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Lightning’s Ben Bishop a finalist for tonight’s voting of Vezina Trophy

For the second straight season, Ben Bishop of the Tampa Bay Lightning is among the finalists for the year’s best goaltender.

Once again, he is not expected to win.

Bishop, 29, is among the finalists for the Vezina Trophy for the second straight season. However, Washington’s Brian Holtby is the favorite to win. Jonathan Quick of Los Angeles is the third contender.

Bishop led the NHL in goals against average (2.06) and save percentage (. 926). Bishop lost 11 games when allowing two goals or fewer, however. Holtby won the most games (48).

“I would be pleasantly surprised if I won,” Bishop told the Tampa Bay Times. You hear that Holtby has kind of got it wrapped up. I’m not going to expect to win, even though I think I could. He numbers talk for themselves. We’ll see.”

There has been speculation that the Bolts might consider trading Bishop because of his age and salary ($5.95 million per season).

“I expect to be back,” Bishop said. “It’s never really crossed my mind going somewhere else. As far as I’m concerned, I have another year here, and I fully expect to be back. If I’m not, we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.”

In his last two seasons, Bishop has won 75 games in the regular season and 21 more in the playoffs.

Lightning announces its 2016-17 schedule, starting with Detroit

The Tampa Bay Lightning has beaten the Detroit Red Wings in the last two playoffs.

This year, the Red Wings will try to get even in the Bolts’ season opener.

Tampa Bay is at home on Oct. 13 to take on the Wings. The Lightning follows with games against New Jersey (Oct. 15), Florida (Oct. 18) and Colorado (Oct. 20).

A six-game road trip follows. In all, Tampa Bay will play 14 of its first 24 games on the road.

The Lightning will play Pittsburgh, the team that ousted it from the playoffs, at home on Dec. 10.

The Lightning concludes its schedule on April 9 against Buffalo.

There is still no word on where star center Steven Stamkos might sign, but if it is in his hometown of Toronto, the teams will play at Amalie on Dec. 29.

The Lightning says it’s time to get answers from forward Steven Stamkos

It has been the world’s longest negotiation, but things may be coming to a head between the Tampa Bay Lightning and center Steven Stamkos.

Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman told the Tampa Bay Times he hopes to have some clarity on Stamkos by the weekend.

“We’re doing all we can to sign him,” Yzerman said. “What we look like if Stammer re-signs with us, it affects what we can do with our team. For us, we’d like to know sooner than later.

“At some point on other players, I have to make decisions. I’ve got to make decisions and they can’t be put off forever.”

Stamkos is free to start shopping around to other teams on Saturday. He can sign with them on July 1.

“To be honest with you, it’s out of my control,” Yzerman said. “He’s an unrestricted free agent on July 1. I can’t force him to sign a contract with us if he doesn’t want to. If he wants to go to July 1, he has that right.”

Did Steven Stamkos return to Lightning provide a hint for the future?

He tried to ride to the rescue. He did not save the day, but you have to give Steven Stamkos credit for trying.

He was rusty, and he was out of tune. Sitting out for 22 games, since March 31, will do that to a player. It was asking an awful lot of Stamkos to be a difference maker for the Tampa Bay Lightning in less than 12 mintues of play in Game Seven of the Stanley Cup.

What it was was enough to beg this question: Might Stamkos resign with the Lightning after all?

For months, there has been a grudging acceptance that Stamkos was gone. The last reports of his offer from the Lightning seemed low. If Stamkos didn’t sign for all of those months, then why should he now?

But here are a couple of questions:

If Stamkos didn’t want to be here, why would come back at the next available shift?

And if the Lightning didn’t need Stamkos to go all the way, why would they allow it?

“He is a big boost for us,” coach Jon Cooper said. “And he makes us a better hockey team.”

Scan the internet, and there are rumors about Stamkos with this team and that one. The Maple Leafs. The Rangers. The Islanders. Vancouver.

