Tampa Bay Lightning prospect Vladislav Namestnikov will remember a number of things about his NHL debut.
First - the call.
"I got the call around 11:45 p.m. Thursday night," Namestnikov said. "I was nervous and excited at the same time. There are so many emotions and thoughts going through my head, but I'm just happy to be here now and I'm looking forward to playing in my first NHL game."
The game is significant for another reason, Namestnikov grew up in Detroit and his uncle, Vyacheslav 'Slava' Kozlov, is a former NHLer and Stanley Cup champion with the Detroit Red Wings. It is the same team Lightning vice president and general manager, Steve Yzerman, captained.
"It's special for me to be playing against the Red Wings," Namestnikov said. "They were my favorite team growing up."
And with the emphasis that head coach Jon Cooper has put on tonight, calling it a "one-game playoff," the 2011 first-round (27th overall) draft pick by the Lightning said the opportunity to play in his career game with the Bolts "meant a lot."
"It means Cooper has faith in me," Namestnikov said. "I just have to go out there and do my best and try to help the team now."
There is a good chance Namestnikov will also center J.T. Brown and Nikita Kucherov. The two were his linemates while with Tampa Bay's AHL affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch.
"He'll probably be reunited with the line he played with in the AHL - Kucherov and Brown," Cooper said. "They had a lot of chemistry down there and let's hope it translates to the NHL."
When asked about if he thinks the line's success has a good chance of translating, Cooper said "naturally it can translate." He then pointed out Tampa Bay's former line of Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson and Richard Panik, as well as some of the young talent on the Red Wings.
With Steven Stamkos and now Valtteri Filppula out the Bolts were left with a huge void at center making Namestnikov the perfect fill-in.
"Our top two centers are out," Cooper said. "Namestnikov is a skilled centerman. This is not a charity case. All the guys called up since I've been in this organization have been brought up on merit."
Cooper said he'll be interested to see how Namestnikov uses his speed and that he doesn't shy away from getting in the gritty areas.
"He's a gamer," Cooper said.
BISHOP ANOTHER GAME-TIME DECISION
Coming out early on during Saturday's morning skate netminder Ben Bishop took some shots, but left approximately 10 minutes later.
"We've gone from day-to-day to hour-to-hour," Cooper said, meaning that Bishop will be a game-time decision for Tampa Bay.
The Bolts' goalie did not participate in Friday's practice after leaving Thursday's game at the end of the second period with an upper body injury.
Cedrick Desjardins has been with the Lightning since January 31 when it was announced Anders Lindback (lower body) would not return before the Olympic break.
With the possibility of getting the start Desjardins said he has been working extremely hard while with the Crunch just to get an opportunity in Tampa Bay.
"Bishop has been fantastic," Desjardins said. "I was looking at him and as a team they were playing with a lot of confidence in front of him. The team is facing adversity; we need great goaltending to get through that adversity."
Kristers Gudlevskis was also recalled Friday night from Syracuse with the uncertainty surrounding Bishop. This is his second recall in the past two weeks, although he was loaned back the day following his call-up the first time around.
BREAK COMING AT PERFECT TIME
Cooper could not express enough how much the Lightning will benefit from rest over the next few weeks.
"This break is needed for a plethora of reasons," he said. "One is getting guys healthy. Hopefully Bishop, Filppula and Stamkos will be one those guys. We need to get some really important people on our team healthy."
Cooper is planning to take some time to "decompress" before the Bolts' mini-training camp begins on February 20. He suggested the same for the team too.
OTHER ODDS 'N ENDS
- Blueliner J.P. Cote cleared waivers Saturday afternoon and is expected to play with the Bolts' AHL affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch, this evening.
- District court judge Tom Brennan, Jr., who got Cooper his very first gig as a hockey coach at his son's high school, was seen in the Lightning locker room Saturday. He will be sitting in the stands with his wife for tonight's game wearing the jersey of the hockey team Cooper coached at Lansing Catholic Central high school.
- Red Wings and Team Canada head coach, Michael Babcock, said that Martin St. Louis was the "next best choice" behind Steven Stamkos for Canada and the reason why he was picked.