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Lightning Strikes! podcast: Should Ben Bishop stay or go?

What should the Lightning do with goaltender Ben Bishop, who becomes an unrestricted free agent next summer?

DIRK SHADD | Times

What should the Lightning do with goaltender Ben Bishop, who becomes an unrestricted free agent next summer?

Should the Lightning trade - or keep - goaltender Ben BIshop at the NHL trade deadline? What's been the spark with the Triplets line? Times columnist Tom Jones and beat reporter Joe Smith discuss the Lightning's plans, the emergence of Nikita Kucherov and more in our latest Lightning Strikes! podcast.

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Should Lightning ride - or trade - Ben Bishop?

The Lightning has won four of its past six, with all four victories started by Ben Bishop, who has a 1.21 goals against average in that span.

AP photo

The Lightning has won four of its past six, with all four victories started by Ben Bishop, who has a 1.21 goals against average in that span.

Still want to trade Ben Bishop?

The Lightning goaltender is playing some of his best hockey of the season. And, depending on how you look at it, the timing couldn't be any better.

With Tampa Bay fightning for its playoff life, Bishop has won his last four starts, including Sunday's 3-2 overtime victory in Colorado. The Lightning has won four of its last six, with all four victories started by Bishop, who has a 1.21 goals against average in that span.

So it should come as no surprise that Bishop is starting Tuesday against the Oilers. Coach Jon Cooper said the team's improved defensive play and Bishop's resurgence go hand in hand.

"He's just in command of his game," Cooper said. "He looks intimidating when he's in there. He's making saves with ease. He's not giving up rebounds."

Said Bishop: "I feel like I'm getting some bounces now, not getting many fluky ones. Guys are playing well and it's kind of a snowball effect. Hopefully we can keep building."

When asked if he'd consider riding Bishop more, Cooper said both goalies have played well in the six-game point streak, and that will continue. …

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Steven Stamkos skating, 'progressing well'

Steven Stamkos is still on the 4-6 month timeline, but a return this season hasn't been ruled out.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Steven Stamkos is still on the 4-6 month timeline, but a return this season hasn't been ruled out.

Lightning captain Steven Stamkos is back on the ice.

Stamkos, out since mid-November knee surgery, has been skating on his own, including before Tuesday's morning skate. Stamkos was in full gear Tuesday, working with assistant coach Brad Lauer. Stamkos did stickhandling, shooting, even taking some one-timers.

GM Steve Yzerman said Stamkos is still on the 4-6 month timeline, but a return this season hasn't been ruled out.

"He's progressing well," Yzerman said. "He's doing well, but can't give a return date yet."

A four month recovery would put Stamkos back in mid-March. Six months is mid-May. So that's still a wide range. But the fact Stamkos is skating, and doing hockey-specific drills, is encouraging. The Lightning is 16-18-7 since Stamkos got hurt.

Stamkos hasn't spoken to the media about his rehab since Nov. 17 surgery, he'll address the media when he rejoins a team skate. But Zach Parise, who had the same surgery in 2010, discussed with the Times what the process was like for him. …

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Does Lightning run impact trade deadline plans?

If the Lightning can move a contract like Valtteri Filppula's, pictured, or Jason Garrison's, that could free up space.

DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times

If the Lightning can move a contract like Valtteri Filppula's, pictured, or Jason Garrison's, that could free up space.

The Lightning is rolling, picking up a point in six straight games, a season-high.

Tampa Bay entered Monday just five points out of the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.

And that certainly complicates things for Lightning GM Steve Yzerman heading into the Mar. 1 trade deadline. That holds especially true when it comes to what to do with pending unrestricted free agents like Ben Bishop and Brian Boyle.

"We're fighting to try to get one of the eight playoff spots," Yzerman said Monday. "This is a good thing, we're playing well, we're winning games. Does it make it a little bit more difficult as to what direction to go? I guess. It's not just 'buyers' and 'sellers.' You can be somewhere in the middle of that too.

