Devils 5, Lightning 2
With New Jersey’s first playoff appearance since 2012 starting to look like an early exit, Taylor Hall came up big — just like he has done all season.
Hall had a goal and two assists, setting up Stefan Noesen's game-winner with 7:05 play, and Cory Schneider made 34 saves in shoring up the goaltending and leading the Devils to a victory over penalty-prone Tampa Bay on Monday night in Game 3 of their best-of-7 first-round series.
The Devils scored four third-period goals in cutting Tampa Bay's series lead to 2-1. Game 4 will also be played at the Prudential Center on Wednesday.
Hall, appearing in the playoffs for the first time since being the No. 1 overall pick in 2010, downplayed his role.
"It's not my first playoff win, it's ours as a group," said Hall, who had a career year in goals, assists and points. "We had some confidence coming back on home ice with how we played to finish the regular season. It's a great feeling. We're still down 2-1. We still have a lot of room to go but it's a nice start."
The Devils had a lot of contributors.
Rookie Will Butcher had a power-play goal earlier in the third to tie the score 2-all. Blake Coleman and Ben Lovejoy added empty net goals late. Schneider only gave up two power-play goals in taking over for Keith Kinkaid and giving the Devils a chance in this series.
"It's huge. You could see there at the end it getting a little nasty similar to the last game," Schneider said of the win. "We've got the emotional involvement now. We're on each other's nerves. It's going to a series."
Alex Killorn and Steven Stamkos each had a power-play goal and an assist for the Lightning, who allowed the Devils to go on seven power plays. Nikita Kucherov added two assists, and Andrei Vasilevskiy made 36 saves in the game that had a major scrum with 23 seconds to go.
Devils captain Andy Greene had assists on goals by Noesen and Lovejoy.
"At the end of the day you give them that many power play chances and then you give them a 5-on-3, it's a good chance they are eventually going to get one," Stamkos said. "They got one and then they got momentum."
Hall was the Devils' MVP during their stunning run from the worst team in the Eastern Conference to the postseason in a year, and he didn't disappoint in their biggest game of the season.
Hall skated down the right boards, avoided a check by Tyler Johnson in center ice and found Noesen in the left circle with a cross-ice pass that the forward one-timed past Vasilevskiy.
"He's a good player and good players are going to make plays," Lightning center Brayden Point said. "He had a good night tonight. He is a guy we have to watch, know when he is out there and take away his space."
Butcher had tied it at 4:03 of the period, just 24 seconds after the Lightning were penalized for having too many men on the ice during a penalty kill.
"We were our own worst nightmare tonight," Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said.
The Lightning, who scored on 3 of 4 power plays in the first two games, converted on two more in Game 3.
Stamkos gave Tampa Bay a 2-1 lead just 38 seconds into the third with a shot from the left circle that squeezed between Schneider's arm and body and dribbled into the net. It was his first goal of the series.
Tampa Bay, which never trailed in winning the first two games, took the lead again 42 seconds into the second period on Killorn's third power-play goal of the series and fourth overall. Kucherov sent a pass from behind the goal line that Killorn redirected into the net before Schneider could move.
Hall tied the game 1-all with an unassisted goal at 12:24. Vasilevskiy made an excellent stop on a shot from near the blue line by Kyle Palmieri. The puck was misplayed by the Lightning and went to Hall between the circles and he ripped a shot past Vasilevskiy.
Hall could have had more. He hit the crossbar on a first-period breakaway.
Avalanche 5, Predators 3
Nathan MacKinnon and Colorado leaned on their speed to get off to another flying start.
This time, it held up.
MacKinnon scored twice, including one as part of a three-goal first period and another to chase Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne from the game, and the Avalanche beat the Predators in Game 3 to pull to 2-1 in the first-round series.
Blake Comeau and Gabriel Bourque also scored in a furious opening period that revved up a pom-pom waving capacity crowd. Gabriel Landeskog was credited with an empty-net goal for the Avalanche, who snapped a 12-game skid against the Predators.
"Our guys were energized," Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said. "We were on our toes and the aggressors early in that game and it paid off for us."
Game 4 is Wednesday in Denver.
For a third straight game in the series, Colorado scored first. But the Avs were able to make it stand in this one. MacKinnon and his teammates have been a different bunch at home this year. Their 28 home wins in the regular season was tied for the most in franchise history with the 2000-01 squad that hoisted the Stanley Cup.
"They gained a lot of momentum, used their atmosphere to their advantage and we weren't able to respond in that first period," Predators forward Ryan Johansen said. "That can't happen."
MacKinnon's goal at 4:25 of the second period gave Colorado a 4-0 lead and prompted the Predators to pull Rinne in favor of backup Juuse Saros . Rinne allowed four goals on 15 shots.
"We weren't very good in front of him," Predators coach Peter Laviolette said. "I didn't think we were giving him the support he needed."
Laviolette wasn't in a mood to elaborate on what exactly went wrong.
"It wasn't good," Laviolette said of the first period.
Any particular reason?
"We didn't play very well," he said.