But if Thursday night’s game proves anything, it’s that the Lightning and Stamkos still depend on each other.

Might that stay the case?

Lightning loses to Penguins for Eastern Conference Title

Turn out the lights. Lock the rink. Gather the sticks.

It is over.

The Tampa Bay Lightning has lost.

The Lightning closed out their 2015-16 season Thursday night, losing a 2-1 game to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Bolts led the series three games to two and were at home, but they lost back-to-back games to Pittsburgh to end their season.

“Everybody who plays in this league and coaches in this league knows how hard it is to just get to the final or get this far in the playoffs,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “We didn’t reach a goal to win a Stanley Cup, but I’m pretty sure not a lot of people were picking us to get this far, especially with the catastrophic injuries we had to extremely important players on our team at the beginning of the playoffs.

And we just started plugging other guys in, and players were just rising to the occasion. You know, it’s tough to go injury free. Usually the teams that keep going have — you know, they stay injury free for the most part, and we didn’t. We got hurt before the playoffs, during the playoffs, and then maybe it caught up to us.

But as I said, even with a full lineup, that’s a heck of a team over there. We pushed them to Game 7. We just couldn’t get over the hump.”

The Lightning tried a bit of desperation in the defeat. Steven Stamkos, who hadn’t played for 22 games, returned from the surgery on the blood clot in his shoulder. However, he was able to play only 11 minutes. He had two shots but no points.

“He’s an extremely important player on our team,” Cooper said. “We weren’t quite sure when this was going to happen, but a decision was made that he could play for Game 7. It was an emotional boost for all of us. The guys were really excited to have him back, and I thought he did a great job.”

Once again, the Lightning was outplayed by the Penguins. Pittsburgh got off 39 more shots — they had 269 in the series, just short of 40 per game. The Lightning, on the other hand, had fewer than 10 shots in five of its final six periods.

“They’re fast, and so if we’re playing the game a little too slow and not executing, it’s hard when they’re playing “D” fast and they’re right on you,” Cooper said. “And I thought, you know, we got caught — when we were in those situations where we probably should have shot, we passed, and we passed when we probably should have shot. We kind of got caught in-between on a lot of occasions.

They play ‘D’ well. They play hard — and the other thing is they block a lot of shots, and that was evident this whole series, and the amount of shot blocks were just incredible, just couldn’t get them through. When you’re one and done all the time because the shot is blocked and bouncing out of the zone or they’re getting a rebound, it’s tough to generate offense.”

Bryan Rust scored the first Pittsburgh game, but Jonathan Drouin scored for the Lightning to tie the game at 1-1. Thirty seconds after, however, Rust scored again to provide the Penguins with their final margin.

Vasilevskiy stopped 37 shots in defeat.

“He was the rock back there, especially talk about the chances and shots they had,” Cooper said. “He was incredible for us. Obviously, he’s got a bright, bright future.”

Key players must improve if the Lightning is to upset Penguins

If the series is tied, then why in the world do the Tampa Bay Lightning seem so far behind?

Technically, the Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins are knotted at three games, with one walk across the tightrope left to determine who goes to the Stanley Cup Final. But considering the team’s lethargic performance in a 5-2 loss in Pittsburgh, it feels worse.

During the series, the Penguins at their best have been better than the Lightning at their best. Pittsburgh is averaging more than 38 shots a game and almost four goals per game.

So who needs to play better?

A short list:

1. Andrei Vasilevskiy: Yes, the Lightning have constantly praised Vasilevskiy. But most hockey teams do, especially when there is no alternative. Vasilevskiy hasn’t held the Penguins to less than three goals in any game. He needs to be better than good tonight. He needs to have his best game of the season.

2. Victor Hedman: After the second round, you could hear whispers that Hedman might be on his way to winning the Conn Smythe Award as the playoff MVP. But Hedman was a minus-four on Tuesday night for the first time all season. Hey, someone has to control Sidney Crosby, right?

