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8 Jun, 2022 08:56

Russians shine as Stanley Cup kings fight back

Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy and teammate Nikita Kucherov helped Tampa Bay to victory against the New York Rangers
Russians shine as Stanley Cup kings fight back

Russian pair Andrei Vasilevskiy and Nikita Kucherov starred for the Tampa Bay Lightning as the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions squared their Eastern Conference final against the New York Rangers.

Vasilevskiy made 34 saves to deny the Rangers while Kucherov scored a breakaway goal in a 4-1 win on Tuesday night for Tampa, who have won two straight games to level the series at 2-2.

Russian winger Artemi Panarin scored on a power play in the third period for the Rangers but it wasn’t enough to drag his team back into the contest at the Amalie Arena.

Pat Maroon had given Tampa Bay the lead at 2:38 of the first period after scoring at close range on a rebound before Kucherov doubled the advantage at 13:07 in the second period.

Steven Stamkos made it 3-0 just before the five-minute mark of the third period.

After Panarin had replied for the Rangers, Ondrej Palat added a fourth for the Lightning with an empty net goal with nine seconds remaining.

Much has been made of the battle between the two Russian goalies on opposing teams in the series.

Igor Shesterkin starred for the Rangers in their dramatic comeback victories over the Pittsburgh Penguins and Carolina Hurricanes in the previous rounds.

Shesterkin was also instrumental as New York opened up a 2-0 series lead over the Lightning, only for his team to be pegged back by a resurgent Tampa Bay in Games 3 and 4.

Shesterkin – who is a candidate for the Hart Trophy awarded to the NHL’s most valuable player in the regular season as well as the Vezina Trophy for the league’s best goalie – stopped 27 of 30 shots he faced in the defeat on Tuesday.

But it was countryman and 2019 Vezina Trophy winner Vasilevskiy who ended up with the spoils in Florida.

Until Panarin’s goal in the third period to cut the deficit to 3-1, Vasilevskiy had gone almost 67 minutes in the series without giving up a goal.  

The teams head back to Madison Square Garden for Game 5 on Thursday night with home advantage proving vital thus far – indeed, the series is the first time the first four games have been won by the home team in a conference final since 1991.

“I'm hoping it’s going to be a homer series. That’s what it looks like so far,” said Rangers coach Gerard Gallant. “We’re pretty good in our building, they’re pretty good in their building.”

Russian Rangers star Panarin said the team can bounce back despite seeing their 2-0 series lead disappear.

“It’s not easy, but we can’t be sad,” said the 30-year-old. “For sure it’s not going to help us. Try to be positive. We have to be positive.

“We’ve been in a worse spot before, so we’re OK. I hope we do well in [Madison Square] Garden. Our fans, nice to see again. Try to do something more.”

The winner of the best-of-7 series will play the Colorado Avalanche in the Stanley Cup Final, after the Avalanche swept the Edmonton Oilers 4-0 in their match-up.