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Special teams lift Lightning back in East final against Caps

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TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — The Tampa Bay Lightning stormed back in the Eastern Conference final against the Washington Capitals, thanks in part to a thriving power play and suddenly reliable penalty-killing unit.

To regain control of the best-of-seven matchup that continues Saturday night, the Caps need a lift from their special teams, too.

”The series is tied 2-2,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. ”It doesn’t matter how you got there.”

Tampa Bay, which has taken two straight in a series in which the home team has yet to win, believes it hasn’t played its best.

Washington was dominant in winning twice on the road, then sputtered – particularly on the Alex Ovechkin-led power play – while dropping the next two games at home.

”I think we look at it realistically,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. ”I mean, I said to everybody in September, even yesterday, and they’re saying the same thing: Sign me up. Best-of-three, got a chance to maybe go to the Stanley Cup Final, sign me up.

”I don’t think anybody thought the series would go four straight or anything like that. There’s two really high-quality teams that are going to go nose-to-nose,” Trotz added. ”There’s twists and turns in the road sometimes. … It’s just another layer of adversity. This group has taken on any adversity that has been thrown its way all year.”

Since yielding three power-play goals in the first two games of the series, two of them in the closing seconds of a period, the Lightning have gone 7-for-7 killing penalties over the past two games.

Not bad for a team that had one of the most potent power plays (third, 23.9 percent) in the NHL during the regular season, while also ranking among the league’s worst at killing penalties (28th, 76.1 percent).

Lightning captain Steven Stamkos has a power-play goal in each of the first four games of the conference final.

Six of his seven goals this postseason have come in man-advantage situations, including his franchise-best 11th career playoff power-play goal (snapping a tie with Martin St. Louis) in Game 4 on Thursday night.

”Desperation. Realizing how important it is, especially in this series against the group that they have,” Stamkos said of the improved play on the penalty kill.

”It starts with the goaltending, and then it starts with guys willing to sacrifice. I think it’s been a challenge,” Stamkos added. ”When the power play is going well like we are, the PK wants to step up and be just as good, and vice versa when it’s the other way. … It’s been a lot of fun to watch.”

Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 36 of 38 shots in Game 4. He has bounced back nicely since allowing 10 goals over five periods in the first two games.

Center Nicklas Backstrom, who returned to Washington’s lineup Thursday night after missing four games with a hand injury, thinks the Capitals need to create more traffic in front of the Lightning goaltender.

”He’s actually too good of a goalie if you’re going to shoot from outside with no traffic, so maybe we can get some more traffic and find these rebounds like we did the first couple of games,” Backstrom said.

”We have pretty good chances. We just don’t execute,” Ovechkin said after the Washington power play was shut out for the second straight game. ”We tried. … We had so (many) shots, and we just didn’t score one more goal.”

But just as Tampa Bay embraced the challenge of battling its way back into the series after losing Games 1 and 2, the Capitals are excited about the opportunity ahead, beginning Saturday night.

Not only is Washington is 7-1 on the road this postseason, but the Caps went on eliminate Columbus in the first round and Pittsburgh in the conference semifinal in six games after those series were each tied at 2.

”I think we’ve played three out of the four games pretty well,” Trotz said. ”I’m not disappointed at all.”

The Lightning are confident, too.

”Clearly home-ice advantage has been a disadvantage in this series,” Cooper said. ”Now, in saying that, I’d rather have Game 5 at home. I believe we’ll be a different team here than we showed up in Game 1 and 2.”

More AP hockey: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

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Ilya Sorokin submits save of the year candidate at Channel One Cup

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With a little more than two weeks left in 2018, goaltender Ilya Sorokin wanted to make sure he got his name on the list of potential saves of the year during Saturday’s Channel One Cup game against the Czech Republic.

During a 7-2 victory, the Russian netminder, a third-round pick by the New York Islanders in 2014, made an incredible stick save to keep the Czechs at bay. One that you will really appreciate once you see it through the various camera angles.

There’s a chance we see Sorokin later this season in the NHL. As Arthur Staple of The Athletic reported earlier this month, the 23-year-old Sorokin could join the Islanders once his season with the KHL’s CSKA Moscow ends. Through 24 games he’s posted a 1.18 goals against average and a .943 save percentage, continuing a trend of strong numbers since the 2015-16 season.

As the Islanders figure out if their answer in goal for the future is Robin Lehner, Thomas Greiss, or maybe even Sergei Bobrovsky, Sorokin’s presence gives them a possible in-house option to ponder.

Stick-tap Jeff Veillette

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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.

