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Notebook: Bogosian gets his first taste of playoff hockey

Monday's round robin matchup vs. the Caps was the first playoff game of the 12-year veteran's career

by Bryan Burns @BBurnsNHL /

Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Zach Bogosian has skated in 644 career regular season National Hockey League games over 12 seasons with three different franchises: Atlanta/Winnipeg from 2008-15, Buffalo from 2015-20 and Tampa Bay in 2020.

Incredibly, the 30-year-old Bogosian had never played in a Stanley Cup Playoffs game until Tampa Bay's round robin opener against Washington on Monday.

A former No. 3 overall selection by Atlanta in the 2008 NHL Draft, Bogosian needed the third-most games among active League players to step onto the ice for his first postseason action behind only Ron Hainsey (907 games) and Jay Bouwmeester (764 games). He skated on the Bolts' top pair alongside Norris Trophy finalist Victor Hedman against the Capitals and logged 19:18 time on ice, fifth most among Lightning players.

"I know it's been 12 years. I've been waiting a long time for it," Bogosian said about his first taste of the NHL playoffs. "I'm super excited."

Bogosian was placed on unconditional waivers by the Buffalo Sabres February 21 with the intention of terminating his contract, ending his five-season stint with the organization. Two days later, the Lightning signed Bogosian as a free agent. The Bolts were dealing with a number of injuries on the blue line and viewed Bogosian as a veteran, affordable stopgap until they could get healthy again.

Bogosian played in eight games during the regular season with the Lightning, recording two assists and showing an ability to pair capably with Hedman.

During Tampa Bay's restart training camp, Bogosian had maybe the most noticeable camp of any Lightning player and by week two had supplanted Jan Rutta, who missed the final month of the regular season with a lower-body injury and was still working his way into hockey shape, on the Bolts' top pair.

"He's a veteran in this league. He knows where to go. He's got size. He can end plays down low. And then it just comes down to a little bit of chemistry," Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said of Bogosian. "And Heddy, he's a Norris Trophy winner and a regular candidate. Usually when you play with guys like that, it makes the game a little bit easier for you."

Bogosian was limited coming into the 2019-20 regular season following off-season hip surgery. He missed the first 22 games while with Buffalo and never really got comfortable with the Sabres this season, playing in just 19 games before the Sabres sent him to AHL Rochester. Bogosian declined the assignment, and Buffalo terminated his contract.

During the four-month pause, Bogosian was able to recover fully from the off-season hip surgery. Now, he says his body feels the best it has in the last four or five years.

"Any time you get a surgery, they'll give you a timeline whether its four to six weeks or three to six months or whatever it is, but it really takes probably a full year to feel like yourself again. I'm a year post-op," Bogosian said Tuesday during a media Zoom call before Tampa Bay's practice at Toronto's Ford Performance Centre. "…My body's feeling good. You play hockey your entire life. It's what you know to do. It comes natural to you. But if you feel like your body's not catching up to your mind, it's a tough thing to do.

"To finally kind of have it all come together and feel good physically and mentally, it's a good feeling for sure."

RUTTA GETTING A CHANCE?: Bogosian has performed well with Hedman in training camp and during the Lightning's exhibition and round robin wins, but Jan Rutta will likely get a chance to show what he can do when paired with the 2018 Norris Trophy winner.

During Tuesday's practice session, Rutta was partnered with Hedman on the Lightning's top pair while Bogosian took turns with Braydon Coburn.

It's likely we'll see the Hedman-Rutta pairing at some point during the round robin so the Lightning coaching staff can determine the best route once the best-of-seven series begin. When the Lightning were playing their best hockey, a stretch from December 23 through February 17 when they went 23-2-1, Hedman and Rutta were together on the top pair for the majority of those games.

"We're experimenting still," Cooper said. "Nothing's set in stone."

STAMKOS SKATES: After sitting out sessions Saturday and Sunday, Lightning captain Steven Stamkos returned to practice Tuesday but didn't skate on a line.

Cooper said Stamkos will not play in Tampa Bay's second round robin game Wednesday at Boston, and his absence over the weekend was just the natural ebbs and flows of his rehab.

Stamkos is recovering from a lower-body injury sustained during Phase 2 of the NHL's Return to Play Plan. His regular season was cut short when he had surgery March 2 to repair a core muscle injury.

At the end of the restart training camp, Cooper said it would be "vital" for Stamkos to get into at least one of the Lightning's round robin games. Now it's looking like the only chance for that to happen will come Saturday when the Bolts host the Philadelphia Flyers.

THE GOALIE TANDEM: Lightning starting goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy has played the entire game in both the 5-0 exhibition win over Florida and Monday's 3-2 shootout victory against Washington in the round robin opener.

"The big thing is he shut the door in the third," Cooper said of Vasilevskiy's performance against the Caps. "I thought we had a couple pretty good periods. The third was definitely not our best period, and we needed our goaltender in that one and he was there for us. I would sit here and say Vasy's been pretty darn good for us."

Cooper indicated backup netminder Curtis McElhinney will see action in one or both of Tampa Bay's final round robin games. But he's maintained Vasilevskiy will start both.

"I'd like to get (McElhinney) in here one of these two games, just not sure which one," Cooper said.

THE PERFECT ADDS: Tampa Bay's third line of Barclay Goodrow, Blake Coleman and Yanni Gourde didn't score in Tampa Bay's shootout win over the Capitals, but their tenacity on the forecheck and ability to harass the Caps played a pivotal role in the Lightning's victory.

During Tuesday's media call, Cooper said both newcomers, Goodrow and Coleman, were "perfect adds" for the team before the trade deadline.

"You look at trades and you say do these guys help your team? Do they make you better? And they make us better. They make us deeper. They make us stronger," Cooper said. "I don't know if everything should be judged on how many points or how many goals you get but do they help you win hockey games, and those guys help us win hockey games."

Both Goodrow and Coleman became more comfortable with their new team during the break, getting to know the coaching staff better, getting to know their teammates on a more personal level, feeling more at home in Tampa. Once they came back from the pause, they were no longer the new guys on the team but felt like they'd been through an entire season with their new organization.

That comfort level is showing on the ice, particularly in the win over the Caps.

"You look at Washington's, the (Lars) Eller line with (Carl) Hagelin and (Ilya) Kovalchuk was there last night, it's a pretty darn good third line," Cooper said. "I think we matched the Gourdo-Goodie-Coleman line against them, and they went toe-for-toe and it's a hard thing to do against those guys.

"Love what they add to our team and to couple the fact they're great guys, they fit right in with us. They've made us a bit more of a gnarly, deeper team."

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