Lightning aren’t giving Canadiens hope — or a lead

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It has been 23 years since the Stanley Cup Final has ended in a four-game sweep.

Thanks to their emphatic 6-3 win over the Montreal Canadiens on Friday night to take a 3-0 series lead, the Tampa Bay Lightning will have an opportunity to break that streak on Monday night.

Honestly, it would probably be a mild shock if they did not do it with the way this series is starting to go.

While the Canadiens have attempted to hang with the defending champs as best they can, they simply have not had an answer for the Lightning’s offense, defense, and especially starting goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy.

There was some reason to believe that Montreal might be able to get back into this series heading into Game 3, especially after an improved performance on Wednesday. The shots were there. The chances were there. You could make the argument the process itself was there. But the Lightning quickly stomped out that hope in the first three minutes on Friday night with goals from Jan Ruuta and Victor Hedman on consecutive shots just four minutes into the game.

[NHL ON NBC STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

When Phillip Danault scored late in the period to bring Montreal back to within one, there was a sense that Montreal was maybe starting to wrestle some momentum away from the Lightning. That maybe they could steal a winnable game and make it a series.

Then Tampa Bay opened the second period with two more quick goals to deliver what might have been a knockout punch. Or at least one that has left the Canadiens stumbling into the corner.

Tampa Bay’s dominance on the scoreboard is really starting to show itself.

In three games the Lightning have yet to trail the Canadiens for even a single second of hockey.

They are just the fourth team in the post-Original Six era to win the first three games of a Stanley Cup Final without ever trailing, joining the 2012 Los Angeles Kings and two previous Canadiens teams from the 1970s.

Their 14 goals are tied for the most through three games in a Stanley Cup Final series dating back to the 1984 playoffs.

Overall they have outscored the Canadiens by a 14-5 margin.

They have also been relentless and completely unforgiving. Every mistake the Canadiens make it ending up in the back of the net. That was the theme in Games 1 and 2 of the series, and it continued on Friday night.

[Lightning one win from Stanley Cup repeat after Game 3 win]

Tampa Bay’s first goal came on the ensuing face off after Montreal iced the puck on an unforced error. The second goal came on the power play after Eric Staal airmailed the puck over the glass for a delay of game penalty. And then after Montreal cut the lead in half, another bad turnover combined with a terrible line change early in the second period gave Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov a 2-on-0 rush for the third goal. Just a few minutes later Tyler Johnson scored on another odd-man rush to make it a 4-1 game. There was no coming back from that on Friday for Montreal.

It also continues what has been an absolutely incredible postseason run by this Lightning core over the past seven years. This is their third Stanley Cup Final during that stretch, and they are now just one win away from winning it for the second time. If they do, it will make them just the fourth team since 1990 to successfully defend its title, joining the Pittsburgh Penguins (1990-91 and 1991-92; as well as the 2015-16 and 2016-17 Penguins) and the Detroit Red Wings (1996-97 and 1997-98).

[Three takeaways from Lightning Game 3 win]

If you want to try and downplay that due to the playoff format and weird seasons the past two years, you can try. But the bottom line is this is their second postseason in 10 months through a bubble, condensed schedules, and every other weird thing they have had to play through. No matter who you play or what format it is in, that is a lot of hockey in a short period of time under unique circumstances and formats.

They also currently sit at 69 playoff wins since the start of the 2014-15 postseason, and if they get the next win they need in this series will be at an even 70 during that stretch. No other team has more than 42 since then, while only two (Pittsburgh and Washington) have more than 40 wins. They are, and have been, head and shoulders above the rest of the league.

The easy takeaway here would be look at Montreal as a team that does not belong here, or only made it as a fluke. But the bottom line is that Tampa Bay is simply a different beast of a hockey team. It has made a lot of really good teams look really bad at different times over the past two years. With Friday’s win the Lightning are 29-12 over the past two postseasons, with only seven of those losses coming in regulation. That is an incredible run, and just illustrates how different they are from everybody else in the league right now.

