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No help from Kucherov or Sergachov: Vasilevsky saved Tampa Bay from a Stanley Cup exit with 28 shots

Photo by Luigi Estuye, LUCREATIVE® on Unsplash

The Tampa Bay players were in a poor mood ahead of Game 5 of the first round of the NHL playoffs. John Cooper’s team lost three times in a row and were on the verge of relegation. A tough road trip to Toronto awaited them, where the Maple Leafs were a priori, if slightly, stronger. In times like these, fans expect their biggest stars to play brightly and carry the team in such difficult situations. In Tampa Bay’s case, it was more about Andrei Vasilevskiy than Nikita Kucherov or Braden Point.

In recent years, the Russian goalie has accustomed fans to the fact that at just the right moment he can go into “God Mode” and literally drag his team to success on his own. Since 2020, he has had five extravaganzas in games that decided the fate of the “Lightning” in the Stanley Cup, shooting 94.6% of his shots on average and allowing just 1.52 pucks. On four occasions he saved the team from defeat, two of which were in last year’s showdown with the Maple Leafs. Vasilevskiy made more than 30 saves in two straight games and led Tampa to the Eastern Conference semifinals.

This time the series could not be extended. Vasilevskiy was limited to 28 saves and missed twice. In the sixth minute, the visitors pounced on one John Tavares in threes, but not only failed to prevent him from making a pass, but also gave space to Morgan Riley. The attacking guard fired an unstoppable shot into the far corner. Less than 50 minutes later, the Russian goalie had to capitulate again. This time it was one of the best snipers of the game, Auston Matthews, who was the quickest on the court.

In truth, by that time Toronto had already yielded 1:3, and later allowed the opponent to hit the empty net. Oddly enough, neither of Tampa’s leaders had anything to do with it. Neither Kucherov, nor Poynt and Steven Stamkos were able to provide real help to the team, and the role of saviors along with Vasilevskiy was assumed by the representatives of the second and third lines. Anthony Cirelli and Michael Eissimont had two (1 + 1) points each, and Ilya Samsonov was fouled once more by Alex Killorn and Nick Paul, who scored the winning goal. It’s symbolic, because it was his accurate shot that allowed the Lightning to break the resistance of their opponents in 2022.

That said, Paul didn’t make the All-Star team. It included Reilly and Essimont, who had arguably the best playoff performance of his career, and Vasilevsky. Not only did he finish with 93.3% of his shots saved, he also had his 65th Stanley Cup win and moved up to No. 12 in that span (the same number as the legendary Dominik Gascheck). For which he earned praise from his head coach. According to Cooper, the Russian demonstrated his ability to handle pressure after his poor performances in recent games.

Chirelli also praised Vasilevskiy. According to him, since his transition to the Lightning the Russian has shown incredible skills every night and has been a mainstay and team leader who has provided momentum to his teammates and led them out of tough situations. And two days later, miracles will be expected of him again. On April 30, the series will return to Florida.

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The teams from New York and New Jersey will have their sixth meeting as well. “The Rangers began triumphantly against the Devils, winning twice in a row by a combined score of 10-2. But then it just fell apart. In the next three games, Gerard Galland’s team failed to take the lead even once, and the last one failed at all. The visitors shot nearly half as many shots (23:43), allowed four red lights behind their goal, and couldn’t catch Akira Schmid unawares once.

The Swiss goalie was named the top-scorer, while his teammate Igor Shesterkin didn’t even make the top three. He made 39 saves (92.9%), confirming once again his status as the reigning Vezina Trophy owner. Look at his phenomenal saves after Timo Meyer and Nico Hischier’s point-blank shots. Even he was powerless without his teammates’ support. “The Rangers missed not only with equal teams and fewer players, but even when playing the extra point. In the end, they even allowed an empty net. Eric Haula notched a double, while Ondrej Palat and Dawson Mercer scored once each.

Thus, after only two days, the Rangers risked ending their campaign for the trophy. And for that not to happen, their leaders need to wake up and start showing the level of hockey that is expected of them. So far, things aren’t going well for them. Artemiy Panarin has failed to score for the fourth consecutive game, Vladimir Tarasenko and Patrick Kane have not scored in three games, and Mika Zibanejad has not scored a single goal.

But while the Rangers and Devils have yet to decide the fate of a trip to the second round of the NHL playoffs, one of them has already found its owner. The first Stanley Cup quarterfinalist was Vegas, which crushed Winnipeg. Bruce Cassidy’s team had a disappointing start to the round and a 5-5 defeat, but they have not let anyone take the upper hand since. They won the decisive game by a wide margin (4-1) and settled everything midway through the second period, scoring Connor Hellebuyck four times. Chandler Stephenson notched a double and was named the first star, along with Mark Stone and William Karlsson. The Canadian scored three (1 + 2) points and the Swede scored his team’s third goal. It should be noted that they achieved this success without Phil Kessel. Kessel missed no game in the last 14 years and his “iron streak” in the regular season reached a record 1064 games. This time, however, there was no place for him in the roster.

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