Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Lightning Struck Down

The Montreal Canadiens followed the EA Sports prediction to a tee tonight, knocking off the Tampa Bay Lightning in four straight games. This series was supposed to be about two dominant goaltenders and a couple of key scoring threats, and it lived up to that billing for the most part. However, the Achilles' heel of this Tampa Bay team was, as we saw, their goaltending after Ben Bishop was injured. While mistakes were made, Anders Lindback was outplayed by Montreal's Carey Price and, in the end, was the defining reason why Montreal will move on and Tampa Bay will go home.

That's not say that there isn't other blame to be shared. Ryan Callahan, for all he was worth to the Lightning, failed to record a point in the series, was a -2, and only had five shots on Price in the four games played. It's hard to fathom why he believes he's worth more than $6 million per year when he failed to show up for the most important games in career at this moment. If you want to demand big money, it might help if you're a big-money player. Ryan Callahan did nothing to support this demand for a massive contract, and I'd be reconsidering the dollars and cents that Callahan is worth if I were Steve Yzerman.

There should be some blame tossed on head coach Jon Cooper. I get that he feels his team didn't catch a break in the series, especially when some of the calls against the team seemed entirely false. However, Cooper's biggest question mark may have came tonight when he had the option to pull Anders Lindback after the first period and replace him with Kristers Gudlevskis. Lindback struggled again last night, and it was apparent after the opening frame that he was fighting the puck once again. While Tampa bay did score a shorthanded marker to make it a 2-1 game, the Brendan Gallagher goal 1:10 after was a back-breaker. Cooper needed to give his team a fighting chance, and Lindback didn't help that cause. While I realize that hindsight is 20/20, Cooper should have made the move earlier, especially when you consider that Tampa Bay led for just 3:34 of the 258:08 played in the series. You will never win with that kind of stat.

General manager Steve Yzerman should also shoulder a bit of the blame. The St. Louis-for-Callahan trade backfired in the playoffs in a big way. Anders Lindback might be a capable backup netminder during the regular series, but there's a reason he's not starting for any NHL team. Lindback played 23 regular season games this year, posting a record of 8-12-2. His 2.90 GAA and his .893 save percentage are nowhere close to the level needed for a playoff goaltender. He carried those numbers into a playoff series where he'd have to better only to post a 3.91 GAA and an .881 save percentage.

While the Lightning were banking on Ben Bishop to be their top guy going into the playoffs, it's hard for me to believe that Steve Yzerman wouldn't have some sort of insurance plan in case Bishop got hurt. Bishop did get hurt, Lindback was thrust into the starter's role, and now the players are cleaning out their lockers after four games. There were goalies available at the deadline based on the vast number of moves made, and some Stanley Cup winners even went cheaply as Dallas now has Tim Thomas as their backup netminder. That's a fail on Steve Yzerman's part when Lindback proved he wasn't up to the task all season long.

The Lightning, though, had a great regular season, and they need to be commended for overcoming some incredible odds. The loss of Steven Stamkos for the majority of the season really put the strain on some of the kids they brought in from Syracuse, but Ondrej Palat, Alex Killorn, Tyler Johnson, and Nikita Kucherov stepped up immensely in helping the Lightning overcome those odds. They secured home-ice advantage as the second-place team in the Atlantic Division without their star player for most of the season.

The trade deadline saw Martin St. Louis - the team's heart and soul - dealt to the New York Rangers after a spat between himself and GM Steve Yzerman. There is no doubt in my mind that the Lightning got weaker that day. St. Louis was the engine that drove the Lightning, and you could tell that Steven Stamkos' game suffered when he returned to the ice without his cross-ice setup man. Ryan Callahan, who was netted in the St. Louis deal, played well down the stretch as the Lightning finished strong, but Steven Stamkos was missing his setup man in a big way as Callahan never came close to filling that role.

In finished second in their division, the Lightning did have an excellent season despite the seemingly uphill battle they faced with injuries. However in the playoffs, they fell short because of a lack of goaltending depth, some key pieces who underperformed, and some management decisions that will need to be addressed. After all, success is measured in the NHL by how close you got to the Stanley Cup.

The Lightning fell 16 wins short of that goal.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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