Bolts take 2-1 series lead with, 5-2, win in Game 3 over Stars

Steven Stamkos returned to the lineup for the Tampa Bay Lightning as the Bolts scored five goals in the first 40 minutes to take a 2-1 series lead with a, 5-2, victory over the Dallas Stars in Game 3 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final at Rogers Place in Edmonton.

Victor Hedman had the de facto game-winning goal early in the second period as the Lightning are now just two wins away from their second Stanley Cup championship in franchise history.

Tampa goaltender, Andrei Vasilevskiy, made 22 saves on 24 shots faced for a .917 save percentage in the win, while Dallas netminder, Anton Khudobin, was chased after two periods and 24 saves on 29 shots against (.828 SV%).

Jake Oettinger made three saves on three shots in his relief appearance for the Stars– in just his second career National Hockey League game (both this postseason).

The series shifts to Game 4 inside the bubble on Friday night. Puck drop at Rogers Place is scheduled for a little after 8 p.m. ET. Viewers in the United States can tune to NBC, while those in Canada have their choice between CBC, SN or TVAS for the action.

More to come.

Lightning even series 1-1 with Dallas in Game 2 win

The Tampa Bay Lightning scored three goals in the first period, then held on to a, 3-2, victory over the Dallas Stars in Game 2 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final at Rogers Place in Edmonton on Monday.

Andrei Vasilevskiy (15-6, 1.89 goals against average, .929 save percentage in 21 games played this postseason) made 27 saves on 29 shots against (.931 SV%) in the win for the Lightning.

Stars goaltender, Anton Khudobin (13-7, 2.57 GAA, .922 SV% in 21 games played this postseason) turned aside 28 out of 31 shots faced for a .903 SV% in the loss.

Tampa’s head coach, Jon Cooper, chose not to dress 11 forwards and seven defenders and instead opted for the usual “full lineup” of 12 forwards and six defenders– replacing Luke Schenn and Zach Bogosian with Jan Rutta on the blue line and Carter Verhaeghe as the right wing on the fourth line.

Stars interim head coach, Rick Bowness, did not change his lineup from Game 1.

With the win in Game 2, the Bolts tied the series 1-1, while Cooper improved to 51-38 all time behind the bench with Tampa in the postseason.

Bowness fell to 14-10 in his postseason career with Dallas as their interim head coach.

Once more, Dallas was without the services of Radek Faksa, Nick Caamano, Jason Robertson, Stephen Johns, Ben Bishop, Justin Dowling, Landon Bow, Taylor Fedun, Gavin Bayreuther, Thomas Harley and Ty Dellandrea in Game 2, while Tampa did without Schenn, Mathieu Joseph, Bogosian, Scott Wedgewood, Braydon Coburn, Mitchell Stephens, Steven Stamkos and Alexander Volkov on Monday.

Early in the opening frame, Mattias Janmark caught Nikita Kucherov with a high stick and was assessed a minor penalty at 3:20 of the first period.

The Lightning did not convert on their first power play opportunity of the game.

Midway through the period, Joe Pavelski tripped up Anthony Cirelli and presented the Bolts with their second skater advantage of the game at 10:58. This time Tampa capitalized on the power play.

Brayden Point (10) sent a shot that deflected off of Stars defender Esa Lindell’s stick and floated past Khudobin on the glove side to give the Bolts a, 1-0, lead with a power-play goal at 11:23 of the first period.

Kucherov (21) and Victor Hedman (7) tallied the assists on Point’s goal.

Less than a couple of minutes later, Jamie Oleksiak held Tyler Johnson and cut a rut to the penalty box at 13:11.

Once more, Tampa scored on the ensuing power play.

The Lightning worked the puck around the offensive zone with ease as Ondrej Palat (9) received a pass, then took his time to fire a shot past Khudobin as the Dallas netminder stretched across the crease– leading with his blocker.

Kucherov (22) and Hedman (8) notched the assists on back-to-back power-play goals for the Lightning as Tampa took a, 2-0, lead at 14:22 of the first period.

Less than a minute later, Kevin Shattenkirk (2) rocketed a shot from the point into the twine to give the Bolts a three-goal lead.

Blake Coleman (8) and Cirelli (4) had the assists on Shattenkirk’s goal as the Lightning extended their lead, 3-0, at 15:16.

Moments later, Palat was penalized for interference against Stars captain, Jamie Benn, at 18:49, but Dallas wasn’t able to convert on the ensuing power play.

Entering the first intermission, Tampa led, 3-0, on the scoreboard and, 14-6, in shots on goal.

The Bolts also held the advantage in blocked shots (8-5), takeaways (2-1), giveaways (6-4) and faceoff win percentage (64-36).

The Stars led in hits (21-18) after 20 minutes of action, while Tampa was 2/3 on the power play and Dallas was 0/1 on the skater advantage heading into the middle frame.

Blake Comeau was guilty of interference at 2:02 of the second period and presented the Lightning with yet another power play opportunity.

This time, however, the Bolts didn’t score because they took care of all of their goals in the first period alone– in addition to the fact that Tampa’s power play was short-lived, since Kucherov tripped Jason Dickinson at 3:47 and left Dallas with an abbreviated power play after both teams played a little 4-on-4 action.

Moments later, Yanni Gourde took a trip to the sin bin for cross checking Oleksiak at 6:26.

The Stars failed to score on the ensuing power play, but got another chance at 14:38 of the second period after Palat slashed Lindell.

Five seconds into the ensuing power play, Pavelski (10) redirected a shot– that originally came from John Klingberg– past Vasilevskiy to put Dallas on the scoreboard and cut into Tampa’s lead, 3-1.

Pavelski’s power-play goal was assisted by Klingberg (15) and Alexander Radulov (8) at 14:43.

Only Maurice Richard (11 goals in the 1958 Stanley Cup Playoffs) scored more goals than Pavelski aged 36 or older in a postseason. Meanwhile, Pavelski’s 10 goals this postseason tied him with Wayne Gretzky’s 1997 Stanley Cup Playoffs run with the New York Rangers and Brett Hull’s 2002 Stanley Cup championship run with the Detroit Red Wings.

After Pat Maroon bumped into Khudobin moments later, a scrum ensued and resulted in five minor infractions being handed out among both teams.

Corey Perry received a roughing minor against Hedman, while Hedman got two minutes for roughing against Perry at 16:58.

Meanwhile, Maroon picked up a goaltender interference infraction, while Cedric Paquette was also charged with roughing against Perry and Klingberg earned a roughing minor against Hedman.

With three Lightning players in the box to Dallas’ two players in the box, the Stars had a power play at 16:58 of the second period.

They did not convert on the advantage.

Through 40 minutes of action, the Lightning led the Stars, 3-1, on the scoreboard, despite trailing Dallas, 24-19, in shots on goal– including an, 18-5, advantage in the second period alone for the Stars.