2021 NHL playoff schedule: Stanley Cup Final – (TB leads 3-0)

Game 1: Lightning 5, Canadiens 1
Game 2: Lightning 3, Canadiens 1
Game 3: Lightning 6, Canadiens 3
Game 4: Mon. July 5: Lightning at Canadiens, 8 p.m. ET (NBC / Peacock) – livestream
*Game 5: Wed. July 7: Canadiens at Lightning, 8 p.m. ET (NBC / Peacock)
*Game 6: Fri. July 9: Lightning at Canadiens, 8 p.m. ET (NBC / Peacock)
*Game 7: Sun. July 11: Canadiens at Lightning, 7 p.m. ET (NBC / Peacock)

*if necessary

Thompson nets 4 in 1st, 5 overall, as Buffalo tops Columbus

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COLUMBUS, Ohio — Tage Thompson matched an NHL record by scoring four times in the first period and finished with five goals and an assist as the Buffalo Sabres won their third straight road game, 9-4 over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Wednesday night.

Thompson is the second U.S.-born player to score five goals in a game. He is the fourth player in NHL history to record four goals in the first period of a regular-season game, joining Peter Bondra (1994), Grant Mulvey (1982) and Joe Malone (1921). He is also the fourth active player to score five goals in a game, joining Timo Meier (Jan. 17, 2022), Mika Zibanejad (March 5, 2020) and Patrik Laine (Nov. 24, 2018).

“It’s definitely a rewarding feeling,” Thompson said. “You’ve spent a lot of years working to get to this point and to be rewarded for it is a pretty good feeling and it just leaves you hungrier.”

Thompson’s outburst helped Buffalo score six times in the first 16:40.

“That was an amazing performance by Tage, and really, the whole group set the table,” Sabres coach Don Granato said. “I thought the energy, the collective effort, the focus to start was really good and enabled that to happen.”

Alex Tuch had a goal and three assists, Dylan Cozens added a power-play goal and two assists and Rasmus Dahlin finished with a goal and two assists. Peyton Krebs also scored. Jeff Skinner picked up four assists and Jacob Bryson had two. Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen stopped 20 shots.

Patrik Laine and Gustav Nyquist each scored twice for Columbus.

Joonas Korpisalo stopped two shots before being pulled in the first in favor of Elvis Merzlikins, who stopped 15 shots through the second period. Korpisalo returned in the third and finished with six saves.

Columbus has lost six straight home games and five of its last six overall.

“We didn’t have an answer for that one line,” Blue Jackets coach Brad Larsen said. “Tage Thompson just tore us up tonight.”

Buffalo dominated from the puck drop, scoring four goals on its first six shots.

Cozens put the Sabres on the board at 3:21 of the first, 53 seconds into a Blue Jackets penalty, and Thompson made it 2-0 just 2:09 later. Dahlin scored Buffalo’s third goal at 7:28 of the first, driving Korpisalo from the net in favor of Merzlikins, who gave up Buffalo goal No. 4 to Thompson 32 seconds later.

Thompson’s third career hat trick and second of the season came on a power-play goal at 12:22 of the first. He followed with his fourth goal, also on the power play, at 16:40.

Columbus scored two goals in just over a minute, with Laine at 10:49 and Nyquist at 12:04, before Buffalo reeled off three straight in just over three minutes to end the period, including Thompson’s fifth, and goals by Krebs and Tuch.

Laine and Nyquist scored in the third period for Columbus.

STREAKING

Cozens has 12 points in his last five games and is riding a career-best, five-game point streak. Thompson has eight goals and five assists in his last five games and 10 multi-point games. Dahlin has a five-game point and assist streak, and Gaudreau stretched his points streak to six games.

NOTES: The Sabres joined the Kraken as the second team this season to score nine goals in a game. … Thompson is the second player in Buffalo history to have five goals in a game, joining Dave Andreychuk, who had five goals and an assist on Feb. 6, 1986.

UP NEXT

Buffalo: Hosts Pittsburgh on Friday.

Columbus: Hosts Calgary on Friday.

