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Lightning Round: Just play hockey, please

Lightning sign another prospect

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NHL: MAY 22 Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round - Panthers at Lightning Photo by Andrew Bershaw/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Floating around in the ether I have a half-written diatribe about Game Four that I wrote with the intention of publishing Sunday morning as our Morning After Thought. It was not well-written, although there were some creative expletive usage. I decided to scrap it because, quite frankly, it didn’t advance much in the way of discussion about this series. It was basically a 600-word Tweet of emotion.

Instead, I decided to wait a day and let things cool down a bit. As I told the staff in our Slack chat, I try not to hold hate in my heart, but the Panthers and their fan base (along with a portion of the Lightning fan base on social media) are making it hard, oh so hard. Here we are though, a couple of days later and time has dampened some of the hostility.

Coach Cooper summed up Game Three pretty succinctly in his presser after the game when he said, “The hockey game ended halfway through the second. It turned into something different.” That echoed the sentiment from our Twitter feed immediately after the game:

It’s a crying shame that it has devolved into a penalty and questionable-hit affair because both of these teams have the talent to make it a fast-paced, skill-based series. They both play offense-first, aggressive hockey that thrives on creating turnovers and good chaos. From time-to-time that has even shined through the grey cloud of unnecessary play that has enveloped this series.

Florida’s style is the worst possible match-up for the Lightning. They love to create turnovers or block shots and instantly transition to offense. Their forwards are flying out of the zone the second the puck touches their teammate’s stick. With the way the Bolts pinch in from the blueline it plays right into Florida’s transition game.

At the same time, the Panthers’ aggressive play in the defensive zone has allowed plenty of open ice for the Bolts when they hit their cross-ice passes and work their high-low game. They’ve had a lot of open looks from the points and that’s allowed them to score on deflections and rebounds. This should be the type of hockey that the NHL celebrates and splashes all over the place (and not banish to CNBC, but that’s a post for another day).

Arguing about who started it, or who is the “dirtier” team is pointless now. Both sides are taking liberties and the refs are continuing to allow it to happen. What is abundantly obvious is which team is handling it better, and that’s the Lightning.

The Panthers have been the better team at 5v5 this series. Whether it’s been because their style creates a headache for the Bolts, or Tampa’s fondness for bad clears and turnovers, Florida has a pretty good handle at even strength play. According to Natural Stat Trick the Lightning are rocking a 43.77% Corsi For, 41.68% Expected Goals For, and a 38.33% High Danger Chances For. None of those are great numbers. They aren’t even good numbers. Florida is getting more chances from more dangerous areas.

What the Bolts have been good at is scoring on the chances they’ve gotten and dominating on the power play. The power play has been very, very good. They’ve also benefited from the better goaltending play. While Andrei Vasilevskiy hasn’t been lights out, he’s made the big saves when the team has needed him to and is a huge reason they are up 3-1 in the series.

Game Four was a prime example of this trend. Florida was controlling the run of play for the majority of the first half of the game, but the scoreboard didn’t reflect it because Vasy was stoning them and the Lightning scored on the two chances they had. The Panthers got frustrated and took it out physically. When they were short-handed, the Bolts had their way with them. When Tampa Bay was short-handed, they took care of business.

If there is any proof that experience helps win playoff games, it’s been this series. The Lightning have been frustrated, but they’ve stuck to their game plan. The Panthers have deviated from it when things haven’t gone their way. Could that change? Possibly. If the Panthers stop with their extracurricular activities and stay out of the penalty box, this is a close game. The only problem is they’ve dug themselves a pretty deep hole at this point.

It would be nice if the shenanigans stop in Game Five and both teams focus on winning the game instead of the scrums. It would also be nice if the Lightning get out of this series without any serious injuries or suspensions.

