Lightning one win from Stanley Cup final

After a dismal showing in games one and two, at home no less, the Tampa Bay Lightning went on the road and found their game that had gone missing as they beat the Capitals in game three, stole game four, and then played a fantastic first period at home in game five to take a 3-2 series lead with a chance to wrap it up in Washington on Monday night,
An interesting stat I ran across this afternoon. The Capitals are 13-43 all-time in games after taking a 2-0 series lead. That is incredible.
So how have the Lightning gotten themselves back in the series after trailing 2-0 and being thoroughly outplayed the first two games?
It starts with a sense of urgency, desperation if you will, and the Lightning have played with that urgency the last three games. That first period Saturday night in game 5, was the best first period the Lightning have played this season. Cedric Paquette scoring 19 seconds into the first period and then a Ryan Callahan goal a few minutes later set the tone for the rest of the night.
There was not a lot of room on the ice for the Capitals to use their speed to create odd man chances as the Lightning defense was stellar, and the Bolts outshot the Capitals 13-4 to set the tone for the rest of the game.
Washington was on their heels and playing catch-up the rest of the game and could never overcome that quick start by the Lightning.
The Lightning plyed tight defense on the Ovechkin line. The grind line of Paquette, Callahan, and Kunitz shut down the top line of the Capitals, until late in the game when the Caps pulled Holtby and played 6 on 5 and Ovechkin put a rocket passed Vasilevskiy to make it 3-2. The defense has gotten better the last three games and that mindset has been key to shutting down and frustrating the Capitals.
The Lightning had to kill off the final 90 seconds of the 6-5 getting some help from Vasilevskiy with two outstanding saves.
The Lightning were also able to stay out of the penalty box and not let the Caps PP get going. In the two games in Washington the Caps PP was 0-7 thanks to some great saves by VasilevskIy. The Lightning PP has also gotten cranked up as the series has gone along and is now 6/15 in the series.
As the series shifts back to Washington for game 6, this will be the toughest game the Lightning has played all year. Washington will come out flying and the lightning will need to wether the storm. Vasilevskiy will again have to be very good in this game if the Lightning are going to advance. Vasilevskiy has been red hot stopping 100 of the last 106 shots he has faced.
The Capitals will get their chances, but if the lightning plays the way they have the last three games against the Caps, the Lightning will be Eastern Conference champions and looking forward to a date with Vegas in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Lightning eliminate Devils in 3-1 win

The Tampa Bay Lightning took care of business eliminating the New Jersey Devils in decisive fashion 3-1 yesterday afternoon. The Lightning were never threatened in the series dominating the Devils from start to finish and taking them out in five games.

Andrei Vasilevskiy proved why is a Vezina trophy candidate as he stonewalled the Devils time after time. Give the Devils their due, they area very talented team and will be a team to be reckoned with in the future. Their lack of a true No. 1 goalie I think hurt them and after the first line of Hischier, Hall and Palmieri, there was no line that really worried the Lightning.

Nikita Kucherov who had been in a slump to close out the regular season had a great series scoring 4 goals and assisting on three others as he regained his scoring touch . The devils really had no answer as the lightning were able to roll four lines effectively creating matchup problems with New Jersey.

Steven Stamkos will have to get going at some point. he had a very quiet two assists in the series and the Lightning will need his scoring touch if they are to continue to advance.

The Lightning continued too get contributions from the young Guns who were called up from Syracuse mid-season. Anthony Cirelli who will be Called Tony going forward, was a key component on the PK, and was able to play crucial minutes at key times in the game. There was no hesitation on Cooper’s part to put in out there in tight spots and Cirelli delivered.

This was the first playoff series in the NHL for Mikhail Sergachev who scored his first playoff goal in the game yesterday and has played solid minutes in a all five games.

What can you say about Victor Hedman. The Norris trophy finalist led the Lightning in minutes played per game averging over 25, and was outstanding on the PK and the PP. This should be Hedman’s year to win the Norris. granted Drew Doughty and PK Subban also had good years, Hedman has been rock solid from start to finish and deserves the award.

So a good series win for the Lightning. They had their moments were they weren’t as focused as they should have been, but when it was money time, the guys delivered and the lightning are moving on.

