Tampa Bay Lightning backup goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy will make his second-straight start and third-career postseason start when the Bolts battle the Pittsburgh Penguins in tonight’s Eastern Conference Final Game 3 at Amalie Arena.
Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said Vezina Trophy-finalist Ben Bishop will miss his second-consecutive game after going down with a lower-body injury in the first period of Game 1 and being stretchered off the ice. Bishop skated before the Bolts’ optional morning skate Wednesday.
“He’s progressing,” Cooper said. “I think after today’s game, I think now we’re teetering on whether he can be back or not, but there’s obviously no guarantees in that. But he’s making gradual steps every day, and he was going up and down today on the pads. So hopefully, it’s soon.”
Cooper added he’s “hopeful” Bishop can practice with the Lightning on Thursday.
Meanwhile, Steven Stamkos was one of five players including Bishop, Tyler Johnson, Jonathan Drouin and Victor Hedman not at the optional morning session. Stamkos had an off-ice workout Tuesday and a planned day off today. He also will not play in Game 3 according to Cooper, who went on to say everybody else on the roster will be available tonight.
That means Ryan Callahan, who missed Game 2 after coming down with the flu the night before, will be in the lineup and make his 100th career postseason start.
“That was just an unfortunate situation because that kid’s tough as nails,” Cooper said. “He actually had a really good line for me. He was so (mad) because he said, ‘Last year I played a game three days after getting my appendix out, and this year I can’t even fight through the damn flu.’
“I was like, that must have been a bad flu bug. We’ve all – let’s be honest – we’ve all been there, like when you get zapped by it. He looked awful, felt awful, but he’s game to get back.”
Callahan said he felt “good” following today’s morning skate.”
“It was unlucky obviously,” he said about the 24-hour bug.
STRALMAN READY FOR GAME 3
Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman made his first appearance of the 2016 playoffs in Game 2 at Pittsburgh and first since fracturing his left fibula March 25. Stralman skated 18:39 in Game 2 – second most by a Bolts defenseman behind Victor Hedman – and netted Tampa Bay’s first goal.
“It’s what you dream about,” Stralman said about scoring in his return.
The 29-year-old defenseman said he felt “pretty good” getting his first action in over seven weeks.
“There’s been no issues so far,” he said about any after effects from playing Game 2.
Stralman has scored a goal in all four games he’s played against Pittsburgh this season (regular season and playoffs) and has five total against the Pens.
Before this season, Stralman had never scored versus Pittsburgh.
“I have no idea, just a fluke I guess,” he said, smiling.
PASSING THE PUCK
The Lightning had just 21 shots on goal in Game 2, this after registering only 20 in the series opener. One of the repeated lines in the Bolts’ locker room following morning skate revolved around getting more shots on Penguins rookie goalie Matt Murray rather than passing up open looks to try to set up a perfect play.
Of course, maybe that’s the wrong approach for the Lightning, who are 8-1 when registering 20 shots or fewer in the playoffs dating back to the 2004 Stanley Cup run.
“You look at every game after you win, after you lose, what can we do better? What did we do well? What could work?” Bolts center Brian Boyle said. “We want the puck more. We want to be in the area a little bit more, and we want to give up less. There are a number of ways to do that. We need to figure it out and commit to it.”
Stralman added extra shots will come from possessing the puck more.
“Puck management is big,” he said. “I don’t think we managed the puck very well the last game and that put us in our defensive zone and playing their way too much. So, that’s one thing, manage the puck better, sustained pressure when we can. We were a little too much one attack and done and then out of the zone. We couldn’t really sustain that pressure deep in their zone. So there are a lot of things we can improve on, and that’s one of them.”
ODDS AND ENDS
Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman has registered an assist in each game so far of the ECF and has points in six of his last seven games (4 goals, 6 assists). Hedman moved into a tie with Vincent Lecavalier for third place on Tampa Bay’s all-time playoff assists leaderboard after notching No. 28 of his career in Game 2…Bolts forward Jonathan Drouin has scored in both ECF games and also has points in six of his last seven games (3 goals, 4 assists)…The Lightning have the best win percentage (.750) in these playoffs and have yet to lose two games in a row…The Bolts have the best third period/overtime goal differential (+10) in these playoffs…Tampa Bay is 18-2 since the start of the 2015 playoffs when scoring the first goal…Also dating back to the 2015 postseason, the Lightning are 10-0 when Tyler Johnson nets a goal.