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Victor Hedman a Norris Trophy finalist

The Lightning's Victor Hedman is one of three finalists for the Norris Trophy, awarded to the NHL's top defenseman.

Two-time Norris winner Erik Karlsson (Ottawa) and Brent Burns (Sharks) are the other candidates.

Hedman, 26, is coming off a career season, making his first All-Star appearance. He set highs for goals (16), assists (56) and points (72), which ranked second in the NHL among defenseman behind only Burns. In doing so, Hedman set a franchise record for assists by a Lightning defenseman (passing Roman Hamrlik's 49 in 1995-96.

"Just playing with good players," Hedman said. "I'm being put in situations to be successful. I've obviously felt more comfortable on the power play. I've felt more comfortable playing that offensive role. We had to be able to produce and that's been kind of what I expect of myself, to be one of the leaders, especially when we were in a big hole. We needed to climb out needed to take charge out there." …

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Hockey, anyone? Fed Cup's Shelby Rogers huge Lightning fan

U.S. Fed Cup team member Shelby Rogers, whose squad plays the Czech Republic at Saddlebrook this weekend, is a passionate Lightning fan.

AP photo

U.S. Fed Cup team member Shelby Rogers, whose squad plays the Czech Republic at Saddlebrook this weekend, is a passionate Lightning fan.

I presumed I had covered every significant phase of the Shelby Rogers story, from her Charleston, S.C., upbringing to her injury-ravaged 2015 season to her dramatic run to the '16 French Open quarterfinals.

So I turned off my tape recorder, closed my notebook and extended a hand to thank this 24-year-old Fed Cup team member for her time.

Her response stunned me. "I'm surprised you didn't ask me about the Lightning."

Wait, what!?

"I love the Lightning."

Re-cue the recorder.

"We just lost Bish and I love (Ben) Bishop," Rogers said of the Lightning's former all-star goaltender. "I love (Steven) Stamkos. Brayden Point just came up, he's doing super well. But it's just fun following the team, you know? I like something a little different."

Who could've known a home-schooled kid from Charleston, who spends most the hockey season globe-trotting from one WTA tournament to another, would have any interest in the bay area's hockey team?

Turns out, Rogers -- currently the world's 48th-ranked women's singles player -- trained for about eight months at Bradenton's IMG Academy when she was younger, and became a regular attender of Lightning games. These days, her Twitter bio contains a "go Bolts" icon. …

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Anton Stralman, Victor Hedman playing for Sweden

Anton Stralman, pictured, is joining Victor Hedman on the roster for Sweden's team for next month's World Championships.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Anton Stralman, pictured, is joining Victor Hedman on the roster for Sweden's team for next month's World Championships.

It looks like Anton Stralman and Victor Hedman could be paired again for Team Sweden.

Stralman is joining Hedman on the roster for Sweden's team for next month's World Championships. The two played together at the September World Cup of Hockey.

While Hedman was a lock for this team, Stralman had said he was waiting to have a few medical issues checked out. He must have been cleared as Stralman is heading to Paris for the tournament.

We all know Stralman and Hedman's feelings on the NHL - as of now - not participating in the 2018 Olympics. But at least they'll have a chance at worlds.

Hedman and Stralman will be among the several Lightning players competing at World Championships. Coach Jon Cooper is the head coach for Team Canada, which also has rookie center Brayden Point. Nikita Kucherov and Andrei Vasilevskiy will be competing for Russia. It's uncertain if Ondrej Palat will play for Czech, or Tyler Johnson for U.S.

 

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Playoff journal: Leafs giving Caps more than a scare

The Maple Leafs have given the President's Trophy-winning Capitals more than a scare.

Getty Images

The Maple Leafs have given the President's Trophy-winning Capitals more than a scare.

As I was watching the Stanley Cup Playoffs Monday night, there was one thing that immediately came to mind:

Thank God I'm not on deadline.

All four games went into overtime. There were a few blown leads, thrilling comebacks. A couple Cup favorites are on the ropes. Deadline jokes aside, this is why hockey playoffs are the most fun to watch. It's March Madness for two and a half months.

There have been more than a few surprises.

