• Lots to like about the Lightning despite first-round exit

    Ronnie Shuker
    (Photo by Scott Audette/NHL)

    What did Michael Jordan once say? “To learn to succeed, you must first learn to fail.”

    The Tampa Bay Lightning would do well to memorize that advice verbatim, because their future has success written all over it.

    But not before they had to fail. Which they did, miserably, in being swept by the Montreal Canadiens in Round 1. Aside from an inspiring third-period comeback in Game 4, Tampa Bay never looked anywhere near Montreal’s equal. The Canadiens didn’t even need all the ugly favors they received from officials, because they dominated in every aspect of the game: goaltending, defense, scoring. They killed in Corsi close (54.0% to 46.0%) and Fenwick close (56.4% to 43.6%). Heck, the Lightning even got beat in anthem singing.

    For Tampa Bay, the next step is to learn from that beatdown and get up off the mat next season. “Our thing now is we can’t be a one-hit wonder,” Cooper told the media before Game 4. “We have to make the playoffs next year. To me, it’s inexcusable if we don’t.”

    They absolutely should, and then some, because the Lightning have everything going for them: the second-best player in the world (Steven Stamkos); a big, mobile No. 1 defenseman in the making (Victor Hedman); an elite, mammoth goaltender (Ben Bishop) who’s finally realizing his potential; two rookies (Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson) nominated for the 2014 Calder Cup Trophy; a coach (Jon Cooper) who’s won a bevy of championships from Jr. B to the American League; and a GM (Steve Yzerman) who’s proven his managerial acumen by guiding Canada to consecutive Olympic gold medals.

    At an average age of just 26.9 years old, Tampa Bay is also one of the youngest teams in the NHL. And the club has chemistry. Cooper coached arguably the greatest team in AHL history with the 2011-12 Norfolk Admirals, then-AHL affiliate of the Lightning. On that team were Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson, Alex Killorn, Richard Panik, Radko Gudas, Keith Aulie, Mark Barberio and Michael Kostka – many of whom played big roles on the Lightning this season and will for years to come.

    Tampa Bay’s season is over, but the best for the Lightning is still to come.

    Ronnie Shuker is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. Follow him on Twitter at @THNRonnieShuker.

  • San Jose Sharks rookie Matt Nieto has a story that tugs at the heart strings

    Brian Costello
    San Jose Sharks v Edmonton Oilers

    Matt Nieto scored his first career Stanley Cup playoff goal for the San Jose Sharks last night and there was his longshoreman dad, looking very much like a Long Beach longshoreman, watching from the stands in Los Angeles.

    The story of Nieto and his ascension from Long Beach street blading brat to NHL regular is one worth hearing. It’s a story mainly about Nieto and his mother and the circle of hockey that eveloped their lives. It is told well by The Hockey News correspondent David Pollak in the April 7 edition of the San Jose Mercury News.

    Nieto asked for rollerblades at the age of 2 and his mother Mary said she could later always hear where he was in the neighborhood by the clicking sound of his wheels. He rarely took them off. Nieto’s love for hockey kept him out of trouble, growing up in a dangerous district where drive-by shooting were not uncommon.

    “Probably everybody he hung out with is either in a gang or on drugs or something,” Mary Nieto told Pollak. “I think hockey saved his life, absolutely. Hockey became a way out for a Mexican-American kid in Southern California.”

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  • Kings need a goaltending change for Game 4

    Quick picture

    In the wee hours of Wednesday morning – Center of the Universe™ time, of course – your trusty correspondent was crucified in Twitter for suggesting that the Los Angeles Kings should seriously consider starting Martin Jones for Game 4 of their first-round series against the San Jose Sharks.

    The critics were pretty evenly split between one camp that insisted that none of the Kings troubles in the first three games could be dropped at Jonathan Quick’s doorstep and a group that worried about what kind of message that would send and whether it would damage his relationship with the Kings moving forward. All in all, the general sentiment could be summed up in the following Tweet: “You’re (expletive) kidding, right?”