Tampa held the advantage in takeaways (6-2) and faceoff win% (56-44), while Dallas led in blocked shots (12-11), giveaways (10-9) and hits (37-33).

The Lightning were 2/4 and the Stars were 1/5 on the power play entering the final frame.

Janmark (1) redirected an intentional shot pass from Klingberg while standing at the edge of the crease to bring Dallas to within one at 5:27 of the third period.

Klingberg (16) and Radulov (9) tallied the assists on Janmark’s goal and the Stars trailed, 3-2.

Almost four minutes later, Mikhail Sergachev thought he scored an insurance goal for the Bolts, but Bowness used a coach’s challenge to ask for a review to check if the Lightning were offside entering the zone prior to the goal.

Video review confirmed that Tampa was indeed offside at zone entry and thus overturned the call on the ice at 9:13– no goal.

The Lightning still led, 3-2, however and that’s how the final score would read as the Stars couldn’t muster a game-tying goal– even with Khudobin pulled for an extra attacker with about 69 seconds left in the game– and Tampa couldn’t score to extend their lead.

At the final horn, the Lightning had won, 3-2, and tied the series 1-1.

The Bolts finished Monday night’s action leading in shots on goal, 31-29– including a, 12-5, advantage in the third period alone– as well as in hits, 51-50, and faceoff win% (51-49).

Dallas finished the night leading in blocked shots (20-19) and giveaways (15-11).

Tampa finished the night 2/4 on the power play, while Dallas finished 1/5 on the skater advantage.

The two teams battle for a 2-1 series lead in Game 3 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final on Wednesday night in the Edmonton bubble. Puck drop at Rogers Place is scheduled for a little after 8 p.m. ET.

Viewers in the United States can tune to NBCSN, while those in Canada can choose from CBC, SN or TVAS to catch the action.

Khudobin, Stars steal Game 1, lead Bolts 1-0 in series

Four different goal scorers and goaltender, Anton Khudobin, helped the Dallas Stars take Game 1 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final, 4-1, over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday night inside the National Hockey League’s Edmonton bubble at Rogers Place.

For the first time since the 1919 Stanley Cup Final, the NHL is playing for the Cup in the middle of a global pandemic that rivals the scale and impact of the 1918 influenza pandemic.

This time, the league is determined on deciding a champion, unlike how the Pacific Coast Hockey Association’s Seattle Metropolitans and NHL’s Montreal Canadiens were forced to cancel their series– tied 2-2-1 through five games– due to an influenza outbreak among several players from both clubs that resulted in the death of Habs star, Joe Hall, from pneumonia brought on by the flu.

In the face of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the NHL rolls on with the fourth, final and most important round of the playoffs after a five month stoppage that cut the 2019-20 regular season short prompted the expanded 24-team postseason format for 2020.

It all comes down to this– the 2020 Stanley Cup Final.

Jamie Oleksiak scored the eventual game-winning goal midway through the second period, while Khudobin (13-6, 2.54 goals against average, .923 save percentage in 20 games this postseason) turned aside 35 out of 36 shots faced for a .972 SV% in the win for Dallas.

Andrei Vasilevksiy (14-6, 1.88 GAA, .929 SV% in 20 games this postseason) made 16 saves on 19 shots against for an .842 SV% in the loss for the Lightning.

For the first time in league history, two of the three southernmost based franchises are playing for the Cup in the northernmost city in the league.

The Stars last won a Cup in 1999, while the Lightning last won a Cup in 2004, as both teams entered Game 1 with the hopes of setting the tone in their favor.

Dallas’ interim head coach, Rick Bowness, opted to roll four complete forward lines instead of mimicking Tampa Bay’s head coach, Jon Cooper’s plans with 11 forwards and seven defenders.

Bowness kept Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov together on his first line with Mattias Janmark, Joe Pavelski and Denis Gurianov rounding out his top-six forwards.

Joel Kiviranta, Roope Hintz and Corey Perry lined up on the third line with Andrew Cogliano, Jason Dickinson and Blake Comeau comprising of Dallas’ fourth line trio.

On defense, Esa Lindell and John Klingberg remained Dallas’ top pairing with Oleksiak and Miro Heiskanen completing the top-four blue liners, as well as Joel Hanley and Andrej Sekera rounding out the bottom defensive pairing.

Once again, Jake Oettinger served as Khudobin’s backup on the bench as Ben Bishop remained “unfit to play” joining a long list of scratches for the Stars, including Radek Faksa, Nick Caamano, Jason Robertson, Stephen Johns, Bishop, Justin Dowling, Landon Bow, Taylor Fedun, Gavin Bayreuther, Thomas Harley and Ty Dellandrea.

Cooper’s Lightning lineup was comprised of Ondrej Palat at the left side of Brayden Point on the first line with Nikita Kucherov in his usual role on right wing, while Alex Killorn, Anthony Cirelli and Tyler Johnson completed the top-six forwards for the Bolts.

Barclay Goodrow, Yanni Gourde and Blake Coleman were on the third line as usual, while Pat Maroon and Cedric Paquette were the only fourth line forwards suited up to complete the 11 forwards and seven defenders dressed by Cooper.

On defense, Victor Hedman and Kevin Shatternkirk remained paired, while Mikhail Sergachev, Erik Cernak, Ryan McDonagh, Zach Bogosian and Luke Schenn all took turns rotating shifts.

Curtis McElhinney served as Vasilevskiy’s backup netminder, while Tampa’s list of scratches in Game 1 included Mathieu Jospeh, Carter Verhaeghe, Scott Wedgewood, Jan Rutta, Braydon Coburn, Mitchell Stephens, Steven Stamkos and Alexander Volkov.

That’s right, Stamkos is still out of the lineup since having core muscle surgery in mid-March, skating in June, then missing training camp in July prior to the 2020 postseason.

Hanley (1) opened the series’ scoring with a snipe shot over Vasilevskiy’s blocker side into the top corner of the twine to give the Stars a, 1-0, lead at 5:40 of the first period, while Hintz (10) recorded the only assisted on the goal after Kiviranta pressured the Lightning well enough to keep the puck in Dallas’ offensive zone.

Moments later, Maroon and Oleksiak were engaged in a scrum that yielded roughing minors to both players at 8:08 of the opening frame and presented both teams with 4-on-4 action for a pair of minutes.

Midway through the first period, Gourde (6) lucked out in front of Khudobin with a right place, right time shot that he banked off a Dallas defender and between the Stars netminder and the goalpost to tie the game, 1-1, at 12:32.

Coleman (7) and Goodrow (5) recorded the assists on Tampa’s only goal of the game Saturday night.

After one period of play, the score remained tied, 1-1, while Dallas held the advantage in shots on goal, 5-4, as well as in takeaways (3-1), hits (25-23) and faceoff win percentage (58-42).

The Bolts led in blocked shots (9-3) and giveaways (2-0) entering the first intermission while neither team had seen any action on the skater advantage.

