Rangers take series lead 2-0 over Lightning; Sakic’s agreements bear fruit

Wine A. Cherwoo

New York – Mika Zibanejad scored in the third period, Igor Shesterkin stopped 29 shots and the New York Rangers beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 3-2 on Friday night to take a 2-0 lead in the Conference Finals. ballast.

K’Andre Miller and Kaapo Kakko scored in the first half, and Adam Fox and Chris Kreider each had two assists for Rangers. New York won its eighth straight game at home, extending a franchise playoff record.

Nikita Kucherov had a goal and an assist for Tampa Bay, Nicholas Paul also scored and Andrei Vasilevskiy made 25 saves. The Lightning goalie allowed nine goals in two games against the Rangers after limiting Florida to three in a four-game second-round sweep.

The Lightning have lost consecutive playoff games for the first time in the past three playoffs. The two-time defending Stanley Cup champions were 17-0 after an impending loss.

The series moves to Tampa for Game 3 on Sunday and Game 4 on Tuesday night.

Zibanejad extended Rangers’ lead to 3-1 early in the third period. Shortly after missing wide on a 2-on-1, he got a pass from Fox, skated into the left circle and fired a shot that beat Vasilevskiy high on the stick side at 1:21. It was Zibanejad’s ninth in the playoffs and has given him goals in six of the last seven games.

With Vasilevskiy fired for an extra skater, Paul scored past a pass from Corey Perry to fire the Lightning in one with 2:04 left.

Vasiliveskiy was again pulled for an extra skater when Shesterkin had to make several sprawling saves about a minute from the end.

With Rangers leading 2-1 after 20 minutes, Tyler Motte almost added 31/2 minutes into the second half as his backhand slipped through Vasilevskiy’s pads and was on the goal line when Corey Perry dipped to keep him out.

The Rangers outscored the Lightning 14-10 in the scoreless midfield, with most of Tampa Bay’s attempts coming in the final six minutes. Shesterkin stopped a shot from Paul from the right doorstep, an attempt seconds later from Ross Colton, then a deflection from Anthony Cirelli less than a minute later. The keeper also stopped two slapshots from Mikhail Sergachev about 20 seconds apart with about a minute to go.

The Lightning got an early power play when Rangers’ Ryan Reaves was whistled for cutting 21/2 minutes into the game. They quickly took advantage when Kucherov fired a shot from the right circle that beat Shesterkin from the glove side at 2:41. It was Kucherov’s fifth in the playoffs. Tampa Bay was 0-for-9 on the power play in its previous three games.

Miller tied just over minutes later on a Rangers rush. He fired a shot from the right point that was blocked by Lightning defenseman Brandon Hagel, but the puck came back to him and he fired another shot that went off the post at 5:59.

Shesterkin made a sprawling skate save on Stamkos two minutes later on a 2-on-1 to keep it tied. Motte nearly put Rangers ahead with 81/2 minutes to go but his shot deflected off the goal post.

Kakko gave Rangers a 2-1 lead as he deflected an Adam Fox pass past Vasilevskiy from the right door with 2:28 left in the first period.

Sakic’s end-of-season deals pay off

The stat sheet won’t reflect that: Colorado Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic actually had two assists on those two goals scored in a 15-second window.

Artturi Lehkonen and Josh Manson’s goalscoring push in the 4-0 Game 2 win over Edmonton only illustrated the hard-hitting trade deals Sakic orchestrated. Five of the team’s 10 game-winning goals so far in the playoffs have come courtesy of their newest additions.

Sakic gradually built this team into a mirror image of the championship teams the Hall of Famers played with with Colorado — fast forwards and dynamic defenders capable of playing any style needed. The Avalanche have a 2-0 lead over the Oilers in the Western Conference Finals as the series heads to Edmonton for Game 3 on Saturday.

“One of the best in the business,” Edmonton front-office manager and former Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said of his GM counterpart before the series.

Le Grand also praised Sakic.

“If you look at the Colorado organization, Joe Sakic has done a really good job building this team carefully over the last four or five years,” Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky said. “He added, really, some great pieces.”

These late moves show up in all sorts of ways. Like Lehkonen, who was brought in from Montreal and has five goals in these playoffs. Or Manson, the acquired defenseman from Anaheim who scored the winner in overtime to open St. Louis’ series.