3. Tyler Johnson: He’s a little guy, and he gets banged up a lot. Even now, his mouth is mass of scabs. But the Lightning could use Johnson’s energy. Johnson, too, was minus four on Tuesday.

4. Nikita Kucherov: This one isn’t fair. He scored twice in the Bolts’ 4-3 win in Game Four. But the Bolts need a dose of what Kucherov can bring now more than ever. When he scores, the Lightning is usually ok.

5. J.T. Brown: A wild-card here. Brown (and Cedric Paquette) can be exactly the sort of irritants that the Bolts need to offset Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

6. (tie) Everyone else: In a big game, no one is ever sure just where a big goal will come from. Ondrej Palat? Jonathan Drouin? Jason Garrison? Regardless, it would help if the Bolts could score first. It would help if they can avoid the penalty kill early so they can get their momentum going.

Lightning has a good history in playing in NHL Game Sevens

Game Seven is hockey’s answer to a loser-leave town match.

Game Seven is a walk across the tightrope juggling chainsaws.

Game Seven is the final scene in Star Wars, with one shot to blow up the Death Star.

And here come the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Pittsburgh Penguins, playing Game Seven Thursday night for the right to go to the Stanley Cup Finals. Think of it like Final Jeopardy, only the answers are in a foreign language.

Does the Lightning consider coming back with Ben Bishop, who walked through Amalie Arena without a limp on Tuesday night. Probably not. Coach Jon Cooper said Wednesday that Bishop is likely out.

Do they tweak their lines? Do they adjust a defense that the Penguins seem to have figured out? Can they figure out the power play?

If anything, history is on the Lightning’s side. The Bolts have played in six Game Sevens in their history, and they are 5-1. They have never surrendered more than one goal in a Game Seven. Against Pittsburgh, they are 1-0 in a Game Seven, winning 2-1 in 2011 on their way to the Eastern Conference Final.

For the Bolts, those Game Sevens include Nikolai Khabubilin and Bishop, the team’s best goaltenders. If it’s Vasilevskiy on Thursday, he has to have his best game.

“We’re a confident bunch,” said forward Ryan Callahan. “We know what it takes.”

If not, the Lightning needs only to remember a year ago. Then, too, the Lightning botched Game Six. Then, too, the Bolts had to fly to play on the road. And then, Tampa Bay beat the Rangers 2-0.

Of course, that doesn’t mean it will go the same way this year. The Pens have scored at least three goals in all six of the previous games, and they’re coming off a five-goal game. They are averaging more than 38 shots a game.

That means the defensemen of the Lightning have to do a better job. Vasilevskiy can stand up to 24-25 shots a game. Have him face nearly 40, and he’s swimming with the sharks.

If Tampa Bay is going to continue its Game Seven dominance, it starts by stopping the puck. And then by silencing the fans.

Lightning lets one opportunity pass, waits for another one vs. Penguins

The opportunity was gone. The chance had slipped through their fingers. The game had been blown.

And now, the players of the Tampa Bay Lightning, were already talking about their next turn.

The Lightning, with an opportunity to get to its second consecutive Stanley Cup Final, were badly outskated by the Pittsburgh Penguins for most of Tuesday night’s game. The Lightning lost, 5-2, to force Game Seven on Thursday night in Pittsburgh.

“We have one game to get to the Stanley Cup Finals,” said forward Ryan Callahan.

“What a great opportunity,” said forward Brian Boyle, who scored both Lightning goals. “This is a terrific chance to do something.”

Never mind that the Bolts managed only four shots in the first period, and only 11 in the first two. Never mind that, after a disallowed goal by the Lightning (offsides), the Penguins made the Lightning play chase.

“We just weren’t skating,” Boyle said. “I don’t know if we didn’t want to get beat. Whatever it was, it wasn’t what we needed to do.”

The situation is almost identical to last year’s series against the New York Rangers. Again, the Bolts had a chance to close out the Eastern Conference Finals, but instead laid an egg in a lopsided loss. This time, ditto.