Early in the middle frame, Coleman was sent to the penalty box for slashing Dickinson at 1:09 of the second period.

Dallas wasn’t able to convert on their first power play of the night, however.

The Stars also didn’t capitalize on the skater advantage again moments later when Coleman hooked Dickinson and cut a rut to the sin bin at 6:54.

Oleksiak (5) scooped up his own rebound and roofed the puck from point blank over Vasilevskiy’s blocker side to give Dallas the lead for the second time of the night, as well as the eventual game-winning goal, 2-1, at 12:30 of the second period.

Radulov (7) and Heiskanen (18) tallied the assists as Heiskanen tied the second-most assists in a postseason in Stars franchise history with the secondary helper on the goal.

Oleksiak, in the meantime, has five goals in his last 22 games, while he had just four goals in his last 124 games (regular season and postseason combined).

Late in the period, Kiviranta (5) scored on another rebound that the Tampa netminder failed to contain to give Dallas an insurance goal, as well as a two-goal lead, 3-1, at 19:32 of the middle frame.

Lindell (6) and Klingberg (14) had the assists on the first year Stars forward’s goal.

At the sound of the horn to conclude 40 minutes of play, Maroon shot the puck into Dallas’ bench and received a 10-minute misconduct as a result– officially at 20 minutes of the second period.

The Stars carried a, 3-1, lead into the second intermission, while they also led the Lightning in shots on goal, 18-14– including a, 13-10, advantage in the second period alone.

Dallas also led in takeaways (4-2) and faceoff win% (52-48), while Tampa held the advantage in blocked shots (18-10), giveaways (8-4) and hits (44-39).

The Stars were 0/2 on the power play, while the Bolts still had yet to see time on the skater advantage entering the third period.

Meanwhile, Hanley and Oleksiak were the first pair of Dallas defenders to score a goal in a Stanley Cup Final game since Derian Hatcher and Craig Ludwig did so for the Stars in Game 2 of the 1999 Stanley Cup Final.

Oleksiak’s goal also marked the 15th goal from the blue line for Dallas, which leads all teams in the 2020 postseason.

Early in the final frame, the Lightning received their first power play of the night when Klingberg hooked Killorn and was sent to the box at 4:52 of the third period.

The Bolts were not successful on the ensuing power play, however.

Nor did they score while Comeau was in the box for an automatic delay of game penalty for sending the puck over the glass at 9:08.

The Lightning also didn’t capitalize on their third power play in a row after Seguin tripped Kucherov at 12:56.

With 4:01 remaining in the game, Cooper pulled Vasilevskiy for an extra attacker, but the Bolts soon had a faceoff in their own zone and had to replace the vacant crease with Vasilevskiy’s talents.

As the time ticked down to about 2:31 to go, Vasilevskiy jettisoned the blue paint for the bench to give Tampa a 6-on-5 advantage once more, but Dickinson (1) hit the empty net soon thereafter to secure the, 4-1, victory for the Stars.

Comeau (5) and Janmark (6) tallied the assists on Dickinson’s empty net goal at 18:42 of the third period.

Dallas wrapped up the action with the, 4-1, win and a 1-0 series lead in the Stanley Cup Final, as well as the advantage in blocked shots (26-18) and faceoff win% (51-49).

Meanwhile, Tampa finished Saturday night leading in shots on goal, 36-20– including a, 22-2, advantage in the third period alone.

The Lightning also finished the night leading in giveaways (10-9) and hits (56-50), while both teams failed to record a power play goal.

Tampa went 0/3 and Dallas went 0/2 on the skater advantage.

Bowness improved to 14-9 behind the bench in the postseason for the Stars, while Cooper fell to 50-38 all time with Tampa in the playoffs.

Meanwhile, the team that wins Game 1 in a best-of-seven game series usually wins the series about 69% of the time– that wasn’t the case for the Boston Bruins last year, however, who won Game 1 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final against the St. Louis Blues, then went on to lose the series in seven games on home ice.

The Stars, however, are 22-9 all time when leading a best-of-seven series 1-0.

The Stars take their 1-0 series lead into Game 2 on Monday night. Puck drop in Edmonton is scheduled for a little after 8 p.m. ET and fans in the United States can tune to NBCSN to catch the action, while those in Canada have their choice of CBC, SN or TVAS.

2020 Stanley Cup Final Preview

It’s not June, but it is the Stanley Cup Final. This year’s matchup will be between the Western Conference champion, Dallas Stars, and the Eastern Conference champion, Tampa Bay Lightning.

For the first time in recorded history, the Stanley Cup will be awarded in the month of September.

If you’re still in the bubble, congrats on making it this far!

If you were in the bubble, but were eliminated, you still went through a lot of things most of us will never get to know or experience.

If you have yet to be in the bubble– stay tuned for 2020-21 season announcements, because National Hockey League commissioner, Gary Bettman, indicated on Saturday that the 2020-21 regular season could start in mid-December or sometime in January with the expectation still set on a full-82 game schedule and a return to the usual 16-team playoff format.

The entire hockey world (well, those that care about the NHL anyway) shifts its focus to that of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final.

It’s time for one team to win four games before the other team and raise the Cup high over their heads– even though nobody quite knows what a postgame celebration might look like, let alone what travel plans might be in store for Lord Stanley’s mug as it usually ventures across borders for a day with each member of the winning team.

For the first time since 2000, the Stars are in the Final.

They last lost to the New Jersey Devils in seven games in their most recent Final appearance and Dallas has witnessed a generation pass, as well as players come and go between now and then.

For the first time since 2015, the Lightning are in the Final.

They lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games in that Final– which was just their second appearance in franchise history– and Tampa hasn’t seen much change, save for the acquisition of youth and glue guys to go along with their “stick to the plan” regimen since then.

(2) Tampa Bay Lightning (43-21-6, 92 points) vs (3) Dallas Stars (37-24-8, 82 points)

Tampa: 70 games played, .657 points percentage, 35 regulation wins.

Dallas: 69 games played, .594 points percentage, 26 regulation wins.

The Tampa Bay Lightning were led by Nikita Kucherov in regular season scoring with 33-52–85 totals in 68 games played prior to the shortened conclusion of the regular season due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Steven Stamkos had the second-most points on the roster with 29 goals and 37 assists (66 points) in 57 games before missing all action since the league’s return due to injury. He had core muscle surgery in mid-March, skated in June, but was not cleared to play in Tampa’s exhibition, Round Robin or playoff matchups since then.

There is currently no known timetable for his return.

Meanwhile, Brayden Point (25-39–64 totals in 66 games) continue to emerge as a high-caliber center with the third-most points on the Lightning roster in the 2019-20 regular season.

Tampa rolled through the Columbus Blue Jackets in five games in the First Round– avenging Columbus’ sweep of the Bolts in the 2019 First Round in the process.