Ovechkin, Strome lead Capitals past struggling Flyers 4-1

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PHILADELPHIA — Alex Ovechkin scored two empty-net goals, Dylan Strome had a goal and an assist and the Washington Capitals defeated the Philadelphia Flyers 4-1 on Wednesday night.

T.J. Oshie also scored for the Capitals, who finished 3-3 on a six-game trip. Charlie Lindgren made 29 saves.

Kevin Hayes scored for Philadelphia, which has lost 13 of 15 games. Carter Hart made 23 stops.

Strome broke a 1-all tie with 10:41 remaining when he deflected John Carlson‘s shot from long range past Hart.

Hayes had a golden opportunity to tie it on a Philadelphia power play, but Lindgren made a great right pad save on a try from close range with 8:20 remaining.

Ovechkin iced it, scoring into an empty net with 1:35 left and adding another empty-netter with 8.2 seconds left for his 15th of the season. Ovechkin has 795 career goals, good for third all-time. He is six goals away from tying Gordie Howe for second place. Wayne Gretzky, with 894 goals, tops the list.

Hayes scored his ninth goal of the season for his team-leading 28th point with 4:14 left in the first period to give the Flyers a 1-0 lead. Hayes rushed to the bench after breaking his stick on a slap shot attempt, and scored on a wrist shot from the high slot with his new stick.

The Flyers had a power-play goal for the third straight game and have four overall in that stretch. Philadelphia, which began play ranked 30th in the NHL in scoring on the man advantage, now has converted 16.7% (14 of 84) of its chances.

Oshie tied it 3:51 into the second on the Capitals’ fourth power play as the Flyers continued to take sloppy penalties. This time, James van Riemsdyk committed Philadelphia’s third tripping minor of the game. Oshie made them pay with his fifth goal of the season when he finished a nifty passing sequence with Strome and Evgeny Kuznetsov with a perfectly placed one-timer over Hart’s left shoulder.

NOTES: Van Riemsdyk returned after missing the last 20 games due to a broken right index finger. . Flyers forward Tanner Laczynski was placed on injured reserve after departing midway through the third period of Monday’s 5-3 win over Colorado with what looked like an injury to his left leg. . Washington was without several injured players, including starting goalie Darcy Kuemper (upper body). Kuemper was with the team, but missed his second in a row. . Carlson had two assists. . Philadelphia’s Cam Atkinson, out all season with an upper body injury, has been practicing and is close to returning.

UP NEXT

Capitals: Host Seattle on Friday night.

Flyers: Open four-game trip at Vegas on Friday night.

Penguins prospect Sam Poulin taking leave of absence

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PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Penguins forward prospect Sam Poulin is taking a leave of absence from the club’s American Hockey League affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

Penguins general manager Ron Hextall announced on Wednesday that the 21-year-old Poulin, Pittsburgh’s first-round pick in the 2019 draft, is stepping away due to “personal reasons.”

“The Penguins support Sam’s decision to take time away from hockey to focus on himself,” Hextall said in a release. “As with all of our players, our priority is them as individuals first. We look forward to having him back with the team when he is ready.”

Hextall said Poulin will return home to Quebec and continue to work out on his own.

Poulin made his NHL debut in October and had one assist in three games before heading back to the AHL. Poulin had four goals in 13 games for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton at the time of his decision.

Nathan MacKinnon sidelined about a month with upper-body injury

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DENVER — The injury-riddled Colorado Avalanche will be without leading scorer Nathan MacKinnon for about a month after he suffered an upper-body injury in a loss to Philadelphia.

The team announced the news on social media.

MacKinnon has eight goals and 26 assists for a team-best 34 points this season for the defending Stanley Cup champions. He joins a long list of banged-up players, including Valeri Nichushkin, Evan Rodrigues, Bowen Byram, Kurtis MacDermid, Josh Manson, Darren Helm and captain Gabriel Landeskog. Forward Artturi Lehkonen also missed the game in Philadelphia.

The 27-year-old MacKinnon signed an eight-year extension in August. He was coming off a postseason in which he tied for the league lead with 13 goals, helping the Avalanche raise their third Stanley Cup in franchise history.