Andrei Vasilevskiy is a not-so-secret key ingredient in the Lightning’s recipe for success in the playoffs.
The reigning Conn Smythe Trophy recipient won his fifth straight postseason game Sunday, stopping 34 of 35 shots to help the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions beat the Panthers, 5-1, in Tampa and move to the brink of another trip to the Eastern Conference finals.
“It all starts with him,” forward Nick Paul said after Vasilevskiy stood tall again in shutting down the high-scoring Panthers, who had the NHL’s best record while averaging a league-high four goals per game during the regular season.
The Presidents’ Trophy winners have three goals in three games against the Lightning, who have a commanding 3-0 series lead and are within one victory of advancing to the conference finals for the sixth time in eight years.
“There’s a whole ton of things that go into it,” coach Jon Cooper said of Tampa Bay’s defensive effort.
“But we’re committed to play D, and I think it’s helped in some of these times that we’ve had the lead. . . . But we have a plan, and the guys are executing and playing hard, " Cooper added. “We feel like we’ve got a recipe going here, and we just have to stick with it. It’s hard, though, because they’re a hell of a team.”
Steven Stamkos scored two goals and Nikita Kucherov had a goal and three assists for the Lightning, who are in the playoffs for the eighth time in nine seasons under Cooper.
Game 4 is Monday night at Amalie Arena, where Tampa Bay has won three of four games this postseason.
“We’re pleased with what’s going on here. But you know, we haven’t done anything yet,” Cooper said. “Until you start checking off that fourth win, there’s nothing we can sit and hang our hat on. We’re inching our way closer, but this is far from over.”
Corey Perry got the Lightning off to a strong start with his 50th career playoff goal and Erik Cernak also scored.
Vasilevskiy, meanwhile, allowed just one goal for the fourth straight game after allowing at least three in each of Tampa Bay’s first six games this postseason.
The 6-foot-3-inch goaltender, nicknamed “Big Cat,” was helped again Sunday by teammates who combined to block 19 shots.
“We’re down 3-0, so obviously we’re not happy with the results,” Panthers star Jonathan Huberdeau said. “But we’re playing probably the best goalie. He’s making some saves. We’re having chances. We’re not getting bounces, too, right now. Credit to them, too, they’re blocking every shot. They’re a good team. You can see why they won two Stanley Cups.”
Sam Reinhart scored Florida’s lone goal Sunday, snapping a puzzling 0-for-25 start to the playoffs for the Panthers’ power play.
Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 31 of 34 shots, with Perry and Cernak both scoring only moments after Florida killed off penalties in the first and second periods. Stamkos’s one-timer off a pass from Kucherov made it 3-1 midway through the second.
Shesterkin, Rangers stop streaking Hurricanes
Mika Zibanejad had a goal and an assist, Igor Shesterkin stopped 43 shots, and the Rangers beat the Hurricanes, 3-1, in New York in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference second-round playoff series.
Chris Kreider and Tyler Motte also scored as the Rangers cut their deficit to 2-1 in the best-of-seven matchup. Game 4 is Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden.
It was just the Rangers’ second win against Carolina in the teams’ last 10 meetings, dating to the qualifying round of the 2020 playoffs in the bubble in Toronto. The Hurricanes swept that series in three games and won three of four in the regular season.
Nino Niederreiter scored for Carolina, and Antti Raanta finished with 30 saves. The Hurricanes dropped to 0-4 on the road this postseason to go along with their 6-0 home mark.
Shesterkin had 17 saves in the first period, 17 in the second and nine in the third.
The Rangers had a two-on-one breakaway 5½ minutes into the third period, but Ryan Reaves’s shot from the right side was stopped by Raanta. Motte, who started raising his arms in anticipation of a goal, couldn’t corral the rebound.
Raanta then made a stellar save to deny Kaapo Kakko’s attempt from the right side three minutes later to keep it a one-goal game.
The Hurricanes pulled Raanta for an extra skater with 2½ minutes to go. Less than 30 seconds later, Kreider missed a chance at the empty net, but Motte sealed it with a backhander from the defensive zone with 1:23 remaining.