Then the Lightning made a repeated effort of their 2018 Second Round matchup with the Boston Bruins, eliminating the B’s in five games once again.

In the Eastern Conference Final, the Bolts were met with their toughest opponent yet as the New York Islanders took Tampa to six games before succumbing to the almighty powers that exist for the Lightning.

Tampa advanced to their third Stanley Cup Final appearance in the process.

They have been almost untouchable past regulation, but they are beatable as the Islanders pointed out in double overtime in Game 5 of their series.

Kucherov (6-20–26 totals in 19 games played) leads the Lightning in playoff scoring, while Point (9-16–25 totals in 17 GP) is hot on his tail– as long as he is healthy and in the lineup.

Victor Hedman leads all defenders with the most goals this postseason with nine and has six assists to go along with 15 points in 19 games for the third-most points on Tampa’s playoff roster.

Ondrej Palat (13 points in 19 games) and Yanni Gourde (12 points in 19 games) round out the top-five in playoff scoring for the Bolts.

Meanwhile, after finishing as a finalist for the Vezina Trophy for the 2019-20 regular season, Andrei Vasilevskiy (35-14-3 in 52 games played, 52 starts, 2.56 goals against average, .917 save percentage and three shutouts in the regular season) has posted a 14-5 record in all 19 games for Tampa in the 2020 postseason.

Through he has yet to record a shutout in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs– let along in his entire postseason career- Vasilevskiy has accrued a 1.82 GAA and a .931 SV% without yielding time in the crease to his backup, Curtis McElhinney (8-7-3 in 18 games, 18 starts, 2.89 GAA, .906 SV% and one shutout in the 2019-20 regular season).

Head coach, Jon Cooper, leads the Lightning behind the bench, while General Manager, Julien BriseBois hasn’t had all that much to do during the season, save for the important acquisitions of Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow to add speed and grit to their bottom-six forwards.

The Dallas Stars were led by Tyler Seguin in regular season scoring with 17-33–50 totals in 69 games played before the 2019-20 regular season was cut short by the pandemic.

Jamie Benn had 19 goals and 20 assists (39 points) for the second-most points for the Stars in 69 games, while Miro Heiskanen had the third-most points for Dallas with 8-27–35 totals in 69 games in his sophomore campaign.

Dallas trailed, 3-0, within the first seven minutes of Game 6 of their First Round matchup with the Calgary Flames as a Game 7 was all but likely to be forced and some left scratching their heads regarding the Stars.

The Stars came back to win, 7-3, and eliminated Calgary in six games in the 2020 First Round thanks to a five-point night (including four goals) from Denis Gurianov.

After the Colorado Avalanche forced a Game 7 in their Second Round matchup with Dallas, Joel Kiviranta became the first rookie to complete a hat trick with a game-winning overtime goal in a Game 7 to send the Stars to the Western Conference Final.

From there, Dallas beat the Vegas Golden Knights in five games to advance to their fifth Stanley Cup Final appearance in history.

Sometimes it pays to be good. Sometimes it pays to be lucky.

Other times it pays to be good and lucky– and that’s how the 2020 postseason has gone for the Stars.

In the postseason, Heiskanen has emerged as Dallas’ best player with five goals and 17 assists (22 points) in 21 games played. Heiskanen is on track to setting some franchise records as long as nothing cuts his postseason run short.

Benn has the second-most points on the playoff roster with 8-10–18 totals in 21 games, followed by Gurianov (9-8–17 totals in 21 games) for the third-most, John Klingberg (3-13–16 totals in 20 games) for the fourth-most and Joe Pavelski (9-5–14 totals in 21 games), as well as Alexander Radulov (8-6–14 totals in 21 games) tied for the fifth-most points on the Stars this postseason.

Anton Khudobin (16-8-4 in 30 games, 26 starts, 2.22 GAA, .930 SV% in the regular season) is the de facto starting goaltender with Ben Bishop (21-16-4 in 44 games, 43 starts, 2.50 GAA, .920 SV% and two shutouts in 2019-20) out due to injury for most of the postseason.

Khudobin’s spectacular run to the Final at 34-years-old has come on the backs of a 12-6 record in 19 games (18 starts), as well as a 2.62 GAA, a .920 SV% and one shutout in that span.

Bishop made three appearances in the 2020 postseason, posting a 1-2-0 record with a 5.43 GAA and an .844 SV% in the process.

Meanwhile, Jake Oettinger made his NHL debut– the second goaltender to make his NHL debut this postseason, joining Dan Vladar of the Boston Bruins in doing so– to the tune of a 0-0-0 record in one relief appearance with a 0.00 GAA and a 1.000 SV%.

He had five saves on five shots against in 18 minutes of gameplay.

Rick Bowness took over as the interim head coach for the Stars on Dec. 10th after Jim Montgomery was fired due to unprofessional conduct (Montgomery entered rehab for alcohol abuse and has since rejoined the league as an assistant coach with the St. Louis Blues).

Dallas General Manager, Jim Nill, hasn’t rocked the boat with any major player acquisitions during the season, but certainly added to the depth of veteran experience with the additions of Pavelski and Corey Perry in free agency.

The Stars went 2-0-0 against the Lightning in the regular season– having won both games in overtime.

Khudobin made 45 saves on 48 shots faced in his, 4-3, win at Amalie Arena on Dec. 19th, while Bishop earned the overtime win with 23 saves on 25 shots faced in a, 3-2, Stars victory on Jan. 27th at American Airlines Center.

Home ice means next to nothing in the bubble.

The Stars are this year’s dark horse team that went on a run that doesn’t seem to show any signs of stopping anytime soon.

That said, the Lightning are supposed to be the team to beat this year.

If it goes short, expect Tampa to be the team leaving Edmonton with the Cup, but otherwise the writing is on the wall for this year’s Final to go all seven games with the Dallas Stars emerging victorious with their second Stanley Cup ring in franchise history.

There’s just too much that they’ve already overcome to not be in their favor ultimately.

Regular season outcomes:

4-3 F/OT DAL at Amalie Arena on Dec. 19th, 3-2 F/OT DAL at American Airlines Center on Jan. 27th

Schedule:

9/19- Game 1 DAL @ TBL in Edmonton 7:30 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS

9/21- Game 2 DAL @ TBL in Edmonton 8 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS

9/23- Game 3 TBL @ DAL in Edmonton 8 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS

9/25- Game 4 TBL @ DAL in Edmonton 8 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS

9/26- Game 5 DAL @ TBL in Edmonton 8 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS*

9/28- Game 6 TBL @ DAL in Edmonton 8 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS*

9/30- Game 7 DAL @ TBL in Edmonton 8 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS*

*If necessary

Take Five: Five takeaways from Game 5 of the 2020 Western Conference Final

For the first time since 2000, and fifth time in franchise history– dating back to two previous appearances in the Stanley Cup Final as the Minnesota North Stars and and two more since relocating– the Dallas Stars are in the Stanley Cup Final after eliminating the Vegas Golden Knights in five games with a, 3-2, overtime victory in Game 5 of the 2020 Western Conference Final.