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  • Rumor Roundup: Alex Ovechkin, Mike Green and the Washington Capitals

    Lyle Richardson
    Chicago Blackhawks v Washington Capitals

    Possible off-season moves by the Washington Capitals continue to raise speculation in the NHL rumor mill. Much of the focus is on superstar Alex Ovechkin and center Mikhail Grabovski.

    The Washington Post’s Katie Carrera reports Ovechkin’s limited no-trade clause (in which he provides a list of ten teams to which he would accept a trade) begins this summer, but the Capitals captain has no intention of requesting a move. Carrera also reports there’s no indication team owner Ted Leonsis could entertain parting with his franchise player.

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  • Bruins’ Marchand, Blueshirts’ Carcillo add color to playoffs with their cartoonish villainy

    Brad Marchand (Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)

    The first round of the 2014 NHL playoffs hasn’t ended, but we’ve already seen a little bit of everything, including high-scoring games, low-scoring games, dirty hits and a series sweep. But the post-season is always more fun when fans have an old-fashioned villain on whom they can focus their disgust. And this year, they’ve got a couple gems who are so proudly roguish, they might as well twirl their moustaches while cackling with glee: Boston’s Brad Marchand and the Rangers’ Daniel Carcillo.

    Carcillo and Marchand are arguably the NHL’s most talented agitators. Both willingly wear the hate of the opposition and their fans. And both were in prime rabble-rousing form Tuesday night. Marchand absorbed a knee-on-knee hit to his left knee and came up favoring his right leg, drawing criticism from fans and media who accused him of faking an injury.

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  • Can Kari Lehtonen earn a new reputation with the Dallas Stars?

    Rory Boylen
    Kari Lehtonen

    The Atlanta Thrashers had high expectations for Kari Lehtonen when they drafted him second overall in 2002. But by the time the dysfunctional franchise gave up on him seven years later, all they had to show for it were Ivan Vishnevskiy, a brief playoff nightmare and a whole lot of man-games lost to injury.

    That injury-prone, unreliable starter label has been a tough reputation to escape post-Atlanta, especially playing in another dormant southern market like Dallas has been. With little exposure and no playoff appearances with the Stars Lehtonen is an afterthought. All the while he’s been posting better numbers and playing in more games than he ever did with the Thrashers and became a rock for Dallas, earning a five-year extension on a $5.9 million cap hit.

    Lehtonen hasn’t been special, but if all you can ask of your goalie is for him to be consistent from year to year and to not surprise you with meltdowns or significant periods of missed time, then Lehtonen has given the Stars all they can ask for. He won’t ever be a 70-start netminder or a Vezina winner, but he has been a good support player for GM Jim Nill’s build up. Read more

  • Ron MacLean was close in his referee criticism, but not correct


    Hockey Night in Canada host Ron MacLean apologized for his careening remarks about Quebec-raised referee Francis Charron in the wake of Montreal’s Game 3 victory over Tampa, one in which the officiating certainly was on the dicey side. In bringing up Charron’s ethnicity, MacLean stepped into a hornet’s nest involving one of Canada’s distinct cultures – not to mention the only NHL team left in French-Canadian territory.

    Was Charron’s goalie interference call, the one that nullified a Tampa Bay goal in a 1-1 contest, a poor one? Sure looked like it:

    But this was not a matter of malice on the ref’s part. If anything, it was one of indecision – and that speaks to Charron’s inexperience, not his home province.

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  • Patrick Marleau scores overtime winner on first Sharks shot, denies Kings of hope

    Jonathan Quick

    The Los Angeles Kings played their best game of the first round, had the lead midway through the third period and were clearly the better team in overtime, but none of that mattered. The San Jose Sharks won anyway and now hold a 3-0 series advantage on their division rivals.

    Patrick Marleau continued his amazing run of overtime winners with this fortunate redirect, San Jose’s very first shot on goal in OT. The Sharks have won 10 of their past 11 playoff overtime games and Marleau has ended four of them.

    Who says the Sharks vets don’t get it done in the clutch? Read more