"We're competing for a playoff spot so if I'm going to move people.. I'm not just giving people away here. If it makes sense, I'll do it. If it doesn't make sense, I'm not. It's not a firesale." …

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Will bye week impact red-hot Lightning goaltending?

You'd think of all players, goalies would be the most impacted by the bye week.

Five days without facing a shot can't be easy for a position so dependent on feel and split-second reaction.

But Lightning goalie Ben Bishop didn't seem fazed in Friday's first practice back.

"I felt like I never missed a beat," he said.

Tampa Bay better hope that holds up Saturday against the Stars at American Airlines Arena when Andrei Vasilevskiy starts in net. The biggest reason for the Lightning's recent run - having won three of its last four - has been its goaltending. Bishop has allowed three goals in his past three starts. Vasilevskiy made 37 saves in a 2-1 shootout loss in Minnesota.

"They've been our best players," coach Jon Cooper said.

But judging from how goaltenders have responded after the bye this season, picking up where you left off is easier said than done. Just ask the Panthers' James Reimer, who was pulled in his post-bye start after allowing three goals in 14 shots. Rangers' star Henrik Lundqvist had an awful .789 save percentage in his first three starts after the break. Former Lightning goalie Mike Smith was at .878 for Arizona. …

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Jonathan Drouin a game-time decision with flu

The good news for the Lightning is that Tyler Johnson is expected back in the lineup tonight against the Stars.

The bad news? Wing Jonathan Drouin has a flu bug, and is a game-time decision. Cory Conacher was called up from AHL Syracuse and is in route in case Drouin can't go; or Tampa Bay can go with seven defensemen.

"I hope (Drouin) can play," coach Jon Cooper said. "But you  never know how things go."

Johnson, who missed the last two games before the five-day bye with a lower body injury, felt good after his second straight day on the ice. "He's good to go," Cooper said.

The Lightning (25-24-7) are facing a struggling Stars team that has lost six of their last seven. But the bye week hasn't been kind to teams, which are 3-9-2 in first game back. Those who had byes this month are 0-5-1 in the first game.

But Cooper doesn't seem concerned, liking the way the players have responded the past two days.

"I like the way the guys are snapping it around," Cooper said. …

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Vinny Lecavalier ready for 'special' Lightning alumni game

On Thursday, Vinny Lecavalier put on a Lightning jersey for the first time in four years.

But first, the former Lightning captain went hunting.

Yes, hunting.

Those are the spoils of being a retired player.

“Just nice to be outdoors,” he said. “Something different to do.”

Saturday will be different, too. Lecavalier, 36, will be back on the ice at Amalie Arena at 5 p.m. for the Lightning alumni game against former Bruins’ players at Amalie Arena. It’s part of the third annual Hockey Day in Tampa Bay, with other events including high school championships, sled hockey game and street hockey tournaments. All proceeds from event ($10 in advance, $15 at the door), proceed the Jason Ritchie Foundation and Lightning sled hockey.

But the main event will be the alumni, game, with Lecavalier joined by the likes of Dave Andreychuk, Ruslan Fedotenko and Chris Dingman. The Bruins are bringing Hall of Famer Ray Bourque. It’ll be just the third time Lecavalier has played since retiring at the end of last season. With more alumni staying in Tampa Bay, there should be more activities down the road. …

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Tyler Johnson could return Saturday

Tyler Johnson missed the last two games with a lower body injury, was a full participant in Friday's first practice.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Tyler Johnson missed the last two games with a lower body injury, was a full participant in Friday's first practice.

One positive to come out of the Lightning's bye week is the potential return of center Tyler Johnson.

Johnson, who missed the last two games with a lower body injury, was a full participant in Friday's first practice after the five-day bye. Johnson was in a regular jersey, on a line with Nikita Kucherov and Vladislav Namestnikov.

It's a good sign Johnson might be available for Saturday's game in Dallas. The team will decide after Saturday's morning skate.

"Had a good practice today, so we'll see it feels tomorrow," Johnson said.