The Buzzer: Barkov gets first-career hat trick; MacKinnon and Co. dominate

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Three stars

1. Aleksander Barkov, Florida Panthers

It takes something special these days to beat the Toronto Maple Leafs. They simply can score at will when they want to.

Barkov’s hat trick, then, was that special moment. He helped the Panthers get out to a 1-0 lead, put them ahead 3-2 in the third and then when Toronto forced overtime, it was Barkov once again to save the day, scoring on an incredible backhand deke for the win.

Not bad for a first-career hatty.

2. Daniel Sprong, Anaheim Ducks

Sprong scored to tie the game 1-1 in the first and then scored 1:19 into overtime to help the Ducks down the Columbus Blue Jackets 2-1.

Sprong now has three goals in five games with the Ducks since joining Anaheim in a trade from the Penguins earlier this month. The Ducks have won three straight.

3. Nathan MacKinnon (and Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog), Colorado Avalanche

MacKinnon had a four-point night (one goal, three assists). Rantanen had two goals and a helper and Landeskog had two tallies of his own. That’s nine points for that line.

MacKinnon and Rantanen now have 50-plus points apiece and they led the Avs to a 6-4 win against the stubborn Dallas Stars.

The best line in hockey does it again.

Other notable performances: 

  • Alex Ovechkin scored again (and notched the shootout winner). He’s now got a 14-game point streak (extending a career high) and a six-game goal-scoring streak (one shy of a career high set in 2005-06). He’s got 29 goals in 32 games.
  • Claude Julien earned his 600th career win as a bench boss in the NHL as the Canadiens won 5-2 against the Ottawa Senators.
  • Tyler Seguin did his best to try and help the Stars, scoring twice an adding an assist against the Avs.
  • John Gibson kept his Vezina-caliber season going with 36 saves for the Ducks. He’s won three straight and has a .927 save percentage this season.
  • Keith Kinkaid (27 saves) and Juuse Saros (33 saves) had a nice little goaltending duel going. Saros ended up winning in the sixth round of the shootout.
  • 13 Vancouver Canucks had a point in their romp of the Philadelphia Flyers.

Highlights of the night

Barkov’s OT winner and hat-trick goal:

Obliteration:

Barzal breaking ankles:

Nice release:

Factoids

Scores

Flames 2, Wild 1

Canadiens 5, Senators 2

Panthers 4, Maple Leafs 3 (OT)

Islanders 4, Red Wings 3 (SO)

Penguins 4, Kings 3 (OT)

Capitals 4, Sabres 3 (SO)

Ducks 2, Blue Jackets (OT)

Predators 2, Devils 1 (SO)

Avalanche 6, Stars 4

Canucks 5, Flyers 1


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Panthers’ Weegar gets misconduct penalty after abuse of officials

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Here’s in a lesson in not swinging your stick around when there’s a linesman escorting you to the penalty box.

Florida Panthers defenseman MacKenzie Weegar was on the receiving end of a 10-minute misconduct for abuse of an official after his frustrations boiled over against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday.

Weegar was incensed that a penalty wasn’t called after he was boarded by Maple Leafs forward Tyler Ennis. Weegar was slow to get up and when he did, he began spamming cross-checks to anyone within striking distance, including several to Ennis, one of which appeared to catch Ennis in the neck.

As he was getting taken to the box on a four-minute double minor for the cross-checking, Weegar slammed his stick against the glass near the penalty box. The stick appeared to catch the linesman Jonny Murray in the helmet.

The whole ordeal can be seen here:

Weegar got a stern talking to by referee Chris Rooney before he was sent to the locker room to serve out his misconduct.

Toronto, who were down 2-0 at that point, was unable to score on the extended power play.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Blackhawks mascot Tommy Hawk involved in fan altercation

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It appears as if one Chicago Blackhawks fan took a double loss on Friday night.

A video that has popped up on social media shows Blackhawks mascot Tommy Hawk taking down a fan at United Center.

According to the Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago police said the man in the video allegedly punched and put the mascot in a headlock. What happens in the video, then, appears to be the aftermath of that.

In the 24-second video, Tommy Hawk pulls off the body-to-body suplex to get his alleged attacker to the ground before landing some ground-and-pound. He’s then able to get some sort of body lock on him and push him away.

Here’s the video:

Tommy Hawk certainly held his own here.

The Blackhawks lost 4-3 in overtime against the Winnipeg Jets. According to the Sun-Times story, police were notified about the disturbance around 11:15 p.m. The game, which started at 7:30 was over at that point.

The Sun-Times reported that no one was in custody as of Saturday evening. The Blackhawks said they were looking into the incident.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck