Tampa Bay holds on to win wild Game 6, pushes series with Boston to Game 7

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In a game that straddled the line between “wildly entertaining” and “disturbingly sloppy,” the Tampa Bay Lightning beat the Boston Bruins 5-4 in Game 6. This exciting win pushes the Eastern Conference finals to a Game 7 in Boston on Friday.

Each teams’ top line came up big in this contest, but Dwayne Roloson pushed his record in elimination games to 7-0 because his team was just a little bit better.

Tampa Bay 5, Boston 4; Series tied 3-3

It seemed like special teams would be the story of this game going into a wacky third period. The Lightning scored on their first three power play opportunities while the Bruins carried an 0-for-25 road PP mark into the final frame before David Krejci finally broke that slump with his second goal of the game.

Ultimately, the Lightning survived a poor performance by Roloson (four goals allowed on 20 shots), a hat trick by Krejci* and various plot twists to win Game 6.

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Big games from big names and unsung heroes

Tampa Bay’s biggest names combined for eight points: Martin St. Louis produced two goals and one assist, Steven Stamkos scored a goal and added two helpers and Vincent Lecavalier had two assists of his own. Yet the Bolts were also powered by great performances by lesser known threats.

Steve Downie continues to be Tampa Bay’s version of Alex Burrows, providing a great mix of power and skill that compliments his talented linemates nicely. He finished with two assists, including a great pass that foiled an overly aggressive Tim Thomas and allowed St. Louis to score what would be the game-winning 2-on-1 goal.

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Teddy Purcell showed that he might be an even bigger unsung hero than Sean Bergenheim, who missed tonight’s game with an undisclosed injury. Purcell scored two goals tonight, including a nice shot from a Lecavalier faceoff win that gave Tampa Bay a 1-0 lead just 36 seconds into the game. Purcell now has 17 points, matching Joe Thornton for fifth place in the 2011 playoffs.

This time around, the Lightning were able to protect an early lead against Boston. They rebounded from allowing the Bruins to take a 2-1 lead into the second period by out-playing them for the rest of the contest. Tampa Bay scored the game’s next three goals to take a 4-2 lead, but the Bruins were pesky in the closing minutes. Krejci scored that PP goal to make it 4-3 and then St. Louis fired back about 30 seconds later to make it 5-3. Krejci capped off his great performance by scoring a hat trick goal 13:28 into the third, but the Lightning managed to hang on anyway.

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Not a banner night for defense or goaltending

Every time this series seems like it will sink back to the tight-checking, defense-first style most were expecting, the two teams put together the type of contest that would fit in well in the wide-open 1980’s. The Bruins won a wacky 6-5 Game 2 by winning the second period and doing just enough to hang on in the final frame; the Lightning flipped that script tonight.

Even though both defenses hung their goalies out to dry, Roloson and Thomas cannot be happy with their performances.

It seems unfair for the Bruins to place so much of a burden on their Vezina Trophy candidate, but it almost feels like they need Thomas to stand on his head to win most of these games. He’s done that quite often, but the Bolts have too many talented forwards to bottle them up every night.

Roloson won yet another elimination game, but he struggled against the Bruins yet again. It’s unlikely that the Lightning would turn to Mike Smith in Game 7, but they need steadier play from their 41-year-old netminder on Friday. We’ll cover all the angles for that contest, which will air on Versus at 8 p.m. ET.

* Krejci scored the Bruins’ first playoff hat trick since Cam Neely accomplished that feat in 1991.

Elvis thrives: Merzlikins is on fire for Blue Jackets

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Elvis Merzlikins advanced a bold goal lately: to be more than just a funny name. He’s leaving opponents all shook  up is absolutely red-hot for the Columbus Blue Jackets right now.

Elvis absolutely hound-dogged shut out the New Jersey Devils in Columbus’ 5-0 on Saturday, and that 41-save performance was far from his first standout evening. Merzlikins generated three shutouts in his last four games, allowing just two goals overall. The Blue Jackets won all four of those games.

(OK, this post includes enough cheesy Elvis jokes … arguably.)

During seven appearances between October and November, the 25-year-old goalie languished with sub-.900 save percentages. Since then, he’s started to take off.

