NHL has Game 7 tripleheader on tap for Saturday

evander kane oilers
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BOSTON — The players dream of it. The fans look forward to it.

Game 7.

And on Saturday, there will be three of them.

The NHL is wrapping up the first round of the playoffs with a rare treat: back-to-back-to-back seventh games that will go a long way toward shaping the conference semifinals.

The Carolina Hurricanes will host Boston in a matinee, followed by the two-time defending champion Lightning at Toronto and the Kings in Edmonton. It’s the first Game 7 tripleheader since 2014.

“It’s going to be juicy,” Oilers forward Evander Kane said after scoring twice in a 4-2 win that forced Game 7 against the Kings.

The most Game 7s ever in a single round was six in 1992.

“It’s what’s at stake, is the biggest thing. Everything’s on the line,” Bruins captain Patrice Bergeron said Friday. “It brings back memories of why you play the game.”

BRUINS AT HURRICANES, series tied 3-3 (4:30 p.m. EDT, ESPN)

The Bruins and Hurricanes are loaded with Game 7 experience — everyplace but in goal.

Boston rookie Jeremy Swayman is expected to be back in net on Saturday. He made his first career postseason start in Game 3, after Linus Ullmark gave up eight goals in the first two games.

“It’s a dream come true. I can’t wait,” the 23-year-old Alaska native said. “It’s no bigger or smaller than any game I’ve played before. I want to make sure I’m coming with that mentality. We want to win. We’re going to do everything we can and I can’t wait to get on the ice.”

Carolina’s Antti Raanta had never started a postseason game before this year.

Elsewhere, experience abounds.

[NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2022 schedule, TV info]

Ten players remain from the Boston roster that beat Toronto in seven games in the first round of the 2019 playoffs (and lost in seven to the St. Louis Blues in the Stanley Cup Final that year). A victory would be the franchise’s 16th Game 7 win — an NHL record the team currently shares with Montreal.

“I’ve played in a lot of them,” said Bergeron, who is 6-7 in winner-take-all games in his career. “The ones that sting the most are the not-so-good ones. … You try to see the glass half full and reminisce on the good ones, but it makes you hungrier when you think about the other ones as well.”

For Carolina, it would be a sixth straight victory in a seventh game.

Raanta, who arrived this year as part of the Hurricanes’ overhaul of the goaltender position, has played well in the lead role with No. 1 goaltender Frederik Andersen sidelined by a lower-body injury since mid-April. Raanta has started five games, leaving one early due to injury, and won two with a 2.46 goals-against average and .926 save percentage.

“I think I’ve found a good consistent level,” Raanta said Friday.

Carolina won the first two games before Boston leveled the series. Carolina won Game 5 to retake momentum but was unable to eliminate the Bruins on Thursday night.

“Everyone’s bitter and mad and frustrated,” Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “That was not the kind of game we expected to play. Come tomorrow it’s all old news and it’s what’s in front of you that matters.”

The series is the second in playoff history in which the home team won each of the first six games by multiple goals, according to ESPN Stats & Info. The other was the 1955 Cup finals, with Detroit beating Montreal by two goals at home in Game 7.

LIGHTNING at MAPLE LEAFS, series tied 3-3 (7 p.m. EDT, TNT)

The Lightning won 4-3 in overtime in Game 6 to keep their hopes of a three-peat alive, but it’s another streak on the minds of the Maple Leafs as they host their winner-take-all series finale.

Toronto has lost nine straight potential clinchers, including Thursday night against Tampa Bay and three in a row after taking a 3-1 series lead against Montreal last year.

“We had plenty of opportunities to finish the game and finish the series,” Toronto coach Sheldon Keefe said. “It didn’t go our way, but (there’s) lots of belief in our group, and we’re excited to play Game 7 on home ice in front of our fans.”

The Original Six franchise, which is going on 55 years since it last put its name on the Stanley Cup, hasn’t won a playoff series since 2004. Included in that span are some colossal collapses, including a 2013 Game 7 loss to Boston in which the Leafs blew a 4-1 lead with 11 minutes left in regulation.

Center John Tavares tried to maintain a positive outlook.

“We worked hard all year to earn home ice, and we’ve got a great opportunity going home in front of our fans to try to close this thing out,” he said. “Look forward to the opportunity. It’s what the game’s all about.”

The Lightning are trying to become the first team to capture three consecutive Stanley Cup titles since the New York Islanders won four in a row from 1980-83. That quest could end early.

“It all comes down to one game,” Lightning center Anthony Cirelli said. “Those are fun ones to play in.”

KINGS at OILERS, series tied 3-3 (10 p.m. EDT, ESPN)

Kane kicked off the Game 7 hype by holding up seven fingers after his empty-net clincher on Thursday night. But he also could have been referring to his seven playoff goals this year, tied with Minnesota’s Kirill Kaprizov and Pittsburgh’s Jake Guentzel for the league lead.

