Cam Tucker

TAMPA, FL - MAY 24:  Ryan Callahan #24 of the Tampa Bay Lightning checks Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena on May 24, 2016 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)
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Penguins, Lightning prepare for the ‘roller coaster’ of Game 7

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PITTSBURGH (AP) Sidney Crosby is in no mood to get caught up in his own personal narrative, the one eager to attach whatever happens to the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals on Thursday against Tampa Bay to the superstar’s legacy.

Forget that Crosby has the game-winning goal in each of Pittsburgh’s victories in its entertaining back-and-forth with the resilient Lightning. Forget that he hasn’t been on the winning side of a post-series handshake line this deep into the playoffs since his glorious night in Detroit seven years ago, which ended with him hoisting the Penguins’ third Stanley Cup.

Yes, he’s playing well. Yes, his dazzling, imminently GIF-able sprint through the Tampa Bay zone late in the second period of Game 6 added another signature moment to a career full of them. Yet lifting Pittsburgh back to the Cup final for the first time since 2009 does not rely solely on him so much as the collective effort of all 20 guys in his team’s retro black and Vegas gold uniforms.

Related: Vasilevskiy ‘is the big reason we’re in Game 7,’ says Bolts coach Cooper

Depth has carried the Penguins this far. Crosby insists Game 7 will be about the team, not him.

“You give yourself the best chance of winning by keeping it simple and not putting too much emphasis on kind of the story line around it,” Crosby said.

Even if it’s easy to get lost in those story lines. The Lightning are on the verge of a second straight berth in the final despite playing the entire postseason without captain Steven Stamkos and losing Vezina Trophy finalist Ben Bishop in the first period of the conference finals when he twisted his left leg awkwardly while scrambling to get into position.

Yet Tampa Bay has stuck around, ceding the ice to the Penguins for significant stretches but using their speed to counterattack brilliantly while relying on 21-year-old goaltender Andrei Vasilevski. The Lightning are hardly intimidated by having to go on the road in a series decider. They did it a year ago in the Eastern final against New York, beating the Rangers 2-0 in Madison Square Garden.

“You’ve got to go back to a tough environment, just like the Garden was last year,” Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said. “And you’ve got to have your A-game.”

The Lightning hoped to avoid revisiting this spot. They could have closed out Pittsburgh at home but fell behind by three goals and didn’t recover, fitting for a series that appears to be a coin flip as a whole but not so much night to night. The team that’s scored first is 5-1 and there’s only been a single lead change in 18-plus periods spread out over nearly two weeks: Tyler Johnson‘s deflection in overtime that gave Tampa Bay Game 5.

“You always want to play with the lead, and always the first goal is big,” said Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman, who is 7-0 in Game 7s. “But, again, we were down 2-0 in Game 5 and came back from that. So it’s not cut in stone, the outcome of the game, no matter if you’re down a goal or two.”

Maybe, but it’d be cutting it pretty close. Tampa Bay’s rally in Game 5 was Pittsburgh’s first loss when leading after two periods all year. The Penguins responded by going back to rookie goaltender Matt Murray – who turned 22 on Wednesday – and putting together perhaps their finest hockey of the postseason. Their stars played like stars while Murray performed like a guy a decade older with his name already etched on the Cup a few times.

The Penguins will need to rely on Murray’s precocious maturity if it wants to buck a curious trend that started well before Murray was born. Pittsburgh hasn’t won a Game 7 on home ice since Mario Lemieux and company beat New Jersey in the opening round of the 1991 playoffs to escape from a 3-2 series deficit and propel the Penguins to their first championship. The Penguins have dropped five straight winner-take-all matchups since then, including a loss to Tampa Bay in the first round in 2011, a series Pittsburgh played without either Crosby or Evgeni Malkin, who sat out with injuries.

They’re healthy now and showing extended flashes of the form that seemed to have the Penguins on the brink of a dynasty when they toppled Detroit. And the Lightning, who are 5-1 in Game 7s, are hardly comfortable but hardly intimidated as they play on the road.

“I think it’s a roller coaster,” Cooper said. “But Game 7 is Game 7. There’s no two better words than that.”

Video: Pavelski gives Sharks the lead as they look to clinch berth in Stanley Cup Final

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Perseverance paid off for the San Jose Sharks.

