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|The Tampa Bay Lightning understand what it takes to be successful in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
And as the Vegas Golden Knights are also showing [url=http://www.authenticsbaltimoreravens.com/cheap-jaleel-scott-jersey]Jaleel Scott Color Rush Jersey[/url] , the winning formula can vary from game to game and series to series.
Dominant defense is part of the equation. So is timely and opportunistic offense. Mental toughness is a prerequisite. It pays to be resilient, too.
”I just think any time you’re winning games, you’re battling through something,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said.
”Maybe a better way to put it is you’re making a big play at the right time,” Cooper added. ”It seems teams that move on often are doing that, and teams that don’t miss out on opportunities.”
The Lightning’s latest victory has them one away from the team’s third trip to the Eastern Conference final in four years, a step they can take by beating the Boston on Sunday (3 p.m. ET, NBC) at home in Game 5 of their best-of-seven semifinal.
The Golden Knights, meanwhile, lead their second-round series against the San Jose Sharks 3-2 and can secure a spot in the Western Conference final by winning Game 6 on the road Sunday night (7:30 p.m., NBCSN).
”I’d be the first one to tell you we’ve accomplished nothing,” Cooper said. ”We’ve won a couple of games in this series. You’ve got to win four [url=http://www.panthersauthorizedshops.com/authentic-rashaan-gaulden-jersey]http://www.panthersauthorizedshops.com/authentic-rashaan-gaulden-jersey[/url] , not three.”
Tampa Bay’s Alex Killorn, who had the primary assist on Dan Girardi’s overtime goal that pushed the Bruins to the brink of elimination in Game 4, said there’s a sense of urgency to end the series and avoid a return trip to Boston.
”I think it has to looked at that way,” Killorn said. ”That’s a great team. You go back to Boston, you give them a chance to get back in the series, you never know what will happen.”
CONTROL YOUR TONGUE
Bruins winger Brad Marchand has been given an edict by the NHL: Stop licking opponents or you’ll be punished.
The league announced Saturday that Marchand had been put ”on notice” after licking Lightning forward Ryan Callahan in the face during Game 4 on Friday night. Marchand appeared to lick Toronto’s Leo Komarov in the first round, too.
Senior vice president of hockey operations Colin Campbell spoke to Marchand and Boston general manager Don Sweeney on Saturday about the latest incident. The league said it was made clear to Marchand that his actions were unacceptable and he will face supplemental discipline if it happens again.[img]http://www.sndpic.com//nike_nfl_jerseys/nike_tampa_bay_buccaneers/nike_buccaneers_2691.jpg[/img]
Marchand, whose 17 points are second on the Bruins and fourth among all players in the playoffs, could face a fine or suspension if he licks another opponent.
”It’s unfortunate that he goes that low to do that, but (it) doesn’t take us off our game. We keep going, and we’ll let the refs handle that,” Callahan said. ”Like I said [url=http://www.authenticssanfrancisco49ers.com/cheap-korey-toomer-jersey]Korey Toomer Color Rush Jersey[/url] , I’m just surprised that something isn’t done because I don’t know what’s the difference between spitting in someone’s face and licking it.”
ONE STEP AWAY
As tempting as it may to be think about how close the Golden Knights are to reaching the Westeren Conference final, goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury said the team’s mind-set is much the same as it’s been all season.
”I think we had this mentality all year long: it’s all about the next game,” the three-time Stanley Cup champion said. ”That’s where the focus has to be. Just rest, relax and eat well. Get ready for the next one.”
NOT THE FIRST TIME
Vegas can become the third team in NHL history to win multiple series in its inaugural season. The league’s first-ever postseason saw the Toronto Arenas win the 1918 NHL Final against the Montreal Canadiens before defeating the Pacific Coast Hockey Association’s Vancouver Millionaires to win the Stanley Cup. In 1968, the St. Louis Blues defeated the Philadelphia Flyers and Minnesota North Stars to emerge from the all-expansion West Division to advance to the Stanley Cup Final.
Boston trails the Lightning 3-1 and needs to win three straight to take the series – not impossible considering the Bruins won three of four meetings between the teams during the regular season.
”I’s far from over,” Marchand said. ”We’ve been on both sides of it, so you know, we’re just going to regroup and get ready for the next one.”
Forward Patrice Bergeron said the Bruins will have to play ”desperate hockey” to force the series back to Boston for Game 6.