“I didn’t even realize that,” he said with a laugh.

Kane is the seventh Edmonton player to score at least seven times in a series and the first since Esa Tikkanen in 1991. He trails only Jari Kurri and Mark Messier for the most in a series in franchise history.

The Oilers are 6-4 in Game 7s, including 3-1 at home. The Kings are 7-4, with a 5-3 mark on the road.

“The older guys haven’t been there in a few years, and we have a few guys that haven’t experienced this at all,” Kings forward Anze Kopitar said. “But if you told us that we’ve got to win one game to advance, we’d certainly take the opportunity. So it’s not all that bad.”

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    Kuzmenko signs 2-year extension with Canucks

    Andrei Kuzmenko
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    VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Forward Andrei Kuzmenko signed a two-year contract extension with the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday.

    The deal has an average annual value of $5.5 million.

    The 26-year-old Kuzmenko has played in 47 games for the Canucks this season with 21 goals and 22 assists, four penalty minutes and a plus-4 defensive ranking.

    Kuzmenko ranks second on the team in goals and power-play goals (nine) this season.

    His 43 points are also tied for third on the team in overall scoring, while his 32 even-strength points (12 goals, 20 assists) are second on the Canucks.

    Kuzmenko leads all Vancouver skaters in shooting rate (24.7%) and ranks third in the NHL in that category (minimum of 20 games).

    He leads all first-year NHLers in almost every offensive category, including goals, assists, points, points per game (0.91), power-play goals, and power-play points.

    He has also had 14 multi-point games so far this season (second most on the Canucks), highlighted by his first-career NHL hat trick and season-high four-point game against Anaheim on Nov. 3.

    A native of Yakutsk, Russia, Kuzmenko spent his first eight professional seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) with CSKA Moscow and SKA St. Petersburg, getting 200 points (85-115-200) in 315 regular-season games. He set career highs in goals (20), assists (33), and points (53) last season, ranking second in the league in scoring.

    Kuzmenko has also represented his country on the international stage on multiple occasions, totaling 16 points (10-6-16) and six penalty minutes in 37 games played. He was originally signed by Vancouver to a one-year, entry-level contract on July 13, 2022.

    Hurricanes top Stars in OT to win matchup of 1st-place teams

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    DALLAS – Martin Necas scored 1:34 into overtime to give the Carolina Hurricanes a 3-2 win over the Dallas Stars in a matchup of division leaders Wednesday night.

    Sebastian Aho had a short-handed goal and Brent Burns also scored for the Hurricanes, who lead the Metropolitan Division in the Eastern Conference. The game-winner was Necas’ 19th goal this season.

    Dallas is still atop the Western Conference, and the Central Division, after its second consecutive 3-2 overtime loss at home. Jason Robertson scored his 33rd goal for the Stars, and 19-year-old rookie Wyatt Johnston got his 13th.

    Carolina goalie Frederik Andersen didn’t return after the first intermission because of an upper-body injury, soon after a strange sequence that ended with Robertson scoring on a shot from what seemed to be an impossible angle.

    The puck was bouncing on the ice behind Andersen and settled against the post after Tyler Seguin‘s shot before the goalie was able to swipe it away to his right. Robertson then shot from behind Andersen, and the puck apparently ricocheted off him and into the net for a 2-1 Dallas lead. Robertson’s 33rd goal matched his assists total.

    Antti Raanta replaced Andersen and stopped all 15 shots he faced – none in overtime – after the starter had four saves. Raanta had to shake off getting struck in the head by Mason Marchment‘s stick when the Stars forward was behind the net fighting for the puck midway through the third period.

    Stars goalie Jake Oettinger stopped 22 shots, including a glove save of Andrei Svechnikov‘s wrister with just more than five minutes left in regulation.

    Aho’s 200th career goal put Carolina up 1-0 midway through the first period. The Stars got even just more than two minutes later when Johnston scored unassisted after a faceoff.

    Johnston also had a shot ricochet off the post with just under six minutes left.

    In between the first two goals, Oettinger went into a fully extended split, with his right skate against the post, to deny Paul Stastny‘s attempt to knock in a loose puck.

    Burns tied the game at 2 in the second period, getting the puck after a faceoff, then skating over the top of the circle and scoring top shelf over Oettinger’s left shoulder.

    NOTES: Marchment was coming out of the penalty box at the same time Carolina made an errant pass in the second period. He had a breakaway attempt, but couldn’t get enough control of the puck to get off a quality shot. … Hurricanes defenseman Brett Pesce and Stars center Luke Glendening both got five-minute penalties for fighting in the second period.

