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Round 2
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Stanley Cup Final
POSTED ON Monday, 03.17.2014 / 1:03 PM

By Lonnie Herman -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 2013-2014 At the Rink Blog

Lightning focused on present against Canucks

TAMPA -- The Tampa Bay Lightning finish a six-game homestand Monday when they host the Vancouver Canucks.

The Lightning have gathered six of a possible 10 points and won their past two games after starting the stretch with a 3-1 loss to the Buffalo Sabres.

"We've had a pretty good homestand and we can turn a pretty good homestand into a great homestand with a win [Monday]," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "That's what this is."

The game Monday will feature a reunion of the 2003-04 Lightning team that won the Stanley Cup, and 14 members of that team have returned. Also on hand is that team's coach, John Tortorella, with his new team, the Vancouver Canucks. All that commotion has not gone unnoticed by the current Lightning coach.

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POSTED ON Saturday, 03.15.2014 / 12:11 PM

By Lonnie Herman -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 2013-2014 At the Rink Blog

Lightning expect tight defense from visiting Devils

TAMPA -- The Tampa Bay Lightning continue their six-game homestand Saturday when they host the New Jersey Devils.

Although New Jersey is coming off a 5-3 loss Friday against the Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper doesn't have any doubts about what kind of team he'll be facing.

"New Jersey does such a good job of playing defense and keeping the puck out of the net. It's tough to break through and score against these guys," Cooper said. "I look at the score last night and they gave up five goals and it's like an eye-opener, and then I think, 'Why couldn't they have given up five against us?' That doesn't happen that often and they have world-class goaltending in there and they have a system in place and they know how to play."

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POSTED ON Thursday, 03.13.2014 / 1:32 PM

By Lonnie Herman -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 2013-2014 At the Rink Blog

In need of win, Lightning expect test from Panthers

TAMPA -- The Tampa Bay Lightning will be looking to snap their five-game losing streak when they meet the Florida Panthers on Thursday at Tampa Bay Times Forum.

The Lightning have picked up four points since the NHL stopped for the 2014 Sochi Olympics, and one thing is certain for Tampa Bay.

"We're running out of games," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said.

Calling the game against the Panthers "a pivotal one," Cooper said he doesn't expect it to be easy.

"Florida, realistically, won't make the [Stanley Cup Playoffs], but look at their starting lineup tonight compared to the team we play on Oct. 27 (a 4-3 shootout win). I think there are eight different forwards playing," Cooper said. "But the guys that are playing are fighting for contracts and for jobs, not only for this year but for next year. These guys will be flying; they are hungry hockey players. As hungry as we are, wanting to stay in our playoff spot, these guys are hungry because they want to make sure they are on the Florida Panthers next year. The battle level will be intense."

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POSTED ON Monday, 03.10.2014 / 1:54 PM

By Lonnie Herman -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 2013-2014 At the Rink Blog

Coyotes' Smith returns to face Lightning

TAMPA -- When the Tampa Bay Lightning host the Phoenix Coyotes on Monday, a familiar goaltender will be on the ice, but at the opposite end from what once was his accustomed spot.

Mike Smith, who played for the Lightning from 2007-11, makes his return to Tampa Bay Times Forum, and in the time since he left much has changed for the 31-year-old goalie.

When Smith was obtained in a trade with the Dallas Stars, hopes were high that Tampa Bay had settled its goaltending picture for the foreseeable future.

It didn't work that way. Smith occasionally flashed signs of brilliance but was inconsistent and finished his time in Tampa Bay with a demotion to the Norfolk Admirals of the American Hockey League.

"It was a tough situation, being sent to the minors," Smith said. "I never thought I'd play in the NHL again so I was just making the best of the situation. Obviously I got a second chance and I was very fortunate."

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POSTED ON Saturday, 03.08.2014 / 12:35 PM

By Lonnie Herman -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 2013-2014 At the Rink Blog

Lightning still adjusting following St. Louis trade

TAMPA -- The Tampa Bay Lightning continue a six-game homestand hosting the Boston Bruins Saturday. In preparation, each team held an optional morning skate.

Lightning coach Jon Cooper skipped the morning media session, sending associate coach Rick Bowness in his place.

The Lightning are riding a three-game losing streak and slipping in the Stanley Cup Playoff race. But despite the distractions surrounding the recent trade of captain Martin St. Louis to the New York Rangers, Bowness characterized the team as "pumped up about the challenge to play the Bruins."

"We all know what has happened lately but the atmosphere around the players is good," Bowness said. "We need some wins to take it to another level. We have to keep working and keep pushing until we get this thing turned around."

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POSTED ON Thursday, 03.06.2014 / 2:24 PM

By Lonnie Herman -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 2013-2014 At the Rink Blog

Lightning's Callahan not worried replacing St. Louis

TAMPA -- Prior to the Tampa Bay Lightning's morning skate Thursday, coach Jon Cooper assembled the team and addressed the elephant in the room.

