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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.

Bucs still pondering what to do with running back Doug Martin

Is Doug Martin running on empty?

Martin, the Tampa Bay Bucs’ back who was second in the NFL in rushing two seasons ago, but who fell off substantially a year ago (to 421 yards) and finished the season suspended for PEDs, remains the property of the Bucs. However, there has been much speculation that the Bucs might check out a first-round running back in the upcoming draft.

The Bucs are still trying to figure out if they can give a roster spot to Martin, who will miss three weeks, or if they need to address the situation in other ways.

“Who knows what’s going to happen?” Bucs’ coach Dirk Koetter said at the NFL owners’ meeting Wednesday. “Are we going to add a running back in the draft? Is Doug going to continue down the path of good health? We have other guys we like at the position, too. I don’t know what’s going to happen as I sit here today. But right now, we have time on our side.”

The Bucs have Jacquizz Rogers, who started five games last year, to replace Martin for his three-game suspension. A number of mock drafts have the Bucs’ taking a running back.

“Every team is looking for a game-wrecker with that first pick, at whatever position he plays,” Koetter said. “I would think, of the 32 teams, everyone is saying ‘Man, this is a good running back draft. Maybe we ought to add one of those guys.”

The trouble with Martin, of course, is that he’s a feature back who doesn’t help on special teams.

“I’m a Martin fan,” Koetter said. “We would love to have Doug on our team. But when a guy’s been a Pro Bowl running back, and you know you’re not going to have him for the first three games of the year, how do you do the reps.”

Martin signed a huge contract before last season, but because of his suspension, the Bucs are no longer bound by it.

Joe Henderson: Proposed new transportation agency a good start toward solving an old problem

Short of hitting yourself in the head with a hammer, the surest way to get a headache is to wade deep into Tampa Bay area transportation problems. You encounter a mishmash of competing agencies and agendas that has resulted in legislative and automotive gridlock for frustrated commuters for years.

Given that, I’m encouraged by what is coming out of Tallahassee. A pair of Republican legislators — state Sen. Jack Latvala of Clearwater and state Rep. Dan Raulerson of Plant City — have introduced bills that would create a five-county regional transit agency.

Hernando County is a late addition to a group including Manatee, Pasco, Hillsborough and Pinellas.

But wait, you say. Didn’t the Legislature already try something like that?

Yep.

A decade ago, Tallahassee gave us the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority — known in wonk terms as TBARTA. Its scope was as large as its acronym, an attempt to bring seven counties together under a single transportation tent.

Nice sentiment, but poor execution. Trying to meet the needs of seven counties proved unwieldy.

“What Jack and I are trying to do is tweak this thing,” Raulerson said. “We want to get everybody moving in the same direction so we can put together a plan and get federal money for this. We have been woefully short there.”

The revamped board would have 13 members — seven elected officials, and six from the private sector. The elected officials likely will include the mayors from Tampa and St. Petersburg along with a commissioner from each county affected.

“That part is a work in progress right now,” Raulerson said. “But it is important to have more elected officials on the board because that provides for transparency and accountability.”

Both bills have sailed through their respective committees and appear to be gaining local acceptance. Tampa Bay Partnership President Rick Homans gave an enthusiastic endorsement to the plan, telling Mitch Perry of FloridaPolitics.com, “ … we realized that in order to get this started, we needed to have the right kind of planning and the right operational structure in place that will give us a greater chance of success.”

During committee hearings on the proposed bills, some lawmakers were skeptical that a new regional transportation agency would just be more of the same. Given the history on this issue, I certainly understand that point of view.

But I do like that this new authority would be smaller and focused on the counties of greatest need. Having Latvala and Raulerson behind this doesn’t hurt, either. Not only are they capable of guiding this from proposal to reality, they also represent both sides of Tampa Bay.

How soon can this happen?

“Once this becomes law, we probably need to have a good plan in place to take to the feds within 12 months,” Raulerson said. “The good news on that is that there already are a lot of plans out there, so we wouldn’t be starting from scratch. We just need to get moving.”

Rowdies open first USL season with 1-0 victory over Orlando City B

Now, that’s the way a team should begin a journey.

The stadium was packed. The evening was perfect. And the team – the Tampa Bay Rowdies, in this case – dispatched a brand new rival in a new league with a 1-0 victory.

Playing in front of 7,710 fans, the Rowdies beat the Orlando City team of the USL.

Georgi Hristov scored on a penalty kick in the 57th minute for the only goal to lead his team to the victory.

