BROOKLYN – Ladies and gentlemen, what you witnessed here over the past two games is the difference between a veteran team that went to the Stanley Cup final and took a lot of notes and one that won its first playoff series in 23 years. And if you needed any more confirmation of that, all you had to do was look at Nikita Kucherov after Game 4 Friday night.
Kucherov had just emerged from the ice, victorious for the second straight time in overtime, with another enormous goal to his credit and the playoff goal scoring lead with eight. But as he sat at his stall staring into space after the Lightning’s 2-1 overtime win over the New York Islanders, he looked about as excited as a guy sitting on a bench in the mall while his wife looks at…Every. Little. Thing. In. The. Store. (Amirite, guys?)
BROOKLYN – Veteran Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Matt Carle, who missed Games 2 and 3 of his team’s second-round playoff series, will likely draw back into the lineup tonight for Game 4 against the New York Islanders.
Carle, who is out with an undisclosed injury – because all injuries are undisclosed in the playoffs – took part in the Lightning’s morning skate and was one of the first players off the ice after skating for about 30 minutes. That’s usually a telltale sign a player is ready to go, though Carle described himself as a game-time decision.
SYOSSET, N.Y. – If you looked closely enough, you could actually see the blue streak emanating from New York Islander coach Jack Capuano’s mouth as he led practice Thursday. Good thing there weren’t too many kids around. In fact, if Sesame Street had been there to tape the workout, it would have been one of those days brought to you by the letter ‘F’.
“Unfortunately, it’s a little bit of the hockey culture that you have a lot of ‘F’-bombs,” said Islanders fourth-line winger Matt Martin. “It might not be the best thing in the world, but it is what it is. Maybe one day we’ll try to clean that up a little bit.”
As the second round of the playoffs rolls on, the Capitals, Islanders, Stars, and Predators are all trailing their series heading into Thursday’s action.
A one or two game deficit in the NHL is nothing to get too worried about. There have been many memorable comebacks from even 3-0 leads in recent years.
So don’t count any team out just yet. These are the three teams with the best chance of making a comeback in their series:
NEW YORK ISLANDERS, down to 2-1 to Lightning
BROOKLYN – New York Islanders coach Jack Capuano was talking about the tying goal in Game 3 of his team’s second-round series against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the goal that never should have happened and led to the overtime loss that now finds the Islanders needing to win three of the next four games to take the series.
He talked about having the players he wanted out there, even though it was a group that hadn’t played very well all night. He talked about having two centermen on the ice, even though one of them was Frans Nielsen, who was beaten cleanly on the draw on the Lightning’s second goal. Then he talked about the Islanders not collapsing enough in front of their own net on the play.
And this is what hockey has come to, ladies and gentlemen. Because as far as these eyes could tell, the reason why the Islanders gave up that tying goal was they collapsed too much.
BROOKLYN – Nobody really knows how this Jonathan Drouin saga with the Tampa Bay Lightning is ultimately going to play out. But wouldn’t it be neat if 10 years from now, when Drouin is a star in the NHL and the lynchpin of the Lightning, we’re all sitting around talking about how his 2016 winter of discontent might have been the best thing that could have happened to him?
To be sure, nobody would be terribly surprised, given all the twists and turns this story has taken. But one thing is sure, the same player who was maligned for a lack of maturity when he left the Lightning in a snit earlier this season is emerging as a player who seems to have learned his lessons with, ahem, Lightning speed. And in a playoff season where the Lightning are missing their most dynamic offensive player, Drouin just might be proving to the organization that there could be life after Steven Stamkos.
BROOKLYN – Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper was talking about his team’s game Tuesday night and how it’s a great example of why we all love this game so much. And he’s right. But it’s also a pretty good example of why this game infuriates us, too.
We love it because when it’s played like it was in the Lightning’s 5-4 overtime win over the Islanders in Game 3, it embodies everything that makes this game great. It also infuriates us because too many times, the lack of awareness/incompetence of the referees ruins it. What people who think that officials “should let the players decide things” fail to realize is that referees influence the outcome of a game with non-calls, too. And that’s exactly what happened in Game 3.
As the season begins to wind down, we’re starting to see some hardware handed out in the prospect ranks. Toronto Maple Leafs hopeful Mitch Marner, for example, just won the OHL’s Red Tilson Trophy as the league’s most outstanding player for his work with the London Knights. Another OHL award-winner is featured below in my weekly wrap-up. Elsewhere in the hockey world, the USHL is in the middle of its two-stage draft. During Phase 1 (for 2000 birthdays), Sioux Falls landed competitive center Gavin Hain with the No. 1 pick. Phase 2 (for 1999s and earlier) happened today. And speaking of the USHL, let’s get to this week’s round-up: