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Rookie Brayden Point leads the Lightning as its hot streak continues

So how did you spend your 21st birthday?

Odds are, Brayden Point has you beat. On Monday night, the rookie Point took over Madison Square Garden, scoring two goals to lead the Lightning to a 3-2 victory and brought the team to within one point of the final wild-card spot.

Point scored in the first and third periods, bringing his season total to 11 goals.

“I know this is cliché, it’s been used a million times, but he’s a hockey player,” coach Jon Cooper said. “It’s what he is. You saw it in the first development camp he came to us, he was more undersized than he is now, but I truly believe when you have commitment and the work ethic, that’s your first thing that you notice on a player, everything else will fall into place. And that’s what that kid has. He goes into a corner, and it doesn’t matter the size of the guy he’s going in against, I’m always sitting there thinking, ‘He’s going to come out with this.’ And you’ve got to have a will, and he does.”

Goaltender Peter Budaj notched his first win for the Bolts, stopping 26 of 28 shots. Rookie Gabriel Dumont also scored a goal, his second of the year.

“Just exceptional effort on a night where I actually thought both teams were off,” Cooper said. “And so that game was up for the taking. You’ve got to tip your hat to (Budaj) for making a big save on (Chris) Kreider in the opening minute. If he doesn’t stop that, who knows where our momentum goes. We weather the storm in the first, pretty fortunate to come out 1-1. The power play’s kind of chipping away for us, and then after that, it was anybody’s game. Our goalie just happened to make one more save than there’s and then the little engine that could, Point. He came through big for us.”

The Lightning has now pointed in 14 of its last 16 games (11-2-3). Tampa Bay plays at Ottawa tonight.

Lightning overcomes two-goal deficit to take big win over Florida

The Tampa Bay Lightning is treating this playoff race like something real.

The Lightning won a memorable game against the Florida Panthers Saturday night, coming from a two-goal deficit to take a 3-2 victory. The Bolts are now 10-2-3 in their last 15 games.

After falling behind 2-0, the Bolts came back on a power-play by Nikita Kucherov, a short-handed goal by Yanni Gourde (his first in the NHL) and a tiebreaking goal off a deflection by Ondrej Palat. It was Kucherov’s 31st goal, and it tied him for the league lead in power-play goals.

Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper didn’t seem concerned that his team was down two goals in a hurry.

“To be honest, we were in the room thinking that there’s no way we should be down 2-0 in that game,” Cooper said. “I think the scoring chances were pretty even, shots were pretty even. Coby’s untimely break of his stick keeps the puck in the zone, and that was a tough break. The first one, I guess you realize why Jagr’s got 700-plus goals, to score a goal like that from that angle.

“So we thought, OK, maybe a couple of these weren’t getting the breaks, but we thought we were earning ours. We could’ve easily been up 2-0 in that period going into the break, but there was a lot of fight in the boys we had left. We felt we were playing well enough. It was keep working the way we were, and things will pay off, and they eventually did.”

For the Bolts, it was one of the team’s more impressive home stands of the season.

“Sometimes a little youthful exuberance injected in there, and guys don’t really care,” Cooper said. “They just want to go and try their hardest and try and win. Everybody knows where we are right now and it is desperation mode. The guys are playing with it.

“I don’t know how many kids we had that started the year in the minors that were in the lineup tonight. We talked earlier in the year. It’s not the 22 guys or the 23 guys at the start of the year that make this team. It’s 30-plus that are a part of our team. You need everybody to win.”

Goaltender Andrei Vasilevski is 5-0-1 in his last six games.

The Bolts travel to New York to face the Rangers on Monday and then on  to Ottawa on Tuesday.

Bucs add former Dallas safety J.J. Wilcox to free agent signings

The Tampa Bay Bucs added safety J.J. Wilcox to their free agent signings Saturday.

Wilcox, 26, is a former third-round draft pick of the Dallas Cowboys who should compete for former safety Bradley McDougald’s old job.

He has started 38-of-58 regular season games played for the Cowboys over the past four seasons (2013-16), totaling 196 tackles, 15 passes defensed, five interceptions, three fumble recoveries and two forced fumbles.

 A native of Cairo, Georgia, Wilcox played collegiately at Georgia Southern. He played only one year of college football.

 

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.

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.

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.”

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.

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.

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.

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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