It was a big game with a big atmosphere and my players came good tonight,” Rowdies’  coach Stuart Campbell said. “I’m delighted for Georgi because he worked his absolute socks off and if anyone deserved a goal tonight, it’s him.”

Hristov, who had missed much of the preseason with an injury, admitted he could have scored two other goals. But he calmly knocked home the penalty kick for the winner.

It was an unbelievable atmosphere,” Hristov said. “I think everyone realizes that out organization is trying to do something big for Tampa Bay, so I appreciate everyone coming out to support us.

I’m happy to have scored the goal on an important night for the Rowdies,” Hristov said. “We played really well tonight and should’ve won by more, so I’m proud of the way all my teammates played. There’s things we can do better, but this is a good start.”

Said Campbell: “He’s a cool customer, isn’t he? He’s never too high. Never to low. When it comes to penalty kicks, I let the players sort it out. Sometimes, it’s whoever gets the ball first.”

Orlando City goalkeeper Earl Edwards Jr. had a good night, making four saves.

For the Rowdies, goalkeeper Akira Fitzgerald had a clean sheet. He had found out only Thursday that he was starting because of neck injury to regular Matt Pickens.

I’ve been in the league six or seven years,” he said, “so the night before wasn’t too bad. The team played great defense in front of me.”

Said Campell: “He’s done well. We’ve known he was starting for a while, but we kept our cards close to our vest. He’s calm. Very assured.”

The Rowdies are home on Saturday night against Toronto.

Tampa Bay area to host 2019 Medal of Honor convention

The Congressional Medal of Honor Society (CMOHS) Thursday selected the Tampa Bay area as the host community for its 2019 Convention, honoring Medal of Honor recipients and their families.

This is the first time the weeklong event, taking place in October 2019, will be held in Tampa.

“Tampa Bay’s strong military tradition coupled with our outstanding vacation venues, cemented Tampa’s position as the host of this prestigious event,” said Ed Miyagishima, president and CEO of the 2019 Tampa Bay Medal of Honor Convention. “We’re humbled to be able to roll out the red carpet and the white sands of Tampa Bay to honor these outstanding individuals and their families as only this region can.”

The Medal of Honor is the nation’s highest and rarest military honor, bestowed by the president in the name of Congress on deserving members of the United States Armed Forces who distinguish themselves through “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his or her life above and beyond the call of duty while engaged in an action against the enemy of the United States.”

“We’re thrilled to select Tampa Bay as the host of the 2019 Convention,” said Medal of Honor Recipient and President of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, Thomas Kelley. “Tampa’s unique military footprint, coupled with its spectacular beaches and activities will serve as the ideal backdrop to honor and celebrate Medal of Honor recipients and their families.”

The Medal of Honor Convention, the annual gathering of Medal of Honor recipients, was created to honor the awardees and their families. Highlights of the week will include an official public welcome, reunion events, book signings, school events and autograph sessions, and the black-tie Gala.

“We recognize members of the military, veterans and their families as valued members of our community,” said Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn. “We could not be more proud that Ronald Ray, a graduate of the University of Tampa, and Baldomero Lopez, Tampa native, are both recipients of the Medal of Honor and would be honored to celebrate their accomplishments as well as those of all of the other Medal of Honor recipient’s right here in Tampa.”

The Medal of Honor families will be special honorees during the convention. According to Miyagishima, “We will make sure that there are numerous family-friendly events. These are the individuals who have sacrificed and supported the Medal of Honor recipients over the years, so it is important that we express our gratitude and make it special for them, as well.”

In Tampa, an educational outreach campaign will be implemented in area schools to promote patriotism and character, special assets personified by the Medal of Honor. A special curriculum will be created for teachers to utilize throughout the area and guest speakers will be available to visit local schools.

“We are especially excited by the prospect of a lasting legacy for Tampa Bay in the form of a curriculum that can be used year after year to educate our students about the character attributes of Medal of Honor recipients,” said retired United States Army Command Sergeant Major Gary Littrell, who serves as an adviser to the Convention and has served as the president of CMOHS. “As a culmination to the convention, we will select a local student to receive the newly-created Medal of Honor Scholarship and look forward to partnering with local schools for other exciting learning opportunities.”

Tampa’s MacDill Air Force Base is expected to play a significant role during the convention. MacDill is currently home to U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) and U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), the Joint Communications Support Element (JCSE), the 6th Air Mobility Wing and nearly 30 other tenant units.