    UP NEXT

    Hurricanes: Will play San Jose on Friday night in the first of three consecutive home games.

    Stars: Host the New Jersey Devils on Friday night in their last game before the All-Star break.

    Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry out until after the All-Star break

    Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
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    PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry‘s on-again, off-again season is now off again.

    Coach Mike Sullivan said that the two-time All-Star will miss at least two games with an upper-body injury.

    Jarry was scheduled to start against Florida but reported an upper-body issue when he arrived at PPG Paints Arena. Casey DeSmith got the last-second start as the Penguins pulled out a wild 7-6 victory over the Panthers.

    Jarry is out through at least the All-Star break. Pittsburgh plays at Washington and then hosts San Jose before getting a full week off.

    The 27-year-old Jarry has played well when he’s been in the lineup, posting a 16-5-5 record with a 2.65 goals-against average in 27 games. His availability, however, has been an issue of late. He missed more than two weeks earlier this month after being injured against Boston in the Winter Classic on Jan. 2.

    The Penguins are not as sharp when Jarry is out. Pittsburgh is 8-10-3 with DeSmith or Dustin Tokarski in goal this season. The Penguins recalled Tokarski from their American Hockey League affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to back up DeSmith during Jarry’s absence.

    Letang scores twice in return, Penguins beat Panthers 7-6 in OT

    Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
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    PITTSBURGH – Amid a nightmarish season off the ice, Kris Letang has been searching for joy. A sense of normalcy.

    He found a little of both.

    The veteran Pittsburgh defenseman scored twice in his return from a lower-body injury, the second with 54 seconds left in overtime to give the Penguins a 7-6 victory over Florida.

    “I was just happy to be out there,” Letang said. “Be in the atmosphere of the team.”

    Letang’s 17th season with Pittsburgh has been pockmarked by health issues and a profound sense of loss. He missed two weeks after suffering the second stroke of his career shortly after Thanksgiving. He then tweaked something in a loss to Detroit on Dec. 28.

    His father died unexpectedly a few days later, and Letang spent an extended amount of time with his family in his native Montreal, with his teammates making an unexpected stop to join Letang for his father’s wake at the end of a West Coast swing earlier this month.

    The Penguins activated him off injured reserve on Tuesday afternoon. Letang responded with four points in a rollicking game that featured 13 goals, the last Letang’s one-timer from just above the left circle on the power play that gave Pittsburgh just its fourth win in 12 overtime games this season.

    “It was kind of surreal, you know?” Letang said. “I didn’t know what to think or how it was going to go. These guys supported me for the last month… it’s just great to be back.”

    The Penguins, currently in the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, opened up a small bit of breathing room over the ninth-place Panthers by beating Florida for the 18th time in its last 21 trips to Pittsburgh.

    Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and Danton Heinen each had a goal and two assists for The Penguins. Rickard Rakell and Drew O'Connor also scored for the Penguins.

    Casey DeSmith struggled in place of Tristan Jarry, a late scratch with an upper-body injury. DeSmith stopped 33 shots, including both he faced in overtime, to win for the third time in his last 10 starts.

    “That was a huge two points for us,” DeSmith said. “Obviously we’re battling with them in the standings. Character win at home.”

    Carter Verhaeghe scored twice for Florida, including a tying goal with 2:32 left in regulation. Aaron Ekblad had a goal and two assists. Matthew Tkachuk and Sam Reinhart each had a goal and an assist. Colin White‘s sixth goal of the season 4:10 into the third gave the Panthers the lead but Florida couldn’t hold it.

    Alex Lyon made 42 saves after getting the start when Spencer Knight was unavailable for reasons head coach Paul Maurice would not disclose. The Panthers are 7-3-2 since January 1 to surge back into the fringe of contention.

    “We’re so much more of a different hockey team than we were a month ago at this time,” Maurice said. “Rallied around each other, battled as hard as they could to get a point on the road in the circumstances that we’re in. I couldn’t be more proud.”

    Neither Lyon or DeSmith – who got the heads up he was playing less than an hour before the opening faceoff – appeared quite ready to play on short notice. They gave up a six goals – three by each team – during a frantic first period that included Letang’s first goal since Dec. 15 and Tkachuk’s 25th of the season.

    Things settled down in the second. Ekblad’s short-handed goal put the Panthers in front but Crosby knotted the game at 4-4 with a pretty backhand through Lyon’s legs with 40 seconds to go in the period to set up a hectic third in which both teams squandered one-goal leads.

    “It wasn’t pretty but you need to find ways to win sometimes,” Crosby said. “We did a good job of that here today.”

    UP NEXT

    Panthers: Host Angeles on Friday night.

    Penguins: At Washington on Thursday night.