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Lightning's Swedes live their dream in Worlds

Victor Hedman of Sweden celebrate with his teammates after scoring the opening goal in the gold-medal game against Canada.

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Victor Hedman of Sweden celebrate with his teammates after scoring the opening goal in the gold-medal game against Canada.

You could see it in his face.

Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman screamed as he hoisted the World Championship trophy Sunday afternoon in Cologne, Germany, and it looked like an exhale that was years in the making. Stralman kissed the forehead of Swedish teammate Joel Lundqvist, the joy unmistakable.

Stralman, 30, who has never won a major championship in the NHL or international stage, earned himself a new label after Sunday's 3-2 shootout win over Canada. Both Stralman and fellow Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman are, for the first time, gold medalists.

“It's amazing ... It's awesome. From being a real (expletive) loser to finally be a champ," Stralman told hockeysverige.se, translated to English by Jim Hallberg. "It feels fantastic. Now I’m no longer a (expletive) loser. I feel proud of the guys, how we played, how we came together as a team and the joy we had together. It does not get better than this and that's why we stand here with the gold medal.”

It does not get any better than this.  …

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Five Lightning prospects competing for Memorial Cup

Lightning prospect Anthony Cirelli, who went from undrafted twice in the OHL to a potential two-time OHL playoff MVP. (Courtesy of Matt Mead Photography LLC)

Lightning prospect Anthony Cirelli, who went from undrafted twice in the OHL to a potential two-time OHL playoff MVP. (Courtesy of Matt Mead Photography LLC)

The Lightning brass will get their money's worth in Windsor, Ontario this weekend, with five prospects competing in the Canadian Hockey League's Memorial Cup, which begins today.

"A pretty good stop," says Stacy Roest, the Lightning's director of player development.

Three prospects play for Erie - forwards Taylor Raddysh, Anthony Cirelli and defenseman Erik Cernak. (Check out this feature on Cirelli). Two more play for Saint Johns's (QMJHL), with Mathieu Joseph and Boko Imama.

Raddysh, a second-round pick in 2016, recently signed a three-year, entry-level deal. The 6-foot-2, 209 pound wing racked up 109 points in 58 games this season for Erie, including 42 oals.

"He's big, he's strong he skates," Roest said. "He's really good with the puck, seeing the ice. He's so smart, and on the power play he's really got a good shot. Offensively, he's very strong, in puck possession games, he's a skilled player."

Raddysh's brother, Darren, a defenseman, also plays for Erie, and you wonder if Tampa Bay might have interest in the pending unrestricted free agent. "He moves the puck well, the top scoring CHL defenseman. He's a couple year older Taylor, on defense." …

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Lightning 'very interested' in bringing Peter Budaj back

Peter Budaj, 34, is an unrestricted free agent July 1.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Peter Budaj, 34, is an unrestricted free agent July 1.

There are certainly important tasks this summer for the Lightning in terms of keeping its own, with Jonathan Drouin, Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat all restricted free agents.

But one position Tampa Bay needs to fill is backup goaltender for No. 1 Andrei Vasilevskiy. And if everything works out right, it could be the same one who ended the season with the Lightning, veteran Peter Budaj.

Budaj, 34, is an unrestricted free agent July 1.

"We were very pleased with the finish to the season Peter had, we'd very muuch be interested in bringing him Peter back," GM Steve Yzerman said Thursday on 620-AM. "As the offseason winds down here, we get closer to July 1, we'll figure out what wer'e going to do for backup and goaltenders in Syracuse."

The Lightning has prospect Connor Ingram expected to join AHL Syracuse next season as his first year pro. Mike McKenna, acquired from the Panthers at the trade deadline, is an unrestricted free agent. Kristers Gudlevskis is a restricted free agents. …

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Steven Stamkos feeling 'much better' than end of season

"Things are going well," Steven Stamkos wrote to the Tampa Bay Times. "Feeling much better than where I was at the end of the season."

DIRK SHADD | Times

"Things are going well," Steven Stamkos wrote to the Tampa Bay Times. "Feeling much better than where I was at the end of the season."

It certainly raised some eyebrows Thursday when a release circulated that Lightning captain Steven Stamkos was scheduled to play in a Canadian Hockey League Alumni Game May 27 in Windsor, Ontario.  

After all, Stamkos hadn't played since mid-November surgery to repair a torn lateral mensicus in his right knee.

But Stamkos clarified that he is not playing in the game, saying the organizers put him on the roster without confirming with him. That doesn't mean Stamkos' rehab has hit any snags.

"Things are going well," Stamkos wrote to the Tampa Bay Times. "Feeling much better than where I was at the end of the season."

Stamkos skated with the Lightning for the final month of the regular season, hoping to make it back in time. Stamkos said on exit interview day his return "wasn't as close as everyone thought," but was confident he'd be back to "100 percent" for next season.

GM Steve Yzerman said a few weeks ago Stamkos' rehab was on schedule and he'd be "ready to go" for camp/next season.

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Lightning could host 2018 All-Star Game

Nikita Kucherov of the Lightning skates against Justin Faulk of the Carolina Hurricanes during the 2017 Honda NHL All-Star Game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California.

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Nikita Kucherov of the Lightning skates against Justin Faulk of the Carolina Hurricanes during the 2017 Honda NHL All-Star Game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California.

