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Kendrys Morales’ grand slam leads Blue Jays over Rays, Blake Snell

You can blame one swing of the bat.

Or, if you look closer, you can blame the walks that came before it.

Together, the two led to a four-run third inning that gave the Toronto Blue Jays to a 5-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays Thursday night. Blake Snell gave up a grand slam to Kendrys Morales in the third, but only after giving up two-out walks to Josh Donaldson and Jose Bautista.

“Walks,” Snell said, shaking his head. “that’s always been the thing that gets me so. So I just gotta attack, and I felt like I did really good attacking today. Just gotta do some things mentally to stay into it, but, like I said, things I’m aware of so I can get better at it.”

Manager Kevin Cash agreed.

“I thought Blake had really good stuff,” Cash said. “Any time you give up a grand slam in the third, it’s going to be a big blow. Maybe he drew some experiences from last year, knowing that at that point the game wasn’t over. We still had plenty of outs and innings to get, and he went and got them for us.”

The Rays struggled against Blue Jays’ starter Marcus Stroman, who was backed by three of Toronto’s four double plays.

For the second straight night, Souza was out at the plate for the Rays. This time, he jammed his leg but stayed in the game and had three hits. Snell struck out five and had five walks.

“I was really proud of him, actually,” Souza said. “One pitch changed the game. He got himself into jam. He could’ve collapsed after that and he went 6 2/3 and did a great job. That’s a good start to build off of. Obviously, the results weren’t there with the grand slam, but he can build off that result and keep going forward.”

The Rays and Blue Jays play again tonight at the Trop, with Matt Andriese pitching against Francisco Liriano.

Lightning defeats Toronto to remain alive in playoff scramble

Still, the Tampa Bay Lightning has a pulse.

The Lightning, clinging to hope in the NHL Eastern Conference wild-card chase, beat the Toronto Maple Leafs Thursday night, 4-1.

Toronto leads the Bolts and New York Islanders by three points.

“It’s about just keeping it kind of in your hands,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “You can’t sit here and look at what the Leafs are doing or what the Islanders are doing. You just look at what you’re doing. And somebody told me we’re the only game on the docket tomorrow, so it’s in our hands. As soon as you start worrying about other stuff, it’ll just affect your mindset. It’s kind of what has got us to this point so far. I’ve said this before, ‘Who’s next? Well, Montreal’s next.’ That’s what we have to focus on.”

Brayden Point scored twice for the Bolts, his 15th and 16th of the year. Nikita Kuchorov scored his 39th of the year, and Michael Bournival scored. Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 26 shots for Tampa Bay.

Cooper seems to have enjoyed so many callups from the AHL.

“They believe in what we’re doing,” he said. “I’m sure people probably look at our lineup card tonight and try to figure out who some of these guys were, but you know what, they’re hockey players. They’ve got a goal and it’s one game at a time. But it’s just these unsung things that people aren’t going to sit there and say, ‘Well, we won this big draw.’ Well, Dumont won a big draw when we needed it. McKegg won a big draw when we needed it. Bournival scores a huge goal for us to make it a two-goal game, and you need, you just can’t rely on the Points and Palats and Kucherovs to do everything for you. We’re not anywhere without those guys, but you need secondary help and these guys, they’re there for us. And it’s just been a lot of fun to coach this team.”

Cooper said focus is key for his team.

“You can’t look too far ahead,” Cooper said. “I hope the guys don’t even know who we’re playing on Sunday. We’re playing Montreal. We’ve got to find a way to beat a really good Montreal team. We just saw them recently, and they, even though we took that game to overtime, they’ve got a good team and if we’re not ready to play the way we played tonight, you can’t exhale because we won this game. There’s a lot of road still to go. As I told the guys, ‘Enjoy this. Enjoy the plane ride. As soon as we land in Montreal, let’s turn the page and get ready for them.’”

The Lightning now travels to Montreal to play tonight.