Johnson got hurt Feb. 7 against the Kings. He tried to take part in Friday's morning skate in Minnesota, but left early. "Unfortunately I didn't feel ready to play," Johnson said. "Luckily the break came at a really good time, and we'll see how it goes tomorrow."

Teams have struggled coming out of the bye this season. Those who have had byes in February are 0-5-0 so far. Coach Jon Cooper hopes the Lightning can buck that streak, noting it's "urgency time" in its playoff hopes. …

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Lightning Strikes! podcast: Is bye week good or bad for the Bolts?

What should the Lightning do with Brian Boyle at the trade deadline?

DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times

What should the Lightning do with Brian Boyle at the trade deadline?

In this week's edition of our Lightning Strikes! podcast, Times sports columnist Tom Jones and beat reporter Joe Smith discuss whether the bye week is a good or bad thing for the Lightning. What does the Lightning do with Ben Bishop and Brian Boyle at the trade deadline? Is it time to worry about Ryan Callahan? And is Jonathan Drouin the most exciting player in Lightning history?

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Erik Condra's shuttle from Syracuse takes its toll

Wing Erik Condra has been the Lightning's yo-yo this season, getting recalled eight times from AHL Syracuse.

The latest came Thursday, Condra, 30, arriving after midnight in St. Paul, Minn after yet another flight. This time it was on American Airlines.

"Name (the airline), I've flown them," Condra quipped. "Allegiant, Southwest, America. I'm a Delta guy, so I have all the perks."

Condra isn't complaining. He knows he gets paid good money ($1.5 million this season) to play a game he loves. Every callup is exciting, as any day in the NHL is a good day. But it's still been a very trying season, mostly on his family, which remains in Tampa while he's mostly been in Syracuse. The constant shuffling has taken its toll on Condra's two kids, son, Callan, 2 1/2 and daughter Ellery, 10 months.

"They say, 'It's Mommy's house' and 'Daddy's house,'" Condra said. "But what can I do?"

It's tough for Condra to make plans. His dad came to visit him in Syracuse over Christmas, but Condra got called up, so they flew to Tampa together. Same thing happened with his family. "I'm lucky my wife (Ryan) has been a champ," Condra said. "She's been amazing. Without her, I don't think I'd be as sane as I am." …

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Steve Yzerman 'extremely saddened' by death of Mike Ilitch

Steve Yzerman said he was "extremely saddened" to hear of the passing of long-time Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch, pictured.

AP photo

Steve Yzerman said he was "extremely saddened" to hear of the passing of long-time Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch, pictured.

Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman said he was "extremely saddened" to hear of the passing of long-time Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch.

Yzerman was an iconic Hall of Fame captain of the Red Wings, developing a unique relationship with the Ilitch family over several decades.

"Both Mr. and Mrs. Ilitch, as well as their entire family, have had an immeasurable impact on not only my career, but my life," Yzerman said in a statement. "Going back to the age of 18 when I arrived in Detroit, the guidance, generosity, concern and love Mr, Ilitch had always shown me and my family are things I will forever be grateful for.

“I was extremely fortunate to have played my entire career for a man who's love of hockey and burning desire to win were the catalysts which drove the Detroit Red Wings to four Stanley Cup Championships after purchasing the team in 1982.

“Mr. Ilitch has left an incredible legacy in baseball, hockey and Metropolitan Detroit. He will forever be
remembered for all the ways he enriched our lives.  Mike Ilitch will live on vividly in my mind and heart forever.”

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Vasilevskiy gets start in big game vs. Wild

Andrei Vasilevskiy starts in Minnesota tonight, hoping to keep Tampa Bay's two-game winning streak alive.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Andrei Vasilevskiy starts in Minnesota tonight, hoping to keep Tampa Bay's two-game winning streak alive.

With goalie Ben Bishop being on a roll, and coming off a shutout, you would have thought he might get the start tonight in a measuring-stick game against the Western Conference-leading Wild.

You'd also be wrong.