Evander Kane’s hat trick leads Oilers past Flames
Evander Kane had three goals in a six-minute span in the second period, Leon Draisaitl set an NHL record with four assists in one playoff period and the Oilers defeated the Flames, 4-1, in Edmontonto take a 2-1 lead in their Western Conference second-round playoff series.
Zach Hyman had the other goal for Edmonton and Connor McDavid had three more assists. Mike Smith, who was briefly replaced by Mikko Koskinen in the third period after getting run over by Milan Lucic, made 31 saves. Koskinen wasn’t forced to make a stop in just over four minutes.
Oliver Kylington scored the lone goal for Calgary. Jacob Markstrom allowed four goals on 34 shots before getting pulled for the Flames, who have been outscored 8-1 since taking a 3-1 lead in the second period of Game 2. Dan Vladar made seven saves in relief.
McDavid now has 23 points (6 goals, 17 assists) through 10 postseason games. The only players in NHL playoff history with more points in the same span are Wayne Gretzky (29 in 1983; 25 in 1985), Mario Lemieux (25 in 1992) and Rick Middleton (23 in 1983).
The Oilers will look to take a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series Tuesday night at Edmonton.
In the first playoff meeting in Edmonton to feature the Oilers and Flames since April 14, 1991, the Oilers scored four goals in just over 12 minutes in the second period — including Kane’s second hat trick of the month.
The 30-year-old Kane is the third Edmonton player to score three straight goals in a postseason game, joining Gretzky (1983) and Petr Kilma (1991). Draisaitl’s fourth assist of the second period, meanwhile, set the playoff record for any period.
Lucic ran over Smith behind the Oilers’ net midway through the third to kick off a melee involving all 10 skaters. The Edmonton netminder was subsequently removed in favor of Koskinen, but returned shortly later.
Avalanche’s Nazem Kadri in hot water again with Blues
That water bottle tossed toward Avalanche forward Nazem Kadri hardly came out of nowhere.
For two consecutive postseasons, Kadri has been the agitator that makes Colorado go and the pest that drives the Blues crazy.
In Saturday night’s 5-2 victory, Kadri’s collision with Blues defenseman Calle Rosen ended with him in the lap of St. Louis goalie Jordan Binnington, who left the game in the first period with a lower-body injury and is now out of the playoffs. Binnington was the most likely candidate among those who might have pitched a water bottle in Kadri’s direction while he was doing an on-camera postgame interview.
The controversial collision, the water bottle, the series-ending injury to Binnington — all of it comes almost exactly 52 weeks after Kadri’s hit on Justin Faulk, who missed the rest of that playoff series and resulted in an eight-game suspension for Kadri.
There’s no love lost in St. Louis for Kadri.
“Look at Kadri’s reputation,” said Blues coach Craig Berube, whose team trails the second-round series 2-1. “That’s all I’ve got to say.”
The Blues were turning the page Sunday after learning Binnington was done for the series and goaltender Charlie Lindgren was recalled from Springfield of the AHL “under emergency conditions.” Ville Husso stepped in after Binnington left.
“You don’t focus on just him,” Blues center Brayden Schenn said of Kadri. “You focus on going out there and winning a hockey game. That’s all you can control.”
Kadri has been on his best behavior all season and into the playoffs. Maybe even to the point of shying away from plays that might land him in trouble given his past.
“Listen, reputation, it doesn’t mean anything: It’s either a legal play or it’s not,” said Avalanche coach Jared Bednar, whose team lost defenseman Samuel Girard (broken sternum) for the playoffs on a check from Ivan Barbashev into the boards. “We’ve talked about this with Naz and the way he’s trying to change his reputation, making sure he’s playing through checks. . . . They’re both going after the puck the same way. They collide. Again, unfortunate.”
Maple Leafs re-sign defenseman Mark Giordano
The Maple Leafs signed veteran defenseman Mark Giordano to a two-year contract extension. The average annual value of the contract is $800,000.
Giordano, 38, had 8 goals and 27 assists in 75 games last season split between Toronto and the Kraken. He added two assists in seven playoff games with the Maple Leafs.
Giordano has 151 goals and 393 assists in 1,024 regular-season NHL games with Toronto, Seattle and Calgary. He’s also had nine points (one goal, eight assists) in 30 playoff games.