Lightning’s Steven Stamkos might not play the rest of the year

The Tampa Bay Lightning had hoped that Steven Stamkos would make a triumphant return to the lineup that would power team team in a late-season push for the playoffs.

Evidently, neither will happen.

Stamkos said Thursday that it “wasn’t looking good” for a return to the ice before the regular season ends Sunday.

“It’s probably not looking that good,” Stamkos told the Tampa Bay Times.  “It’s frustrating from an individual perspective where I want to be out there trying to help my team — especially at this (time of) year — but it just doesn’t feel right.”

“If it doesn’t feel right, you can’t expect to be able to go out there and do the things you can when you’re healthy,” Stamkos said. “Obviously with a significant injury, which it was, we want to make sure things heal so you don’t have to deal with it again. It’s tough. I want to be out there as much as anyone. I think I showed that last year coming back for Game 7 (of the Eastern Conference Final).”

Stamkos said when he feels right, he’ll be back, pointing out it was most likely a five-month recovery from the start (which would put it in mid-April). The biggest issue is that his knee flexion is “very limited.”

“It’s gotten better, we kind of hit a pleateau, it was frustrating,” Stamkos said. “There was no setback. Everything still progressed. But it wasn’t a minor procedure. This is pretty major, and there are a lot of working parts when it comes to the knee with having the tissue heal, scar tissue. Things that are kind of behind the scenes that have been tough. We’ve been working hard, just hasn’t been there yet.”

Stamkos had gotten his year off well. He scored nine goals in 17 games before his injury.

The Lightning, on the brink of elimination, plays the Toronto Maple Leafs tonight.

Rays’ Alex Cobb makes triumphant return against New York Yankees

For Alex Cobb, it was only 957 days. It just felt longer.

Cobb, the pitcher for the Tampa Bay Rays who struggled last September in his comeback, wowed Rays’ fans Wednesday night in a 4-1 victory over the New York Yankees. Cobb went 5 2/3 innings and allowed only one run and four hits in the victory.

“I thought it was a battle,” Cobb said. “I was definitely the best I’ve been on the mound since the Tommy John (surgery). It’s not to the point where I’d like to end up eventually, but it’s good enough to go out there and compete.”

Cobb went only 1-2 in five starts last September, and in his last two, he went a combined 4 2/3 innings and gave up 15 earned runs.

“It’s night and day,” Cobb said. “I at least have the ability and stuff to go out there and get creative. I’m not going to dominate a game with the stuff I have right now, but I can go out there and throw like I did tonight.”

The Rays got a leadoff home run from Corey Dickerson in the first. Jacoby Ellsbury homered in the second to tie things, but Tampa Bay scored three times in the second on a two-run single by Derek Norris, then shut out the Yankees the rest of the way.

For Dickerson, it was the first leadoff home run of his career (in his 32nd game of hitting leadoff). Dickerson and Logan Morrison each had two hits for the Rays.

Alex Colome recorded his second save of the season.

For the Rays, it was the first time since 2012 the team has won its opening series of the year. The Rays’ bullpen had an era of 1.08 in the series.

Tampa Bay now is home against Toronto in a four-game series.

Lighting on verge of elimination from playoffs after loss to Bruins

The Tampa Bay Lightning hasn’t been eliminated yet.

But it may be time to dim the lights.

The Lighting were clobbered 4-0 by Boston Thursday night in a last-chance effort to stay in the NHL wild-card race, and as a result, they are hanging on by their fingernails. Both Ottawa and Toronto could clinch playoff spots with just a bit of success, leaving the Lightning on the outside.

Tampa Bay got only four shots in the first period, and the Bruins scored twice in the second period.

“We weren’t even a threat,” coach Jon Cooper said. “We got beat by a better team.”

“We’re not out of it yet,” defenseman Victor Hedman said. “It’s obviously a tough hill to climb, and we need a lot of things to go our way.”

