Nothing doing for Panthers vs. Bolts

by Gary Shelton on May 24, 2022

in general

Vasilevskiy got help from teammates such as Sergachev./JEFFREY S. KING

Tuesday, 4 a.m.

The best shot of the Florida Panthers meant nothing. The President's Cup meant nothing. Two goals that were disallowed by the officials meant nothing.

It all meant nothing to the Panthers, basically, because that's what goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy gave up.

Vasy was at his best Monday night when the Bolts kicked the Panthers to the curb, winning a 2-0 game and taking their series 4-0. Vasilevskiy had his sixth shutout in seven close out games (he has allowed one goal in another). He stopped 49 shots -- 20 more than in any of his previous playoff shutouts.

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Maroon (14) celebrates with Bogosian./JEFFREY S. KING

The Bolts will now go to their sixth Eastern Conference finals in eight seasons to face either Carolina or the New York Rangers.

"I’m not so sure there is much more I can say about him," said Lightning coach Jon Cooper. "Funny how the playoffs are. Five games into the Toronto series and you’re asking all these questions about 'what’s wrong with Vasilevskiy.'  It's shocking to me.

"There was never a doubt in our locker room. A goalie’s job, if you want to be elite, is to give your team a chance to win. You look at Grant Fuhr. He may let in five, but he gives his team a chance to win. Tonight, he wasn’t letting anything in. We’ve seen that time and time again. He gives you a chance to win. The other side can be a little demoralized when you look at him and you don’t feel like you can score."

The Panthers know the feeling. The highest scoring team in the NHL this year managed just three goals in four games. Vasilevskiy blocked 151 shots in the series.

Palat cinches the game with empty-netter./JEFFREY S. KING

"If you would have told me that at the outset, I probably would have laughed at you," Cooper said. "We came in with a plan. You’ve got to sacrifice so much. The guys are playing a game almost like they have not won a Stanley Cup and they’re chasing it for the first time."

Monday night was hardly the Lightning's best game of the series. They managed just three shots the first period, and much of the game was a half-court contest in Florida's end. But the Bolts did block 18 more shots -- giving them 77 in the four games.

"Guys tried to block shots with faces and ankles and teeth," Vasilevskiy said. "It was an unbelievable performance."

The Bolts seemed to score twice in the second period, once when Alex Killorn tipped Mikhail Sergachev's shot in the net an another when Nikita Kucherov scored off a pass by Anthony Cirelli on the face-off. But the officials ruled the puck had hit the mesh netting before Sergachev's shot and that Cirelli used his hand to direct the puck to Kucherov.

"You think -- ‘Is this going to be one of those games?'" Steven Stamkos said.

But the Bolts don't rattle easily, do they? They gathered themselves and played their sixth straight game without giving up a goal in the third period.

Pat Maroon scored the winning goal six and a half minutes into the third period. With 23 second left, Ondrej Palat sealed it with an empty netter.

Just before Palat's goal, he served a two-minute penalty that the Bolts killed off for knocking the puck over the wall.

"You make your own breaks," Cooper said. "It that last penalty kill didn’t personify what is going on in this series, nothing did."

The Bolts will get a few days off before the Eastern Conference final. Carolina leads the Rangers 2-1 in their best-of-seven series. 

Cirelli denied by Panthers' Bobrovky./JEFFREY S. KING

Bolts take 3-0 lead over dazed Florida

by Gary Shelton on May 23, 2022

in general

Vasilevskiy prepares to make another stop./TIM WIRT

Monday, 4 a.m.

There is blood in the water now. The Tampa Bay Lightning, kings of the kill shot, can smell it. It seems to have made them hungrier than ever.

How on earth can the Florida Panthers stop them now?

The Panthers, the best team in the NHL during the regular season, have been outplayed. They've been outworked. They've been out-everythinged, and now they trail 3-0 in their best-of-seven series.

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Kucherov, Stamkos celebrate success./TIM WIRT

Can they figure out Andrei Vasilevskiy? Can they slow down Nikita Kucherov? Can they get the puck on the other side of a defense that seems to eat them?