The Maple Leafs have given the President's Trophy-winning Capitals more than a scare. Toronto, now up 2-1 in the best-of-seven, can win this series. The Maple Leafs dominated a good part of Monday's Game 3, another overtime victory. The Capitals fan base has to be puckered right now, the team having not gotten past the second round in the Alex Ovechkin era. 

Speaking of Ovechkin, how in the world does one of the best players in the world play just 15:08 last night?

The Leafs are using their speed to give Washington fits, the young-and-hungry eighth-seeded underdogs playing loose. Toronto is ready to erupt for Wednesday's Game 4. …

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Lightning's Brayden Point to play for Team Canada

Lightning rookie center Brayden Point, 21, will play for Canada in the World Championships.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Lightning rookie center Brayden Point, 21, will play for Canada in the World Championships.

Coach Jon Cooper will have at least one familiar face on his Team Canada roster for next month's World Championships.

Rookie center Brayden Point, 21, will play for Canada, one of the first few names released for the roster. It's been one heck of a year for Point, who surprirsed many - including himself - by making the Lightning out of camp.

Then, as a first-year pro, Point was arguably one of the team's most consistent players, with 18 goals, finishing the season as No. 1 center due to injuries.

"It's been a fun year," Point said Sunday. "I've got to play with some really great players and got some really great opportunities. I'm happy about that."

Cooper, who will coach Team Canada, lauded Point's "phenomenal" growth. This won't be Point's first stint with Canada, having played on the last two World Junior teams. He was Canada's captain last season.

"I'm just so impressed that somebody that young (21) and a little bit undersized (listed at 5 feet 10, 166 pounds) can come in," Cooper said. "A lot of guys put the team on their back the last few months. But (Point's) growth has been phenomenal. It's just a committed kid. There are not enough guys like him, I'll tell you that." …

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Jon Cooper to coach Team Canada at World Championships

Jon Cooper will be the head coach of Team Canada for the World Championships next month in Paris, France and Cologne, Germany.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Jon Cooper will be the head coach of Team Canada for the World Championships next month in Paris, France and Cologne, Germany.

Lightning coach Jon Cooper missed the playoffs for the first time in his coaching career.

But Cooper will still be coaching some very meaningful games this summer.

Cooper was named head coach of Team Canada for the World Championships next month in Paris, France and Cologne, Germany. He will lead a staff that includes Gerard Gallant Dave Hakstol and Dave King. Cooper, a Prince George, B.C. native, said he found out after Sunday's 4-2 win over Buffalo in the season finale. Canada has won gold in the past two world championships, and opens play May 5.

"It's an unbelievable honor to be afforded the opportunity to lead Canada at the World Championships," Cooper told the Times via text. "The bar has been set high in the last two tournaments, and we look to continue that success. …

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Lightning Strikes! podcast: Season wrapup with Tom Jones

Andrei Vasilevskiy established himself as the Lightning's No. 1 goaltender this season.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Andrei Vasilevskiy established himself as the Lightning's No. 1 goaltender this season.

Times beat writer Joe Smith and columnist Tom Jones break down the 2016-17 Lightning season in this episode of our Lightning Strikes! podcast. Is it a major disappointment, or a one-year blip? What changes need to be made? Who should the Lightning protect in the expansion draft? And what are the chances Steven Stamkos returns to his old form?

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Yzerman: Lightning was 'humbled' by season

Steve Yzerman said there will be roster spots available going into next year, with needs filled internally, through trade or free agency.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Steve Yzerman said there will be roster spots available going into next year, with needs filled internally, through trade or free agency.

While there were positives to draw upon in the Lightning's remarkable late-season run, the bottom line is it failed its goal of reaching the playoffs.

For a team with Stanley Cup aspirations, that's a sobering, stinging feeling that'll last all summer.

"We as a team, we got humbled a little bit," general manager Steve Yzerman said.

As the Lightning heads into a longer-than-expected offseason, the message delivered to players was to not take anything for granted. Even their jobs. Yzerman said there will be roster spots available going into next year, with needs filled internally, through trade or free agency.

"We took a step back here this year and we will explore all different, every way we possibly can to improve our team," Yzerman said.