Still, the situation looks dire for Tampa Bay, which plays at Toronto on Thursday.

Former Bucs’ running back Charlie Garner struggles in post-career

Charlie Garner, a former NFL running back who finished his career with the Tampa Bay Bucs, is strugging with brain trauma, he says.

Garner says he suffered at least 12 concussions a year while playing, and doctors believe he is dealing with the early stages of the Cronric Traumatic Encephalopathy.

“I don’t have all of my faculties anymore,” Garner told the Sporting News. “I can’t remember things. When I go to the mall or grocery store, I have to take one of my kids with me to remember where the car is parked. I have trouble remembering converations I had five minutes ago. Bright lights bother me. I just don’e feel right all of the time.”

Garner, 45, gained 7,097 yards in the NFL. He spent 2004 with the Bucs, playing in three games and gaining 111 yards before he was hurt.

“Footbakk gave me a good lifestyle for me and my family, Garner said. “But I might end up paying a big price for it.”

Lightning come back again, defeat the Dallas Stars in crucial game

The “Who Are These Guys?” tour continued for the Tampa Bay Lightning Sunday night, although playoff positioning continued to elude them.

The Lightning came from behind to beat the Dallas Stars, 6-3, scoring four times in the third period. However, the Bolts remained three points behind Ottawa for the final wild-card berth and three behind Toronto for third place in the Atlantic Division.

The Bolts need to make a move quickly. They have four games left, three of them on the road.

“It just comes down to our season and that was it,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “That was the discussion in the room was, ‘Do you want to give yourself a chance to play past next Sunday?’ So, if you don’t, then play the way we did in the second. If you do, play the way we did in the third. Get a couple good breaks.

“We really pushed. I think the end of our second period, that last five minutes, we really pushed. Obviously caught a big break on the offside call. If we go down two, it’s a little higher climb back. I thought we really carried some momentum there. We scored and it kind of pushed us into the third period. I thought we had a really good first 13 or 14 minutes in the third. Then we took the penalty and they scored and then we were a little bit on our heels after that. But that response in the third, the guys showed their will and it paid off.”

Tampa Bay came from behind for the seventh time in their last eight wins.

Adam Erne scored twice for Tampa Bay. Braydon Coburn, Brayden Point, Ondrej Palat and Anton Stralman all scored for the Lightning.

“Well, we’ve needed them, in just different ways,” Cooper said. “You’ve got to be really happy for Adam Erne who’s been chipping away, chipping away, chipping away and doesn’t really have any points to show for it. He makes a really strong move to the net for the first goal and just threw a puck at the net for the second and it went in for him. He deserved his breaks tonight. The Yanni Gourde’s, you go down the list of the guys that have really helped us out, but you look at that secondary scoring that you need.

“We needed that. Then in the end when we needed that third period, the big line was huge, especially led by Palat. I thought he was a man child out there in the third.”

Palat had a goal and two assists. Goaltender Peter Budaj won his first game in net for the Bolts, stopping 23 shots.

The Lightning opens its last road trip of the season, a three-gamer, in Boston on Tuesday.

Lightning falls further behind despite gaining a point against Montreal

The Tampa Bay Lightning gained a point Saturday night.

Still, it lost ground.

The Lightning dropped a 2-1 game in overtime against the Montreal Canadiens, but watched as both of its playoff competitors won. Tampa Bay now trails Boston by four points for the final wild-card spot and both Toronto and Ottawa by five points for third place in the Atlantic Division.

Montreal’s winning goal came from Alexander Radulov 51 seconds into overtime.

The Bolts lost despite  34 saves by Andrei Vasilevskiy, who gave up a questionable goal in the second period.

“Well, you can look at it a couple of ways. You can say, ‘Well, that was a bad one to give up.’” coach Jon Cooper said. “Or you could look at it and say that Vasy made like six 10-bellers and we still pushed that game to overtime. It was one of those games,  they’re a good team and we’ve been asked for so much from our guys and they just keep delivering and delivering.

