All posts by The Associated Press

Lightning hold off late Capitals charge in Game 5 to put them on the brink

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) Cedric Paquette scored in the opening minute and Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 28 shots to help the Tampa Bay Lightning hold off the Washington Capitals 3-2 on Saturday night in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference final.

Ondrej Palat and Ryan Callahan also scored as the home team won for the first time in the best-of-seven matchup, with the Lightning taking a 3-2 series lead and moving within one victory of advancing the Stanley Cup Final for the second time in four seasons.

The Capitals, in the conference final for the first time in the Alex Ovechkin era, have lost three straight after winning twice on the road to begin the series.

Ovechkin scored with 1:36 remaining, trimming what once was a three-goal lead to one, however Vasiliveskiy made three more saves down the stretch to finish the victory.

Game 6 is Monday night in Washington, where Tampa Bay has already won to improve to 5-1 on the road this postseason.

The Capitals won the first two games on the road, scoring 10 goals on Vezina Trophy finalist Vasilevskiy and sending the Lightning - won had the best record in the East during the regular season - into desperation mode.

Tampa Bay responded by winning Game 3 in Washington, evening the series despite being outshot and outplayed for sizeable stretches of a 4-2 victory in Game 4 and returning home, where coach Jon Cooper was confident the Lightning would be better than they were in the first two games.

Turns out Cooper was right.

Washington's Dmitry Orlov turned the puck over in the neutral zone on the opening shift of the night and Callahan made the Caps pay for the mistake, feeding Paquette for a 1-0 lead just 19 seconds into the game.

Palat's second goal of the series made it 2-0. Tampa Bay extended the advantage to three goals when Callahan scored 33 seconds into the second period.

Outshot 13-4 and limited to one scoring opportunity in the opening period, the Caps began to put some pressure on Vasilevskiy in the second.

Evgeny Kuznetsov scored a goal in his fourth straight game, giving him a franchise single-year, playoff-best 22 points (11 goals, 11 assists) and trimming Washington's deficit to 3-1 at 4:21 of the period.

The Capitals kept pressing in the third period, but didn't breakthrough against until Ovechkin scored his 11th goal this postseason.

Notes: The road team won each of the first four games of a series for the sixth time in the last 10 years and 26th time in Stanley Cup playoffs history. Under that scenario, the road team has won Game 5 only three times. ... Paquette's goal was his first in the playoffs since Game 3 of the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, ending a 34-game drought for the 24-year-old center. ... At 19 seconds of the opening period, Palat's goal was not the fastest to start a game in Lightning history. Adam Hall scored for Tampa Bay 13 seconds into Game 2 of the Eastern Conference final against Boston in 2011. ... Capitals winger Andre Burakovsky was a game-time scratch.

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Golden Knights survive late push from Jets to take series lead

LAS VEGAS (AP) Jonathan Marchessault scored two goals - including an empty-netter in the closing seconds - to lead the Vegas Golden Knights to a 4-2 victory over the Winnipeg Jets in Game 3 of the Western Conference final Wednesday night.

Vegas took a 2-1 series lead and is now two wins from advancing to the Stanley Cup final. The Golden Knights improved to 5-1 at home in the playoffs, and host Game 4 on Friday night.

James Neal and Alex Tuch also scored for Vegas, while Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 33 shots.

Mark Scheifele scored both of Winnipeg's goals and has a playoff-leading 14 goals in 15 postseason games. Connor Hellebuyck had 26 saves for the Jets, who arrived in Las Vegas having outscored their opposition 23-15 in road games during the playoffs.

Marchessault scored his seventh goal of the playoffs just 35 seconds into the game as he took a pass from Brayden McNabb and went forehand-backhand to slip the puck past Hellebuyck, giving the Golden Knights a 1-0 lead.

Scheifele tied it with a double-deflection off his stick and calf that went past Fleury. But 12 seconds later, Neal answered when Hellebuyck misplayed the puck behind his net and Erik Haula dished a perfect pass, giving the Knights a 2-1 lead.

Tuch notched his fifth goal of the playoffs to push the lead to 3-1 after Neal fed him with a nifty pass from behind the net.

Scheifele netted his second goal of the game just 18 seconds into the third period to cut Vegas' lead to one, but Winnipeg couldn't overcome the Golden Knights' speed and execution, despite outplaying them over the final 20 minutes.