The Congressional Medal of Honor Society was formed in 1958 under President Dwight Eisenhower to protect, uphold and preserve the dignity and honor of the medal at all times and on all occasions. The Congressional Medal of Honor Society’s Convention and general meeting, held annually at different host communities across the country, serves:

– To further the bond of brotherhood and camaraderie among all living recipients of the Medal of Honor.

– To remember in reverence and respect those who received the Medal of Honor posthumously, and those who are now deceased.

– To foster patriotism and to inspire and stimulate our youth to become better citizens of our country.

– To recognize and award patriotic Americans who promote and perpetuate the principles upon which our nation was founded through their life’s work.

Lightning embarrassed by Arizona with defeat in playoff drive

Quick question: If a team is going to be embarrassed by the second-worst team in the NHL, what does it say?

Other than, for a night, that the Tampa Bay Lightning was among the worst.

The Lightning blew every advantage Tuesday night. They were playing the second-worst team in the league, the Arizona Coyotes. They were at home. They held a lead in the third period. They were playing with playoffs in mind.

And still, they lost a 5-3 game to Arizona, an embarrassing game that might help keep them from the post-season.

The Bolts gave up five goals for the third straight game, and they lost again.

“You have to keep the puck out of your net if you’re going to win,” said Lightning coach Jon Cooper. “In our last two games, we’ve scored three. In the past, when we’ve made a commitment to play defense, we’ve won those games. If you’re not going to defend, you’re not going to win.”

Cooper offered up an interesting statistic. Arizona blocked 25 shots on Tuesday night; the Bolts blocked only six.

Still, the Bolts had a chance to win. Victor Hedman, Nikita Kucherov and Vlad Namestnikov scored to give Tampa Bay a 3-2 lead. Still, Arizona came back to win.

The Lightning, impossibly, is still only four points out of a playoff spot. But as Cooper said, “We’re running out of real estate.”

Tampa Bay now goes on the road, facing Boston and Detroit.

Tampa Bay Rays extend center fielder Kevin Kiermaier’s contract

Kevin Kiermaier was always one of the most popular Tampa Bay Rays.

Now, he’ll be popular with his banker, too.

Kiermaker, the Rays’ center fielder, signed a six-year, $53.5 million extension that will keep him in Tampa Bay through 2023.

The agreement with Kiermaier marks the fourth time that Stuart Sternberg’s ownership group has guaranteed at least six years in a contract with a Rays player. Right-handed pitcher Chris Archer signed for a guaranteed six years (plus two club options) on April 2, 2014. Third baseman Evan Longoria signed for six years guaranteed (plus three club options) on April 18, 2008, then on November 26, 2012, extended that deal an additional six years with a club option for 2023.

“Kevin has established himself as one of the most dynamic and exciting players in baseball, and he also sets a tremendous example off the field with his work ethic, dedication and leadership,” said Rays President of Baseball Operations Matt Silverman. “We’re thrilled that he’ll be patrolling center field for the Rays for years to come.”

Kiermaier, 26, won the AL Gold Glove Award for center field in 2016 for the second consecutive season, joining Longoria (2009, 2010) as the only players to win multiple Gold Glove Awards in franchise history. He also became the second AL outfielder since the awards were first presented in 1957 to claim the Gold Glove in each of his first two full seasons in the majors, joining Mariners right fielder Ichiro Suzuki in 2001-02.

Last season, Kiermaier led major league center fielders with 25 Defensive Runs Saved despite missing 48 games due to injury. Defensive Runs Saved attempts to calculate how many runs a player saved or cost his team in the field compared to the average player at his position. His 25 DRS ranked second overall in the majors (regardless of position), behind Boston’s Mookie Betts (32), despite playing 509.1 fewer innings.

Kiermaier beat the odds. He simply outworked his teammates. He made the front office notice him.

The Rays were hunting for outfielders in the 2010 draft. They picked Josh Sale first. Bust. They picked Drew Vettleson third. Bust. They picked Michael Lorenzen 10th. Bust. They picked Deshun Dixon 13th. Bust. They picked Chris Winder 27th. Bust.

Finally, they picked Kiermaier. But not until they picked a third baseman named Nicholas Schwaner and a catcher named Matt Koch and a first baseman named Phillip Wunderlich. In all, it was the greatest collection of nobodies ever picked in front of a somebody.

And that’s a key thing with Kiermaier. Think of all the bonus babies who went in front of him. Think of all the high-priced free agents who disappointed. Kiermaier simply wouldn’t settle for being less than an impact player. He kicked down the doors to this franchise. He made himself a bargain.

For Kiermaier, it turns out that more things are gold than just his baseball glove.

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