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Stanley Cup playoffs roundup

Lightning 2, Panthers 0

The Tampa Bay Lightning are running out of superlatives to describe Andrei Vasilevskiy's dominance.

The reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner delivered another stellar playoff performance for the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions on Monday night, stopping 49 shots to beat the Florida Panthers 2-0 and finish a four-game sweep that sends them to the Eastern Conference final for the sixth time in eight years.

Pat Maroon snapped a scoreless tie, batting Zach Bogosian’s shot down behind Panthers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky before the puck trickled into the net a little over six minutes into the third period. Ondrej Palat added an empty-net goal with 22 seconds left.

Vasilevskiy won his sixth straight game, a streak that began with the Lightning facing a 3-2 series deficit in the opening round. It was his sixth shutout in his last seven series-clinching wins.

The 27-year-old goaltender nicknamed “Big Cat” posted his 57th career postseason victory, moving into a tie with Tuukka Rask for 17th on the all-time list. He's allowed one or fewer goals in 28 of 87 playoff starts.

When Vasilevskiy began this postseason by yielding three or more goals in Tampa Bay's first six games against the Maple Leafs, coach Jon Cooper said the Lightning's confidence in him never wavered.

“I’m not so sure there’s much more I can say about him. It’s funny how the playoffs are five games into the Toronto series and you’re asking all these questions about what’s wrong with Vasilevsky,” Cooper said.

“It's never a doubt in our locker room. A goalie's job, if you want to be elite, is to give your team a chance to win,” the coach added. “When a goaltender gives your team a chance to win, it comes in a variety of ways. Tonight, it was he wasn’t letting anything in. And we’ve seen that time and time again.”

The high-scoring Panthers, who averaged a NHL-best 4.11 goals per game while compiling the league’s best record during the regular season, were shut out for the first time all season. The Presidents' Trophy winners finished with three goals in four games and wound up being outscored 13-3 in the series.

“They’re really good. I mean, they’re Stanley Cup champions for a reason, and their evolution of how they were once a high-flying kind of offensive team and they found their recipe how to win and they stick with it,” Florida interim coach Andrew Brunette said.

“Obviously, we aspire to be them, and this was another learning experience for us,” Brunette added. “We need to be better.”

The Panthers were eliminated from the playoffs for the second year by their in-state rivals. The Lightning ousted them in the first round in 2021.

“It’s a tough pill to swallow. Getting swept is tough,” Florida's Aaron Ekblad said. “It hurts. It stings. There’s no doubt about it.”

The Lightning joined the New York Islanders and Montreal Canadiens as the only franchises to win at least 10 consecutive playoff series. Their bid to become the first team in 40 years to capture three straight Stanley Cup titles will continue in the East final against either the Carolina Hurricanes or New York Rangers.

The defending champs persevered Monday night despite having goals by Alex Killorn and Nikita Kucherov waved off within a 48-second span of the second period — the first after Florida coach Andrew Brunette challenged and a lengthy replay review determined Palat lifted the puck out of play along the boards before Mikhail Sergachev fired a shot that Killorn tipped past Bobrovsky.

Less than a minute later, Tampa Bay appeared to take the lead again only to have replay confirm Anthony Cirelli won a faceoff in the left circle with a hand pass that Kucherov rifled through Bobrovsky.

“When you hit a little adversity like that, you've just got to stick with it,” Maroon said.

The Panthers became the first Presidents' Trophy winners to be swept by a defending Stanley Cup champion in the playoffs since Edmonton breezed past Calgary on its way to another title in 1988.

Vasilevskiy, who entered Monday night having given up one goal in each of his previous four games, has allowed one goal total in his last seven series-clinching wins.

“It’s pretty cool to play with a player that I think will go down as one of the best goalies that’s ever played the game,” Killorn said. “That’s how you kind of gauge players is how they perform in big-time games, and he’s been nothing but tremendous in his game.”

Tampa Bay is the third franchise to win at least 10 consecutive playoffs series. Montreal has done it twice (13 from 1976-80 and 10 from 1956-60). The Islanders — the last team to win at least three straight Stanley Cups — won a record 19 straight series from 1980-84.

