Tampa Bay will have to take a wait-and-see approach to filling out its lineup for Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Final.
The Lightning face the prospect of playing without two of their top six forwards against the New York Islanders Friday up 2-0 in the series.
The Bolts will lose Alex Killorn for Game 3 after he was suspended a game by the NHL’s Department of Player Safety on Thursday. Killorn boarded Brock Nelson early in Game 2 and was assessed a five-minute major and game misconduct, ending his night.
Killorn’s loss is a giant hole for Tampa Bay to fill as he’s the left wing on the Lightning’s shutdown line, plays down low on the Bolts’ top power-play unit and ranks fourth among Bolts forwards for average shorthanded time on ice.
The Lightning could also be missing leading scorer Brayden Point, who went to the locker room in the second period of Wednesday’s 2-1 win and didn’t return. The Lightning didn’t practice Thursday, so head coach Jon Cooper couldn’t offer an update on his status.
“We won’t have a better understanding until I talk to you guys tomorrow morning,” Cooper told the media during his press conference Thursday.
If the Lightning are forced to play without Point, they’ll be missing a major driver of their offense. Point saw his seven-game point streak snapped with his inability to finish Game 3 but has posted point streaks of six and seven games this postseason and has tallied at least one point in 13 of 15 playoff contests. He ranks second in the NHL for scoring in the 2020 Playoffs, and his 23 points are tied for the third most in a season in a Lightning playoff history, just three points behind record holder Martin St. Louis and his 26 points during the Bolts’ Stanley Cup season in 2004 but with eight fewer games played currently than St. Louis.
“Pointer’s a huge part of our team,” said Anthony Cirelli, who took Point’s spot centering the Bolts’ top line when he was injured in Game 2. “Hopefully he’s back, but we’ll see.”
Cooper said whether the Lightning are without just Killorn or both Killorn and Point won’t affect whether he continues to go with the 11 forward/7 defensemen alignment he’s used since Game 2 of the Second Round and has had success with. The Bolts are 6-0 this postseason when going 11F/7D.
“Losing somebody of Point’s stature, it’s not ideal but we’ve played without before and we’ve played with multiple guys out before,” Cooper said. “You just have to make sure that, our job is to make sure they’re not thinking, ‘Oh well, poor us.’ I don’t feel like we have a team like that. I think once you get this far, everybody’s pulling the rope in the same direction. And so, I think if anything, our guys will dig their heels in the sand a little bit harder and push forward. We’ve got guys waiting in the wings that are chomping at the bit to get in, and we’re really comfortable with that.”
GM OF THE YEAR: Tampa Bay GM Julien BriseBois was announced as one of three finalists for the 2019-20 Jim Gregory General Manager of the Year Award by the NHL on Wednesday ahead of Game 2.
BriseBois is in just his second full season as GM of the Lightning.
On Thursday, Cooper was asked about his relationship with BriseBois and why the GM has had so much success in such a relatively short timeframe. On August 9, 2010, BriseBois, then the general manager of Tampa Bay’s American Hockey League affiliate in Norfolk, hired Cooper to be the Admirals next head coach.
The two have ascended together in the Lightning organization in the years since.
“We’ve been together for I think 10 years now, and It’s amazing to even say that out loud,” Cooper said. “Julien, I think when you’re in a position like that, you have to make tough decisions. And there’s no standing on the fence. And Julien doesn’t stand on the fence. He listens, he takes information and he makes a decision. And I don’t think you can ever second guess a guy that does that. Maybe in the end, you can sit here and over time say, ‘Okay, well maybe this decision wasn’t right.’ But he makes a decision, and he doesn’t do it by the seat of his pants. He does it with information, and it’s calculated. The other thing is, he doesn’t b.s. you. He’s up front, and he tells you how it is. I think anybody that is around somebody you work with, you want to be honest with each other. That’s one thing Julien and I have always been is very honest with each other. Sometimes the conversations aren’t always the easiest, but we trust each other and the relationship works and I trust everything he does. When he makes a decision, it’s all in. As you can see now, the decisions he’s made since he’s been GM have been great.”
In building the current Lightning team that’s two games away from advancing to the organization’s third Stanley Cup Final, BriseBois added toughness and playoff pedigree during the offseason by bringing in Pat Maroon, a Cup winner the previous season with the St. Louis Blues, Luke Schenn and Kevin Shattenkirk on defense and Curtis McElhinney as a backup goalie.
Before the trade deadline, BriseBois dealt for Blake Coleman, Barclay Goodrow and Zach Bogosian, three additions that have brought a different element to the Lightning’s game and been pivotal to their playoff success
Lou Lamoriello of the New York Islanders and Jim Nill of the Dallas Stars are also finalists along with BriseBois.
RECORD-SETTING HEDMAN: Victor Hedman extended his goal streak to four games after netting Tampa Bay’s opening goal in its 2-1 Game 2 victory on Wednesday.
Hedman is the only Lightning defenseman to ever post a four-game goal streak in the playoffs. His current run would have tied for the longest by any player in Lightning history, no matter their position, if not for Ondrej Palat‘s five-game goal streak, which ended in Game 2.
Only one defenseman in NHL history has recorded a longer goal streak, Paul Coffey scoring in five-straight games for the Edmonton Oilers in the 1983 Playoffs. Hedman can match that record with a goal in Game 3.
Hedman leads all NHL defensemen in the 2020 Playoffs for goals (7). With just one more point in these playoffs, Hedman can match his own franchise record for playoff scoring by a defenseman of 14 points, which he set during postseason runs in 2015 and 2016.
“This is a team sport and you need everybody to win, but I believe I said this last night, you need your best players to be your best players. Victor Hedman is one of our best players,” Cooper said. “He’s our anchor on the back line. He is one of those guys that drives your team. You see him out there on the power play, you see him out there killing penalties. He just does it all for us. If I’ve really noticed his maturation over time, it’s now what he’s doing off the ice and his leadership in the room, especially in this playoff run. There’s a reason he’s got the ‘A’ on his sweater, and it’s because he’s earned it. It took him time to get to that point, but fabulous hockey player and just keeps getting better. He’s been a lot of fun to watch, not only for us but I think if you’re just a hockey fan it’s been a lot of fun to watch Victor Hedman.”