Two-time defending champion Lightning chasing NHL history

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The Tampa Bay Lightning don’t want to get ahead of themselves in their bid to become the first team in 40 years to win three consecutive Stanley Cup titles.

The two-time defending champions are up 2-0 on the Presidents Trophy-winning Florida Panthers in the Eastern Conference semifinals yet understand there’s still a lot of work to do as they pursue a special place in NHL history.

The Lightning have won four straight games to move from the brink of elimination in the first round to having an opportunity to take a commanding series lead when they host Game 3 in Tampa, Florida, on Sunday (1:30 p.m. EDT, TNT).

“Guys have done a hell of a job to put us where we are, but we’re far from done in this series,” coach Jon Cooper reiterated.

The Panthers, the league’s top team during the regular season, say there’s still a lot of fight left in them.

The New York Rangers, down 2-0 to the Carolina Hurricanes in the other Eastern Conference semifinal that continues Sunday, are singing a similar tune after losing the first two games of that matchup on the road.

“We have a great opportunity. We win a game, everything changes,” Florida interim coach Andrew Brunette said.

“We’ve played really well on the road all year,” Brunette added. “There’s no reason why we can’t go there and play our best game.”

The Panthers’ hopes are bolstered by the fact they won twice on the road on the way to eliminating the Washington Capitals in the first round.

Ross Colton’s goal with 3.8 seconds remaining won Game 2. To come back and win the best-of-seven series, Florida will have to take four of five games from the defending champs over the next week.

That is a tall order against any opponent, much less a proud, resilient team that hasn’t lost consecutive playoff games in three years.

The Lightning feel they can — and must — play better.

“Our game has been far from perfect. We had a magical moment happen with 3.8 seconds left, and that gave us a game, but that could easily have gone to overtime,” Cooper said.

“We feel great, obviously, where we are in this series,” the coach added. “But (if) we hang our hat on that … it won’t work out for us.”

Losing in the first round in 2019 was a source of motivation during the Lightning’s Stanley Cup run two years ago.

In 2021, they repeated as champions with a roster that’s changed significantly this season due to salary cap restrictions.

This year’s playoffs are about enhancing the Lightning’s legacy.

The last team to win three consecutive Stanley Cup titles was the New York Islanders, who won four in a row from 1980-83.

“We are in the history books, and we’re going to go down as two-time champs. It’s not like people do that every day. It rarely happens. But to do three, now you’re becoming one of the best teams of the decades,” Cooper said.

“When you think in generations, there’s the 80’s Islanders, and the 80’s Oilers or the 70’s Montreal Canadiens. Whatever they’re calling this last decade in years to come, it’ll be the whatever Lightning,” Cooper added. “That’s what we’re chasing.”

HURRICANES at BRUINS, Carolina leads series 2-0 (3:30 p.m. EDT, ESPN)

The Carolina Hurricanes need to figure out how to win on the road. The New York Rangers need to find the back of the net.

The Hurricanes won the first two games to improve to 6-0 at home in the playoffs going back to their seven-game first-round series against the Boston Bruins. But they lost all three games in Boston with mistake- and penalty-filled performances in a series that went the distance.

The Hurricanes don’t want a repeat against the Rangers after winning three of four regular-season meetings, including one in the final week of the regular season at Madison Square Garden to win the Metropolitan Division title.

The series has been one full of tight defense and little space to operate, a departure from the more up-and-down style that coach Rod Brind’Amour said he had anticipated. The Rangers have 49 shots through two games and the Hurricanes have just 48, with quality scoring chances proving hard to come by.

The Rangers, meanwhile, have managed one goal through two games. They have now gone nearly two full games (116 minutes, 5 seconds of game action) without a goal since Filip Chytil’s first-period score in Game 1.

“We just got to find a way to generate more. We’ve done it first round, all year,” Rangers forward Frank Vatrano said. ’The playoffs, that space is harder to get, so we got to find that extra bounce, just that extra space to create offense.”

FLAMES at OILERS, Series tied 1-1 (8 p.m. EDT, ESPN2)

The “Battle of Alberta” shifts to Edmonton for Games 3 and 4 after the teams combined to score 23 goals in the first two — most through Game 2 of a series in 35 years.

The Oilers scored four straight to rally from a 3-1 deficit and even the Western Conference semifinal matchup Friday night.

Calgary’s Tyler Toffoli hardly recognizes the version of the Flames that’s shown up the past two games.

“Since I’ve been here we’ve done a really good job of playing our type of hockey,” said Toffoli, who was acquired from the Montreal Canadiens in February. “The past two games here we haven’t really been playing to our foundation. It’s been getting away from us.”

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    Golden Knights captain Mark Stone undergoes back surgery

    mark stone surgery
    Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA TODAY Sports

    LAS VEGAS — Vegas Golden Knights captain Mark Stone is out indefinitely after undergoing back surgery in Denver, the club announced.

    The Knights termed the procedure as successful and that Stone “is expected to make a full recovery.”

    This is the second time in less than a year that Stone has had back surgery. He also had a procedure May 19, 2022, and Stone said in December this was the best he had felt in some time.

    But he was injured Jan. 12 against the Florida Panthers, and his absence has had a noticeable effect on the Knights. They have gone 1-5-2 without Stone, dropping out of first place in the Pacific Division into third.

    Stone is second on the team in goals with 17 and in points with 38.

    Devils associate coach Andrew Brunette charged with DUI

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    DEERFIELD BEACH, Fla. — New Jersey Devils associate coach and former Florida Panthers head coach Andrew Brunette was arrested in South Florida while driving home from a bar in his golf cart, authorities said.

