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Victor Hedman scored his first goal of the playoffs and added two assists and Andrei Vasilevskiy made 36 saves to help the Tampa Bay Lightning beat the Washington Capitals 4-2 in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference final Tuesday night and cut their series deficit to 2-1. Hedman had the primary assist on power-play goals by Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov and was a key part of three big penalty kills that gave Tampa Bay some much-needed momentum.
Gerard Gallant and Paul Maurice don’t know each other well despite having their NHL coaching careers overlap. The men behind the benches for the Vegas Golden Knights and Winnipeg Jets have both led their teams into the Western Conference final. Gallant was fired by Florida with a winning record just 21 games last season. He was left to catch a cab. Maurice was fired by the Carolina Hurricanes twice. They will match wits Wednesday night in Game 3 in Las Vegas.
Jonathan Marchessault was left unprotected in the expansion draft by the Florida Panthers, who seemed to determine his breakout season was a fluke. They likely regret the head-scratching decision. The Vegas Golden Knights selected Marchessault and he averaged nearly a point a game in the regular season and was at his best in Game 2 of the Western Conference final.
Dustin Byfuglien scored about a minute after the puck dropped and the Winnipeg Jets built a three-goal lead early in the first period and went on to beat the Vegas Golden Knights 4-2 in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals. Patrik Laine and Joel Armia had goals 46 seconds apart to put the Jets up 3-0. Patrik Laine and Joel Armia had goals 46 seconds apart to put the Jets up 3-0. Mark Scheifele gave Winnipeg a 4-1 lead midway through the second. The Jets will host Game 2 on Monday night.
Alex Ovechkin had a power-play goal and an assist in his Eastern Conference finals debut, leading the Washington Capitals to a 4-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning Braden Holtby stopped 19 shots and Michal Kempny, Jay Beagle and Lars Eller also scored for the Caps, who are alive beyond the second round of the playoffs for the first time in Ovechkin’s 13-year career.
A year ago at this time, the Winnipeg Jets weren’t even in the playoffs and the Vegas Golden Knights didn’t even have players. Now they’re getting ready to pit their depth, speed and two of the postseason’s best goaltenders against each other when the Western Conference final gets underway in Winnipeg on Saturday night. Vegas beat the Jets in two of their three regular-season meetings, splitting the two games in Winnipeg and winning the lone meeting at T-Mobile Arena.
Winning the Stanley Cup seemed the perfect next step for the Nashville Predators after fighting all season for home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs. Now they know that winning the Presidents’ Trophy is no guarantee of winning on home ice when it matters most. The Predators followed their Stanley Cup Final loss last June by winning their first Central Division title and the Presidents’ Trophy as the NHL’s best team in the regular season but lost in the second round of the playoffs.
The NHL’s final four teams left have combined for one Stanley Cup victory for the first time in history. One of the Lightning, Capitals, Jets and Golden Knights will be a new Cup champion in the salary-cap era that began in 2005.
The Washington Capitals have never used more rookies during a single postseason than the half-dozen who helped Alex Ovechkin and Co. reach the Eastern Conference final against the Tampa Bay Lightning. It’s part of a league-wide trend, too: The 50 rookie skaters who have appeared during these NHL playoffs are the most since teams used 54 in the 2005-06 postseason.
The Winnipeg Jets only got a few hours to celebrate the biggest victory in franchise history. The Jets finished off the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Nashville Predators 5-1 in Game 7 of their second-round series, then quickly headed home to prepare for the opener of their first ever Western Conference final Saturday night. The Jets will be hosting the upstart Vegas Golden Knights in a conference final nobody predicted.
The Winnipeg Jets are headed to the first Western Conference final in their short history after knocking off the NHL’s best team in the regular season. Tyler Myers and Paul Stastny scored 2:06 apart in the first period, and the Jets stunned the Nashville Predators 5-1 in their first Game 7 to continue an amazing run for a team swept in its previous two playoff appearances. Nashville now is the ninth Presidents’ Trophy winner in 10 years not to win the Stanley Cup.
Like many young Russian hockey players, Nikita Kucherov grew up following Alex Ovechkin’s career, hoping to someday become a prolific scorer and maybe even compete against his countryman in the Stanley Cup playoffs. The 24-year-old Tampa Bay Lightning winger has spent five seasons fulfilling the first portion of the dream. The other part becomes a reality Friday night, when the Lightning open the Eastern Conference finals against Ovechkin’s Washington Capitals.
Marc-Andre Fleury has bounced back from postseason struggles to recapture his status as an elite playoff goaltender. Fleury has been the best goalie in the Stanley Cup playoffs to lead the expansion Vegas Golden Knights to the Western Conference final. Former teammates says his career revitalization was all about Fleury regaining his confidence.
With a winner in Winnipeg, Jets fans can finally showcase their support after years of early playoff exits and the team leaving the city once before. The Jets’ second incarnation has the team making its deepest playoff run in Winnipeg’s NHL history. And they have a chance to go further in preparing to play at Nashville in Game 7 of their second-round playoff series on Thursday.
Nobody has reflected the roller-coaster ride of the Western Conference semifinal between the NHL’s top two teams in the regular season than their Vezina Trophy finalists in goal. Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne has been pulled from not one but two games – both on his own ice – before turning in his second shutout of the postseason. Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck is 2-1 in Nashville. The two face off in a Game 7 on Thursday night in Nashville. The winner will face Vegas in the West final.
Alex Ovechkin, Barry Trotz and the Capitals are in unfamiliar territory in the conference finals and have their sights set on making more history. The Atlantic Division-champion Lightning await after Ovechkin and Trotz reached the third round for the first time in their NHL careers.
Bruins forward Brad Marchand drew national attention and a reprimand from the NHL after he was caught licking the face of Lightning forward Ryan Callahan during a confrontation in the Lightning’s 4-3 overtime Game 4 win that pushed the Bruins to the brink of elimination. Now Marchand is thinking about cleaning up his act.
The Pittsburgh Penguins don’t expect the sting from their second-round playoff exit to fade anytime soon. They also don’t expect it to compel general manager Jim Rutherford to give the roster a thorough makeover after the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions’ bid for a three-peat ended at the hands of Washington. Rutherford says he likes the nucleus of his team and doesn’t believe significant changes are necessary to get Pittsburgh back to the top.
Filip Forsberg is a big reason why the Western Conference semifinal is back in Nashville for a deciding Game 7 against the Winnipeg Jets. Forsberg led the Predators in scoring as Nashville won the franchise’s first Presidents’ Trophy during the regular season. He now leads the team in points in the postseason thanks to a scoring touch built with lots of hard work. He scored twice in Game 6 to help Nashville stay alive. Game 7 is Thursday night.
Joe Thornton says it’s no secret he wants to finish his career with the San Jose Sharks and he’s hopeful he can get another contract signed before hitting free agency this summer. Thornton has been sidelined since January with a major right knee injury that forced him to be a spectator as the Sharks lost in the second round of the playoffs to Vegas. He says he will be healthy by the start of next season.