Two games and two

Jon Cooper didn’t blame Andrei Vasilevskiy for the Tampa Bay Lightning digging a deep hole early in the Eastern Conference final.

Two games and two losses brought plenty of criticism of the young Russian goaltender. Cooper wasn’t thrilled about that.

”The questions were coming from the other side of the table [url=http://www.brownscheapshop.com/cheap-authentic-derrick-kindred-jersey]Derrick Kindred Jersey[/url] , and I felt it was the questioning of Vasilevskiy,” the Tampa Bay coach said. ”We don’t. He’s been the guy for us.”

Vasilevskiy is the guy who turned the series around for the Lightning, who now lead the Capitals 3-2 and can eliminate Washington on the road in Game 6 on Monday night and move on to the Stanley Cup Final against the Vegas Golden Knights. After a 6.00 goals-against average and .839 save percentage in Games 1 and 2, he has a 2.00 GAA and .943 save percentage since as the series’ biggest difference-maker.

”Just tried to stay positive and play my game,” Vasilevskiy said last week. ”It’s very important, especially in the playoffs. Good or bad game, doesn’t matter. Turn the page, start over again and again. That’s how you get success.”

Vasilevskiy has found plenty of success this season, his first as a full-time NHL starter. The 23-year-old is a Vezina Trophy finalist after leading the league with 44 wins and eight shutouts.

But Vasilevskiy hasn’t made it easy on himself. He rarely does.

Cooper saw it during the 2016-17 season when Vasilevskiy struggled during a stretch of 10 consecutive starts when Ben Bishop was hurt and then again late this season when a swoon by him and the entire team almost cost Tampa Bay the East’s top seed. Vasilevskiy bounced back strong each time.

”His ability to be able to turn the page now and understand, `You know what there might be a tough night for you, but I’m going to go out the next night anyway and I’ve got to be there for my team,’ – I think that’s where his growth process has really come in [url=http://www.billscheapshop.com/cheap-authentic-nathan-peterman-jersey]Nathan Peterman Jersey[/url] ,” Cooper said.

The same happened between Games 2 and 3 in this series. The shy Vasilevskiy who has been reluctant to do interviews told a pool reporter he didn’t make any adjustments from his worst games against the Capitals to his best.

Somehow, he has looked like an entirely different goalie. Chants of ”Vasy! Vasy!” filled Amalie Arena in Game 5 on Saturday night when he stopped 28 of 30 shots, and the highest praise was reserved for inside the Lightning’s locker room.

”He’s a world class goaltender, that’s what he does,” defenseman Braydon Coburn said. ”He battles hard every day in practice all season long, and he’s raised his game in the playoffs here.”

No doubt his teammates have improved their play in front of Vasilevskiy, with defenseman Anton Stralman saying: ”We always feel like we owe him.” But against a star-studded Capitals team led by countrymen Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov, Vasilevskiy had to raise his game to give Tampa Bay any chance.

Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said confidence in Vasilevskiy never wavered, and he has showed them on the ice evidence of what they’ve seen all season.

”He just expects a lot,” Stamkos said. ”You see his work ethic every day in practice. You guys don’t get to see what goes on in the room, but his mental preparation, his physical preparation [url=http://www.jaguarscheapshop.com/cheap-authentic-andrew-norwell-jersey]Andrew Norwell Jersey[/url] , he wants to be the best all the time. He doesn’t want to give up a goal at all, including in practice. That’s the mentality he has and that’s why he’s so good.”

If the Capitals can crack Vasilevskiy like they did the first two times, there will be a Game 7 on Wednesday night at Tampa Bay. But they’d better figure that out and get an even better game from Braden Holtby because the Lightning are 11-0 in the playoffs when scoring three-plus goals.

That record is thanks to Vasilevskiy, who doesn’t like cameras but loves playoff hockey.

”It’s definitely a fun time,” he said. ”Lot of emotions. Different hockey. It’s pretty fun to play. Just excitement level is pretty high. A different season.”

AP Sports Writer Fred Goodall in Tampa, Florida, contributed to this report.

In their search for a franchise quarterback, the New York Jets will work out Wyoming’s Josh Allen in the next week and don’t plan to have a private session with Southern California’s Sam Darnold.

Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan said Monday at the NFL meetings that the organization has had ”quite a bit of exposure” to Darnold, and bringing in any player for a predraft workout is ”no big shocker.”

New York traded up from the sixth overall spot to No. 3. Unlike acting owner Christopher Johnson, who the previous day pretty much affirmed a quarterback would be the choice, Maccagnan wasn’t dropping any hints.

”We acted a little early on it,” Maccagnan said of the deal with Indianapolis that also cost the Jets three second-round picks. ”We felt good about our research [url=http://www.texanscheapshop.com/cheap-authentic-stephen-anderson-jersey]Stephen Anderson Jersey[/url] , inquired with other teams … three is a position we’re comfortable being in. We feel very good about what may potentially be there at No. 3 and feel we can control our destiny.”

The price tag wasn’t too steep, either, Maccagnan emphasized, noting the Jets kept their 2019 first-rounder.

As for which of the top quarterback prospects the Jets might be targeting – UCLA’s Josh Rosen and Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield are considered the others – Maccagnan was mum.

Same with whether Penn State running back Saquon Barkley or North Carolina State defensive end Bradley Chubb, and everyone else in next month’s draft.

He did say the Jets spoke with Cleveland about the top spot, but not with their fellow owners of MetLife Stadium, the Giants, concerning the No. 2 position. While the Browns are widely expected to go for a quarterback, new Giants coach Pat Shurmur has thrown his support behind veteran Eli Manning. The Giants also could trade down, lifting a team with quarterback needs above the Jets.

Maccagnan isn’t losing sleep over that prospect, though he recognizes the need to find that franchise quarterback.

”Until you acquire that, you are constantly looking to find one [url=http://www.lionscheapshop.com/cheap-authentic-dwayne-washington-jersey]Dwayne Washington Jersey[/url] ,” he said. ”Our focus is to identify and acquire one of those; it may be someone on the roster, or elsewhere.”

Currently on the roster are four quarterbacks: journeyman Josh McCown, who comes off a strong year shortened by a broken left hand in December; Teddy Bridgewater, signed in free agency in his comeback from a severe knee injury in Minnesota; and 2017 backups Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg. If you see a franchise quarterback in that group, please let Maccagnan know.

Maccagnan further explained the Jets’ withdrawal of a contract offer to Ndamukong Suh, the standout (and expensive) defensive tackle cut by Miami this month. Johnson said Sunday it had been rescinded.

”We extended an offer and there was a deadline and it passed,” Maccagnan said. ”We had to determine if we wanted to stay in or pull out and we pulled out.

”He’s a very good player. You watch on tape and he still has the ability to be dominant. We felt good about potentially having him on our roster. It was a one-year contract; we could potentially add him and evaluate it a year from now.”

Not committing to Suh helps keep the Jets far under the salary cap heading toward 2019. It’s conceivable they could have more money than any team next offseason, perhaps $100 million in space.

”It’s hard to predict,” Maccagnan said, ”but in every free agency there are good values to be had.”

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