The Stars overcame a two-goal deficit to comeback and win it in overtime on Monday night after Denis Gurianov scored the game-winning goal while on the power play after Zach Whitecloud received an automatic delay of game infraction for sending the puck over the glass.

Whitecloud’s penalty, however, was not the reason why the Golden Knights lost the game and bowed out of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs earlier than hoped.

Anyway, it’s probably time we address five takeaways from Game 5 before we get to preview the 2020 Stanley Cup Final sometime.

1. Vegas strikes first (a franchise trend).

The Golden Knights won 10 times when they scored first in the 2020 postseason, but it didn’t help them in their last two games of the 2020 Western Conference Final.

Yes, even after taking a, 2-0, lead in Game 5, Vegas blew their two-goal advantage and lost in overtime.

They scored before the midpoint of the opening frame thank to Shea Theodore and Reilly Smith added an insurance goal before Dallas came back in the third period and overtime.

More on Smith, et al in a minute.

2. It was a goalie battle.

Most of Game 5 was a great display of goaltending as Vegas peppered Anton Khudobin with 36 shots (34 saves), while Dallas fired 26 shots (23 saves) on Robin Lehner.

In the entire series, the Stars and Golden Knights combined for 17 goals. Dallas ultimately held the series advantage with nine goals for and eight goals against.

Each and every game was close– even as Vegas won Game 2 with a, 3-0, shutout.

Both teams had a shutout (Game 1 itself was a, 1-0, shutout for Dallas) and only one of the five games was won by more than one goal (the aforementioned Game 2).

3. Reilly Smith had his first goal in *checks notes* 11 games!?!

Smith last scored on Aug. 23rd in Game 1 of Vegas’ Second Round matchup with the Vancouver Canucks before he made it, 2-0, Golden Knights in Game 5 against Dallas.

Unfortunately for Vegas, that wasn’t enough as the Stars came back to win, 3-2, in overtime, but it was a poignant fact worth noting– Vegas struggled to score as a whole this postseason.

Smith went 11 games between his fourth and fifth goals of the 2020 postseason.

He might not be the world’s greatest player, but he’s usually one to perform one way or another for the Golden Knights from night-to-night.

The problem was that if he’s not scoring and not getting assists, then that speaks volumes for guys like Mark Stone (one goal in his last nine games of the playoffs on Sept. 10th in Game 3 against Dallas), William Karlsson (one goal since Sept. 1st– Game 2 vs. Dallas), Jonathan Marchessault (last scored on Aug. 23rd– Game 1 vs. Vancouver– had two assists since), Alex Tuch (no goals against Dallas, last scored on Sept. 4th) and Max Pacioretty (one point in his last eight games in the 2020 playoffs, last goal Aug. 30th) who are all large components of Vegas’ core that are expected to generate offense on any given night.

Each player struggled.

Sometimes a team goes on a cold streak at the most inopportune time, which is awful to experience, but it doesn’t mean everyone should be traded.

That said, if it happens two years in-a-row, well, then heads might roll.

4. More of the same for the Golden Knights (but also Anton Khudobin).

Once again, Vegas dominated in shots on goal, 36-26, but Khudobin turned aside 34 out of 36 shots faced for a .944 save percentage in the game, while improving to a 12-6 record in 19 games with a 2.62 goals against average and a .920 SV% in that span, as well as one shutout.

That’s basically it.

Oh and Khudobin made 153 saves on 161 shots faced across the entire series against Vegas.

5. Once in a generation.

For the first time since 2000, the Dallas Stars are in the Stanley Cup Final.

The Stars won the Cup in 1999, after defeating the Buffalo Sabres in six games and have made the Final now five times in franchise history (losing in 1981 to the New York Islanders and 1991 to the Pittsburgh Penguins as the Minnesota North Stars, winning in 1999 over Buffalo and losing in 2000 to the New Jersey Devils).

Among Dallas players with previous Stanley Cup Final appearances, only one player has appeared in two or more Finals– Tyler Seguin (2011 and 2013 with the Boston Bruins).

Seguin won the Cup with Boston in 2011.

Corey Perry is the only other Stars player with a Stanley Cup ring already– having won in 2007 with the Anaheim Ducks.

Meanwhile, Joe Pavelski made the 2016 Stanley Cup Final with the San Jose Sharks and Khudobin was the backup to Tuukka Rask on the Bruins’ 2013 Stanley Cup Final roster.

Oh and if you remember him, Ben Bishop was with the Lightning in their 2015 Stanley Cup Final loss to the Chicago Blackhawks.

It’s been 20 years since the Stars last made the Final and 21 years since their only Cup ring in franchise history, but with the plethora of youth and potentially franchise record breaking postseason that Miro Heiskanen is having– combined with the veteran experience– Dallas shouldn’t be taken lightly in the 2020 Stanley Cup Final.

Take Five: Five takeaways from Game 4 of the 2020 Eastern Conference Final

For the first time since 2015, the Tampa Bay Lightning are one win away from reaching the Stanley Cup Final.

It’s only been five years since their last appearance in the Final, but it’s been a road of heartbreak and upsets of seemingly unimaginable proportions until now– well, almost now (wouldn’t want to jinx anything).

The Bolts beat the New York Islanders, 4-1, in Game 4 on Sunday in what was a rather tame game despite the pregame meetings between Pat Maroon, some Lightning players and Isles players during warmups.

Maroon ultimately got the last word with an empty net goal, while Tampa and scored two goals in 12 seconds– to complete three goals combined between the two teams in 27 seconds– to stage a comeback victory after the Islanders took the, 1-0, lead in the second period.

With a win in Game 5 (Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN and TVAS) the Lightning can advance to the 2020 Stanley Cup Final, which would be their third appearance in the Final in franchise history as the franchise hopes to capture its second Cup ring and first since winning it all in 2004.

1. Heroes and villains.

Mikhail Sergachev expressed what everyone in the series is thinking (to paraphrase– we don’t like them and they don’t like us), but Game 4 never really went the way that Game 3 did, which showed a testament to Tampa’s ability to regain their focus and play disciplined.

New York also didn’t get too caught up in the heat of the moment after the exchanges at the end of Game 3 resulted in a full game’s worth of misconducts and the pregame meeting between members of both clubs.

Should the Islanders try to get under the Lightning’s skin in Game 5?

Is that what it’s going to take for them to move mountains and get another win in the series?

Time will tell and that time is Tuesday night.

Meanwhile, the Bolts got Brayden Point back in the lineup after he missed Game 3 with an injury.

With their first line back intact (Point, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat) the Lightning were able to get half of their goals on Sunday, which– if you took away Maroon’s empty net goal for being one without the challenge of an opposing goalie in the crease– were vital to Tampa’s success.