Some “too perfect” moments for Elvis Merzlikins and the Blue Jackets

Maybe Merzlikins made a New Year’s Eve resolution to dominate? Perhaps it was because Elvis asked reporters to leave him alone? Merzlikins suffered only two losses since Dec. 31, winning eight of 10 games.

The lights-out play already makes the story endearing, but there are notes of the surreal. Consider a few facts about his hot streak:

“That’s what you like about him. He’s strong mentally,” Tortorella said after the Jan. 11 Vegas shutout, via Rob Mixer of First Ohio Battery. “He’s a piece of work as far as his personality, which I like. A lot of things have been thrown at him here…but he’s handled himself really well. I’m happy for him.”

  • Merzlikins ended up making it back-to-back shutouts, as he also blanked the Bruins with a 34-save shutout. His three shutouts have upped the ante each time: first 27 saves, then 34, then 41 against the Devils on Saturday.

Tortorella deserves ample credit for creating a cocoon for his goalies, of course.

Regardless, Merzlikins is playing a big role in helping the Blue Jackets stay in the East wild-card races. Here’s hoping that our jokes rise up the charts or we might just need to leave the building.

(Sorry. I’m so, so sorry.)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Hat trick helps Ovechkin pass Lemieux, tie Yzerman for ninth on NHL goals list

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An historic week for Alex Ovechkin was capped off with a hat trick Saturday afternoon during a 6-4 win over the Islanders. His three goals pushes him past Mario Lemieux and into ninth place with 692, tying him with Steve Yzerman.

Ovechkin opened the scoring and then passed Mario Lemieux for 10th all-time in the third period as the Capitals mounted their comeback. He ended his day with an empty-netter to seal the win and tie Yzerman. The Islanders led 4-1 entering the third period.

Powered by two consecutive hat tricks, Ovechkin has eight goals in his last three games and 10 in his previous six.

That’s now three consecutive multi-goal games for Ovechkin, the first time he’s done that in his career. Earlier this week he not only passed Teemu Selanne for 11th on the all-time goals list but also hit the 30-goal mark for the 15th time in his career. He, along with Jaromir Jagr and Mike Gartner, are the only players to ever record 15 consecutive 30-goal seasons.

With three goals Saturday — the third time he’s recorded hat tricks in consecutive games — Ovechkin now has 34 on the season as he eyes a ninth 50-goal season. His hat trick was the 26th of his NHL career, tying him with Maurice Richard for eighth all-time.

Next in Ovechkin’s sights? Mark Messier, who finished with 694 goals in his career.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Stars’ Stephen Johns activated after missing almost 22 months

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The Dallas Stars activated Stephen Johns before their game Saturday night in Minnesota, clearing the way for the defenseman’s first game in almost 22 months.

Forward Radek Faksa was placed on injured reserve to make room for Johns on the active roster.

Johns has been out since late in the 2017-18 season because of post-traumatic headaches. The Stars have said the condition isn’t related to concussions.

The 27-year-old Johns hasn’t played since March 29, 2018, at the Wild. It was the last of a career-high 75 games in his third NHL season. Johns missed the last five games that year before sitting out all of last season as headaches persisted.

He played two games on a conditioning assignment with the Texas Stars of the AHL before rejoining Dallas on Thursday.

The return of Johns could coincide with the Stars’ first game without defenseman Miro Heiskanen. The 20-year-old standout left Thursday’s loss to Buffalo with an upper-body injury.

Johns made his debut for Dallas late in the 2014-15 season and played in all 13 of the team’s playoff games as a rookie. He has 13 goals, 15 assists and 306 blocked shots in 150 career regular-season games.

Panthers down another goalie, injured Driedger to miss weeks

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SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) — Florida goalie Chris Driedger will miss several weeks with what’s believed to be a groin injury, the latest health issue at that position for the Panthers.

The Panthers announced the diagnosis Saturday, calling it a lower-body injury.

Driedger was hurt midway through the first period of the Panthers’ 4-3 win over the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday. He is 5-2-0 in nine appearances for Florida this season, with a 2.48 GAA.

The Panthers have also been without goalie Sergei Bobrovsky for much of January while he recovers from an upper-body injury.

Florida begins a stretch of six consecutive road games Saturday in Detroit. That six-game run also includes the All-Star break and the Panthers’ bye week.