The NHL All-Star Game could be returning to Tampa Bay for the first time in nearly two decades, the Lightning the leading candidate to host the 2018 event in January at Amalie Arena.

But what has prevented this from being a done deal is partly potential conflicts with both the world's and city's most iconic events.

Many of the league's top players - including several Lightning All-Stars - have said they want to compete in the 2018 Olympics in South Korea. The fact the NHL's much-debated decision to not participate in the Olympics didn't come until last month delayed the selection process for host of the All-Star Game, which isn't typically played during Olympic years.

And while Tampa has long lobbied for, and is the top candidate, for the next All-Star Game, a deal is not a certainty. In what's usually a complicated negotiation, one wrinkle could be Gasparilla. The century-old festival, which draws several hundred thousand people, is scheduled in Tampa on the same Jan. 28 weekend of the All-Star Game. Neither the Lightning, nor the league, would comment Wednesday. But there appears hope on both sides a deal can get done and announcement comes soon. …

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Former Lightning star Ben Bishop signs with Dallas Stars

Ben Bishop signed a six-year, $29.5 million deal Friday with the Dallas Stars.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Ben Bishop signed a six-year, $29.5 million deal Friday with the Dallas Stars.

Former Lightning goalie Ben Bishop has found a new long-term home, likely enabling him to end his career where it began.

Bishop, 30, signed a six-year, $29.5 million deal Friday with the Dallas Stars, which had acquired his rights from L.A. on Tuesday. Bishop, a two-time Vezina Trophy finalist with Tampa Bay, returns to an area where he went to high school (Frisco) and played before college (NAHL's Texas Tornado).

"So excited to be in my old stomping ground's!" Bishop tweeted.

Bishop traded term (six years) for a smaller annual average ($4.91 million), roughly a million fewer than what he made in his last two years with the Lightning ($5.95 million). But Bishop, who is getting married this summer, gets long term security, including a no-move clause, and a shot to be a No. 1 for a talented Stars team that missed the playoffs this season. 

"This looks a lot like the team we had in Tampa when I first got there," Bishop told the Dallas Morning News.  …

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Ben Bishop deal to Dallas a good fit for both

Ben Bishop's rights were traded from the Kings to the Stars Tuesday for a fourth-round pick.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Ben Bishop's rights were traded from the Kings to the Stars Tuesday for a fourth-round pick.

After a year of uncertainty, former Lightning goalie Ben Bishop might have finally found a long-term home.

And it feels like a good fit.

Bishop's rights were traded from the Kings to the Stars Tuesday for a fourth-round pick. Bishop, 30, is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent July 1. But if Bishop can work out a long-term deal beforehand, he might have some desired stability before any free agency frenzy begins (and a planned summer wedding).

"I don't want to get ahead of myself, because I know we have the negotiating process to go through, but I'm excited," Bishop told the Dallas Morning News. "I know the area down there, I graduated from Frisco High School, and I know how passionate the fans are there. I was just really excited to hear the news."

The Stars needed an upgrade at goalie after ranking 29th in goals against average (3.17) and 30th in save percentage (.893). They have two veteran goalies under contract next year - Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi - and now will likely expose both in the June expansion draft (as long as Bishop can be signed). If neither are taken, Dallas could look to buy Niemi out. …

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Some tough expansion decisions loom for Lightning

Vladislav Namestnikov could be someone that would interest Vegas in the expansion draft.

ANDRES LEIVA | Times

Vladislav Namestnikov could be someone that would interest Vegas in the expansion draft.

The popular assumption is that the Lightning might lose center Vladislav Namestnikov to Vegas in the June expansion draft.

It makes sense. Tampa Bay has some tough decisions up front even if it goes with the seven forwards, three defensemen protection list. Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson, Jonathan Drouin are locks, unless one of the restricted free agents (Johnson, Palat, or Drouin) is dealt before hand. Ryan Callahan must be protected due to his no-move clause, and there's not a sense - at least not yet - that he's been asked to waive it.

That would leave one spot left, theoretically for Alex Killorn, who was signed to a seven-year, $31 million deal last summer, when GM Steve Yzerman dubbed the power forward one of the team's "core" players. That means Namestnikov, 24, who has one year left on his deal, potentially left unprotected.

And the Namestnikov could be someone that would interest Vegas - he's a versatile forward who can play center or wing, from top line to fourth line, both special teams units. And he's relatively   cheap, at $1.9375 million next season. …

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U.S. women's national team training in Tampa

The U.S. women's national hockey team is staying in Tampa.

USA Hockey announced Friday that the team, starting in September, will move their headquarters and train at the Florida Hospital Center Ice in Wesley Chapel. The team will train there in preparation for the 2018 Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea, playing a few exhibitions in the area. This news came on the same day USA Hockey announced the 23 players named to the 2017-18 national team at a NHL Network -televised press conference at Amalie Arena.

"To have this kind of spotlight on us, this is big for us," said Jay Feaster, the Lightning executive director for community hockey development. "The timing couldn't be better, just the girls to see, 'Wow, there's a women's national team and, wow, I can play."

There were around 40 youth girls hockey players on hand for today's event. Several asked questions to the press conference, then participated in a street hockey game with the national team players. Feaster said there will be tryouts in mid-May for a girls hockey program that is still in its infancy. …

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