Penguins’ HBK Line has ‘given us a lot of momentum,’ says Crosby

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TAMPA, Fla. (AP) Few NHL teams have the quickness, speed, skill and depth to overwhelm the Tampa Bay Lightning, which the Pittsburgh Penguins have done through three games of the Eastern Conference finals.

Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and a talented supporting cast that includes the sizzling line of Phil Kessel, Carl Hagelin and Nick Bonino have outplayed the speedy Lightning for significant stretches of each game to gain a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven matchup.

Game 4 is Friday night at Amalie Arena, and the Penguins are looking to turn up the pressure even more.

“When you’re playing such good teams at this point, you know you can’t afford to look past the game in front of you,” said Crosby, who’s scored the past two games after going eight straight without a goal.

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Malkin assisted on Crosby’s power-play goal that proved to be the winner in Game 3 on Wednesday night, Malkin’s first point since Game 2 of Pittsburgh’s second-round victory over Washington.

While the Penguins’ biggest stars were trying to get back on track, Kessel, Hagelin and Bonino heated up at precisely the right time.

The trio had a huge impact Wednesday night, as well, with Kessel delivering his team-leading seventh goal of the playoffs off a nifty pass from Bonino after earlier setting up Hagelin’s goal that snapped a scoreless tie.

“You don’t win consistently without (depth). That line’s been great all playoffs long,” Crosby said. “You look at the way Phil’s playing … he creates so much. Haggy’s got a ton of speed. And Bones is a really smart player. He works really well with those two guys. They’ve given us a lot of momentum.”

Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper acknowledged line has been tough matchup for a team that’s accustomed to wearing opponents down with its own deep roster.

“You look at their team, Phil Kessel probably doesn’t get near the respect he deserves. I mean, he’s scored a ton of goals in this league. Bonino’s kind of one of those underrated players. … You look at the teams he’s playing, and there’s always been named stars ahead of him. Hagelin’s won everywhere he’s gone, the teams he’s played on. But they get overshadowed by the big name guys,” Cooper said.

“When you can go three and four lines deep – and something we’ve been able to do – it’s a tough matchup for teams,” the coach added. “They’re just another case – and plus they’re feeling it, too. They’re in one of those playoff runs where they’re feeling it, and when you are going like that, good things are going to happen for you.”

The Penguins have outshot Tampa Bay 124-70, a trend the Lightning can’t allow to continue if they expect to win the series.

Andrei Vasilevskiy has filled in admirably since replacing the injured goalie Ben Bishop during Tampa Bay’s victory in Game 1. In addition to generating more scoring chances, Cooper stressed the Lightning also have to play better in front of Vasilevskiy, who faced 41 shots in Game 2 and 48 Wednesday night.

“That’s unacceptable. I just feel bad for the kid that he’s keeping us in there and we’re not finding a way to bail him out,” Cooper said. “The way things have gone these (last) two games, it doesn’t matter who’s in net. You know, we could have Bish and Vasi both playing at the same time, and they might have squeaked a couple in.”

Tampa Bay won all three regular seasons meetings between the teams before taking Game 1 of this series on the road, so coaches and players say there’s no need to panic.

Cooper reunited the “triplets” line of Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat during the third period of Game 3, and the trio that was instrumental to Tampa Bay’s run to the Stanley Cup final a year ago produced two late goals.

Bishop practiced Thursday and said he remains hopeful he’ll return at some point in the series. Cooper said he doesn’t expect it to be for Game 4.

With Vasilevskiy playing as well as he has, and Tampa Bay’s track record as a resilient team, the coach remains confident this still will be a “long, tough” series.

“It’s not something where we’re sitting here saying: `Oh, we can’t beat this team.’ We couldn’t beat them in the last two games, and that’s the way we’re looking at it,” Cooper said.

“But in saying that, Pittsburgh’s put us in a position to be like that,” the coach added “Now it’s we served, they volleyed back. Now it’s our turn to send it back to them.”

Kraken add some size, acquire Jaycob Megna from San Jose

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SEATTLE — The Seattle Kraken acquired defenseman Jaycob Megna from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for a 2023 fourth-round draft pick.

Megna is in the midst of his best season with 12 points in 48 games for the Sharks while averaging more than 19 minutes per game.