One thing was clear: MacKinnon was as fast as ever on home ice. He led the league in home scoring in the regular season with 67 points.
"He thrives on the energy in the building," Bednar said. "He's just so explosive at home. He's dangerous every time he touches the puck at home."
Jonathan Bernier stopped 29 shots on a night when the Avalanche finished 0 for 5 on the power play. Johansen had a second-period goal and Colton Sissons scored another in the third to make it 4-2. Saros was pulled for an extra skater with around 2:20 left and, moments later, Landeskog was credited with a goal after being dragged down on a breakaway. A sliding Landeskog was trying to get the puck over to MacKinnon for the hat trick.
It's about the only thing that didn't work out for Colorado.
"We proved to ourselves that we can get a win," MacKinnon said. "Hopefully it just snowballs from here."
Nashville got on the board midway through the second after Colorado was whistled for two penalties on a play, giving the Predators a 5-on-3 advantage. Johansen knocked in a rebound to make it 4-1, but Colorado quelled the other portion of the power play.
Late in the second, P.K. Subban and MacKinnon got tangled up near the corner. It led to some pushing and shoving with both getting holding penalties.
Simply playoff hockey.
"Anytime you play the same team over and over and over again you start to really dislike each other," said Austin Watson, who added a late goal. "It's good battles, good intensity out there and it's fun hockey."
It didn't take long for Colorado to get on the board with Comeau scoring 1:50 into the game and on the team's second shot. The Avs beat Rinne on their opening shot in each of the first two games.
Shortly after Bourque tipped in Patrik Nemeth's shot, MacKinnon scored with 1:53 remaining in the first when he took a pass from Landeskog, used a burst of speed to get free and beat Rinne with a wrist shot.
The last time the Avalanche played at the Pepsi Center it was also desperation time. They beat St. Louis in a winner-gets-into-the-playoffs season finale.
Sharks 8, Ducks 1
For three games, San Jose has had more speed, discipline and depth than Anaheim.
If they can repeat that formula for one more game, the Sharks will move onto the second round of the playoffs.
Joonas Donskoi scored one goal and set up another to start a four-goal barrage in the second period and the Sharks raced past Anaheim for the third straight game, beating the Ducks for a 3-0 series lead.
"We understand there's a lot of work to do," captain Joe Pavelski said. "Eliminating teams is always tough. That's kind of where our mindset shifts, I think. We'll see a few things that we can do better, and a few things we're doing well. That commitment from us is going to go a long way to stay with what we're doing."
Right now just about everything is working for the Sharks, who had eight goal-scorers in the highest-scoring playoff game in franchise history and got a 45-savve performance from Martin Jones.
San Jose used its superior speed to create odd-man rushes that paid off when Donskoi scored and then set up Marcus Sorensen in the opening four minutes of the second period and then turned the game into a laugher with four power-play goals after the Ducks spent most of their energy slashing and cross-checking.
"They can take as many of those as they want to, we'll take the power plays," coach Peter DeBoer said. "They take penalties, that's a fact. During the season they do, and we anticipated that it would be like that in the playoffs and it has been. It's on us to make them pay for making those plays and decisions, and we have.
Eric Fehr and Tomas Hertl added goals later in the second to turn this all-California series into a rout. Logan Couture had a goal and two assists, Pavelski, Evander Kane and Timo Meier scored power-play goals in the third period, for the Sharks, who have outscored the Ducks 14-3 through the first three games of the first-round series.
San Jose will look to complete the sweep in Game 4 at home Wednesday night. Only four NHL teams have lost a best-of-seven series after winning the first three games with the Sharks the last to do it in 2014 in the first round against Los Angeles.
Rickard Rakell scored a power-play goal, but the Ducks once again looked a step slow against the speedier Sharks. Anaheim has scored three goals all series, including just one at even strength.
John Gibson allowed five goals on 24 shots before being pulled after two periods. Ryan Miller allowed three power-play goals in the third.
"From my perspective it's hard to forget what we just did. Very undisciplined, very disappointed in our reaction in the hockey game," Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said. "Those are the things we have to address. We're not going to get yourself any kind of opportunity to take the number of penalties we took, and I call them selfish penalties."
The game turned early in the second after Brandon Montour fell near center ice, giving the Sharks a two on one. Donskoi converted on a give-and-go with Evander Kane and San Jose was off to the races.
Donskoi then set up the next goal on another odd-man rush when he fed Sorensen, who faked a forehand and then beat Gibson with a backhand on a similar move that led to goals for Kane and Couture in the first two games.
Jones then made a big stop on Rakell from the slot to preserve the two-goal lead and Fehr helped put the game away when he skated through two defenders and beat Gibson up high to make it 4-1.
Then the Ducks started their parade to the penalty box and the Sharks capitalized.
Fresh off the two wins in Anaheim, the Sharks were greeted by a frenzied crowd that sparked them to a fast start. Mikkel Boedker got things started when he used his speed to get around Hampus Lindholm and feed an open Couture in the slot for the tap-in into the open net.
Anaheim answered when Rakell got his first point of the series when he scored on a one-timer on the power play.
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