Or forward Andrew Cogliano (Michigan), picked up as part of a deal with San Jose, who didn’t score more than 18 games for Colorado in the regular season but scored two goals – both game winners – in playoffs.

Sakic had to mortgage part of the future to have a chance of winning now. But everything falls into place as the Avs advance to their first conference final since their playing days in 2002.

“We believe we have met the needs that we had to meet,” Sakic said. “You can never have enough depth. Everyone contributes to it.

Since taking over in 2013, Sakic has worked with two head coaches (Hall of Fame goaltender Patrick Roy and now Jared Bednar). He’s had some tough years (a 48-point 16-17 performance) and some frustrations (three straight second-round playoff outings). But it got the Avalanche to this point – a chance to win their first Stanley Cup title since 2001.

Cogliano considers himself lucky to be a late addition.

“It’s very special for me to be traded to a team like this, the caliber that we have and to come and add something – to be a piece of the puzzle,” Cogliano said.

In addition to Sakic’s recent delay deals, there have been his off-season maneuvers. He picked up forward Nazem Kadri in a trade from Toronto in 2019 and acquired defenseman Devon Toews in a deal from the New York Islanders in 2020. He also traded goaltender Darcy Kuemper in the summer last.

Kadri had three assists in Game 2 against Edmonton and Toews helped control Oilers stars Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Evander Kane. Kuemper has a career-best 37 regular-season wins but faces an upper-body injury in this series, with Pavel Francouz replacing. Francouz recorded a 24-save shutout Thursday.

Then there are Sakic’s draft picks: his first being star forward Nathan MacKinnon with the first pick in 2013, then Mikko Rantanen (10th overall, 2015), as well as defenseman Cale Makar (fourth overall, 2017).

Sakic also stayed true to his course, even after last season when the team won the Presidents Trophy for best record only to lose to Vegas in the second round.

A step back that led to a big step forward.

“It’s such a fine league that you have to stick to it,” Holland said. “That’s what Joe did.”

Sakic prefers to work out of the spotlight and go about his business to build a winner. His approach is similar to that of his mentor, the late Pierre Lacroix, who was the architect behind the Avalanche’s two Stanley Cup championships featuring Sakic.

Like those teams, this is an Avalanche team that isn’t entirely dependent on top players. The offense can come from anywhere.

The blue line also runs deep with Makar, Toews, Manson, Bowen Byram and veterans Erik Johnson and former Wolverine Jack Johnson (who was brought on a pro trial in October).

“Your best players always have to be at your best if you’re going to have a chance at winning the Stanley Cup,” Sakic said. “But you also need those (others) to contribute and take some of the pressure off.”

Price wins the Masterton Trophy

Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price has won the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, awarded to the NHL player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication.

The league announces Price as the winner of the Masterton Friday night before Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals between back-to-back defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning and the New York Rangers. Price supported the Canadiens to the Stanley Cup Final a year ago before losing to Tampa Bay.

Price did not play between Game 5 of the 2021 Finals in July and April with two weeks remaining in the 2021-22 regular season. After undergoing knee surgery last summer, he signed up for the joint NHL/NHL Players’ Association Player Assistance Program in October and said shortly after that he was to help a substance abuse problem he had developed.

“Over the past few years I’ve let myself go to a very dark place and didn’t have the tools to deal with this struggle,” Price said in a statement in November. “Things had reached such a point that I realized that I had to put my health first, both for myself and for my family. Asking for help when you need it is what we encourage our children to do. And that was what I had to do.”

Although Montreal is near the bottom of the league standings, Price has come on and made his season debut on April 15. He played five games, losing his first four before making 37 saves in a 10-2 victory in Montreal’s season finale.

“It means everything to us,” forward Cole Caufield said at the time of Price’s win. “He’s the backbone of our team, he’s the guy you want to play for. Having him in the room every day was just something special and you just feel the energy that he brings whether he is excited or not.

Price’s future is uncertain. He turns 35 in August and despite four years remaining on his $31.25 million contract, there is a real possibility the BC native will leave hockey.

Veterans Patrick Marleau and Zdeno Chara were the other Masterton finalists as voted by members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association. Marleau announced his retirement last month after a 23-year career, and Chara could also hang up his skates at 45.

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