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Rask comes up big as Boston Bruins advance to face ‘Canes

Hurricanes' next opponent: Boston Bruins

Boston Bruins’ Charlie Coyle, right, celebrates a goal against the Columbus Blue Jackets during the third period of Game 6 of an NHL hockey second-round playoff series Monday, May 6, 2019, in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)

By Mitch Stacy

AP Sports Writer

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The Boston Bruins got some timely goals in their tight Eastern Conference semifinal series with Columbus, and when the goals weren’t coming, Tuukka Rask stood tall.

The Finn turned in his best playoff performance so far in Monday night’s 3-0 win over the Blue Jackets in Game 6, leading the Bruins into the conference final against Carolina.

The Blue Jackets played hard and forechecked well enough to win every game, but were 0 for 10 on power-play chances in the final three games of the series, all won by Boston. Much of that was due to Rask, who had 39 saves in the clinching game.

“We are halfway to our goal,” said forward David Backes, who scored Boston’s final goal in the third period. “You need to relish the plateaus along the way. We are certainly at one of those to be among the final four teams. We’ve had to sacrifice to win some games against some really good teams.

“Now we can enjoy this for a day then have a happy flight home (Tuesday), then get ready for Carolina, who is well rested and ready for us,” he said.

The Bruins will be without Charlie McAvoy for the series opener against the Hurricanes on Thursday night after the 21-year-old defenseman was suspended for one game for an illegal check on Columbus’ Josh Anderson.

David Krejci and Marcus Johansson also scored for the Bruins in Game 6. David Pastrnak led the Bruins with four goals in the six games against Columbus.

“It was tight until the end,” Krejci said. “We learned from it and closed it out tonight the way we wanted to.”

Boston won the first game of the series in overtime, then fell to the Blue Jackets in OT in Game 2 and lost Game 3 by a goal before ripping off the final three victories. The Bruins are into the conference final for the first time since the 2012-13 season, when they lost in the Stanley Cup Final.

Carolina swept the New York Islanders in their second-round series.

“If you’re playing this time of year, you’re doing something right,” Rask said. “You’ve built something great as a team. We’re super happy that we’re in the position. Trying to keep the train rolling.”

Boston and the Carolina franchise will face each other in the postseason for the fifth time. The Bruins won three of the previous series, but Carolina won the most recent meeting in the 2009 conference semifinals when Scott Walker scored in overtime in Game 7.

Boston won the season series against Carolina 2-1, including an overtime victory.

Boston coach Bruce Sullivan said Carolina is like a mix of hard-hitting Columbus and speedy Toronto, which the Bruins beat in the opening round.

“I think they’re a little bit of both,” Cassidy said. “Young team. (Defensemen) get up the ice. Flip goaltenders and didn’t miss a beat. But we’ll look at it a little closer starting (Tuesday). Obviously they’ve made it this far, they’re a very good hockey club. I don’t think you get this far by accident. So we’ll have our hands full. But we’re looking forward to it.”

•••

SHARKS HOPE FOR PAVELSKI’S RETURN BEFORE GAME 7 AGAINST AVS

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — Captain Joe Pavelski was getting staples put into his bloody head when the San Jose Sharks staged an epic comeback in Game 7 of the opening round against Vegas.

Now that the Sharks have been forced into another ultimate game after missing a chance to eliminate Colorado in an overtime loss on the road, they are hopeful of getting their leader back on the ice for the first time since then.

Perhaps the biggest question heading into Game 7 at the Shark Tank on Wednesday night (9 p.m. EDT, NBCSN) is whether Pavelski will be healthy enough to make a dramatic return against the Avalanche. Coach Peter DeBoer said that will happen as soon as doctors give him the OK.

“I’m not hiding anything,” DeBoer said Tuesday. “He’s day to day. He’s getting better every day. We’re going to make a decision on game days whether he’ll be available or not.”

The winner of the game advances to play the winner of Tuesday night’s Game 7 between Dallas and St Louis.

Pavelski’s injury happened midway through the third period in Game 7 against Vegas on April 23 with San Jose trailing 3-0. He was cross-checked by Cody Eakin after a faceoff and then bumped by Paul Stastny before falling awkwardly to the ice head first. The impact of Pavelski’s helmet slamming the ice knocked him out briefly and caused him to bleed from his head.

A dazed Pavelski was helped off the ice by his teammates and then had eight staples put in his head to stop the bleeding. While that was going on, his teammates scored four power-play goals during the major penalty to Eakin that even Pavelski acknowledged was not warranted.

San Jose ultimately won the game on Barclay Goodrow’s overtime goal to advance to the second round. Pavelski was unable even to travel to Colorado for Games 3 and 4 but got back on the ice while his teammates were away last week. He made an emotional appearance at the Shark Tank during the third period of Game 5 to fire up the crowd and traveled to Denver for Game 6 where he took part in the morning skate.

“It still really is day-to-day,” Pavelski said before Game 6. “Wish I had a set-in-stone answer — go here, do this and be ready. We’re taking everything into play.”

No matter what happens with Pavelski, the Sharks will need better performances from several of their other forwards who have been mostly invisible this series. San Jose was supposed to have the better depth up front but that hasn’t been the case so far.

Joe Thornton and Kevin Labanc have gone five straight games without a point, Evander Kane and Marcus Sorensen haven’t recorded a point for four straight games and the fourth line has generated almost no offense.

Colorado has six forwards with at least two goals this series, including secondary options like J.T. Compher, Tyson Jost, Colin Wilson and Matt Nieto. The Sharks have just three with Couture’s three goals all coming in a Game 3 win, Tomas Hertl’s two coming in a Game 5 victory and Timo Meier scoring one of his two into an empty net.

Compher scored twice in regulation in Game 6 and assisted on Jost’s goal as well as the Avalanche managed to get the game into overtime despite its top line of Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen being on the ice for all three San Jose goals in regulation.

“They’ve been unbelievable all playoffs, all season,” Compher said of Colorado’s Big Three. “The depth guys, we’ve got to step up when we can. Guys were stepping up all over the place and that’s why we’re in the spot we are.”

That spot is one win away from Colorado’s first appearance in the conference finals since 2002. Getting there hasn’t been easy. The Avalanche had to knock off the top seed in the West, Calgary, in the first round and has never led in this series with the Sharks taking all the odd-numbered games and Colorado answering after that.

Even the Game 6 win at home proved treacherous with the Avalanche blowing a one-goal lead three times before finally winning on Landeskog’s overtime goal.

“We knew it wasn’t supposed to be easy, nobody said it was going to be,” Landeskog said. “For us we try to reload. As frustrating as it was to keep losing those leads we tried to reset and go back at it.”

Facing elimination isn’t a new feeling for the Sharks, who won three win-or-go-home games in the first round against Vegas when they overcame a 3-1 series deficit for the first time in franchise history.

This veteran team is playing its third Game 7 at home in the past four years, having beaten Nashville in the second round in 2016 and the Golden Knights two weeks ago.

“Instead of a fear or a nervousness there’s an excitement about them,” DeBoer said. “We do have guys that have participated in them in the past. Does that count for anything? I don’t know. I’d like to think it does. I do know this. Our guys have a comfort level in big games.”

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AP Sports Writer Pat Graham in Denver contributed to this report.

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More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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