2. Islanders still haven’t figured out the “playing with the lead” thing.

So you took a, 1-0, lead at 11:27 of the second period courtesy of a Brock Nelson goal after surviving the first period onslaught that gave Tampa an, 11-5, shots on goal advantage heading into the middle frame– it’d be a shame if you can’t recapture the energy from the last game and do it again, right?

I mean, scoring a goal then avoiding too much of a prevent defense mindset because– it turns out– your best offense is your offense, so you should score more goals than the other team if you want to win a game is a good thing!

Well, sometimes people never learn and the New York Islanders haven’t learned.

In a 27-second span in the middle of the game, the Islanders had a, 1-0, lead, then trailed, 2-1, because playing with the lead hasn’t been a strong part of their game in the Eastern Conference Final.

Leading is so overrated anyway.

3. Warmup drills.

Two of the goals that were given up by Semyon Varlamov were the kind of goals that a backup goaltender usually has to save at the tail end of pregame warmups.

Varlamov could use some work on that last minute of warmups drill where everyone crowds the net and hacks at a puck until they beat their backup goaltender.

That’s the problem, though, unless Thomas Greiss is starting in Game 5, net front traffic isn’t something Varlamov will see much of unless the Islanders work on it in practice.

Regardless, Varlamov’s fallen to a 10-6 record in 18 games played this postseason with a 2.30 goals against average and a .914 save percentage, as well as two shutouts in that span.

4. Still no shutouts.

Speaking of shutouts, Andrei Vasilevskiy has a 13-4 record in all 17 games for the Lightning this postseason, as well as a 1.93 GAA and a .930 SV% in that span.

But you know what he doesn’t have for some strange reason that can only be explained best as “because hockey”?

A shutout.

That’s right, Vasilevskiy does not have a shutout this postseason.

In fact, in 50 career Stanley Cup Playoff games, Tampa’s netminder has never recorded a postseason shutout– dating back to four appearances in the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

How is this even remotely possible? Especially with the Bolts’ defense!

5. It’s beginning to look a lot like 1993.

Just like when they were ousted by the Montreal Canadiens in the 1993 Prince of Wales Conference Final, New York could be eliminated in five games– only this time by the Lightning in the since rebranded Eastern Conference.

Unlike in 1993, however, whereas the Islanders won Game 4 against Montreal in that series to hold off elimination for another day and avoid being swept by the eventual 1993 Stanley Cup champions, the Islanders won Game 3 against Tampa and had a better shot at evening the series 2-2 than they did 27 years ago.

That said, if New York loses in Game 5, then that 36 years that it’s been since the Islanders were last in the Stanley Cup Final turns another year older in 2021.

Tampa Bay has never lost a series when they’ve led 3-1.

Take Five: Five takeaways from Game 4 of the 2020 Western Conference Final

For the first time since 2000, the Dallas Stars are one win away from reaching the Stanley Cup Final.

It’s been 21 years since the Stars won it all in 1999, and after Saturday night’s, 2-1, victory over the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 4 of the 2020 Western Conference Final, Dallas is five wins away from raising the Cup for what would be the second time in franchise history.

All of the scoring occurred in the second period of Saturday night’s game as Alec Martinez kicked things off for Vegas with a power-play goal and a, 1-0, lead at 7:44 of the middle frame before Joe Pavelski (9) lucked out on a shot that fluttered off of Nate Schmidt’s stick and over the shoulders of Robin Lehner– tying the game, 1-1, in the process at 11:34.

Late in the second period, Jamie Benn notched his seventh goal of the postseason while on the power play for the eventual game-winning goal as the Stars took the lead, 2-1, at 19:01 of the second period.

Dallas leads the series 3-1 and can make the 2020 Stanley Cup Final with a win in Game 5 on Monday (8 p.m. ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS).

1. Vegas is doing that thing again.

The Golden Knights opened the night with the lead in shots on goal, 13-5, after one period, then, 24-14, through two periods and finally, 33-20, after the final horn.

In true hockey fashion, naturally the Stars won, 2-1.

In just this series alone against Dallas, Vegas had the same number of shots as the Stars in Game 1 (25-25), outshot Dallas in Game 2 (32-24), outshot Dallas in Game 3 (40-23), as well as in Game 4 for a grand total of 130 shots against the Stars compared to Dallas’ 92 total shots on goal in the series.

If you’re wondering, both teams have scored six goals in the series.

That’s some serious inefficiency from the Golden Knights– facing a hot goaltender or not, we saw this problem as the Vancouver Canucks were forced to switch goaltenders from Jacob Markstrom to Thatcher Demko due to Markstrom’s injury in the Second Round.

Vegas might also not be getting high quality shots, but at this point the only thing that matters is that they trail in the series 3-1 and face elimination on Monday.

2. First one to score wins the game, but not actually.

Entering Saturday night, the Golden Knights had 10 wins when scoring first, which leads all teams in the 2020 playoffs.

Alas, Dallas scored two unanswered goals for their seventh comeback win of this postseason– the most among the teams in the 2020 postseason.

In their run to their first and only Stanley Cup championship so far back in 1999, the Stars recorded nine comeback wins (the most playoff comebacks in Minnesota North Stars/Dallas Stars franchise history).

3. That’s making the most of your chances.

Despite only having six shots on goal– including one in the second period alone– Pavelski scored on Dallas’ seventh shot of the game and second shot on net in the middle frame as the puck deflected of of Schmidt’s stick and floated in the air, over Lehner and into the twine.

Dallas ended up finishing the second period trialing in shots on goal in that period alone, 11-9, but led, 2-1, on the scoreboard entering the second intermission.

Considering only three goals were scored by the two teams in the entire game– that’s getting a lot for your dollar in one period, you know, considering how Vegas finished the night leading in shots, 33-20.

4. Everything’s bigger in Texas.

And nothing is bigger than Anton Khudobin these days.

Yes, even though the Stars are in Edmonton, Alberta these days while participating in the Stanley Cup Playoffs bubble courtesy of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Khudobin is 7-1 when making at least 30 saves in a game this postseason. Markstrom was the only other goaltender with at least five wins in that scenario as the Canucks goalie went 5-3 in games where he faced 30 or more shots.

In the meantime, Khudobin has a 2.67 goals against average, a .918 save percentage and one shutout in 18 games played this postseason to go along with his 11-6 record overall.

5. Chance to advance (for Dallas).

I don’t know how else to make this any more apparent, but the Golden Knights trail in the series 3-1, which means that the Stars could make the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since they lost to the New Jersey Devils in six games in the 2000 Stanley Cup Final.

If you didn’t have the Stars making a deep run in the playoffs, well, it’s understandable since there was five months off between the shortened regular season and postseason action, but also they’ve been a dark horse all along– lurking in the shadows of the St. Louis Blues, Colorado Avalanche and Golden Knights battling for Western Conference dominance as one of the best regular season teams.

