Tuesday's NHL playoffs: Tampa Bay eliminates Carolina, advances to Stanley Cup semis
Raleigh, N.C. — Andrei Vasilevskiy was at his best again with the Tampa Bay Lightning in position to close out a playoff series.
Throw in a couple of timely goals from Brayden Point and Ross Colton, and the reigning Stanley Cup champions are a step closer to playing for another title.
Vasilevskiy posted his third straight shutout in a series-clinching victory, helping the Lightning beat the Carolina Hurricanes 2-0 on Tuesday night to win the second-round series in five games.
Point’s power-play goal – which followed a huge save from Vasilevskiy – put Tampa Bay up in the second period, then Colton scored in the third. That was more than enough for Vasilevskiy, who finished with 29 saves and stumped the homesteading Hurricanes for the third time in as many series games at PNC Arena.
Tampa Bay is now 5-1 on the road in the playoffs, including taking a 2-0 series lead in the first round against Florida and then claiming all three in this series.
“We’ve got a lot of confidence in our group,” Point said. “I thought we had a pretty good regular season where we were kind of building to this. … Yeah, it’s just a belief in our group. We’ve got four lines and all the D and great goaltending. So we just feel confident.”
It started with Vasilevskiy, a former Vezina Trophy winner as the NHL’s top goaltender and a finalist this year. He allowed just two goals on 70 shots through the first two games to open this series.
Then, after a wild Game 4 in Florida that saw each team score four second-period goals, Vasilevskiy turned away every shot. Among his saves Tuesday was a huge glove stop of a 2-on-1 short-handed chance by Carolina’s Vincent Trocheck.
Point’s goal came moments later on a gorgeous effort. He took a feed from Alex Killorn to his backhand side near the crease, went to his forehand before returning to the backhand to get Carolina netminder Alex Nedeljkovic off balance just enough to score at 4:06 of the second.
“They’re both two big-time players that made big-time plays,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said of the sequence.
The Lightning nearly pushed that lead to 2-0 with captain Steven Stamkos scoring a buzzer-beating goal, but a review determined the puck didn’t cross the goal line in time. But Colton made up for it at 9:04 of the third for the 2-0 lead.
The Hurricanes just couldn’t do the same.
“He made some big saves, timely saves,” Carolina captain Jordan Staal said of Vasilevskiy. “Good goaltenders do that. He did a good job of not letting us get some momentum and get the crowd into it.”
Next up for Tampa Bay in the NHL semifinals is the winner of the series between the New York Islanders and the Boston Bruins. The Islanders lead that best-of-seven series 3-2 and can close it out Wednesday at home.
It was a frustrating finish for the Hurricanes, who were in the playoffs for the third straight season after a nine-season drought. They won the Central Division title for their first division crown since winning the Cup in 2006, and were in the Presidents’ Trophy race until the final week of the season.
“There’s a next step we’ve got to find,” Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “That’s what’s left.”
►Golden Knights 3, Avalanche 2, OT: Mark Stone blocked a shot on the defensive end and by the time he spun around, a pass was waiting for him with nothing but clear sailing ahead.
A burst of speed – even as tired as he was – and a wrist shot later, he was being mobbed along the boards by teammates.
The captain to the rescue.
Stone scored on a breakaway 50 seconds into overtime as the Vegas Golden Knights overcame a two-goal deficit to beat the Colorado Avalanche 3-2 on Tuesday night and take a 3-2 lead in their second-round series.
“He was exhausted and you saw how hard he skated all the way down the ice,” teammate Alex Tuch said. “He’s the heart and soul on this team. He wears his character on his chest. He’s the captain we’ve always wanted. It was a huge goal.”
Max Pacioretty corralled the puck after two blocked shots on that end and fed it to Stone, who was off to the races. Stone beat Philipp Grubauer on the glove side to hush what had been a boisterous crowd.
“That was vintage Mark Stone,” Vegas coach Pete DeBoer said. “Big-time play to win it for us.”
Trailing 2-0 entering the third, the Golden Knights found another gear with Tuch scoring 1:03 into the period and Jonathan Marchessault tying it up just 3:04 later.
Really, though, it was the Marc-Andre Fleury Show, with the Vegas goaltender stopping 28 shots, many of the sensational variety. He stuffed J.T. Compher just 10 seconds into the extra period.
“Fleury makes a big stop there. It happened bang, bang,” captain Gabriel Landeskog said. “He’s able to get a piece of it. It didn’t go our way tonight.”
Fleury picked up playoff win No. 88, which ties him with Billy Smith and Ed Belfour for the fourth-most in NHL history. It was also Fleury’s 12th career playoff overtime win, which trails only Tuukka Rask (15) and Braden Holtby (14) for most among active goaltenders, according to NHL Stats.
“He’s a Vezina candidate for a reason,” Stone said of Fleury, who’s up for the league’s top goaltender award. “He’s the Vezina winner in my opinion for a reason and he stayed strong throughout the whole game.”
Colorado appeared in command after a 2-0 lead courtesy of Brandon Saad’s goal late in the first and another from Joonas Donskoi in the second. The Avalanche couldn’t make it stand as their 13-game home winning streak was snapped. It’s a string that dated to March 27 – an overtime loss to Vegas.
The Golden Knights are in the driver’s seat, with the winner of Game 5 going on to take the series 78.8% of the time when a best-of-seven series is tied at two games.
Game 6 is Thursday at Vegas.
“The biggest cliché in the playoffs is the toughest game to win is the fourth one,” said Stone, whose team has won three straight. “We’re gonna have to regroup and get ready for that one.”
It was another big performance from Marchessault. He had a hat trick in Game 4.
Grubauer, who’s been dominant at home, finished with 22 saves. He’s now 17-1-1 in his past 19 games at Ball Arena.
Avalanche coach Jared Bednar switched up his lines in an effort to generate more energy and production. He paired Saad, Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen on the top line, while moving Landeskog to the second unit.
It worked, with Saad scoring with 1.8 seconds left in the first period on a shot that appeared to cross up Fleury. Saad has now scored in seven of Colorado’s nine postseason games.
Donskoi made it 2-0 late in the second on a pinpoint pass from rookie Alex Newhook, who was reinserted into the lineup after sitting out the last two games.
“We don’t have much time to do anything but rebound,” Landeskog said. “We’ve got to go into Vegas and win a hockey game. It’s as simple as that.”