract is going to be this big! Photo by Getty Images

Did Matt Carle Get a Point?

Nope.  He did dish out 3 hits and take one shot in his 16:17 of ice time.  That seems about right for him in the playoffs.  Coach Cooper did a pretty good job of balancing out his blue line.  Hedman and Jason Garrison were the only two that topped 20 minutes, but every one else was between 12 and 18 minutes.


JediJeff said...

Can't have a post title like this and NOT jam this song in my head:

Unknown said...

As the immortal Brian Engblom says, well done.