    Brunette, 49, was pulled over just blocks from the ocean in the Deerfield Beach area, north of Fort Lauderdale, according to a Broward Sheriff’s Office arrest report. He was charged with one count of driving under the influence and two counts of disobeying a stop or yield sign. Brunette was released on $500 bond.

    The Devils said in a statement that the team was aware of Brunette’s arrest and gathering additional information.

    According to the arrest report, a deputy was in the process of giving Brunette’s illegally parked golf cart a ticket around midnight when Brunette walked out of a nearby bar and told the deputy he was about to leave. The deputy said Brunette seemed unsteady on his feet and slurred his speech, and when he was joined by his wife, the deputy said he overheard the wife tell Brunette not to drive while the deputy was there.

    The deputy remained in the area and reported watching the couple drive away about 17 minutes later, according to the report. The deputy said he watched the golf cart run two stop signs before pulling Brunette over on a residential street about a mile away from his home. According to the report, Brunette had difficulty following instructions during a field sobriety test before eventually quitting and asking for an attorney. He also declined to take a breathe test to measure his blood-alcohol level, officials said.

    Online jail and court records didn’t list an attorney for Brunette.

    Brunette is in his first season as associate coach of the Devils. He was interim coach of the Florida Panthers last season after taking over when Joel Quenneville resigned for his connection to a 2010 Chicago Blackhawks sexual abuse scandal.

    The Panthers fired Brunette after they lost in the second round of the playoffs last spring despite him leading them to the Presidents’ Trophy as the league’s top team during the regular season.

    The Sudbury, Ontario, native played 1,159 NHL games for Washington, Nashville, Atlanta, Minnesota, Colorado and Chicago from 1995-2012. He was a Wild assistant in 2015-16 and worked on Florida’s staff from 2019-2022.

    Stars aligned with new coach DeBoer, Nill-constructed roster

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    DALLAS — General manager Jim Nill sensed things were coming together for the Dallas Stars even before the season started with new coach Pete DeBoer and a roster mixed with proven veterans, up-and-coming young players, and even a teenaged center.

    At the NHL’s All-Star break, after 51 games together, these Stars are leading the Western Conference.

    “Every year you start, you put a team together, and there’s always going to be question marks,” said Nill, in his 10th season as the Stars GM. “You have ideas how you think you’re going to come together, but there’s always the unknown. . This year has been one of those years where right from the start, you could just see everything was kind of jelling.”

    The Stars (28-13-10, 66 points) have their trio of 2017 draft picks that just keep getting better: All-Star winger Jason Robertson, goaltender Jake Oettinger and defenseman Miro Heiskanen. The seemingly ageless Joe Pavelski, at 38 and already re-signed for next season, is on the high-scoring top line with Robertson and point-a-game winger Roope Hintz. Wyatt Johnston, their first-round pick in 2021 and half Pavelski’s age, has 13 goals.

    There is also the resurgence of six-time All-Star forward Tyler Seguin two years after hip surgery and 33-year-old captain Jamie Benn, who already has more goals (19) than he did playing all 82 games last season.

    The Stars have a plus-40 goal differential, which is second-best in the NHL. They are averaging 3.37 goals per game, more than a half-goal better than last season when they were the only team to make the playoffs after being outscored in the regular season. They are also allowing fewer goals, and have improved on power plays and penalty kills.

    “Where we sit at this break, I think guys are happy with that,” Seguin said, before being asked the keys to the Stars leading the West and on pace for a 100-point season with their new coach.

    “Our style, our team speed, our puck speed, being predictable. All the clichés, knowing where the puck’s going. Really how we play the five-man unit,” he said. “Our pace this year, it’s been a lot quicker. There’s been some solid depth scoring this year while we’ve got one of the best lines in hockey.”

    The Stars went into the break on their only three-game losing streak of the season, all 3-2 overtime losses at home.

    “Those aren’t real losses,” said DeBoer, who twice has gone to the Stanley Cup Final in his first season with a new team. “I’m happy where we’re at. I like how we’re playing.”

    Plus, Dallas won’t have to worry in the playoffs about 3-on-3 hockey, which has been the only real stain on their season so far. Only one team has more than its 10 losses after regulation.

    “We’ve played a lot of good hockey. We’ve made a lot of good strides in our game,” DeBoer said. “We still have another level we have to get to when we get back, but there are a lot of good things that have happened. They’ve worked to have us where we are right now in the standings. Good spot to be in.”

    The Stars have 31 games left in the regular season. The first four after the break at home, like the last four before their week-long hiatus.

    Robertson’s 33 goals rank sixth in the NHL, and the 23-year-old has the same number of assists while averaging 1.29 points a game even after he missed most of training camp before signing a four-year, $31 million contract. Pavelski has 48 points (14 goals, 34 assists) while playing every game, and Hintz 46 points (20 goals, 26 assists) in only 43 games.

    Oettinger, who is 21-7 in regulation, has a .923 save percentage and 2.26 goals against average since signing his three-year, $12 million contract. That deal came after 223 saves in a seven-game playoff series against Calgary last May, capped by 64 in the series finale that went to overtime.

    Nill said Robertson’s production has improved even with the league adjusting to the high-scoring forward, and that Oettinger is proving to be one of the league’s best goalies. But they are just part of what has been a tremendous team effort.

    “They kind of had that mojo right from the start, and it was kind of this team’s got the right mix,” Nill said. “It’s come together well, and it’s shown in the standings. It’s been good to watch.”

    Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

    Ilya Mikheyev
    Bob Frid/USA TODAY Sports

    VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

    Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

    Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

    Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.