There's not as much uncertainty as last summer, when the whole hockey world didn't know if star center Steven Stamkos would re-sign. But there are three key restricted free agents - Jonathan Drouin, Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson - and about $18 million in cap space. Yzerman said he expects to be able to sign all three. …

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Steven Stamkos confident he'll get back to old form

Steven Stamkos said he has no doubt he'll be ready for training camp and 100 percent for next season.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Steven Stamkos said he has no doubt he'll be ready for training camp and 100 percent for next season.

Turns out, captain Steven Stamkos' return wasn't as imminent as once thought.

Stamkos, 27, said Monday that he and the Lightning "got a little bit ahead of ourselves," in terms of when he'd be able to come back. If the playoffs had started today, Stamkos wouldn't have been ready. There wasn't a setback, per se, the injury just didn't progress as quickly as he thought.

"I don't think it was as close as everyone thought, or maybe we had thought at one time," Stamkos said. "I think we got a little ahead of ourselves. When it came out that it was day-to-day, I don't think it was quite day to day. It was definitely improving, it was at a point where I was out there working hard and getting myself in position if we got in the playoffs, I was going to give myself a chance to be healthy. Obviously it didn't work out."

Stamkos said he won't take much time off at all this summer, continuing to rehab and skate. He acknowledged this was the toughest injury he came back from, especially the first six weeks on crutches, when he lost 15-16 pounds.

"You're starting back from zero," he said. …

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Lightning believes lack of urgency early cost them playoffs

Lightning players say a lack of urgency early in the season cost them a playoff berth.

Times files

Lightning players say a lack of urgency early in the season cost them a playoff berth.

Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman helplessly watched the final minutes of Saturday's Leafs-Penguins game.

Tampa Bay needed a Toronto loss to make Sunday's regular season finale meaningful. But the Leafs rallied for a 5-3 win that sealed the Lightning's fate. The preseason Stanley Cup favorites will be watching the playoffs at home for the first time since 2013.

"It's just an empty feeling when (the Leafs) score that empty net goal," Hedman said. "Your season is over."

The Lightning tried to take the positives out of its equally remarkable and resilient run, its rookie-laden group going 18-6-5 after falling to last place in the Eastern Conference Feb. 4. "We never folded," Hedman said. But players lamented what got them in such a big hole in the first place, a lack of urgency and consistency in the first half of the season.

RELATED: Lightning's season ends out of playoffs

Injuries, especially the one to captain Steven Stamkos, were costly. But a key culptrit was complacency. The last day Tampa Bay was in a playoff spot was Dec. 4. It's been chasing it ever since. …

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All eyes on Lightning-Canadiens tonight

"At this point, all we can do is put a little pressure on," defenseman Anton Stralman said.

AP photo

"At this point, all we can do is put a little pressure on," defenseman Anton Stralman said.

There's only one game on the NHL schedule tonight, and it's a big one.

The Lightning, still fightning for its playoff life, faces the Canadiens at the Bell Centre. With a win, Tampa Bay can stay alive for one more day, putting more pressure on the Maple Leafs, the one team it can still catch.

Win (in regulation or overtime), and the Lightning is one point out with one game left, and Toronto has a tough home back-to-back with Pittsburgh (Saturday) and Columbus (Sunday). But the Lightning's impressive 4-1 win over the Maple Leafs gave it a chance.

"At this point, all we can do is put a little pressure on," defenseman Anton Stralman said. "We have to have the same effort (Friday), or (Thursday) is a wasted one." …

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Brad Marchand suspended two games for spearing Dotchin

Brad Marchand, an MVP candidate, will miss the final two regular season games for Boston, which already clinched a playoff berth.

AP photo

Brad Marchand, an MVP candidate, will miss the final two regular season games for Boston, which already clinched a playoff berth.

Bruins star Brad Marchand has been suspended two games by the NHL Department of Player Safety for his dirty spear of Lightning defenseman Jake Dotchin.

That means Marchand, an MVP candidate, will miss the final two regular season games for Boston, which already clinched a playoff berth. It ironically will hurt Tampa Bay, which needs the Bruins to beat Ottawa tonight.