The Panthers outshot the Lightning 17-3 in the first period and 34-15 through the second.

Avalanche 6, Blues 3

Nazem Kadri had the last laugh.

Kadri scored three goals, including two during a four-goal second period barrage, and Colorado beat St. Louis to take a 3-1 lead in their Western Conference series.

Kadri’s outburst came after he received racist death threats on social media following a first-period collision with Blues goalie Jordan Binnington in Game 3 on Saturday night.

“I wanted to come out tonight and really put a mark on this game, especially after what happened,” Kadri said. “I tried to do that as best as possible. Sometimes you’ve got to be patient and you’ve got to wait. I was able to strike early in the second period and was able to get the mojo going.”

Kadri, who was booed heavily every time he touched the puck, skated towards the glass and appeared to salute the Blues fans after each of his first two goals, inciting even more jeers. It was his first career playoff hat trick.

“I know that they’re booing me and what-not, but that’s what being a fan is,” Kadri said. “As a home team and a home player, you want the fans on your side and heckling the other team, as long as it’s within the guidelines. I’ve got no issues with that, and I know what was said isn’t a reflection on every single fan in St. Louis. I understand that and I want to make that clear. But for those that wasted their time sending messages like that, I feel sorry for them.”

Kadri said he heard no racial taunts from the crowd on Monday.

“Naz’s focused, he’s a big boy, he’s a tough guy, and he’s a resilient guy,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said. “And we’re proud of him as a group and we have a task that we’re trying to complete, and Naz understands that and it’s unfortunate he has to deal with it and he knows that we’re all with him and that’s what we care about.”

Erik Johnson and Devon Toews also scored, and Mikko Rantanen added an empty netter for the Avalanche, while Darcy Kuemper made 17 saves.

David Perron scored twice, and Pavel Buchnevich had a goal and an assist for the Blues. Ville Husso, making his first start since Game 3 of the first round against Minnesota, made 31 saves.

Game 5 is Wednesday in Colorado.

“We got outskated for most of the game 5-on-5,” Blues coach Craig Berube said. “It’s pretty simple. I don’t know why. We got outskated. They outskated us. Got to every loose puck. Lost a lot of puck battles.”

The Avalanche took control of the game — and the series — with three goals in less than a two-minute span early in the second period.

Johnson got it going with his first of the playoffs at the 2:44 mark. Kadri gave the Avalanche the lead with his first at 4:07 and Toews scored 19 seconds later to make it 3-1.

Kadri said Berube’s comments after Game 3 were part of his motivation. When asked about the collision following the game, Berube referred to Kadri’s past disciplinary action from the league office.

“He made some comments that I wasn’t a fan of,” Kadri said. “I guess he’s never heard of bulletin-board material.”

Kadri gave Perron a late shove a minute later, causing retaliation by Perron and Buchnevich that landed them both in the box with minor penalties. Colorado did not score on the two-man advantage, but Kadri buried his second goal moments after it ended to make it 4-1.

Perron and Buchnevich each scored power play goals late in the second to bring the Blues back within one, but Kadri’s goal midway through the third scuttled the comeback attempt.

“It was awesome,” Johnson said of Kadri’s hat trick. “I felt so good for him. You know, imagine being in his situation, it can’t be a fun thing. Like I said, no human being should actually receive that type of treatment, especially with a hockey game. ... I think he liked being the villain tonight and he certainly stepped up for us.”

Perron gave the Blues a 1-0 lead five minutes into the game and they escaped the first period with the lead despite getting outshot 15-3. Husso made several tough saves drawing chants of “HUSS!” from the crowd.

“I’m not sure we ever had control of the game, even though we scored first,” Perron said. “We didn’t make them defend hard enough. We had some pushes, but not nearly consistent enough to win a hockey game.”

Colorado is 4-0 on the road this postseason and is the only team without a loss away from home. The streak ties the second-longest postseason-opening road winning streak in franchise history with the 2001 team. The longest streak is a 7-0 start by the 1999 team.

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