Fleury, who bounced back after a loss in Game 1 to stop 30 of 31 shots in Game 2, made several huge saves late in the game to perserve Vegas' lead. After stonewalling Tyler Myers' breakaway attempt with 11:50 left in the game, he stymied Scheifele's back-to-back shot with 9:30 remaining. Less than two minutes later, he smothered the puck with a slew of players piled near the crease.

Winnipeg pulled Hellebuyck with 1:03 left, but Marchessault's empty-netter with 3 seconds left sealed the win.

The Jets had scored a power play goal in 11 of the 13 playoff games in which they had a man advantage, but was 0 for 2 with a man advantage.

Winnipeg hadn't lost back-to-back games during the playoffs. The last time it dropped consecutive games was a three-game losing streak (0-2-1) from Mar. 10-13.

NOTES: Teams that take a 2-1 lead in the conference final (or NHL semifinals) have won the series 35 of 43 times (81.4 percent) since 1975. ... While ticket prices for Friday's Game 4 spiked as high as $5,000 on Monday, they ranged between $259 and $2,500 as the puck dropped for Game 3. ... The Golden Knights welcomed the family of Humboldt Broncos head coach and GM Darcy Haugan, wife Christina and children Carson and Jackson. ... With his two goals, Scheifele now owns the NHL record for most goals scored on the road in a single playoffs with 11, surpassing Sidney Crosby and Joe Mullen, each with 10. ... With 53 victories, Hellebuyck remains one shy of tying the most single-season wins by a goaltender, in both the regular season and playoffs, held by Washington's Braden Holtby (54 in 2015-16).

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Lightning’s offense awakens as they take Game 3

WASHINGTON (AP) 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. Determined to create the kind of shift he thought could turn the East final around after back-to-back home losses, the Norris Trophy finalist as the NHL's top defenseman was one of the most dominant players on the ice and extended his point streak to eight games

Criticized for his play in the first two games against Washington, Vasilevskiy was on top of his game as the Capitals put 38 shots on net. Vasilevskiy made seven saves on the penalty kill alone to save a beleaguered unit that came in ranked 13th out of 16 playoff teams.

The Lightning would still like to cut down on the quality chances Vasilevskiy has to stop in Game 4 on Thursday and beyond, like the one Brett Connolly scored on after a turnover by Ondrej Palat. They also surrendered a 6-on-5 goal to Evgeny Kuznetsov with 3:02 left that made things interesting in the final minutes.

But the offensive depth that helped them get through the first two rounds in five games apiece returned with Hedman and Brayden Point scoring just Tampa Bay's second and third even-strength goals in the series. Hedman now has a goal and 10 assists during his point streak.

Tampa Bay got two injury scares in the third period when Stamkos hobbled off after taking a slap shot from teammate Braydon Coburn in the right knee and Tyler Johnson was cross-checked by Michal Kempny. Stamkos and Johnson each returned minutes later to a game that included nastiness after whistles throughout.

Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby allowed four goals on 23 shots, though power-play one-timers by Stamkos and Kucherov were almost impossible to stop. The Lightning extended their streak of consecutive games with a power-play goal to seven and have 11 total in that time.

NOTES: C Lars Eller took three of Washington's six penalties. ... With his 10th career power-play goal, Stamkos tied Martin St. Louis for Tampa Bay's playoff record. ... Injured C Nicklas Backstrom (right hand) took part in the Capitals' morning skate but missed his fourth consecutive game. Coach Barry Trotz continues to call Backstrom day-to-day. ... Alex Ovechkin and Kuznetsov combined for 21 shots on goal. ... Trotz set a franchise record by coaching his 54th playoff game with Washington.

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Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

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Marchessault, Golden Knights strike back to even series with Jets

WINNIPEG, Manitoba - Jonathan Marchessault scored twice and Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 30 shots, lifting the Vegas Golden Knights to a 3-1 series-evening win over the Winnipeg Jets on Monday night in Game 2 of the Western Conference Final.

Kyle Connor scored midway through the third period to pull Winnipeg within a goal. Marchessault restored the two-goal lead 1:28 later.

Tomas Tatar scored 6:37 into the game for the Golden Knights.

Connor Hellebuyck had 25 saves for the Jets.

Game 3 is Wednesday night in Las Vegas.

The expansion Golden Knights appeared to be rusty in the series opener and the Jets scored three goals early in a 4-2 win .