When it mattered most, the Stars turned it on.

They relied on last year’s heartbreak as motivation for this year’s power through– even in the face of an injury to their regular starting goaltender, Ben Bishop.

Simply put, this is an incredible run.

Even if Vegas bows out in five games, Dallas can’t say it was all that easy to wrap things up in a short amount of time.

Again, there’s only been 12 combined goals in the entire series thus far– split evenly between the two clubs.

On the other hand, the Golden Knights could make the Stars unnerved by forcing a Game 6 and possibly a Game 7 afterward, but there’s less of a chance of Dallas blowing a 3-1 series lead than there is of Vegas scoring five goals on Khudobin in a game (it seems anyway).

Take Five: Five takeaways from Game 3 of the 2020 Eastern Conference Final

Matt Martin and Barclay Goodrow exchanged fisticuffs after a faceoff with 27.2 seconds left in the third period after the New York Islanders scored an empty net goal to seal the deal on a, 5-3, victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 3 of the 2020 Eastern Conference Final.

In short, we have a series and the powder keg just might be ready to explode.

Oh yeah and Brock Nelson scored the game-winning goal late in the third period before Jean-Gabriel Pageau added an insurance goal with the empty net tally while he was hooked and slashed by Lightning forward, Nikita Kucherov.

Game 4 should contain a little bit of everything and a lot of excitement if things keep trending in the direction of a budding rivalry as Tampa leads the series 2-1. Puck drop on Sunday is set for a little after 3 p.m. ET and viewers in the United States can tune to NBC, while those in Canada can catch the action on CBC, SN or TVAS.

1. Can’t give Tampa an inch.

The Islanders have made a habit in the last couple of games where, despite playing more to the beat of their own drum, New York can’t seem to hold a lead on prevent defense alone.

If New York is going to win more games, they’re going to need more offensive outbursts like they had– if you can call it that– in Game 3.

The Isles are going to need their defenders to defend, their two-way bottom-six players to contribute 100% and their top-six forwards to outscore the Lightning who can, in fact, score from any position in their lineup.

Well, we haven’t seen Bolts goaltender, Andrei Vasilevskiy, score yet, but I wouldn’t put it past him.

Tampa is in the midst of one of those “anything is possible” postseasons and if New York wants to take control of that narrative– they can’t let the Lightning play their game.

2. Matchups.

A common theme from the Columbus Blue Jackets in the First Round to the Boston Bruins in the Second Round to, yes, even the Islanders in the Eastern Conference Final is that they simply don’t have the right matchups to go against the big scary, nasty, Lightning.

New York’s head coach, Barry Trotz, scratched Casey Cizikas and Andrew Ladd for Derick Brassard and Michael Dal Colle.

While Brassard’s (three hits, one blocked shot in 10:32 time on ice, 54 seconds of time on the power play) impact can be felt as a glue guy with a more well-rounded approach to today’s game– especially against Tampa– more so than a guy like Ladd, Trotz has kept Dal Colle’s time limited (9:54 TOI in Game 3).

Nonetheless, Leo Komarov centering the fourth line with Brasard and Dal Colle is a significant improvement in speed and mustering the puck where you want it to go while giving your top forwards some time to recover before going over the boards to generate more offense.

It should be ride or die with this fourth line for the time being.

3. More of the same, kind of.

The Islanders trailed the Lightning in shots on goal, 37-35, but stymied Tampa with some solid goaltending from Semyon Varlamov (10-5 in 17 games played, 16 starts, 2.26 goals against average, .913 save percentage, two shutouts) and the overall schematics interwoven in Trotz’s game plan.

New York really wore Tampa down as the game progressed and capitalized on their chances, but the backdoor was left open for large stretches of the game, which the Bolts took full advantage of– tying the game, 1-1, at 16:31 of the first period, courtesy of Mikhail Sergachev’s second goal this postseason and even pulled even after trailing by two-goals, 3-1, entering the third period.

Ondrej Palat (7) scored a power-play goal at 2:32 and Tyler Johnson (4) tied the game, 3-3, at 12:04 of the third period.

Now, it’s important to note that Game 3 was more of the same for New York until they realized they needed a 60-minute effort and that nothing about Game 3 was the same for Tampa, since Brayden Point was not in the lineup due to injury.

Yes, the Lightning did not have the services of their leading scorer and head coach, Jon Cooper, wouldn’t provide much of an update (if even an update at all, really) ahead of Friday night’s action.

4. Nikita Kucherov has his moments. Don’t take the bait.

Kucherov hooked and slashed Pageau while skating towards and immediately as/after he shot the rubber biscuit into the empty twine to secure the, 5-3, win for the Isles.

Pageau took exception to what Kucherov was already going to be penalized for had Pageau inexplicably missed the open net and caused a scrum instead of a proper goal celebration at 19:24 of the third period.

Kucherov has been suspended in the past– specifically for an illegal hit to the head last postseason– and shouldn’t distract the Islanders from stooping to his level when he crosses a line.

The goal should always be to get your revenge on the scoreboard– especially if the officials on the ice are making the right call in accordance with the rule book.

Otherwise, the Islanders don’t need to amass any retaliation penalties for what’s either an invite to the descent into an ugly outing or simply the overt frustrations of a player that has shown an intent to injure and should be reprimanded as such.

None of that takes away from Kucherov’s ability to score, as long as he isn’t out of the lineup due to his own on-ice behavior.

5. Is somebody getting the best, the best, the best of you?

Don’t let emotions get in the way of the game.

You could argue this goes hand-in-hand with the takeaway above, but 1) all five takeaways are pretty similar after Game 3 and 2) this one has more to do with the toughness of each team’s lineup.

For the Islanders, there’s no need to fear Tampa’s tough guys. New York didn’t need to add any toughness at the trade deadline– they already had Martin, Komarov and crew.

The Lightning did.

They got Blake Coleman and Goodrow, which makes them tougher, but cannot negate the cohesion that Islanders General Manager, Lou Lamoriello, has planned since day one.

As long as the Isles play their cards right, Tampa’s style might take them over the edge and into undisciplined turmoil.

As always, make them pay on the scoreboard and in good, clean, hits.

That goes for both teams, in case Lightning fans were thinking this was solely about New York.

Take Five: Five Takeaways From Game 3 of the 2020 Western Conference Final

For the first time in this year’s Western Conference Final, a goalie did not record a shutout. Instead, Alexander Radulov scored the game-winning goal 31 seconds into overtime to give the Dallas Stars the, 3-2, win over the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 3 and a 2-1 series lead.

That’s right, Dallas is two wins away from making the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 2000.

The winner of Game 3 in a Conference Finals series that entered the game tied 1-1 holds an all time series record of 32-9. The Conference Final series format wasn’t introduced until 1982, if anyone’s wondering.

Now before the two teams tackle Game 4 on Saturday night (8 p.m. ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS), let’s review five takeaways from Game 3 that could impact Game 4 and/or the outcome of the series (or might not have to do with anything at all).