“Kind of the signature of this team, they found a way in the third to will us at least a point and give us the chance that we had in overtime. So I look at it as a complete positive because we got a point out of the game and we can sit here and say, ‘They got the better of us tonight.’ I guess there’s not much wiggle room left, but not getting a point out of that game would have been devastating.”

Yanni Gourde scored for the Bolts for the third straight game to force overtime.

Tampa Bay plays at home tonight against Dallas.

Rowdies clobber Toronto, 4-0, to stay unbeaten after two games

Coach Stuart Campbell wants to make his stadium “a fortress.”

Star player Joe Cole wants more than that. He wants an entire city behind the Tampa Bay Rowdies.

It’s hard to blame the Rowdies for being ambitious after team walloped Toronto FC II Saturday night. The Rowdies won 4-0, scoring three times in the first half to remove any doubt as to the night’s outcome. The Rowdies drew 4,326 fans.

We were happy with the result and the performance from last week and we just talking about building on it,” Rowdies coach Campbell said. “We want to make this place a fortress. We want to make teams hate to come here.”

The Rowdies had been impressive in an opening week victory over Orlando City B, 1-0, but were even better Saturday night. Tampa Bay has now given up only 10 shots in its two wins. Toronto ended up with seven shots, but only one was on goal.

We played really well last week and we played well tonight,” Cole said. “The difference was we put the ball in the back of the net. It’s a good start for us. It’s great that the crowd turned out tonight. We want to put on a show and get the whole city behind us. You can’t do much more than score four goals.”

Damion Lowe scored in the 12th minute for the Rowdies. Georgi Hristov scored his second goal in two games in the 20th minute and Cole scored his first of the season in the 22nd. Deshorn Brown scored his first in the 70th minute.

“The goal was to attack, attack, attack and be relentless,” said midfielder Michael Nanchoff.

Still, the second straight shutout impressed Campbell, too.

“Defending starts from the front and the front two (Hristov and Cole) set it all off tonight,” Campbell said after his teams’ second-consecutive clean sheet. “It filters back through the midfield, the back four and the goalkeeper. They’ve been great. They’re desperate to keep a clean sheet and it’s something we spoke about at halftime.”

Tampa Bay is home for the third straight game Saturday against Ottawa.

Lightning’s victory over Detroit led by guys who don’t often score

No one will ever call them the new Triplets.

J.T. Brown? Really? He hadn’t scored a goal in 46 games.

Andrej Sustr? Honestly? He had scored only one in 45 games.

Yanni Gourde? Seriously? He had scored three goals … in his life.

Thursday night, however, they all found the net in the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 5-3 victory over the Detroit Red Wings. It was a timely effort, because the Bolts had to play without Nikita Kucherov, who has been their most valuable player all season. Kucherov became ill just before the game.

The Lightning is just outside of the playoff chase, trailing the Boston Bruins by three points for the final wild-card berth and Toronto by four for third place in the Atlantic Division.

When Sustr scored, the loudspeaker played his chosen song. It was Britney Spears “Oops!…I Did It Again.”  It has been a long time since the song was hit; it has been a long time since Sustr scored.

“I didn’t know if we’d get to hear it,” said teammate Alex Killorn.

The Bolts also got goals from Killorn (his second in 22 games) and Jonathan Drouin (his first since, well, last game).

“Eventually, you need secondary scoring,” said Lightning coach Jon Cooper. “Someone’s going to lead your team in scoring. Some one is going to be second, then third. But when you’re missing those guys, the goals have to come from somewhere. We got one from Brownie and one from Schu. Killer hadn’t been on for a while.”

Andrei Vasilevskiy won his 20th game of the year for the Bolts, stopping 31 of 34 shots.

Cooper was hopeful that Kucherov could play Saturday night when the Bolts host Montreal.

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