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Signing of DeSean Jackson puts Tampa Bay Bucs in NFL’s top half

How much did the free-agent signing of DeSean Jackson help the Tampa Bay Bucs?

Well, according to Bleacher Report, it vaulted them into the top half of the league.

Bleacher Report did its latest power-rankings Friday, and the Bucs came in at No. 13. Not bad, when you consider that Super Bowl runner-up Atlanta was No. 12.

“There are free-agent signings I really like. And there are free-agent signings I absolutely love,” wrote Chris Simms, the former Bucs’ quarterback.

New England led the Power Rankings at No. 1, which should surprise no one. Following are Kansas City, Pittsburgh and Dallas.

In the NFC South, Carolina was No. 17 and New Orleans was No. 21.

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Injuries mar big victory by Tampa Bay Lightning over Stars

The Tampa Bay Lightning is learning one of the oldest lessons in hockey.

Every time it gets a little bit of a gain, it finds itself in a little more pain.

The Bolts took a big victory Thursday night, beating the Minnesota Wild 4-1 at home. The Wild, 32-17-6, has been the best team in the Western Conference, while the Bolts are still struggling to make the playoffs.

As big as the win was, however, it came with a sting. The Bolts lost Tyler Johnson, Vlad Namestnikov and Cedric Paquette — all centers — to injuries to their left legs. Coach Jon Cooper had no further information on the injuries.

“It doesn’t sound encouraging for any of them,” Cooper said. “If we got one of them back for Saturday, it would be a blessing.”

Nikita Kucherov scored two goals for the Lightning, one on a power play (the first in 12 games for the Stars). Victor Hedman had a goal and an assist. Andrej Sustr also scored a goal for Tampa Bay.

Goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy won for the Bolts, continuing his play since the trading deadline.

“He’s definitely holding down the fort,” said Anton Stralman. Vasilevskiy stopped 32 of 33 shots.

“You’ve got to put that one up there (with the Lightning’s best wins),” Cooper said. “Especially that last 12 minutes when were limited in our players. We were responsible, gritty, gutty, getting in shot lanes.”

The Lightning is home Saturday night against Florida.

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Bucs add speed, strength in free agency to try to improve their team

The Tampa Bay Bucs, trying to improve their team for the coming season, have added strength and speed from the nation’s capital.

The Bucs signed the defensive tackle and wide receiver DeSean Jackson Wednesday on the first day of free agency.

The big catch, so to speak, is Jackson, who led the NFL last year with an average 17.9 yards per catch. He will immediately slot opposite Pro Bowler Mike Evans, and immediately promises to help the rest of the offense.

Quarterback Jameis Winston has had trouble with his deep ball; Jackson gives him a game-breaker who can separate from a corner. It will be harder to double-team Evans, and tight end Cameron Brate should be able to work underneath.

“It is rare to find a player in free agency with the combination of speed and natural playmaking ability of a DeSean Jackson,” said Buccaneers General Manager Jason Licht. “DeSean is a smart, gifted athlete who has averaged more than 17 yards per reception throughout his nine-year career and brings the type of veteran experience and deep threat receiving ability that will have an immediate impact on our offense.”

Baker should move into the starting lineup opposite Gerald McCoy.

Per Stats, Inc., Baker has 64.5 combined quarterback knockdowns and hurries over the past two seasons. Dating back to 2015, Baker is one of six NFL players to post 100+ tackles, 9+ sacks, and 5+ forced fumbles, joining Khalil Mack, Von Miller, Carlos Dunlap, Melvin Ingram and Brandon Graham.

“Chris has excellent size and what really jumps out at you is his ability to flash dominance at times during games and his explosive quickness,” said Buccaneers coach Dirk Koetter. “His versatility will make him a great complementary player alongside Gerald McCoy and Clinton McDonald on our interior defensive line.”

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Mistake in overtime allows Rangers to edge Tampa Bay Lightning

In one of their tightest-played games of the season, the Tampa Bay Lightning made the crucial mistake and paid for it.

Late in overtime, an errant pass by defenseman Victor Hedman sailed off target, and the New York Rangers turned it into a breakaway and the winning goal by Mika Zibanejad with 1:04 left in the extra period. The Rangers went on to win, 1-0.

The single point picked up for a regulation tie allowed the Bolts to get to 69, which puts them two points out of the final wild-card slot.

“Victor had it,” said Lightning coach Jon Cooper. He tried to make a pass and we didn’t get it. All of a sudden now, it’s a quick strike and that’s what overtime becomes. Overtime’s not about creating chances. It’s about capitalizing on mistakes. We made a mistake and they capitalized. That was it.”

Considering how badly the Bolts needed the two points that would have come with a win, Cooper seemed in good spirits.