"We talked about Martin St. Louis," Cooper said. "I think it was only fair to acknowledge that one of the greatest players in this franchise history, if not the greatest, had been moved. But it was a 100-percent positive conversation. We explained to the players what happened and introduced Ryan Callahan, our new player."

And with that out of the way, there is no looking back for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

"There has been something hanging over our team for quite some time," Cooper said. "I think, whether this was right or wrong or will help or hurt, we don't know the answer to that question today, but it has brought kind of a new life to our team. We don't know which way that will go at this point, but I think our focus now is the last 20 games and we have to win to make the playoffs."

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POSTED ON Saturday, 02.08.2014 / 1:15 PM

By Lonnie Herman -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 2013-2014 At the Rink Blog

Namestnikov to make NHL debut for Lightning

TAMPA -- The Tampa Bay Lightning had an optional skate Saturday morning with 10 players participating. But don't think that coach Jon Cooper's casual attitude means he is taking the Detroit Red Wings lightly.

"This is paramount for us, to get points before we go into the break," Cooper said. "It's a division opponent, it's someone we are battling for a playoff spot. I'm not classifying this as a Game 7; we'll still be in the playoff hunt when we return from the break. But stopping the bleeding now would be really nice."

And there has been some bleeding, as the Lightning are on a 1-4-0 run and hold a slim one-point edge over the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs for second place in the Atlantic Division. Saturday's opponent, the Red Wings, sits five points back.

"In regard to the break, there are a lot of teams in this League probably wishing this break never came, and there are a few teams in this League that are wishing it started a week ago," Cooper said. "And we are probably one of those teams."

With Valtteri Filppula sidelined with an ankle injury that is expected to sideline him at least three weeks and Ben Bishop day-to-day with an upper-body injury, the Lightning recalled forward Vladislav Namestnikov and goaltender Kristers Gudlevskis from the American Hockey League. Namestnikov will make his NHL debut Saturday.

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POSTED ON Thursday, 02.06.2014 / 1:54 PM

By Lonnie Herman -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 2013-2014 At the Rink Blog

Lightning can hear teams creeping up behind them

TAMPA -- If the Tampa Bay Lightning hear footsteps, it's simply because teams are sneaking up on them in the standings.

The Lightning return home to the Tampa Bay Times Forum after a four-game road trip when they were 1-3-0. Their opponents in their final two games heading into the Olympic break, the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday and the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday, are seeking to close the gap and overtake them in the standings.

First it's the streaking Maple Leafs, who are on a 9-2-1 run to climb to within three points of the Lightning in the Atlantic Division.

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POSTED ON Saturday, 01.25.2014 / 12:28 PM

By Lonnie Herman -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 2013-2014 At the Rink Blog

Aittokallio to make season debut in goal for Avalanche

TAMPA -- On the heels of a win Friday against the Florida Panthers, the Colorado Avalanche had an optional skate before meeting the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

One player who definitely wanted to get some rest was Sami Aittokallio. He will be making his first start of the season in goal against the Lightning.

Aittokallio was called up from the American Hockey League's Lake Erie Monsters on Friday as insurance since Jean-Sebastien Giguere remains day-to-day with back spasms.

The game on Saturday will mark Aittokallio's second NHL start. He appeared against the L.A. Kings on April 11, 2013 and stopped 23 of 25 shots before leaving in the third period with leg cramps.

"We're not going to change our plan," Colorado coach Patrick Roy said. "Giguere was supposed to play for us tonight but we have three games in four nights and we just feel we want to give Varlamov a rest. We have a lot of confidence in Aittokallio. He had a really good training camp for us and I think it would be a good time for him to have his first start for us this year. He played really well in L.A. last year. It will be a good challenge for him.”


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POSTED ON Thursday, 01.23.2014 / 1:31 PM

By Lonnie Herman -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 2013-2014 At the Rink Blog

Hedman back for Lightning after missing one game

TAMPA -- Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman will be back in the lineup Thursday as the Lightning host the Ottawa Senators at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

Hedman missed one game when he was hit in the leg with a puck during the Lightning's game Jan. 18 against the San Jose Sharks. That was one game too many for Lightning coach Jon Cooper.

"You miss a 24-minute [of ice time per game] defenseman that plays the whole 200 feet," Cooper said. "You take arguably the best defenseman off any team and it will leave a hole. When he is on the ice it is harder for teams to get into our zone. Just the way he can cut the ice down on teams and not give them space just because of his speed, and then we usually have the puck a lot more when he is on the ice, just in the sense that he retrieves it quicker and he's got that ability to jump into plays.

"He plays all situations for us, power plays and penalty kill, so it's tough when you miss guys like that."

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Playing for my favorite team growing up, I've probably scored that goal a million times in my driveway. It feels good to actually do it in real life.

— Dale Weise, who grew up a Canadiens fan, on scoring the overtime winner in Montreal's 5-4 victory against Tampa Bay in Game 1