Andrei Vasilevskiy starts in Minnesota, hoping to keep Tampa Bay's two-game winning streak alive. Coach Jon Cooper said while Bishop has played well, the team wants to keep with the season-long plan to keep both goalies fresh. Tampa Bay plays in Winnipeg Saturday.

"Both of our goalies play, they're both good," Cooper said. "Our plans we've had in place all year, we're not deviating from it. Obviously 'Bish had a shutout, but Bish played a couple in a row, gave us a chance to win and we did, and now it's Vasy's turn. We've got full confidence."

The Lightning could have decided to start Bishop tonight against the better Wild and Vasilevskiy Saturday, giving both goalies a game before the five-day bye week next week. Tampa Bay has chosen often this year to play Vasilevskiy the first game of back-to-backs, more so than last year.

Time will tell if this was the right call. …

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Rick Bowness to pass Scotty Bowman for games coached

Rick Bowness will break Scotty Bowman's record tonight for most games coached in the NHL (as head coach or assistant.) This one is 2,165.

DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times

Rick Bowness will break Scotty Bowman's record tonight for most games coached in the NHL (as head coach or assistant.) This one is 2,165.

When you can pass Hall of Fame coach Scotty Bowman, you know it's a good day.

It doesn't happen often.

But Lightning coach Rick Bowness, 62, will break Bowman's record tonight for most games coached in the NHL (as head coach or assistant. This one is 2,165.

"I've been very fortunate that I played for a little bit and I've been able to coach every day of my life and that's what I'm very, very happy with," Bowness said. "I can look back at my life and say, 'Man, I've worked in a game my whole life.'

"That's pretty good."

Bowness appeared in just 173 NHL games a player, the right wing having stints with the Atlanta Flames, Red Wings, Blues and Jets. His coaching career began as a player-coach for Winnipeg's AHL affiliate Sherbrooke, filling in for Ron Racette, who had a brain tumor. Bowness hasn't left the bench since. …

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Tyler Johnson 'up in the air' for Friday's game

Tyler Johnson's availability is "up in the air" after missing Thursday's skate due to body maintenance.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Tyler Johnson's availability is "up in the air" after missing Thursday's skate due to body maintenance.

Think the Lightning has turned the corner?

Tampa Bay is feeling good after winning back-to-back games for the first time since Dec. 20-22. But the real test may come Friday in St. Paul, Minn, where the Lightning faces the Western Conference-leading Wild.  Tampa Bay hasn't won in Minnesota since the 2010-11 season, dropping four-straight

"I'm excited for this," coach Jon Cooper said. "I want to see where we're at. This will be a good gauge."

The Lightning (24-24-6) might be closer to full strength. Wing Alex Killorn (undisclosed) and Ondrej Palat (undisclosed) both practiced Thursday and are probable for Friday's game, Cooper said. Cooper said center Tyler Johnson's availability is "up in the air" after missing Thursday's skate due to body maintenance. Erik Condra was recalled from AHL Syracuse on Thursday as insurance. …

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Gabriel Dumont 'earned his right' to stay with Lightning

Gabriel Dumont's goal was his first in the NHL in nearly four years, his last coming in April 2013 while with the Canadiens.

DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times

Gabriel Dumont's goal was his first in the NHL in nearly four years, his last coming in April 2013 while with the Canadiens.

Lightning forward Gabriel Dumont emphatically pumped both arms in the air, and let out a huge grin after scoring Tuesday night.

You can't blame him. It's been a long time coming.

Dumont's goal was his first in the NHL in nearly four years, his last coming in April 2013 while with the Canadiens. That was the last time Dumont, 26, had this long of a look, his fresh start with the Lightning paying off.

Dumont, called up by AHL Syracuse last month, has played in 12 games, nearly as many as he got in five years in the Canadiens organization. He signed a one-year deal with Tampa Bay July 1.

"(The Canadiens) were seeing me as a certain type of player, a certain way," Dumont said. "And here I got a fresh start. I'm just glad to be here." …

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