It looked like they were going to pick up where they left off, but Fleury made key saves early and got help from a teammate and a post in the opening minutes to keep the puck out of his net.

Vegas generated offense by making plays without the puck, forcing turnovers to set up goals.

After the Jets failed to clear the puck out of a corner in their end, Tatar ended up stuffing the puck in the net after hitting the side of the net with a shot.

Connor was pressured into turning over the puck near center ice late in the opening period and Reilly Smith set up Marchessault, his former Florida Panthers teammate, at the blue line and he scored on a breakaway backhander.

The Jets closed the scoreless second period and started the third on the power play and still couldn't get the puck past Fleury.

Yet.

Winnipeg kept up the pressure on by relentlessly forechecking and drew another penalty early in the third. Connor took advantage, squeezing a shot between Fleury and the post from the bottom of the left circle 7:17 into the third.

That whipped the white-clad fans into a frenzy, triggering jeers of ''Fleu-ry! Fleu-ry!'' only to be quieted by another Marchessault backhander that beat Hellebuyck.

The Jets pulled their goaltender to add another skater over the last couple minutes of the game, but Fleury didn't let the puck get past him again.

NOTES: Vegas put Tatar and Tomas Nosek in place of David Perron and Oscar Lindberg. ... The Jets have not lost consecutive games this postseason.

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Caps take commanding series lead after Game 2 blowout

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) The Washington Capitals scored in the opening minute of the game and twice in the last 1:02 of the second period to pull away to a 6-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Sunday night and a 2-0 lead in the Eastern Conference final.

Evgeny Kuznetsov and Lars Eller each had a goal and two assists. Alex Ovechkin and Tom Wilson had a goal and an assist apiece.

Devante Smith-Pelly and Brett Connolly also scored for the Caps, who took the first two games of the best-of-seven matchup on the road. Since 1974-75, teams that take a 2-0 lead in the conference final or semifinal have a series record of 39-2 (95.1 percent).

Game 3 is Tuesday night in Washington.

Brayden Point and Steven Stamkos had early power-play goals for Tampa Bay, which rebounded after falling behind on Wilson's goal 28 seconds into the game.

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Jets take Game 1 in convincing fashion over Golden Knights

WINNIPEG, Manitoba (AP) 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 on Saturday night 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. Mark Scheifele gave Winnipeg a 4-1 lead midway through the second period with his 12th goal this postseason.

Brayden McNabb scored midway through the first and William Karlsson late in the second period to pull Vegas within two, but the expansion team couldn't get closer.

Winnipeg's Connor Hellebuyck made 18 saves. Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 22 shots for the Golden Knights.

The Jets will host Game 2 on Monday night before the series shifts to Las Vegas.

Winnipeg, which is making its deepest playoff run in franchise history, appeared to be in rhythm less than 48 hours after advancing past top-seeded Nashville.

Vegas, meanwhile, seemed rusty after resting for nearly a week after eliminating San Jose in the second round.

Or, maybe the Jets are just that good.

Winnipeg's fast, deep and talented team had 114 points this season, trailing only the Predators' league-high total by three points.

The hard-charging, smooth-passing Jets put the Pacific Division champions on their heels right from the start and didn't relent.

White-clad, towel-twirling raucous fans in the arena - and packed on surrounding streets - were fired up before the game started. And, they were given plenty of opportunities to celebrate in the opening minutes.

Byfuglien's slap shot 1:05 into the game off a drop pass from Scheifele put Winnipeg up 1-0. That ignited the party-like atmosphere in a relatively cozy arena with just 16,345 seats and a low ceiling.

Fleury had no shot to stop Laine's one-timer from the left circle off Wheeler's cross-ice pass on a power play at the 6:49 mark of the first. Armia had a goal waved off less than a minute later only to have it restored by a challenge, which overturned the goaltender interference call on the ice.

After the flurry of goals early, the Jets were able to possess the puck for much of the game to cut down on Vegas' comeback chances.

The Golden Knights pulled Fleury to add an extra skater late in the game, but had to put him back on the ice because there was a faceoff near him. They sent him to the bench again and had some chances to pull within one, but the shot-blocking Jets didn't let the puck get to Hellebuyck much.

NOTES: The last time two teams were in the NHL conference finals for the first time was 2003 when Anaheim swept Minnesota. ... Scheifele has four more goals than any player still in the postseason. ... Fleury has given up at least three goals for the fifth time in six games.