The Penguins’ best players took control of this one. Phil Kessel scored his ninth goal of the playoffs. Kris LeTang scored his second and Sidney Crosby his sixth.

Boyle scored twice to help the Lightning come within 3-2, but the Penguins scored two goals in the final 3:48 (one an empty netter) to even the series.

“I don’t think we were attacking enough, and obviously we weren’t creating enough in their end,” Callahan said. “We were a lot of one-and-dones, not getting pucks through. We spent a lot of time in our own end.”

“Their best players played better than ours for 40, and ours probably played better than theirs for 20,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said.

So far, the Bolts have had trouble getting to the dressing room. They’ve given up five goals in the last 90 seconds of a period.

“I guess you can sit here and say giving up a goal in the last minute is not ideal,” Cooper said, “but I just think giving up goals is not ideal. Whether you score them in the first minute or the last minute, it doesn’t matter. You are still giving up a goal. Unfortunately, you put yourself behind three, regardless of when they score them, (Pittsburgh) still scored three. It’s tough to form a comeback. Just like when we scored four a couple games ago and it’s tough for them to comeback. It’s magnified because it’s the last minute, I guess, but 3-0 is 3-0 no matter when they score.”

The teams play Thursday night at 8.

Bucs pleased for Lightning, but they feel a bit of jealousy, too

The Tampa Bay Bucs feel a lot of things for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

They feel excitement, and they feel passion, and they feel kinship.

Also, they feel, well, jealous.

The Lightning is in its third straight playoffs, and its eighth in the past 13 seasons. The Bucs, meanwhile, have been to the post-season twice in that span, and they have’t won a game. What the Lightning is feeling, the Bucs would like some of, thank you very much.

“I’m jealous as hell,” said Bucs’ coach Dirk Koetter. “Are you kidding me? I’m extremely jealous of what they have going and that certainly gives us something to work for.

“This town’s on fire for the Lightning right now. [They] have the whole town excited. You can’t go anywhere without seeing those blue shirts, blue hats, blue banners – we’re rooting for them 100 percent. Go Lightning.”

Tackle Gerald McCoy, a follower of the Lightning, agreed that it would be nice to see the town in a frenzy over his team.

“Well, we’re in the same city, so we’re rooting for them,” McCoy said. “But you do, especially if you have a chance to go to the game, you get to feel that energy. I don’t know if it makes me jealous more than [it makes me] want to feel that [myself].

“I know that we have all the pieces necessary to do it and we’re on the right track, so, more power to the Lightning, we’re pulling for them, but we want to make that more than just one part of the city. We want to try to hit every sport we have in this city, we want to try to be at the top, so we’re definitely feeding off of them, for sure.”


Lightning hopes to close out Penguins in tonight’s Game Six

The Tampa Bay Lightning hopes to close out the Pittsburgh Penguins tonight.

Otherwise, the Eastern Conference Finals could get dicey yet.

The Lightning is home against the Pittsburgh Penguins tonight. But if the Penguins win, then Game Seven is in Pittsburgh. True, the Lightning won the last meeting between the teams there, but it’s not adviseable to try to make a living. Pittsburgh was 26-11-4 at home this season.

Then there is this. If the teams were to play a Game Seven, then coach Jon Cooper would have a decision to make in goal. Would he go with Ben Bishop, the team’s MVP this season? Or would he stay with Andrei Vasileskiy, who has played for most of this series. Obviously, much of the decision would be based on whether Bishop was healthy enough to offset the time he has missed.

The Lightning again will face the high-powered Penguins’ offense featuring Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel.

A year ago, the Bolts were in a similar position. They had a chance to close out the Rangers, but they lost badly. And they had to find a way to win a Game Seven.

If the Lightning were to win tonight, they would reach the Stanley Cup Finals for the second straight year (the third in franchise history).

Game time is 8 p.m. At Amalie Arena.

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