Joe Pavelski gave the Sharks the lead in Game 6 of the Western Conference Final, pushing home a loose puck on Brian Elliott after Joe Thornton was unable to convert on the breakaway seconds before.

For Pavelski, that’s his league-leading 13th goal of these playoffs.

The Sharks can clinch a berth in the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in franchise history with a win tonight.

San Jose increased its lead to two goals, as Joel Ward capitalized early in the second period.

Canucks trade Jared McCann to the Panthers for Erik Gudbranson

ANAHEIM, CA - NOVEMBER 30: Jared McCann #91 of the Vancouver Canucks looks on during a game against the Anaheim Ducks at Honda Center on November 30, 2015 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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The Vancouver Canucks and Florida Panthers have made a trade — and it’s a big one.

As per Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet, the two main components are forward Jared McCann, who just completed his rookie season with the Canucks, and 24-year-old defenseman Erik Gudbranson, who has played five seasons with the Florida Panthers.

Here are the details:

McCann is the second draft selection of the Jim Benning-Trevor Linden era, taken 24th overall in 2014. As a 19-year-old rookie armed with a big-league wrist shot, he scored nine goals and 18 points while averaging 12:31 of ice time per game in 69 games.

The Canucks had the option of sending McCann back to junior last season and not burning a year of his entry-level deal, but they chose to keep him in Vancouver for the entire year.

One particular aspect of his development, particularly this off-season, was a need to get physically stronger, which was something that could be exposed at times in the defensive end against bigger forwards.

Gudbranson, selected third overall in 2010 and signed to a one-year, $3.5 million extension earlier this month, certainly gives the Canucks size on the back end at six-foot-five-inches tall, a physical presence and a right shot on the blue line, but he has managed only 13 points as a single-season career best and that was in 2014-15.

The Canucks also gave up two picks in this year’s draft.

 

Vasilevskiy ‘is the big reason we’re in Game 7,’ says Bolts coach Cooper

It has been an Eastern Conference Final full of twists and turns in the plot.

Exhibit A: The goaltending situation for both the Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins. 

That began right away, in the first period of Game 1 when Ben Bishop was stretchered off the ice with a lower-body injury. Since then, Andrei Vasilevskiy has been The Guy for the Lightning, which will face the Penguins in a Game 7, winner-take-all contest, in Pittsburgh on Thursday.

Of the many storylines heading into this contest, one that stands out is it’s expected to be a goaltending duel between the 21-year-old Vasilevskiy and the Matt Murray, who celebrated his 22nd birthday on Wednesday.

(Remember when Penguins coach Mike Sullivan went with Marc-Andre Fleury to start over Murray in Game 5, only to switch back to Murray for a must-win Game 6? Another plot twist.)

Bolts head coach Jon Cooper had previously left the door open to the possibility that Bishop could return in this series. On Wednesday, however, he told reporters he’ll meet with his staff but does not anticipate Bishop being in for Game 7.

“I think Andrei is the big reason we’re in Game 7,” said Cooper.

“He’s made big save after big save for us. The one thing that I do like that’s happened to him finally in this series is, you know, he finally started a playoff game and won, whereas his other playoff wins were always in relief, and he’s won in Pittsburgh. So you’ve got to like the kid feels pretty comfortable playing there, and we like that.”

WATCH LIVE: Blues at Sharks – Game 6

ST LOUIS, MO - MAY 23:  Alexander Steen #20 of the St. Louis Blues, Brent Burns #88 of the San Jose Sharks, and Joe Thornton #19 argue with a referee during the second period in Game Five of the Western Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scottrade Center on May 23, 2016 in St Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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The San Jose Sharks can make franchise history on home ice tonight against the St. Louis Blues. Win, and the Sharks clinch their first ever trip to the Stanley Cup Final. Lose, and it’s back to St. Louis for a deciding Game 7 in the Western Conference Final.

You can catch tonight’s Game 6 on NBCSN (9 p.m. ET) or online with the NBC Sports’ Live Extra.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

Here are some links to check out for tonight’s game:

Tarasenko needs to start ‘playing within the system’: Hitch

On the brink of elimination, Blues turn back to Elliott

The Blues could sure use a goal or two from Tarasenko

Stanley Cup Final to begin Monday