The odds are not with them. In NHL history, 198 teams have fallen behind 3-0, and 194 of them have lost (five teams forced a game seven).

But have any of them faced a two-time Cup winning team, playing at home, after finding its stride the way the Lightning has? Consider what Florida coach Andrew Brunette said: "They have more will and more desire than we do."

They also have stars who were on display again for the Bolts Sunday.

-- Goaltender Vasilevskiy stopped 34 shots and played his fourth straight game of allowing just one goal. He leads all NHL goaltenders with wins. In his three games against the Panthers, who averaged almost four goals a game in the regular season, he's made 105 saves on 108 shots.

-- Forward Nikita Kucherov, dazzling during the series, had four points.

-- Forward Steven Stamkos scored two goals.

-- The team blocked 19 more shots, giving them 59 for the three games the teams have played.

Cernak jumps to celebrate his goal./TIM WIRT

And so it goes. The Bolts seem to have more flair, more grit, more experience. They try to finish the series tonight at home at 7 p.m., but the Panthers would have to win four straight games to advance.

"We’re committed to playing D," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "It's a pretty committed group. I think you’ve seen it through the series. We feel like we have a recipe going on, we’ve just got to stick to it.

“We’re damn pleased with what’s going on, but we haven’t done anything yet. The series isn’t over. Until you start checking off that fourth win, there’s nothing you can hang your hat on. We’re inching closer, but there is more to do."

The Bolts took an early lead when Corey Perry deflected the puck into the net. The Panthers tied the game with their first successful post-season power plaly (after being 0-for-25 in the post-season).

In the second period, however. Erik Cernak scored a rare goal to put the Bolts ahead. Then came a key penalty kill -- Ryan McDonagh blocked a shot with the shaft of his stick -- and the Bolts' Steven Stamkos scored almost immediately.

“It was a big part of the game." Cooper said. "We’re hanging onto the lead and take the penalty. Their power play is buzzing a bit. There's a reason McDonagh has played in so many playoff games in his career. He’s like a star. Those plays you make when you don’t have the puck are sometimes  the biggest ones. That was a big one for us because we eventually kill it off and come out and make it 3-1. That was a little bit of a bubble burster for them. Those are the breaks you need."

The Bolts seem to have frustrated the high scorers of the Panthers with their blocks throughout the series.

 “We talk about special teams, especially come playoff time," Stamkos said. "Kills in one goal games feeds the energy on the bench. It really is inspiring. They're blocking shots, doing what they have to do, coming to the bench gasping of air."

The Bolts padded their lead with empty-net goals by Kucherov and Stamkos.

Tampa Bay will try to close out the series tonight at 7 p.m. at Amalie Arena. If successful in any of the next four games, the Bolts would advance to their sixth conference finals in eight seasons.

McDonagh made a huge play for the Bolts./TIM WIRT

Rays sloppy again in loss to Baltimore

by Gary Shelton on May 23, 2022

in general

Monday, 3 a.m.

It's bad enough to lose to the Baltimore Orioles.

It's worse when your team becomes the Baltimore Orioles.

For a day, it was hard to tell the Tampa Bay Rays from the cellar-dwelling Orioles, who came back to beat the Rays 7-6 in 11 innings Sunday.

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The Rays dropped fly balls (although only one was scored an error). They booted ground balls. They blew leads. They had a manager ejected. They blew a four-run lead. They also blew a two-run lead. They had wild pitches, passed balls and balks. They stranded runners.

And they lost one of those embarrassing giveaway games that happens from time to time.

Consider. Randy Arozarena dropped his second fly ball in three games. Vidal Brujan misplayed two grounders. Kevin Kiermaier didn't make a catch he normally does. And the game ended when a dribbler scooted past first baseball Ji-Man Choi.

 “Uncharacteristic," said Rays' manager Kevin Cash. "All we can do is get back to work to clean that up. We pride ourselves on securing the ball and getting as many outs as we can for our pitchers. I don't feel like we did that today."