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Follow Larry Lage at www.twitter.com/larrylage

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Capitals come out flying, take Game 1 vs. Lightning

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) 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 on Monday night.

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 brilliant 13-year career.

Steven Stamkos and Ondrej Palat scored for Tampa Bay, which trailed 4-0 heading into the third period.

Game 2 is Sunday night at Amalie Arena, where Tampa Bay also lost Game 1 in the second round against Boston.

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Jets win Game 7, will face Golden Knights in Western Conference Final

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 on Thursday night in their first Game 7 - continuing an amazing run for a team swept in its previous two playoff appearances.

Stastny finished with a second goal and an assist, and Mark Scheifele also had two goals. Blake Wheeler and Kyle Connor each had two assists.

Connor Hellebuyck made 36 saves for Winnipeg, which won three of four games in Nashville after missing the Presidents' Trophy by three points to the Predators.

The Jets now host Vegas in Game 1 on Saturday night in a conference final nobody could've predicted when this season started.

P.K. Subban scored for Nashville, now the ninth Presidents' Trophy winner in 10 years not to win the Stanley Cup.

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Jets win Game 7, will face Golden Knights in Western Conference Final

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 on Thursday night in their first Game 7 - continuing an amazing run for a team swept in its previous two playoff appearances.

Stastny finished with a second goal and an assist, and Mark Scheifele also had two goals. Blake Wheeler and Kyle Connor each had two assists.

Connor Hellebuyck made 36 saves for Winnipeg, which won three of four games in Nashville after missing the Presidents' Trophy by three points to the Predators.

The Jets now host Vegas in Game 1 on Saturday night in a conference final nobody could've predicted when this season started.

P.K. Subban scored for Nashville, now the ninth Presidents' Trophy winner in 10 years not to win the Stanley Cup.

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Jets, Predators neck and neck statistically as Game 7 looms

That the NHL's two best teams during the regular season are going to a Game 7 on Thursday night at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn., isn't a big surprise.

That the Winnipeg Jets and Nashville Predators have mirrored each other statistically in several key areas speaks to how equal -- and good -- they are and were in combining for 231 regular season points.

In their Western Conference semifinal, they have each attempted 338 shots and put 177 shots on net during 5-on-5 play, per Natural Stat Trick. Nashville has a 12-11 edge in 5-on-5 goals, while Winnipeg owns a 66-65 advantage in high-danger chances.

The teams have also alternated wins, with the Jets taking the odd-numbered games. Both are 2-1 on the road in the series, so one could say that the Predators have home-ice disadvantage for a win-or-die showdown.

But there is one big factor in Nashville's favor -- Game 7 experience. Its roster has a combined 45 games of Game 7 experience, as opposed to Winnipeg's 12. Only seven Jets have ever played in a Game 7, none with this franchise.

It is Winnipeg's first Game 7 since the franchise moved from Atlanta following the 2010-11 season, and the Predators' third in franchise history. It's also the first Game 7 Nashville has ever played at home.

"I would expect that the way we play matters the most," Predators coach Peter Laviolette said. "We're certainly glad to be back in our building with our fans, they've been incredible all year long, but we really need to focus on the game. Just make sure we're ready to play the game and do the right things on the ice."

Nashville certainly did all the right things in Game 6, other than take three first period penalties. But its penalty-killing and Pekka Rinne's play in net were matchless as it captured a 4-0 win, preventing the Jets from reaching a conference final for the first time.

Rinne bagged 34 saves for his fifth career postseason shutout, while Viktor Arvidsson and Filip Forsberg each scored two goals. Forsberg made the highlight clips with his second goal, a between-his-legs wrister at point-blank range early in the third period that essentially ended the game's competitive phase.

Winnipeg vows it won't do anything different in preparation for the biggest game in franchise history.

"There's no big speech or departure from our game," Jets coach Paul Maurice said following practice Wednesday. "The important one that was delivered all year is to enjoy what we do. Have the confidence that you're going to go out and perform at your best. You can't be on pins and needles."

Winnipeg has outscored the Predators 22-18 in the series and seems to be the healthier team going into Game 7. While the Jets should be able to ice their regular lineup, Nashville might have to play without center Mike Fisher, who left Game 6 in the first period because of an undisclosed injury and never returned. Fisher didn't practice on Wednesday.

The series survivor will host Vegas in Game 1 of the conference finals on Saturday night.

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