“I’m really pleased,” Cooper said. “In the end, they’ve got a really good hockey team. They’re good. We’ve been playing really well. It was one of those games that I thought both teams deserved a point. I thought we deserved the other one. But, I say that, and then I think back to the Carolina game and their coach probably was thinking the same thing in that game. Sometimes you get them. Sometimes you don’t. We did everything we could do to try to win that game. Tip your hat to both goaltenders. I know everybody’s screaming for more scoring in the league, but that was a pretty darn exciting 0-0 game.

“You’re talking a Monday night, and that building was rocking. I think the Witkowski-Glass fight had a lot to do with it. I think that got it going, but there was chances (on) both ends. There was big saves. The game had it all. I liked our emotion. Were we perfect? No, but we did everything in our power to win. Give them a  lot of credit: They’re a 40-plus win team and rightfully so. They hung in there. We tilted the ice at times during the game and their goalie made the saves for them. When they tilted the ice on us, Vasy was making saves. Fans got their money’s worth tonight, except for the disappointment of not getting the last point. We needed that point a heck of a lot more than they did.”

The Bolts were 0-for-6 on the power play.

Goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy ran his record to 3-0-1 since Ben Bishop was traded.

The Rangers this year have won 24 games on the road, highest in the league.

“I think we took another step tonight,” said defenseman Anton Stralman. I think we upped our game. Maybe for five minutes in the third they had some momentum going, but otherwise I thought we played strong for 60 minutes. That’s what you need this time of year. It’s not the one game that’s going to decide it. It’s the team that can play the most consistent throughout this last stretch that’s going to make it.”

 

Tampa Bay will play at home Thursday night against Minnesota.

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Pittsburgh takes over third period to handle Tampa Bay Lightning

For 88 seconds, the Tampa Bay Lightning seemed to be in good shape.

And then they were not.

The Lightning, still scrambling to get back into the wild-card race, fell 5-2 to the Pittsburgh Penguins Friday night. The Penguins, who beat the Bolts in last year’s conference finals, scored the game’s final three goals. After the Lightning tied the game at 2-2, it took only a minute and 28 seconds to take the lead.

Mark Streit, who was a member of the Lightning briefly last week, scored the tie-breaking goal.

“We weren’t going to go 20-0 down the stretch,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “It makes (Saturday night’s) game (against Buffalo) critical. We need these points. Buffalo is in the same situation we’re in.”

Adam Erne scored his first NHL goal to give the Bolts a lead. After Evgeny Malkin scored twice, Nikita Kucherov tied the game at two.

Goaltender Peter Budaj make his first start for Tampa Bay and took the loss.

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Bucs’ backup Mike Glennon might face former team this year

Mike Glennon may be leaving for a greener field.

Still, he might not go far.

Glennon, the Tampa Bay Bucs’ backup quarterback, has been offered a nice contract to remain the backup quarterback for Tampa Bay. However, with Jameis Winston running the huddle, playing time is the one thing the Bucs can’t offer to Glennon.

That leaves, according to NFL Network, the Jets and the Bears in the lead for Glennon’s services. Both teams play the Bucs this season at Raymond James Stadium, which means that Glennon could face his old teammates.

Glennon hasn’t started a game since Winston was drafted. He won five of 18 starts beforehand.

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Lightning beats Carolina, even though it really didn’t deserve it

They didn’t deserve it. They didn’t work hard enough for it. They didn’t play well enough for it.

On the other hand, the Tampa Bay Lightning isn’t giving it back.

The Lightning, which has pointed in nine out of 10 games, and won four out of five, somehow rallied in overtime to beat the Carolina Hurricanes Wednesday night. Hours after enduring the loss of another player — Valtteri Filppula — the Bolts played one of their most listless games of the season, but rallied to win 4-3.

Victor Hedman scored two goals, including the game-winner. Nikita Kucherov had a goal and two assists, as did Tyler Johnson.

Still, the game was a grind for the Bolts against Carolina, the worst team in the Eastern Conference.

“I don’t think we can sit here and be really proud of how we played,” said Johnson. “We got the win, so that’s good. But there is a lot of room for improvement there. Quite frankly, there are a lot of games we’ve lost that we should have won. I can’t sit here and say for sure that we should have gotten those two points. Lucky for us we were ready to take them.”

Hedman scored 46 seconds into overtime for the game-winner. The win moved the Bolts to within three points of the final wild-card spot.

“We like this group,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “People can talk about the whole buyer-seller thing. We didn’t do anything we thought was going to keep us from making the playoffs. We’re trying to make it. We feel we’ve got the group who can do that.”

While the Bolts traded away veteran leadership in Ben Bishop, Brian Boyle and Filppula, there are other leaders still here. Like Hedman.

“Everyone leads in their own certain way,” Cooper said. “Victor is a really, really good player in this league. An exceptional player. Kuch the other night. That’s the way it’s going to be for us. Someone different every night. The Triplets. We need some other guys to make us a well balanced.”

