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Lightning, Avalanche top nominees at NHL Awards

Monday, 06.23.2014 / 9:09 PM / 2014 NHL Awards

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

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Lightning, Avalanche top nominees at NHL Awards
The Tampa Bay Lightning and Colorado Avalanche finished 29th and 30th, respectively, in 2012-13. One season later, each qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs and have players in the running at the 2014 NHL Awards.

LAS VEGAS -- A year ago, the Tampa Bay Lightning and Colorado Avalanche were licking their wounds months after completing dreadful seasons. They were looking forward to the 2013 NHL Draft, where they had high picks and could begin to change their fortunes.

Nobody could have predicted they'd each change fast enough to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs and send a combined eight representatives to Las Vegas for the 2014 NHL Awards.

The Lightning and Avalanche, who finished 28th and 29th, respectively, in the standings last season, lead all teams with four nominees each for awards. They'll find out who wins Tuesday in a two-hour live show at Encore Theater in Wynn Las Vegas (7 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC).

The other teams that have as many as three nominees here are the Los Angeles Kings and Boston Bruins, who have combined to win three of the past four Stanley Cup championships.

"The reason why we're here is because we played as a team," Avalanche coach Patrick Roy said. "Sometimes when you focus on playing as a team individual honors come with it because the team is doing well. The only reason why our players are here is because the team had success."

Roy could say the same thing about himself, but his success in his first season as a NHL coach is a big reason why the Avalanche finished third in the standings with 112 points and why he's here as a nominee for the Jack Adams Award, given to the League's top coach.

Similarly, Lightning coach Jon Cooper's success in his first full season behind as a NHL coach is a major reason why Tampa Bay had 101 points and why he's also here as a nominee for the Jack Adams Award.

Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock is also nominated. He was previously nominated for the Jack Adams in 2007-08, when he finished third.

"You go through stages in your career, and I've never really ever been one to second guess myself, but there's still that little bit of shadow of, 'Can I really do this?'" Cooper said. "When I reflect back on all the years and stages, I think at every stage there was a little bit of nervousness? After this first year, I personally feel that I belong and I can hang with these guys.

"In the big picture after this year I feel confident that I belong."

Roy said winning the Jack Adams would "be something special," but he couldn't call it a dream come true because he never dreamt of being a NHL coach.

"It's something 11 years ago when I retired I never thought I would have the opportunity," Roy said. "First of all, I didn't even know what I was going to do, if I was going to coach or be a GM at the junior level. From the day that I decided to become a coach, even thinking coaching in the NHL was not part of the plan. Things escalate and here I am today."

Cooper is amazed that he is even in the same category as Babcock and Roy, who between them have won the Stanley Cup a combined five times, including four for Roy as a player. Babcock has coached in the Stanley Cup Final three times and has won the Olympic gold medal twice.

"Well, Mike Babcock, Patrick Roy, Jon Cooper -- I'm honored to be in that breath," Cooper said. "It's surreal to me, but it's really, really exciting."

Considering how the Lightning and Avalanche won with young players this season, including a combined 15 regulars under the age of 25, it's not surprising that the three nominees for the Calder Trophy come from these two teams.

Avalanche forward Nathan MacKinnon, 18, is the favorite to win the Calder. MacKinnon, the No. 1 pick in the 2013 NHL Draft, led all rookies with 39 assists and 63 points.

MacKinnon's 24 goals were tied for first among rookies with Tyler Johnson of the Lightning, who joins teammate Ondrej Palat as the other two Calder Trophy nominees.

Palat was second among rookies with 59 points and first with a plus-32 rating. He had 37 points and a plus-17 rating in his last 32 games. Johnson was third among rookies with 50 points.

Palat and Johnson are 23 years old.

"To come to the awards like this, I never really thought it was possible so just to be here is a dream come true," Johnson said. "It's even better to have the guys on our team, like it's a little team reunion so it's a lot of fun."

Goalies Ben Bishop of the Lightning and Semyon Varlamov of the Avalanche are in the running for the Vezina Trophy, along with Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask.

Rask is already a Stanley Cup champion and was considered one of the best goalies in the NHL entering the 2013-14 season. Like their teams, Bishop and Varlamov played their way up the rankings of the League's top goalies this season.

Varlamov was first in the League with 41 wins and third with a .927 save percentage. Bishop was fourth in wins with 37 and fourth in GAA (2.23) among goalies with at least 40 appearances.

Varlamov credited Avalanche goalie coach Francois Allaire for changing his style and making him play deeper as reasons for his success. Roy, who became a Hall of Fame goalie under Allaire's tutelage, said he thinks Varlamov is just scratching the surface of his potential.

"He believes in himself," Roy said. "I think the key for him was the way he performed opened his eyes and made him understand he can be a dominant player in this League."

Ryan O'Reilly doesn't have any competition from current Lightning players for the Lady Byng Trophy. However, former Lightning captain Martin St. Louis is a finalist, along with San Jose Sharks forward Patrick Marleau.

O'Reilly led the Avalanche with 28 goals and was third on the team with 64 points, but he's here as a nominee because he had two penalty minutes.

O'Reilly's lone minor penalty came in Colorado's 74th game of the season, March 29 against the Sharks, coincidentally the day the Avalanche clinched a playoff berth. He was called for playing the puck with a broken stick at 8:49 of the third period. It's a penalty he still regrets.

"It would have been nice to go the whole season without a penalty," O'Reilly said. "I was so close. If I would have just dropped the stick and kicked the puck back, it wouldn't have been called. Who knows? I could have went the whole season without one. It happens."

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