Lightning, Bruins, Avalanche, Flyers eye clinching series

National Sports

Columbus Blue Jackets right wing Cam Atkinson (13) scores against Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy (88) as Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman (77) helps out during the second period of NHL Eastern Conference Stanley Cup first round playoff hockey action in Toronto, Monday, Aug. 17, 2020. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)

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One victory away from advancing in the NHL playoffs, the Tampa Bay Lightning, Boston Bruins, Colorado Avalanche and Philadelphia Flyers feel a sense of urgency to finish the task as soon as possible.

It doesn’t matter that the teams, up 3-1 in their respective first-round series, could have up to three cracks apiece at closing out best-of-seven matchups against lower-seeded opponents.

“I have no doubt this group will be ready,” Lightning forward Blake Coleman said Tuesday, looking ahead to Tampa Bay’s opportunity to oust the Columbus Blue Jackets on Wednesday (NBCSN, 12 p.m. EDT) in Toronto.

The Bruins and Flyers also have a chance to advance in the Eastern Conference with Game 5 victories, with Boston looking to send Carolina home (NBCSN, 4 p.m.) and Philadelphia a win away from eliminating Montreal (NBCSN, 8 p.m.).

Colorado can close out the Arizona Coyotes (NBCSN, 5:30 p.m.) in the Western Conference, while the Vancouver Canucks and reigning Stanley Cup champion St Louis Blues (NBCSN, 10:30 p.m.) try to gain the upper hand in a series tied 2-2 in Edmonton.

“Any time you can finish out a series it’s always the toughest one to get,” Lightning forward Tyler Johnson said. “You never want to give a team life, especially a team like Columbus. They’re a good quality opponent.”

The Blue Jackets swept the Lightning in the first round of last season’s playoffs, and this year’s series has been a lot tighter than Tampa Bay’s 3-1 advantage might suggest.

The teams played a five-overtime thriller in Game 1. Lightning coach Jon Cooper noted both clubs are still feeling the effects of that game.

In theory, ending a series as quickly as possible could preserve energy for subsequent rounds.

Cooper, reiterating how difficult it is to get a fourth win, said the focus has to be on doing whatever’s necessary to win a game — not the potential benefit of extra rest.

“The key … is closing a team out. The early part is just a luxury,” the Tampa Bay coach said.

“All I care about is closing the series out,” Cooper added. “We’ll deal with the aftereffects after that.”

The Blue Jackets played fairly well in a 2-1 loss in Game 4, and captain Nick Foligno said the team remains confident it can work its way back into the series.

“We’re a team that has an idea of how we need to play to be successful,” Foligno said. “We’re not going to change because of the situation. It’s an opportunity to win one game. I think we’re excited about that challenge.”

The Bruins are on the verge of advancing after scoring four goals within a seven-minute span of the third period to wipe out a 2-0 deficit and beat the Hurricanes 4-3 on Monday.

“There’s no reason to for us not to be ready” for Game 5, Boston defenseman Zdeno Chara said.

“We’ve got a veteran group. They’ve been through it. … Everyone knows what’s at stake,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said. “We win, we advance to the next round. It’s not easy to do in this league.”

To extend the Bruins, the Hurricanes will have to rebound from a horrendous period that ruined their chances of evening the series.

“It’s a new day. We have to start fresh,” coach Rod Brind’Amour said.

“We’re obviously the team with backs against the wall, and we have nothing to lose at this point,” Brind’Amour added. “We want to make sure we go down giving everything we have if that’s what ends up happening.”

The Blues will play the remainder of the first round without forward Vladimir Tarasenko, who’s returning to St. Louis for more evaluation of the surgically repaired left shoulder that’s sidelined him much of the season.

Tarasenko, who had surgery in late October, played Games 1 and 2 against Vancouver, but sat out the past two games.


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