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Quick Strikes: Tampa Bay Lightning slowly returning to full health

Ryan McDonagh, Ondrej Palat, Peter Budaj all at different stages of recovery

NHL: Tampa Bay Lightning at New York Rangers
Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov (86) plays the puck against New York Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh (27) and center Derek Stepan (21) during the first period at Madison Square Garden.
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The Bolts

It feels like an eternity since we were told that Ryan McDonagh would be joining our little team. He’s close! We promise! [Tampa Bay Times]

McDonagh, cleared for contact, went through all the drills, including getting work on the penalty kill. He said a final X-ray on his injured right hand was good Thursday.

”I feel comfortable going out there competing, playing the way that is expected of us here,” McDonagh said. “So it’s exciting. Hopefully it happens soon.”

Ondrej Palat is inching ever closer as well to his long-awaited return.

Nikita Kucherov is still the favourite for the Hart Trophy for league MVP, but who else is in the race, and how close are they? [Washington Post]

Nikita Kucherov of the Tampa Bay Lightning led all vote-getters when the Professional Hockey Writers Association released its midseason tally for the Hart, and NHL.com named him its top pick for MVP with votes from 13 of 19 writers. Kucherov is a deserving favorite: He has 33 goals and a league-leading 87 points and, since 1998-99, 14 of the 18 Hart winners have been a center or wing who led the NHL in goals or points.

If you needed a clutch goalie to win you a game to save your life, who would you take? Henrik Lundqvist? Jonathan Quick? Pekka Rinne? Andrei Vasilevskiy. [ESPN]

The guy who I might consider otherwise doesn’t have the big-game resume of King Henrik, but he is sure lighting the league on fire this season. Andrei Vasilevskiy is just 23 years old and this is his first full season as the No. 1 goalie for the Tampa Bay Lightning. The kid has the goods, however. He’ll likely win the Vezina Trophy this season, making him the youngest to do so in more than 20 years.

There’s close to a month left in the regular season for the Lightning. Are we ready? Did we pack enough socks? Toothbrushes? Granola bars? This is stressful. [iSportsWeb]

The Lightning have an opportunity to make history with 14 games left. They only have to win six more games to finish with 110 points, which would be a franchise record. The next two highest point totals in a season resulted in a Stanley Cup in 2004 and a Stanley Cup Finals appearance in 2014.

The Lightning will be hosting Go Green Night to raise awareness for environmental sustainability. In other words, don’t f*** up the planet unless you want Brayden Point playing for a Stanley Cup on a wake-board. [NHL dot com]

Coca-Cola will be rewarding fans for recycling with their “Caught Green Handed” campaign during the game. TECO Energy will be on Ford Thunder Alley showing off different electric vehicles and how they positively impact the environment. In partnership with TECO, AMALIE Arena will also be using renewable energy all evening on Go Green Night. In addition, Bonneville Environmental Foundation’s Water Restoration Certificates (WRCs) have been purchased for every game during the month of March.

The Prospects

The Syracuse Crunch lost 2-1 at home to the Hershey Bears in Peter Budaj’s first start with the team. Despite the Crunch out-shooting the Bears by 12 in this game, only one of the 30 beat goaltender Pheonix Copley, a Mathieu Joseph snipe from the circle. Speaking of good performances, Kevin Lynch was a beast in the game. The forward drew a penalty shot, lots of high-danger chances despite only having one official shot on goal. Hit the net, Kevin! [Syracuse]

Budaj was decent in his return to the crease since his injury side-lined him back in December, feeling “calm and composed” the whole way. [Auburn Pub]

“Obviously, you do something not often for two months and then you do it, you feel — timing-wise — a little bit off,” Budaj said. “I felt pretty good out there — pretty strong, my ankle was holding up pretty good and everything was going well.

Here is the full video from Budaj’s interview.

Alex Barre-Boulet has as many points last night as all of the other Lightning prospects COMBINED. His four assists led the Armada to a 4-3 win over the Sherbrooke Pheonix. [Bolt Prospects]

Barre-Boulet assisted on all four of the Armada’s goals, including two on the power play and all three of linemate Alexandre Alain’s (undrafted) hat trick goals. Alain scored two of his three goals in the 3rd to break open a 2-2 tie.

The Game

Paralympic Sledge Hockey is back! Here is everything you need to know about it. [Raw Charge]

The opening ceremony is over, and the PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic Winter Games are finally here. The sled hockey portion starts on Saturday, March 10, and runs for eight days, with the Bronze and Gold matches on Saturday, March 17 and Sunday, March 18, respectively. For a preview of Team USA, and Tampa Bay’s own Declan Farmer’s attempt to repeat his Gold Medal, we wrote it up over here!

Hey! Since the release of that article, the home team won it’s first game! South Korea beat Japan 4-1 to take home the game’s opening match. [Paralympic]

(Since the Olympics are annoying when it comes to marketing itself, you’ll have to google video from the game, I assure you it was worth the hunt.)

Dallas Stars forward Martin Hanzal is to have season-ending “spinal fusion” back surgery soon. It will sideline him for 6-7 months. [DefendingBigD]

Hanzal has been in and out of the lineup all season, dealing with a variety of different injuries. He played 38 games with 5 goals and 5 assists and was a key member of the Stars’ penalty killing unit. His last game was February 22nd against the Anaheim Ducks, which he exited early due to injury.

Brad Marchand has been fined...again. This time for diving. What a shocker. [TSN]

Marchand was fined $2,000 on Friday for diving/embellishment against the Pittsburgh Penguins on March 1.

Olli Maata was called for tripping Marchand on the play, but the Bruins forward also received a minor for embellishment.

Marchand was warned about diving earlier this season after an incident against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Nov. 29.

Highlight of the Night: Bob’s core strength is unreal.