Missing from the lineup the last four games with an upper-body ailment suffered in practice ahead of Game 1 against Tampa, the 28-year-old winger could provide much-needed scoring depth if he’s able to return in time for Tuesday’s do-or-die game in Raleigh, down 3-1.
“We’re hopeful he’ll play -- we’ll find out (Tuesday),” said Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour, who said after Game 1 it was “very, very doubtful” Niederreiter would play in the series.
“That was his first practice with us in a long time. But it was a good sign. He looked good and we obviously need him. Obviously you’ve got some goal-scoring ability when you add him in there, for sure.”
Niederreiter, who was the team’s second-leading goal scorer this year with 20, skated on the third line with Martin Necas and Jordan Martinook.
“Obviously we miss him,” said Necas, whose club has struggled to score in the series. “He's a big part of our team. We miss a few guys right now, but if he's going to come in, and it seems like he will, then it's a big help for us, and I'm excited to play with him.”
The ’Canes could also have Vincent Trochek (lower body) and Warren Foegele (upper body) back in the lineup too, although neither skated Monday.
“Vincent, I think, is going to try (Tuesday), I hope,” said the coach.
“Same thing with Foegs. They’re both kind of very game time.”
Brind’Amour didn’t shed light on the biggest decision he has to make, although the answer seems clear.
“Have not (made a decision) on the goalie yet,” said Brind’Amour.
However, in Game 4 Mrazek let in several weak goals, stopping just 20 of 26 shots, making it likely Nedeljkovic will return to the starting gig he had for the first eight games of these playoffs.
The numbers would back up such a move, as Nedeljkovic has a .920 save percentage and 2.18 GAA in these playoffs, compared to Mrazek, who is at .873 and 3.90.
PENALTY PROBLEMS PERSIST
In a close series that has been a coin toss during 5-on-5 play, the Lightning have a 3-1 series lead because of their power play.
Operating at a league-best 41.2 per cent efficiency, the Lightning have simply capitalized on the opposition’s penalties.
Best believe the Hurricanes have discussed the need to be more disciplined.
“We know how good their power play is for sure,” said Dougie Hamilton. “No one is trying to take a penalty. You don’t go out there saying. ‘I’m going to take a penalty.’ The game happens pretty fast sometimes. We have to do our best to stay out of the box, limit their power play chances and that will give us a better chance of winning.”
Lightning coach Jon Cooper lit up when asked about Gerard Gallant’s success in winning World Championship gold Sunday as coach of Team Canada.
“I couldn’t be more proud,” said Cooper, who had the free agent coach as an assistant when they finished second at the 2017 Worlds, losing in overtime to Sweden.
“I was texting with (Gallant) every game when they started progressing on. I was fired up when they won.”
Asked why he thought Gallant was such a successful coach, Cooper laid it out.
“The one thing about Turk is there’s nothing he asks of his players he wouldn’t have done himself,” said Cooper.
“He delivers a message that you really want to go out there and play for him and that’s what good coaches do. You’re getting your point across in a way in which the players understand. He’s simple in his approach, but extremely effective. He was awesome to have on our staff. Ironically, he was in between jobs back then and he ended up getting the Vegas job. There’s a reason the teams he coaches win. He gets a plan, communicates it, and then drives the guys.”
• The Hurricanes will be trying to stave off elimination in the right place, as PNC Arena saw the team go 20-3-5 at home this year. However, the team’s perfect 3-0 home playoff record was ruined when Tampa Bay stole the first two games of the series in Raleigh.
• Both teams took advantage of an extra day between games by giving the lads some rest.
“Especially the way (Game 4) went and how it ended up it was nice to have a day to kind of get away from it and then a day now to reset and get focused on obviously the biggest game of the year for us,” said Brind’Amour, who figured motivation and pressure weren’t concerns given the 3-1 series deficit.
“I actually think they’re easier games to play because you know there is no tomorrow. You’ve got to lay it all on the line.”