Avalanche 1st team to advance to 2nd round with sweep of Predators

Valeri Nichushkin scored the tiebreaking goal with 7:58 left, and the Colorado Avalanche became the first team to advance to the second round Monday night by finishing a sweep of the Nashville Predators 5-3 Monday night.

Crosby reaches 200 career playoff points as Penguins push Rangers to brink

Avalanche centre Nathan MacKinnon, left, celebrates with Mikko Rantanen after scoring an empty-net goal during Colorado's 5-3 win over the Predators in Game 4 of their first-round playoff series on Monday night in Nashville. (Mark Humphrey/The Associated Press)

Valeri Nichushkin scored the tiebreaking goal with 7:58 left, and the Colorado Avalanche became the first team to advance to the second round Monday night by finishing a sweep of the Nashville Predators 5-3 Monday night.

The Avalanche now are in the Western Conference semifinals for a fourth straight season and second consecutive after sweeping their first-round opponent. They improved to 6-0 since the franchise relocated to Denver in best-of-seven series after winning the first three games with their fourth sweep in that span.

They now get to wait for either St. Louis or Minnesota.

Andre Burakovsky had a goal and two assists, Cale Makar added a goal and an assist, and Devon Toews added a goal for Colorado. Nathan MacKinnon sealed the victory with an empty-net goal on the man advantage with 55.9 seconds remaining.

Yakov Trenin scored twice for Nashville, which was swept for the first time in franchise history in its 15th playoff appearance. Filip Forsberg scored his first of the series giving Nashville its first lead this series at 3:58 of the third. Colton Sissons had two assists.

Colorado scored three times over the final 11:05 to wrap up a series by outscoring Nashville 21-9. After Toews tied it 3-3 at 8:55 of the third, Nichushkin scored on a snap shot from the right circle to put the Avs ahead to stay.

Penguins take 3-1 series lead over Rangers

Sidney Crosby had a goal and three assists to become the sixth player in NHL history to reach 200 career playoff points and the Pittsburgh Penguins throttled the New York Rangers 7-2 on Monday night to take a 3-1 lead in their Eastern Conference first-round series.

Jake Guentzel scored for the fourth consecutive game and Jeff Carter, Danton Heinen, Mark Friedman and Mike Matheson also beat Igor Shesterkin as the Penguins chased the Vezina Trophy favourite for the second time in three days to move within one game of advancing in the post-season for the first time since 2018.

"I think we know we have a lot of work left," Crosby said. "When you're in a game like this, you know you're going to see the other team's best the next time."

Shesterkin, who dazzled by making 118 saves in the first two games of the series at Madison Square Garden, sat out the third period after giving up six goals on 30 shots. Alexandar Georgiev allowed Evgeni Malkin's second goal of the playoffs in the third and could find himself the starter when the series heads back to New York for Game 5 on Wednesday.

Alexis Lafreniere picked up his first career postseason goal for the Rangers to give New York an early lead, but it didn't come close to holding. Adam Fox's second of the playoffs pulled New York to within two late in the second period, but Pittsburgh responded by pumping in two more past Shesterkin in the waning moments as the sellout crowd at PPG Paints Arena taunted the goaltender with chants of "IIIIIIIIGORRRR."

Shesterkin, who limited the Penguins to four goals in four games during the regular season, surrendered twice that total in three periods in Pittsburgh as the Rangers — who entered the series as the favorites — limped to the cusp of a quick exit.

While Shesterkin has struggled, Pittsburgh third-stringer Louis Domingue is nearing local cult hero status while filling in for injured All-Star Tristan Jarry. Domingue made 22 saves to win his third game of the series. Not bad for a 30-year-old journeyman making his playoff debut after spending most of the last three seasons in the minors.

Jarry, who is recovering from a broken foot, is skating and faced shots during Monday morning's optional skate. Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan hinted last week that Jarry could return if the series ran long.

Stunningly, it might not. And not in the way most imagined after the Rangers took three of four from Pittsburgh during the regular season. The Penguins were a .500 team for most of March and all of April.

May, however, has been different. The crisp, relentless pressure that defined Pittsburgh's back-to-back Stanley Cup runs a half-decade ago has returned, with a familiar face leading the way.

Crosby pulled Pittsburgh even 11:17 into the first with his first power-play playoff goal since 2018, jamming the puck under Shesterkin's left pad and over the goal line. The puck disappeared as Crosby jabbed at it, forcing referees to take a look at the sequence on replay.

Cameras appeared to catch New York coach Gerard Gallant saying "it's a goal" during the review. Gallant was right. And whatever momentum the Rangers had in the early going vanished.

Matheson started Pittsburgh's second-period onslaught with a shot from the point the deflected off Rangers forward Frank Vatrano's skate and by Shesterkin 3:14 into the second. Guentzel's fifth goal of the playoffs 22 seconds later made it 3-1.

Defenceman Mark Friedman, he of the 41 career NHL games, scored his first career playoff goal 11:22 into the second. Fox's goal a little less than three minutes later appeared to give New York life.

It didn't last long. Heinen — who netted the winner in Game 3 — deflected one by Shesterkin with 1:07 to go in the second and Carter's redirect 39 seconds later pushed the advantage to 6-2 and signaled the end of Shesterkin's night. Again.

Panthers beat Capitals in OT

Sam Reinhart tied it late in regulation, Carter Verhaeghe scored his second of the game in overtime and the Presidents' Trophy-winning Florida Panthers beat the Washington Capitals 3-2 in Game 4 Monday night, tying the first-round series.

Verhaeghe scored 4:57 into overtime to keep the NHL's best regular-season team from getting pushed to the brink of elimination much earlier in the playoffs than expected. It's a best-of-three series now with Game 5 Wednesday night at Florida.

The Panthers were just over two minutes away from facing the prospect of getting knocked out at home. Then, with goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky pulled for an extra attacker, Reinhart collected a loose puck after it bounced off Capitals forward Garnet Hathaway and beat Ilya Samsonov with 2:04 remaining in the third period.

Given the combination of nerves and playoff inexperience that contributed to Florida's struggles in the series, Reinhart's goal may turn out to be the one that saved its season.

Before that point, the Panthers outshot the Capitals by a wide margin, but again were unable to finish. They went 0 for 4 on the power play to make it 0 for 13 in the series and couldn't put the puck in the net at 5 on 5.

Before Reinhart scored 6 on 5, their only other goal came 4 on 4 when Carter Verhaeghe finished a 2 on 1 rush late in the first.

Bobrovsky stopped 14 of 16 shots. T.J. Oshie scored on the power play in the first, and Evgeny Kuznetsov put Washington ahead on a breakaway goal midway through the third.

These teams have now traded victories. The Capitals have not won consecutive playoff games since 2019.

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