Marchand delivered the spear to Dotchin's groin late in the first period of Tuesday's game. Dotchin crumpled down in pain, but returned in the game. The rookie said he's still "tender" in the area, but overall is fine.

"That was definitely the worst pain," Dotchin said. "It was the hardest I've ever been hit there too."

When Dotchin was on the ice, Marchand circled back and got the blade of his stick under Dotchin's visor, right near his right eye. "It was pretty close,' Dotchin said.

In the explanation of suspension, NHL Department of Player Safety pointed out Marchand has been fined or suspended seven times in his career, five of which attacking the lower body of an opponent. …

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Steven Stamkos out, maybe Tyler Johnson too

Steven Stamkos admitted he probably won't return during the regular season.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Steven Stamkos admitted he probably won't return during the regular season.

Lightning captain Steven Stamkos won't play tonight and admitted he probably won't return during the regular season, which ends Sunday.

"It's probably not looking that good," Stamkos said.  "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."

But what could hurt even more in a must-win game against the Leafs is that center Tyler Johnson might also be out. Johnson has played two games since returning from a lower-body injury, but got banged-up even more Tuesday against Boston.

Coach Jon Cooper said Johnson is a game-time decision. Johnson participated in the morning skate, but was not part of rushes.

"Give Johnson a lot of credit, he's been trying to game it out," Cooper said. "But the Boston game he ran into a couple tough situations. We need him feeling better than he was in Boston game or he won't be able to go. I know he has been fighting it."

With Johnson iffy, the Lightning recalled Cory Conacher and Michael Bournival from AHL Syracuse. Gabriel Dumont, who missed Tuesday's game to be there for the birth of his second child, Lucas, is expected back tonight. …

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Brad Marchand to have hearing over spear on Jake Dotchin

Brad Marchand will have a hearing Thursday with the NHL's Department of Player Safety regarding his dirty spear of Lightning defenseman Jake Dotchin.

AP photo

Brad Marchand will have a hearing Thursday with the NHL's Department of Player Safety regarding his dirty spear of Lightning defenseman Jake Dotchin.

Bruins wing Brad Marchand will have a hearing Thursday with the NHL's Department of Player Safety regarding his dirty spear of Lightning defenseman Jake Dotchin.

Marchand, a repeat offender, is looking at a potential suspension, which could be costly for a Boston team that has clinched a playoff berth but is still fighting for seeding with two games to go.

Dotchin was battling for position with Marchand in front of the net late in the first period Tuesday when the Bruins agitator swung his stick at Dotchin's groin. Dotchin crumpled to the ice in tremendous pain. He returned to the game, saying his stomch was hurting but otherwise okay. Marchand got a five-minute major and game misconduct.

"It's a tough one for sure," Dotchin said. "It happened, refs made the call, let the league handle the suspension."

 

Marchand called it an "undisciplined" play and reactionary. It was also unnecessary and dangerous. Marchand, an MVP candidate with 39 goals, all too often finds himself in the headlines for antics like this. …

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Lightning players upset over NHL Olympics decision

Anton Stralman had the strongest words, suggesting the NHL and its owners are putting money over the players, fans and ability to grow the game.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Anton Stralman had the strongest words, suggesting the NHL and its owners are putting money over the players, fans and ability to grow the game.

The NHL's decision to not participate in the 2018 Olympics in South Korea struck a few nerves in the Lightning dressing room.

"Extremely, extremely disappointed," defenseman Victor Hedman said. "Just a loss for words."

Added wing Ryan Callahan: "It's too bad."

But veteran defenseman Anton Stralman had the strongest words, suggesting the NHL and its owners are putting money over the players, fans and ability to grow the game.

"They can make up all the excuses for not going, player health, I don't think they really care about that," he said. "All they really care about is more money, that's the bottom line. That's what it's all about. That's even more sad to me. It's a few billionaires trying to make an extra buck."

The NHL, and its owners, were concerned about not only shutting down the season for three weeks at a peak time (in February when the NFL is over and MLB hasn't started), but also the health of superstar players. Stralman's issue was that there wasn't enough communication between the league and players. …

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