Tyler Johnson smacked in a rebound with 1:27 remaining Wednesday to give the Tampa Bay Lightning a 3-2 victory over Boston in a crucial National Hockey League seeding game.
The Lightning improved to 2-0 in the round-robin matches to determine the order of four top seeds in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Tampa Bay can clinch the top spot by defeating Philadelphia on Saturday.
In the Western Conference, Colorado moved within a victory of swiping a top seed by blanking Dallas 4-0. The Avalanche can complete a seeding sweep by downing the Vegas Golden Knights on Saturday.
Boston, which won a league-high 44 games for an NHL-best 100 points before the Covid-19 pandemic shut down the regular season March 12, can finish no better than the third seed after an 0-2 start in the East bubble at Toronto.
The Lightning, who beat Washington 3-2 in a shootout in their opener, squandered a two-goal lead for the second consecutive game.
But Johnson’s third-period tally and Andrei Vasilevskiy’s 25 saves brought a win for Tampa Bay, which was second behind the Bruins in the East when the NHL went on hiatus.
In the West bubble at Edmonton, Colorado was also second at the COVID-19 break, two points behind St. Louis, but the Avalanche could be the West team to beat when the Stanley Cup playoffs begin Tuesday.
Colorado’s Czech netminder, Pavel Francouz, made 27 saves while Andre Burakovsky and Joonas Donskoy each had a goal and an assist for the Avalanche.
Twelve top teams in each conference entered each bubble, the best four playing each other to decide seeds and the other eight meeting in best-of-five qualifying series, with those winners facing the seeds when the regular best-of-seven playoff rounds open.
The Florida Panthers avoided elimination from the NHL post-season with a 3-2 victory over the New York Islanders in their best-of-five qualifying series.
Erik Haula and Mike Hoffman scored power-play goals for the Panthers while Brian Boyle found the net at even strength for Florida, which also got 20 saves from Sergei Bobrovsky.
The Panthers must win again Friday to force a fifth game on Sunday.
“We played hard in a do-or-die situation,” Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad said. “We asked a lot of each other today and we came out with a Grade-A outcome. We’re happy and excited to do it all again in two days.”
Conor Garland broke a 1-1 deadlock to launch a three-goal third period for Arizona as the Coyotes beat Nashville 4-1 to seize a 2-1 lead in their best-of-five qualifying matchup.
Darcy Kuemper made 39 saves for Arizona, which can advance by downing the Predators again Friday.
The Montreal Canadiens rallied from a two-goal deficit to beat Pittsburgh 4-3. Jeff Petry’s goal 5:33 into the third period proved the game winner as Montreal seized a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five series with game four on Friday in Toronto.
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