The Lightning will get some rest as they await the winner of the Boston/Toronto series. The Leafs forced a game 6 Monday night after the 4-3 win in Boston last night. That’s good news as it will give Ryan Callahan time to get close to 100% and Dan Girardi some time to get over his bumps and bruises as he has not been 100% this series. But then again who is this time of year. Adam Erne continues to get closer to a return and may be ready some time during the next series.

There has been word on when the second round would begin. I’m thinking the NHL would wait until all second round series have been completed before announcing dates and times.

Enjoy the break Lightning fans. Let’s hope Toronto and Boston beat each other up the next two games. It would be nice if it would go seven. You would see a tired beaten team coming to Amalie to face a well rested Lightning team, and that could be a huge problem for the opponent.

Rays struggles continue…

The poor Tampa Bay Rays. They just can‘t seem to catch a break. We knew going into the season it would be difficult scoring runs. We knew the bullpen was going to be in a constaunt state of flux. Now we get the word that for the third year in a row the Rays best player Kevin Kiermaier will miss 8-12 weeks due to ligament damage in his thumb.

Kiermaier jammed the thumb sliding into second base yesterday and immediately left the game. The best case scenario is he will be back in late June. Worst case scenario late July after the all-star break.

When Kiermaier does come back, he will probably need to introduce himself to a lot of new teamates as the Rays will soon be trading anyone that has value and is making a decent salary to save even more money.

Wilson Ramos is already being talked up in trade talks with the New York Mets who lost both of their catchers to injuries last week. Travis d’Arnaud is out for the year and Kevin Plawecki will miss a couple of months. This leaves the catching duties to Jose Lobaton and rookie Tomas Nido.

Chris Archer’s value continues to drop like a rock, as he just struggles every time he takes the mound. In the last two years, the “ace of the staff“and the No. 1 starter in Tampa Bay has a 19-31 record with a 4.05 ERA. This year, Archer is 1-1 with a 7.84 ERA and had a early exit against the Phillies over the weekend. These are not numbers that indicate a No.1 pitcher is about to take the mound.

As the Rays go through this rebuilding process, they do not have an ace or a No. 1 pitcher that can be counted on to slam the door and shut down the opposition. Jacob Faria and Blake Snell are still learning how to pitch at the MLB level. Yonny Chirinos and Ryan Yarbrough are rookies trying to find their way.

The Rays are currently 29th in offense hitting .216. The Cleveland Indians are the only team below the Rays hitting .200.

With Brad Miller on the DL and Kevin Kiermaier joining him, the Rays will really need to count on the likes of Joey Wendle, Mallex Smith and Johnny Field to step in and contribute.

The Rays are 3-12 and off to the worst start in club history. Before the season started I thought the Rays would be good for 72-75 wins. After these last two weeks it‘s looking like 60 wins would be a good season.

The Rays have struggled putting complete games together the first part of the season. The offense does well and gives the pitchers a nice lead to work with and the bullpen blows it. Or the pitchers pitch extremely well holding the opposition to 2 runs or less, and the offense can’t manufacture any runs. Despite the record the Rays are averaging around 19,500 a game through seven home games.

I know I’m not the only one that saw this coming. I hope the Rays can get this turned around and quickly. The schedule should be in the Rays favor over the next 9 days as they play Texas and Minnesota at home before beginning a road trip in Baltimore against the Orioles.

This team can’t be this bad can they?

Lightning take care of business at home

The Tampa Bay Lightning did what they had to do at home the first two games of the series out scoring the New Jersey Devils 10-5 to lead the series 2-0.

The lightning look like a team ready to take a deep playoff run in their domination of the Devils. The line of Alex Killorn, Yanni Guarde, and Tony Cirelli has been one of the best lines of the series. The Johnson, Palat, Point line been very good as well.

The lightning need the line of Stamkos, Kucherov, and Miller to get going at some point, although they have not played poorly at all, they are just not showing up on the score sheet as much.

In game 2 the Devils outshot the Lightning 19-9 in the third period as desperation set in for the Devils. The lightning were also down Dan Girardi and Ryan Callahan, two players the Lightning count on to play in those situations With their experience and leadership.

You could see the lightning were a bit out of synch as New Jersey applied the pressure in the third period and the lightning were scrambling, just running around trying to make sure they kept New Jersey in check.

The Lightning won’t know anything definitive until Monday on both players, but it looks like both players will miss some time. Callahan may have re-injured the shoulder that bothered him throughout the season and caused him to miss some games in March.