”We’ve shown character all year. … I’ve spoke about that, about the resilience in this room,” Bergeron said, ”so it’s time to show it.”
AP Sports Writers Jimmy Golen in Boston, Stephen Whyno in Washington [url=http://www.washingtoncapitalsteamshop.com/authentic-martin-fehervary-jersey]Martin Fehervary Capitals Jersey[/url] , and freelance writer W.G. Ramirez in Las Vegas contributed to this report.
Marc-Andre Fleury sat shirtless in front of his locker, staring blankly, his exhausted gaze fixed nowhere. Pads still strapped to his legs after another spectacular night’s work, the Vegas Golden Knights goalie looked as if he were trying to gather his thoughts, trying somehow to make sense of it all.
The rest of the hockey world is, too, as the newly minted Knights play Sunday with the most improbable prize of all at stake – a chance to go to the Stanley Cup Final.
The story is well known by now, or at least it should be. But the fantasy has never been so close to reality as it is now, with the Knights up 3-1 going into Sunday’s game against the Jets in Winnipeg.
An expansion team born last October on the heels of the Las Vegas massacre that took 58 lives is on the brink of winning it all, confounding both hockey experts and expert bookies alike.
Even the guys on the other team are shaking their heads at what the hockey gods wrought.
”You know it’s just the stars are just aligning for them,” Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck said. ”But it’s not going to stay that way.”
Maybe not, partly because hockey is a notoriously fickle game. But in this gambling town the odds are suddenly in the house’s favor.
With the hope they don’t have to play at home again until the Stanley Cup Final [url=http://www.bearsauthorizedshops.com/authentic-anthony-miller-jersey]http://www.bearsauthorizedshops.com/authentic-anthony-miller-jersey[/url] , the Knights trotted out some old Vegas mojo Friday night with Wayne Newton and the Blue Man Group making appearances to root the team on. The Backstreet Boys were there and rapper Lil Jon took the microphone to lead the cheers just before Reilly Smith punched in the go-ahead goal in the third period.
And, of course, this being Las Vegas the guy doing the anthems was a singing gondolier whose day job is serenading tourists in the faux canals of Venice just across the street.
There’s nothing fake about this team now one win from one of most improbable runs ever. Once 500-1 longshots to win the Stanley Cup in their first year, the Knights are now favored – at least in the sports books – to win it all.
It’s enough to make even Bark-Andre Furry – the lovable canine and goalie namesake who is now the unofficial team mascot – to sit up and take notice.
”It’s nice, but the last one is always the toughest to get,” Fleury said. ”I think we have to keep the same mind set and just go and take it one game at a time and not think too far ahead and be ready to play that next game because they are going to be coming hard.”
That mentality has worked well for a team that began the season as an afterthought, a collection of unwanted players from other teams thrown together in hopes of winning a respectable number of games in their first year. The coach himself, Gerard Gallant, had been unceremoniously fired from the Florida Panthers, left on the side of a road with his luggage as the team bus headed down the road.
It’s been a remarkable run for a team that likes to call itself the Golden Misfits. They’ve struck gold in Las Vegas, a town that loves winners and has embraced its first major pro sports team.
Just how remarkable? Well, consider that while the Knights are five wins from bringing home the Stanley Cup in their first year [url=http://www.authenticsseattleseahawks.com/cheap-will-dissly-jersey]Will Dissly Color Rush Jersey[/url] , the Toronto Maple Leafs – a member of the NHL’s exclusive Original Six club – haven’t won one in the last 51 years.
On Friday, the Knights used the same formula – speed and stellar goaltending – that has worked for them all year to beat the Jets 3-1 and take a commanding advantage in the Western Conference finals. It was the third straight win for the Knights, who have no illusion on how tough getting win No. 4 will be.
”No team is going to go out quietly this time of the year,” Gallant said.
Still, everything seems to be aligning in the Knights’ favor. They’re playing hard, yes, but they’re also getting the kind of bounces and breaks that are usually the difference in a series between two evenly matched teams.
That continued in Game 4 as Dustin Byfuglien whiffed on an attempt near the blue line and Smith scooped up the loose puck and raced down the ice to score the winner over the shoulder of Hellebuyck with 6:58 left.
Soon the Knights were celebrating, and Elvis was singing. Viva Las Vegas blared through the arena, and the crowd of 18,697 filed out happily into the warm desert night.
One win away for a team no one dares bet against.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org or .