Andrei Vasilevskiy had 49 saves and the Tampa Bay Lightning completed a four-game sweep of the Florida Panthers with a 2-0 victory Monday night that sent the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions back to the Eastern Conference final for the sixth time in eight years.
Pat Maroon snapped a scoreless tie, batting Zach Bogosian’s shot down behind Panthers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky before the puck trickled into the net a little over six minutes into the third period. Ondrej Palat added an empty-net goal with 22 seconds left.
Vasilevskiy won his sixth straight game, a streak that began with the Lightning facing a 3-2 series deficit in the opening round. It was his sixth shutout in his last seven series-clinching wins.
The reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner limited the high-scoring Panthers, who averaged a NHL-best 4.11 goals while compiling the league’s best record during the regular season, to just three goals in four games.
The Lightning joined the New York Islanders and Montreal Canadiens as the only franchises to win at least 10 consecutive playoff series. Their bid to become the first team in 40 years to capture three straight Stanley Cup titles will continue in the East final against either the Carolina Hurricanes or New York Rangers.
The defending champs persevered Monday night despite having goals by Alex Killorn and Nikita Kucherov waved off within a 48-second span of the second period — the first after Florida coach Andrew Brunette challenged and a lengthy replay review determined Palat lifted the puck out of play along the boards before Mikhail Sergachev fired a shot that Killorn tipped past Bobrovsky.
Less than a minute later, Tampa Bay appeared to take the lead again only to have replay confirm Anthony Cirelli won a faceoff in the left circle with a hand pass that Kucherov rifled through Bobrovsky.
The Panthers became the first Presidents’ Trophy winners to be swept by a defending Stanley Cup champion in the playoffs since Edmonton breezed past Calgary on its way to another title in 1988.
Penguins GM hopes Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang stick around
Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Ron Hextall wants to find a way to have Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang stay with the club for the rest of their careers.
“In a perfect world (Malkin) retires a Penguin,” Hextall said Monday. “And I think Tanger’s the same.”
In a perfect world, anyway.
The NHL in the salary-cap era is hardly that.
Perhaps that’s why, when Hextall was asked what was missing this season from a group that let a 3-1 lead slip a way in a first-round loss to the New York Rangers, he joked “a little more cap space would be great.”
He’s not getting it.
The Penguins have habitually spent up to the cap limit during the hugely successful era led by Malkin, Letang, and longtime captain Sidney Crosby. That “spend to win now” approach is not going to change with Fenway Sports Group now signing the checks after buying the club from Ron Burkle and Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux last fall.
The question, however, is how much money the Penguins are willing to offer a pair of 35-year-old franchise icons who are less than two months away from entering free agency for the first time.
Letang hardly appears to have lost a step. The defenseman is coming off a season in which he collected a career-high 68 points while playing a bit more responsibly in his own end. He averaged a staggering 25:47 of ice time and said last week he’d like to play at least five more seasons.
Malkin feels likewise, but his situation is thornier. He said “good players sign good contracts” last week and while he scored 20 goals this season despite missing nearly half of the year while recovering from a torn ACL in his right knee, he was not particularly effective in 5-on-5 situations while commanding $9.5 million. He also turns 36 in July and has missed at least 10 games due to injuries nine times in his last 10 seasons.
Hextall stressed he would not provide details on the nature of the team’s talks with Malkin and Letang, but hinted he’s not concerned about their age.
“They’re both great athletes,” he said. “They both have been here a long time. They’re both performing at a high level right now. We’d certainly like to have them in the mix come September.”
NHL, St. Louis police looking at threats against Avalanche’s Kadri
The NHL said that St. Louis police are investigating threats made toward Colorado Avalanche forward Nazem Kadri, who has been the subject of racist social media posts since he was involved in a collision that knocked Blues goaltender Jordan Binnington out for the rest of the series.
Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly told The Associated Press by email that the league and police looking into the situation.
“We take threats made to any of our players or other club personnel seriously,” Daly said. “We are in touch with St. Louis Police Department and they are employing enhanced security procedures both at the arena and in the hotel.”
The team said Sunday night it was aware of threats against Kadri and was working with local law enforcement to investigate. Kadri collided with Binnington during Game 3 of their second-round playoff series Saturday night; Kadri said a Blues player threw a water bottle at him during a postgame interview.
The AP verified the existence of Twitter posts sent to the official Avalanche team account and to Kadri’s calling him “Arab scum” and referencing terrorism. Other posts, some of which have since been deleted, included death threats. One was still up hours before Game 4 in St. Louis, with Colorado leading the best-of-seven series 2-1.
After Colorado’s morning skate in St. Louis, coach Jared Bednar called the threats “unnecessary.” Captain Gabriel Landeskog added that they were sad and a function of being in the public eye.
“Unfortunately people think they have the freedom to say and do whatever they want,” Landeskog said. “But we always have security and this is no different.”
Denmark stuns Canada at hockey worlds, Czechs beat US
Denmark beat Canada for the first time in a 3-2 upset win at the world ice hockey championship, while the United States slumped in a loss to the Czech Republic.
Sebastian Dahm’s 29 saves helped Denmark to hold on to stun Canada and move into contention for a place in the quarterfinals.
Canada can no longer qualify as the top seeded team in Group A and will need to beat France on Tuesday to be sure of reaching the last eight.
Denmark plays Slovakia needing to avoid a loss in regulation.
The United States must wait to qualify for the quarterfinals after a bruising 1-0 loss to the Czechs in both teams’ second-to-last game of group play.
Matej Blümel scored on a breakaway at 7:53 of the first period and goaltender Karel Vejmelka stopped 24 shots as the Czechs held on for their first shutout in the championship. Bruins goaltender Jeremy Swayman saved 15 of 16 for the Americans.
The loss meant the US players could miss the quarterfinals in the unlikely event they lose to Norway on Tuesday and Latvia beats Sweden.
The United States was coming off an overtime win over Sweden and is 4-2 in group play, with the other loss coming against Olympic champion Finland.