Lightning Links:

Bolts sign Max Cajkovic

The Lightning bolstered their ranks for next season as they signed another prospect to a 3-year contract. Cajkovic, 20, had a bit of a rough season in 2020-21. With COVID restrictions in place he only played in 12 games for Val-d-Or (6 goals, 8 assists) as the QMJHL was delayed throughout the year. He also played in 27 goals (2 goals, 15 assists) for the Bratislava Capitals in Slovakia.

Cajkovic, a forward drafted in the third round in 2019, made headlines at the end of 2020 when he was sent home from the Slovakian World Juniors team after reportedly leaving at least one teammate with a concussion following a questionable hit in their training camp.

He has the speed, shot, and talent to make it to the NHL, but he needs to take the next step and be mentally ready for the professional game. Cajkovic will be surrounded by quite a few fellow rookies in Syracuse next season as the Bolts have signed quite a few of their prospects over the last few months.

Injuries to Kucherov, Sergachev not considered serious

Joe Smith breaks down the series so far and mentions that, according to his sources, the injuries to Nikita Kucherov and Mikhail Sergachev aren’t considered serious. It’s the postseason so we won’t know what they are dealing with until they are over, and the official word from the Lightning is silence, but that’s better than bad news.

If they are in the game tonight, expect both of them to play with a bit of an edge. Neither takes kindly to being roughed up and Kucherov tends to find an extra gear when he’s carrying a grudge.

Could Spencer Knight be the answer for Florida in net?

The Panthers goaltending hasn’t been horrible this series, but it hasn’t been great either. Neither Chris Driedger or Sergei Bobrovsky have been able to make the big save when the team has needed it and both have been pulled from games. So, could Coach Quenneville actually do the thing and start 20-year-old uber-prospect Spencer Knight with the team’s season on the line? It appears Knight was in the starter’s net during practice on Sunday. That could be some coaching gamesmenship or a hint at a bold move by Coach Q. It’s unlikely that the Lightning really care who is in net, though.

Panthers increase attendance

It should be a raucous crowed for Game Five as the Panthers announced that they would allow “just under” 75% capacity for the game. They had allowed 50% for the first two games (both losses for Florida). With the tensions on the ice it’ll be an interesting atmosphere for a potentially series-deciding match.

Yesterday’s Games

Predators 4, Hurricanes 3 (2OT)

Series tied at 2

Well now, we have ourselves a series, don’t we? For the second game in a row, the Predators took out the top-ranked Hurricanes in double-bonus extra hockey. Jusse Saroos made 58 saves in the win and Luke Kunin ended it at the 16:10 mark of the second overtime.

Avalanche 5, Blues 2

Colorado wins series 4-0

This series was the most-lopsided one on paper and proved to be on the ice. Colorado is the first team to advance to the next round where they await the winner of the Wild/Golden Knights series. The big line provided the offense as Miko Rantanen, Gabriel Landeskog, and Nathan MacKinnon all scored while Phillip Grubauer stopped 18 of 20 shots/

Bruins 3, Capitals 1

Boston wins the series 4-1

Our first “upset” of the tournament. Boston knocks out Tom Wilson and the Capitals as the Washington offense just didn’t show up for the series. Patrice Bergeron had two goals in the series-clincher and Tukka Rask stopped 40 of 41 shots.

Jets 5, Oilers 4 (OT)

Winnipeg leads series 3-0

Oh Edmonton. It looked like they were getting back on track. Leon Draisaitl scored his first two goals of the season and Connor McDavid had his first two assists. It was 4-1. Nikolaj Ehlers scored off of a face-off in overtime to put the Oilers on the brink of elimination. That should go over well in Edmonton.

Today’s Games

Islanders @ Penguins, 7:00pm EST, NBCSN, SN1, TVAS2, ATTSN-PT, MSG

Series tied at 2

Maple Leafs @ Canadiens, 7:00pm EST, NHLN, CBC, TVAS, SN

Series tied at 1

Oilers @ Jets, 9:45pm EST, NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS2

Jets lead series 3-0

Wild @ Golden Knights, 10:30pm EST, CNBC, TVAS, SN1, ATTSN-RM, BSN+

Golden Knights lead series 3-1