The Rays built a 4-0 lead in the first on a three-run homer by Isaac Paredes, but the team struggled to keep the lead despite using nine relief pitchers. In the ninth, Ryan Thompson gave up a two-out, two strike single to Austin Hays to tie the game.

The Rays had runners on first and third with no one out in the 10th but didn't score.

"I have full confidence in Ryan," Cash said. "Walks came back to bite us a little bit. We had  multiple opportunities to win that game. We just didn’t get it done. The Orioles did.

“We did some really good things offensively early in the game. Their pitching stepped up and kept us quiet and allowed them to get back in the game. That generally doesn’t happen, but it’s happened now twice. We’ve just got to play better."

The Rays are off today, then host Miami on Tuesday night at 7:10 p.m. at Tropicana Field. Shane McClanahan will start for the Rays against Pablo Lopez.

Arozarena homers twice in Rays’ victory

by Gary Shelton on May 22, 2022

in general

Sunday, 4 a.m.

The Tampa Bay Rays finally figured out how to control the recklessness of Randy Arozarena on the basepaths.

All they have to do is have him jog around them.

Arozarena hit two home runs Saturday night -- doubling his season total -- in a 6-1 victory by the Rays. Arozarena -- who was four-for-four the game before, homered in the first and fourth

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innings. Teammate Kevin Kiermaier, who had three hits for the third straight game, homered in the eighth inning.

"I wish I could play against them all the time," Arozarena said.

Just as impressive was starting pitcher Jeffrey Springs, who went seven innings and allowed one infield hit and no runs. It was the third start for Springs, who is 2-1.

The Rays are now 22-2 against Baltimore the last two seasons.

The Rays' relievers gave up five hits and the O's only run in relief. Ralph Garza Jr. gave up four hits and the run.

Tampa Bay and Baltimore play again today at 1:35 p.m. at Camden Yards. Corey Kluber will start for the Rays against Spenser Watkins.

Rays sloppy in loss to Baltimore

May 21, 2022 general

Saturday, 4 a.m. Down deep, we all knew that someday, the Baltimore Orioles would beat the Tampa Bay Rays again. No one knew, however, how ugly a game it would take. The Rays blew three different leads in Friday night’s 8-6, 13-inning loss to the Orioles Friday night, a game that ended with a two-run […]

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Last-second goal gives Bolts a 2-0 lead

May 20, 2022 general

Friday, 4 a.m. The final pass was so dazzling, so breathtaking, that you tend to forget about the 59 minutes and 56 seconds that came before it. The final goal was so sudden, so deadly, that you tend to forget about the pain and the passion that preceded it. That’s the thing about last-heartbeat victories […]

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Paredes says hello with two-homer game

May 19, 2022 general

Thursday, 4 a.m. Regarding that much-discussed Austin Meadows trade… Maybe the Rays didn’t give up enough. The trade for Isaac Paredes caused a lot of frowns at the time, seeing as how Meadows was a popular player who had driven in 106 runs a year ago. But, no, the Rays didn’t give him away for […]

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Bolts jump to 1-0 lead over Panthers

May 18, 2022 general

Tuesday, 4 a.m. When the Florida Panthers turn off the light at night, do they see the faces of the Tampa Bay Lightning hover over them? Do they see the looming features of Andrei Vasilevskiy, the goalie who has denied them so often? Do they see the eyes of Nikita Kucherov, who haunted them a […]

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Rays’ outfield goes deep against Tigers

May 18, 2022 general

Tuesday, 3 a.m. For a night, they were sluggers. For a night, they made infielders nervous. They are the outfield of the Tampa Bay Rays, normally a light-hitting bunch (now that Manuel Margot is injured) who try to make it through on defense and timely plays. Ah, but in Monday night’s 8-1 drubbing of Detroit, […]

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Kittredge gives up another homer in loss

May 17, 2022 general

Tuesday, 4 a.m. One of the toughest things in baseball is when a strength becomes a weakness. Take it from Andrew Kittredge, who has had a rough eight days. Kittredge gave up yet another home run late in Monday night’s 3-2 loss to Detroit, the worst team in the American League. It was Kittredge’s third […]

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