It would also help if the Bolts could start quicker and show a bit more interest early. Part of that, Cooper said, was because the Lightning shot 23 times and missed the net. Goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy won his second straight start, stopping 28 of 31 shots.

The Bolts are in Pittsburgh Friday night and Buffalo Saturday night.

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Should Tampa Bay Bucs be interested in Adrian Peterson?

When it comes to the next destination for free agent Adrian Peterson, the Tampa Bay Bucs look like a possible place to run toward.

But should they be?

Peterson, who has rushed for almost 12,000 yards in his career running for the Minnesota Vikings, certainly has the name for the job. He has seven 1,000 yard seasons. He has scored 97 touchdowns. He is, arguably, the best running back of his generation.

Still, there are warning signs to Peterson. He’ll turn 32 in March, and he’s coming off an injury that limited him to 75 yards in 2016 (after 72 in 2014). Obviously, he’ll want to stop by an ATM on his way to the field.

So should the Bucs be ready to chase down Peterson? Or should they let another team sign him?

Oh, make no mistake. With the problems that Doug Martin has had, no one would blame Tampa Bay if they choose to try out another running back. But there are other quality backs to be had at a more affordable price than Peterson,

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Tampa Bay Bolts also barter Brian Boyle as trades continue

The Tampa Bay Lightning has traded away another fan favorite.

The Bolts sent Brian Boyle to the Toronto Maple Leafs Monday afternoon for forward Byron Froese and a conditional second-round draft pick.

The Lightning will get the higher of Toronto’s second-round picks.

Froese, 25, has appeared in two games with the Maple Leafs this season, posting two shots on goal. The 6-foot, 205-pound forward has skated in 58 career NHL games, all with Toronto over the past two seasons, collecting two goals and five points. He made his NHL debut against the Montreal Canadiens on October 24, 2015. Froese scored his first career NHL goal on December 19, 2015, against the Los Angeles Kings.

The Winkler, Manitoba native has also played in 48 games with the Toronto Marlies this season, posting 24 goals and 39 points to go along with 18 penalty minutes. Froese paces the Marlies for both goals and points. He’s appeared in 195 career AHL games, registering 49 goals and 101 points to go along with 81 penalty minutes.

Boyle had 13 goals for the Bolts this season.

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Rowdies take impressive win over MLS’s Montreal in exhibition

If you want to join them, well, first you beat them.

The Tampa Bay Rowdies, who have announced their plans to pursue admission into the MLS, took a symbolic step toward their goal Saturday night when they beat the Montreal Impact. The Impact was the Eastern Conference runners-up last season.

However, the Rowdies dominated play most of the evening, taking a 2-0 lead en route to their victory. Joe Cole and Deshorn Brown, a training guest, scored the goals within six minutes of one another late in the first half. Montreal’s only goal came from the penalty spot in the 71st minute.

“It’s nice to get a win, even though in preseason, the result isn’t the most important thing,” coach Stuart Campbell said. “It’s about the performance, the amount of work and improving the players’ fitness. You could see how hard the players worked tonight. For many of them, it was their first 90 minutes of the preseason.”

The Rowdies finished the Suncoast Invitation with a 1-1 record. The loss came to Philadelphia, which scored a late goal after Tampa Bay had substituted liberally.

“The movement that Montreal has and the attacking quality they use, they’re a very good team,” Campbell said. “We limited them to very few chances. I can’t remember many clear-cut chances they had. That’s one of the best teams in MLS. If you finish above Montreal, you’re not going to be far from winning the championship.”

After a back-and-forth first half that showed flashes of quality but with chances lacking, the Rowdies opened the scoring in the 34th minute with a quickly-taken free kick.

Rowdies winger Leo Fernandes drew a foul just outside the 18-yard box, and, before Montreal could set up defensively, the Rowdies took the free kick with Brown feeding Cole wide of the 6-yard box.

Cole’s shot on goal was deflected past Impact goalkeeper Evan Bush by Laurent Ciman and Tampa Bay took a 1-0 lead in the 34th minute.

Just six minutes later, Cole nearly scored his second of the match, but Bush made a big save. Brown pounced on the rebound and smashed it with his left foot to double Tampa Bay’s lead before halftime.

Despite the normal second-half substitutions that come standard in preseason matches, the Rowdies maintained control of the match save for Piatti’s penalty in the 71st minute, sealing a positive result.

“We wanted to go out and get a result, but really we wanted to put on a good performance,” Campbell said. “It’s fantastic to go out there and beat an MLS team that had a very good year last year and will no doubt have another very good year this year.”

Tampa Bay is back in action next week when it travels to Tampa to take on the University of Tampa Spartans on Saturday, March 4.

The Rowdies open their inaugural USL season March 25 against Orlando City B at Al Lang Stadium.

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