“Jaycob has shown with his play this season that he is a responsible defenseman that can be relied on in all situations,” Seattle general manager Ron Francis said. “He provides welcome depth to our defensive group and we are happy to have him join our organization.”

The 6-foot-6, 220-pound Megna will add some size and bulk to Seattle’s lineup. Megna ranked fifth for San Jose in both blocked shots and hits.

Megna previously played for Anaheim for parts of three seasons between 2016-19. The 48 games played this season is a career-high for the 30-year-old.

Seattle is tied for the lead in the Pacific Division and will return from the All-Star break beginning against the New York Islanders.

Islanders sign Bo Horvat to 8-year deal after trading for him

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The New York Islanders signed center Bo Horvat to an eight-year contract less than a week after acquiring him in a trade with the Vancouver Canucks.

The team announced the contract after their first practice following the All-Star break. Horvat’s deal is worth $68 million and carries a $8.5 million salary cap hit through the 2030-31 season.

General manager Lou Lamoriello joked to reporters at practice on Long Island that Horvat’s contract was “too long and it’s too much money.”

The Islanders sent forward Anthony Beauvillier, prospect Aatu Raty and a protected first-round pick to the Canucks for Horvat . He was set to be an unrestricted free agent after the season, and the trade was a result of Vancouver and Horvat’s camp being unable to reach a deal last summer.

Lamoriello and Horvat expressed confidence about getting a deal done after the trade. The 27-year-old has scored more than 30 goals for a second consecutive season.

Horvat was chosen as an All-Star and played for the Pacific Division despite the trade. He played with longtime Canucks teammate Elias Pettersson and combined on one last goal together before parting ways.

“I want to get going,” Horvat said after the All-Star 3-on-3 tournament. “That’s enough. Let’s start playing some games and getting to know the guys. I just want to start playing hockey again.”

Horvat was on vacation with his family in Orlando when he was traded. He said coach Lane Lambert wanted him to enjoy All-Star festivities before getting rolling with the Islanders, who play at the Philadelphia Flyers.

“Obviously getting my legs under me is going to be No. 1 and getting systems down and obviously chemistry with the new linemates and stuff like that,” Horvat said.

After facing the Flyers and Seattle, Horvat will play against his former team when Vancouver visits UBS Arena.

Bruins rolling, rest of NHL making final push for playoffs

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SUNRISE, Fla. — Bruce Cassidy’s Vegas Golden Knights lost eight of 10 games going into the All-Star break after leading the Pacific Division at the midway point of the NHL season.

They’re still safely in a playoff spot in the Western Conference, but they can’t keep it up.

“We’re still in a good position – that’s the way we look at it,” Cassidy said. “There’s not too many teams that can cruise home the last 30 games in this league, and we’re certainly not one of them.”

Cassidy’s old team, the Boston Bruins, probably could. They’re atop the NHL and running away with the Atlantic Division.

With 39 wins and 83 points through 51 games, Boston is on pace to break the record for the best regular season in NHL history. The Carolina Hurricanes, who beat Boston in seven games in the first round last year, are next in the standings at 76 points.

“Top to bottom, there’s no weaknesses,” Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour said.

The Bruins are in a class of their own, but the playoff races behind them in the East and West should be hot down the stretch with roughly 30 games to go before the chase for the Stanley Cup begins.

METROPOLITAN DIVISION

The Hurricanes rode a seven-game winning streak into the break, putting some fear into the Bruins in the race for the Presidents’ Trophy and home-ice advantage through the postseason. Winger Max Pacioretty re-tearing his right Achilles tendon five games into his return didn’t slow them down, and if their goaltending holds up, Carolina stands a good chance of reaching the East final.

“This team, it’s a special group of guys,” said Brind’Amour, who captained Carolina to the Cup in 2006 and is in his fifth year as coach. “We kind of show that nightly. It’s just very consistent, and they take their job real serious. They do it right.”

The second-place New Jersey Devils are contending for the first time since 2018. Bottoming out the next season helped them win the lottery for No. 1 pick Jack Hughes, a two-time All-Star who has them winning ahead of schedule.