After the game it was being called an upper body injury, and the Girardi injury was being called a lower body injury. If Girardi is out for any length of time, his toughness and tenacity will be hard to replace. Girardi is just rock solid back there and is rarely out of position.

That would open the door for Slater Koekkoek, Jake Dotchin, and Sustr to get some more minutes. Adam Erne is still recovering from his lower body injury and would probably not be available to replace Callahan immediately, although he is now skating.

Monday night the first 10 minutes of the game will set the tone for the rest of the game. New Jersey will throw everything at the Lightning as they are desperate down 0-2 with the next two games at home.

The Lightning challenge will be to wether that storm, play with composure, play their game, and just trust the system.

The lightning will need to come out of the locker room like they did in Tampa. Start quickly, and take the home crowd out of the game early.

Continue to keep the line of Hall, Hischier, and Palmieri in check as they have just three points in the two games so far.

Tampa will need to continue to have success on the power play, be aggressive on the forecheck, and stay out of the penalty box To continue to have success in the series. The Lightning were much better on the PK in game 2 after a not so good effort in game 1.

Andrei Vasilevskiy was outstanding in game 2 especially in the third period when it seemed he was under constant attack.

The goal is to win 2 games in New Jersey and then rest up for the winner of the Boston/Toronto series. I think the Lightning will split in Jersey and then come home and wrap it up on Saturday.

Bucs off-season has been a success

As the off-season continues for the Bucs with the draft just about 2 weeks away, this has been the best off-season for the Bucs in quite some time.

The Bucs have taken care of really two areas on the team that needed improvement the DL and the OL.

It was a late start for the Bucs in free agency, but once Jason Licht entered the playing field, things started happening quickly for the Bucs. Vinny Curry, Mitch Unrein, and Beau Allen were all signed as free agents. Licht then traded a draft pick to the Giants for Jason Pierre Paul who has been a top 10 defensive lineman his career.

Licht also shored up the OL by signing C Ryan Jensen from the Baltimore Ravens. This move strengthened the OL because it will allow Ali Marpet to move back to guard his natural position with Jensen bringing a nastiness and physical presence to the line.

Give Licht credit as he cut some dead weight. Doug Martin gone. Chris Baker gone, Robert Ayers out of here. With the Baker and Ayers moves sometimes you have to admit that you made a mistake by bringing those guys on board. Licht did that and the Bucs are moving on with a revamped DL.

Now we all wait draft day and what Jason Licht and the Bucs will do. There are still some holes on this team. The defensive backfield and the CB position have not been addressed at all. Yes they signed Brent Grimes to a one year deal who was the Bucs best player last year. But other than his signing, they have done nothing to address the needs at this position.

That is why I am advocating the Bucs take a DB with the No. 7 pick in the draft. And there will be one available. I like Minkah Fitzpatrick, just from the aspect that he can play several positions in the secondary. If he is not on the board when the Bucs choose, I would select Derwin James of FSU or even Denzel Ward of Ohio State.

There are two other players that may be available that the fans are clamoring for. Saquon Barkley the RB from Penn State may be there at No. 7, then again there is talk of the Browns taking him at No. 1. Barkley is a phonomal talent who can do it all. Return kicks, return punts, and catch the ball out of the ball field. He is the complete package.

The Bucs have Jacquizz Rodgers and Peyton Barber on the roster at the RB position. This is a draft that is deep in RB’s and the Bucs can get a quality back or two later in the draft.

OL Quenton Nelson may also be available when the Bucs select at 7. Again I would pass on Nelson. I understand that he may be a futureHOF’er, and will solidify the line for years to come. Again you can find quality lineman in the later rounds of the draft and build depth that will help your football team.

The biggest need on this Bucs team is the secondary and that is why I am advocating the Bucs a take a DB with the 7th pick.

The Bucs are still around 15 million under the cap, so a DB from the free agent market could still be signed if the price is right. However with contract extensions on the horizon for Ali Marpet, Kwon Alexander and Jameis Winston, the Bucs need to save a lot of that money for those extensions.

–April 16th, the Bucs begin off-season workouts.

–Mini-camp for the rookies will be May 11-14th.

The Rays are what we thought they were…not very good.


The Tampa Bay Rays have played 8 games and have played two of the best teams in baseball, the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees.

