Thursday's NHL: Lightning take 3-2 series lead on Rangers; Avs in holding pattern
New York — The third period has been winning time for the Lightning this postseason. It’s when inspiring words are spouted in the locker room, and champions play like they’re chasing their first Stanley Cup.
The Lightning went into the third period of Thursday’s Game 5 of the Eastern Conference final deadlocked at 1, before the late-game heroics struck again.
Defenseman Mikhail Sergachev, who entered the night with no postseason goals, scored the tying goal in the second period and assisted on the the winning goal with 1:50 remaining to help give the Lightning a 3-1 win and a 3-2 series lead.
The Lightning can close out the series on home ice Saturday. Tampa Bay also snapped the Rangers’ eight-game home win streak.
Sergachev almost had a second goal. His shot from the point went through a screen created by Ondrej Palat, who was credited for the score that quieted Madison Square Garden.
Down 1-0, Sergachev’s seeing-eye wrist shot from inside the blue line beat Rangers goaltender Igor Shesterkin and found the back of the net to tie the game with 2:26 left in a second period that saw the Lightning outshoot New York 13-8.
Brandon Hagel added an empty-net goal late in the third.
Midway through the second period, Rangers defenseman Ryan Lindgren scored the game’s first goal, collecting a puck that was rimmed behind the net by Zach Bogosian and taking a tight angle shot that beat goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy high over his blocker side.
Vasilevskiy didn’t face an incredible shot volume, but was on his toes for most of the game as the Rangers provided pressure up close. Vasilevskiy made a remarkable skate save on Artemi Panarin in the first, and turned away the Rangers in front of the net several times. Vasilevskiy also cut off a bouncing puck that found Andrew Copp’s stick from behind the net along the back post midway through the third.
The Lightning had their opportunities in the second, including six shots on goal over four minutes of power-play time, but came away with nothing until Sergachev’s goal. Forward Riley Nash also hit the near post in 5-on-5 play in the second.
Avs in holding pattern
There were quite a few big names missing from the ice for Colorado’s practice on Thursday: Captain Gabriel Landeskog, defensemen Devon Toews and Josh Manson, forward Andre Burakovsky.
No need for concern, though. Just a maintenance day for that particular group of Avalanche players as they rest up – and wait – to face either the New York Rangers or two-time defending champion Tampa Bay in the Stanley Cup Final.
Maybe of some concern were two more missing forwards: Nazem Kadri (thumb) and Andrew Cogliano (hand), who both recently underwent surgery. But they haven’t been ruled out from playing in the final, whenever that may be. This time off could be just the window they need to return to health.
“It’s good to get a little bit of rest,” forward J.T. Compher said of a break that could extend as long as nearly two weeks. “It’s just keeping your mind in it. You have a little time to relax, but it’s just mentally making sure you’re refreshed and focused on the goal ahead.”
The Avalanche started their preliminary preparations Thursday even as they remain in a holding pattern. They kept things condensed in front of fans – and kids attending a summer camp – during practice at their training facility, which houses laser tag, a climbing wall and arcade games on the other side of the rink.
“When we come to work, we’re going to work. When we give them rest, we’ll give them rest,” coach Jared Bednar explained. “If they need anything extra, then it’s up to them to go and get what they need on their own.”
This was a practice session dedicated to getting back up to speed on the heels of a travel day back from Edmonton – finishing a sweep of Connor McDavid and the Oilers – and an off day. They talked some strategy before taking shots on goaltenders Pavel Francouz and Darcy Kuemper. Bednar was mum on which one would be in net for Game 1.
Kuemper was the starter before exiting the first game against Edmonton with an upper-body injury. Francouz was in net the rest of the series as the Avalanche earned a spot in the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 2001.
“It’s a tough decision,” Bednar said. “There will be conversations about it.”
Kuemper wouldn’t divulge the precise nature of his injury. He did say he was seeing the puck “really good.” In the Nashville series, Kuemper was poked through his mask with a stick that caught him near his eye. He was back for the St. Louis series, which the Avalanche won in six games.
He applauded Francouz’s performance.
“Super happy for him,” Kuemper said. “It was great for the team.”
A blow to the team would be the potential loss of Kadri and Cogliano. Kadri left Game 3 after taking a cross-check from Evander Kane, who drew a one-game suspension for the hit. Cogliano was hurt after blocking a shot with his right hand in Game 4. Cogliano went through the post-series handshake line extending his left hand.
Kadri has six goals and eight assist in these playoffs, while Cogliano plays a primary role on the penalty-kill unit.
“We’ll see how it goes when they get playing and whatnot,” Bednar said. “We’re hopeful they could be an option for us.”
One thing’s for sure: The Avalanche will be well-rested. They’re used to long layoffs, though, going a week between games after sweeping Nashville.
Bednar wasn’t concerned with the lengthy break even though Tampa Bay’s Jon Cooper mentioned rust in losing two straight to the Rangers to start the Eastern Conference Final. The Lightning have rallied at home.
“I’m worried about what we do with our (breaks), what we’ve deemed to be successful and that’s it,” Bednar said. “I don’t know how they handled it or what they did – nor do I care.”
Nor was Bednar about to take a moment to reflect on what they’ve accomplished so far.
“We still have work to do. That’s my approach,” Bednar said. “We’ll breathe when it’s over.”