“Much better than being out of the mix,” Hughes said. “We’re really excited because it’s going to be a lot of important hockey, and it’s going to be really competitive and we’re really pumped to be where we are.”

They’re followed by the New York Rangers, Washington Capitals, Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Islanders. All three New York-area teams could make it, which was the expectation for the Rangers after reaching the East final last year.

“I think the run last year really taught us a few things and stuff that we obviously could build on for the rest of this year,” 2021 Norris-Trophy winning defenseman Adam Fox said.

ATLANTIC

The Rangers lost to the Lightning in six games last spring, when two-time champion Tampa Bay reached the Stanley Cup Final for the third consecutive season before getting beat by the Colorado Avalanche.

The Lightning are almost certain to face the Toronto Maple Leafs – who haven’t won a playoff series since the NHL salary cap era began in 2005 – in the first round and remain a threat to the Bruins.

But Boston has separated itself despite starting the season without top left winger Brad Marchand and No. 1 defenseman Charlie McAvoy. The Bruins have lost only 12 games under new coach Jim Montgomery.

“You just keep winning,” said All-Star right winger David Pastrnak, who’s tied for third in the league in scoring. “Every single line and every single guy is going and it obviously builds our confidence. It’s funny sometimes what confidence can do in hockey.”

The Islanders should have some more confidence after acquiring 30-goal scorer Bo Horvat from Vancouver, but still need to make up ground to get in.

CENTRAL

Defending champion Colorado climbed in the standings – winning seven of eight going into the break despite an injury-riddled first half of the season. Captain Gabriel Landeskog still has not made his season debut since undergoing knee surgery. It would be foolish to bet against the Avs coming out of the West again.

“It’s up to us: We control our own fate,” All-Star center Nathan MacKinnon said. “We need to definitely keep playing the way we were before the break. No matter who’s in the lineup we were playing well, playing hard, so it would definitely help with healthy bodies.”

They still trail the Dallas Stars, Winnipeg Jets and Minnesota Wild in the Central, and the Nashville Predators are on their heels. Only the Stars and Jets are essentially guaranteed a spot.

“Every point, you grind for it,” Stars leading scorer Jason Robertson said. “Every point’s going to be a dog fight, so it’s going to be a fun 30 games down the stretch.”

PACIFIC

Undisputed MVP favorite Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers, who were swept by Colorado in the West final, have a little bit of catching up to do in the Pacific Division.

The top spot is held by the Seattle Kraken, who surprisingly are on pace to make the playoffs in their second season but still need to fend off the Los Angeles Kings and the Vegas Golden Knights.

Edmonton – and the Battle of Alberta rival Calgary Flames – have the talent to not only get in but make a run. McDavid leads the league with 41 goals and 92 points, 16 more than No. 2 scorer and teammate Leon Draisaitl, and is producing unlike anyone since Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux in the mid-1990s.

Now he’ll try to carry the Oilers into the playoffs and beyond.

“It hasn’t been easy at all for our group. We’ve kind of had to battle for everything that we’ve got,” McDavid said. “We’ve always been a second-half team for whatever reason. Even since my first year, we’ve always been better in the second half, so we’ll definitely look to continue that. That being said, we’re not going to hang our hat on that and expect that to carry us to the playoffs. There’s a lot of work to be done.”

Capitals sign Sonny Milano to 3-year, $5.7 million extension

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ARLINGTON, Va. — The Washington Capitals signed winger Sonny Milano to a three-year extension worth $5.7 million.

General manager Brian MacLellan announced the contract, adding to an already busy All-Star break for taking care of future business. The Capitals extended forward Dylan Strome for five years, $25 million.

Like Strome, Milano has fit in as a new addition for Washington. He’s now set to count $1.9 million against the salary cap through the 2025-26 season.

The 26-year-old Milano has been a near-perfect bargain signing for the Capitals after joining them on an NHL veteran one-year deal after this season got underway. He has eight goals and 14 assists for 22 points in 40 games since getting called up from Hershey of the American Hockey League.

Originally drafted by the Columbus Blue Jackets 16th in 2014, Milano split his first eight seasons in the league with them and the Anaheim Ducks. He went unsigned as an unrestricted free agent last summer despite putting up 34 points in 66 games with Anaheim.