So we cut the Rays a bit of a break, as the Red Sox own the best record in the majors at 7-1 and lead the league in pitching with a 2.09 ERA. Six of those games have been against the Rays with one more to follow tomorrow.

Going intro the season, we thought the strength of this team would be the pitching. Overall, the pitching has been a disappointment so far in the young season. Before giving up 10 runs today, the Rays were 16th in MLB with a 4.16 ERA. To say Jacob Faria has been a disappointment would be an Understatement. Faria was lit up for eight runs in less than two innings of work today while walking five.

The ace of the staff Chris Archer has been mediocre sporting an ERA around 6 and giving way to the bullpen way too early in his starts. The bullpen has struggled save for Yonny Chirinos. In two outings, Chirinos by far has been the Rays best pitcher so far this season. In nine innings of work, Chirinos has one walk to go with seven strikeouts and has not given up a run. Chirinos should be given an opportunity to move into the rotation as the fourth starter. The three starters with two bullpen days is not going to get it done and is not a recipie for success, regardless of what the saber-metrics say.

The offense has been dreadful posting a .188 average before today’s three run outburst. In our season preview, we stated that we thought the offense would be the weak link on this ream and that is proving to be the case.

The Rays have seven players batting below the Mendoza line, and their best player still on the roster from the off-season purge Kevin Kiermaier is hitting .077 and did not play today.

I thought the best this team could do would be to win 70 games and it‘s looking like that will be a reach for this team. Right now there is really nothing the Rays can do and will do to improve this team. This is what happens and what kind of product you put on the field when trade your best players in a salary purge in the off-season.

The Durham shuttle will probably get started next week, and then we will get to look at Hunter Wood, Adam Kolarek, Anthony Banda, and Ryne Stanek in the bullpen. Not exactly names that will strike fear in the heart of opponents.

In the midst of what will be the Rays worst season since the early years, the business leaders in Hillsborough and Pasco counties will try to drum up support from the local businesses to get them to commit hundreds of millions of dollars to help build the Rays a new stadium in Ybor City. That my friends will be a tough sell.


Lightning back in playoff form with win against the Bruins

It was what Lightning fans had been waiting to see for a few weeks now, smothering defense, Vasilevskiy back in Vezina form, and contibutions offensively from all lines.

This was the best game the Lightning have played in I can’t remember when. The lightning have had good periods, maybe a good 10 minute stretch here and there when they dominated, for a short period of time, but this was as a complete game the Lightning have played all season.

And the fact that it came against the Bruins, a team that had the Lightning’s number all year was even better.

Last night’s game will set the tone for a potential second round playoff matchup with the Bruins, which if it comes about would be one of the best series of the playoffs.

This game also sends a message that the Lightning will be a team to be reckoned with in the playoffs. The game last night proved that the Lightning can defensively smother a team and shut them down. Vasilevskiy had one of his best games of the season with his 8th shutout of the season and his 43rd win in the 4-0 whitewash of the Bruins.

Boston, along with Nashville have been the hottest teams in the NHL the second half of the season. While the Lightning stumbled a bit after the break, the Bruins got on a roll and have climbed to the top of the standings in the Eastern Conference.

Lightning captain Steven Stamkos missed the game with what is what is being called a lower body injury. Jon Copper said he may play this weekend depending on how he feels, but I wouldn’t count on it.

There are a few variables at play this weekend as the No. 1 seed in the East is on the line. Right now the Bruins and the Lightning are tied with 110 points. Boston has 3 games remaining, two against the Panthers. The Lightning have two games left. They will play the Sabres on Friday night in the home finale, and the Hurricanes on Saturday.

Should Stamkos play or not? I would rather he rest this weekend then play and risk some kind of silly injury and miss some tIme in the playoffs. The Lightning are probably going to get second place in the division and a first round matchup against Toronto at this point.

Louis Domingue should get the start on Friday night. I would rest Vasilevskiy and then have everyone who is healthy play on Saturday against the Hurricanes in a tuneup for the playoffs.

-The Lightning will probably host game one of their series on Thursday night as Amalie Arena will be hosting a concert on Wednesday Night.

-Adam Erne is still hobbling and will be a bit longer before he gets back to playing. Cooper ‘s comments yesterday were that Erne was more than just day to day. Barring an injury these last two games, the Lightning should enter the playoffs relatively health