1. Folks, we’ve got a goalie battle on our hands.

If you’ve been watching either of the two teams in the Western Conference Final throughout the 2020 postseason, you’d already know about the goaltender “controversy” with the Golden Knights, but this has nothing to do with that.

No, instead, this is about how after the first period, while the game was still tied, 0-0, Vegas had a shutout streak spanning 137:24– dating back to John Klingberg’s only goal in Game 1 of the series at 2:36 of the first period.

Robin Lehner had a personal shutout streak of 151:44 that reached further back into the vault when the Golden Knights shutout the Vancouver Canucks, 3-0, in Game 7 of their Second Round series.

Once Jamie Oleksiak scored a breakaway goal to give Dallas the, 1-0, lead at 19:43 of the second period, Lehner’s shutout streak came to an end at 171:37, which surpassed Marc-Andre Fleury’s previous franchise record for the longest postseason shutout streak of 144:04 in 2018.

After Shea Theodore scored a power-play goal to tie the game, 1-1, at 3:49 of the third period, Dallas’s shutout streak came to an end at 157:17– dating back to late in the second period after the Stars allowed three goals against and lost, 3-0, in Game 2.

NHL.com‘s David Satriano went back and checked the numbers on those stats since he was the one that tweeted them out (maybe you should give him a follow if you’re into that sort of thing).

Oh and Theodore’s goal, by the way, was his seventh of the postseason and brought him to a tie with Tampa Bay Lightning defender, Victor Hedman, for the most goals by a defender this postseason.

Theodore has 7-11–18 totals in 18 games for Vegas, while Hedman has 7-6–13 totals in 15 games for the Bolts.

2. “Sin City” or “Saint City”?

The Golden Knights displayed some good discipline in Game 3 having only given up one power play opportunity to the Stars courtesy of Max Pacioretty’s roughing minor against Klingberg at 11:33 of the first period.

Vegas only had one penalty called against them, whereas Dallas was guilty of four minor infractions.

Who are the bad boys now?

Of course, Klingberg’s penalty at 1:33 of the third period was an automatic minor for delay of game (puck over glass) and interim head coach, Rick Bowness, lost a coach’s challenge at 12:46 of the final frame (Mark Stone’s deflection goal to tie the game, 2-2) and was assessed a bench minor as a result of losing the challenge.

3. Dallas’ defense is their best offense.

Some of you might be thinking this is about to be one of those “defense wins championships” explanations, but it’s not.

Rather, Dallas’ defense is their best offense in quite the literal sense.

Oleksiak scored the game’s first goal (depth!) and Miro Heiskanen recorded his league leading 17th assist this postseason on that same goal.

Only Brian Bellows and Mike Modano had more assists for the Minnesota North Stars/Dallas Stars franchise in one postseason. Bellows had 19 assists in the North Stars’ run to the 1991 Stanley Cup Final and Modano had 18 assists in Dallas’ run to winning the Cup in 1999.

Obviously this means one of two things– at least– that Heiskanen is really good and (two) that the Stars could very well make the 2020 Stanley Cup Final based on this trend.

In any case, Dallas’ defenders have been moving the puck out of their zone with precision and hitting the back of the twine when it matters most with some clutch performances this postseason.

4. Have you tried turning it “off” then back “on” again?

Vegas’ goaltending hasn’t looked bad so far in this series, but the rest of the team appears to have forgotten their legs at times and lacking in the “pull yourselves up by your bootstraps”/”dig deeper in the trenches” playoff mentality.

It’s not a major thing if it happens in a game or two, but the Golden Knights started to show signs of a crack in their foundation in the previous round against Vancouver and it’s not that the Stars are even exploiting it, so much as Vegas just hasn’t been playing their game.

One would expect the Golden Knights to come out a little harder and faster paced in Game 4 and especially try to capture a full 60-minute effort.

Then again, perhaps everything you just read after the fourth headline is actually a lie.

The Golden Knights had 12 shots on goal in the first period (Dallas had four), 10 shots on net in the second period (the Stars had 14) and 18 shots on goal in the third period (Dallas had four once again).

All in all, Vegas outshot the Stars, 40-23, but all it took was one shot in overtime– 31 seconds into the extra frame, I might add– by Radulov to end the game and steal the victory for the Stars.

So maybe the question “have you tried turning it ‘off’ then back ‘on’ again?” really pertains to “have you tried not hitting the goaltender and simply scoring more if you’re going to take a lot more shots a night than the other team?”

Because that’s been a bit of a problem for the Golden Knights at times this postseason and it can be frustrating as hell– not just for the players, but the fans watching at home too.

Kudos to Anton Khudobin, though, he’s on top of his game and getting a workout too.

That’s something not many of us can say in a pandemic. *nonchalantly puts down a bag of chips*

5. Have coaches become drunk with power with the “coach’s challenge” this postseason?

Bowness has made a couple of questionable decisions to use his coach’s challenge at times this postseason, but it seems more and more coach’s this year are quick to try to overrule the call on the ice.

Say what you want about the decisions made when Carolina Hurricanes head coach, Rod Brind’Amour, went unsuccessful in the coach’s challenge department in the First Round or Jon Cooper’s odd petition on behalf of the Lightning in the Second Round, but nothing compares to Alain Vigneault’s three “what are you doing!?!” quality challenges this year in the playoffs.

Maybe it’s not the head coaches who are in too deep over their heads, but the video coach that has to scramble for to rewind the feed from multiple angles and make a split-second decision on what to advise their head coach to do.

Plus, of course, the officiating in the first place.

Sure, they’re human, but they’re always bound to make mistakes as a result and– in theory– a review system would get the calls right 100 percent of the time or something, but then again one team and their fan base is never going to be happy with the end result no matter what.

If anything, that gives us all 21 or older (18/19 or older basically everywhere else in the world) another chance to sit back, grab a beer and watch the hockey unfold.

Take Five: Five takeaways from Game 2 of the 2020 Eastern Conference Final

The New York Islanders scored the game’s first goal and dominated 40 minutes of play on Wednesday night– then they forgot that hockey is a three period, 60-minute, game because the Tampa Bay Lightning took a 2-0 series lead thanks to Nikita Kucherov’s game-winning goal with nine seconds left in the game.

Tampa won, 2-1, despite finishing the night trailing in shots on goal, 28-21.

This time it wasn’t all New York’s fault– well, except for some missed opportunities on the skater advantage, including a five-minute power play after Alex Killorn received a major and a game misconduct for boarding Islanders forward, Brock Nelson, early in the first period.

Game 3 is Friday night at 8 p.m. ET on USA Network in the United States and on CBC, SN, as well as TVAS across Canada.

1. Can anyone stop Victor Hedman from scoring?

Does Victor Hedman even play defense anymore (spoiler alert: he does)? But seriously though, Hedman has seven goals this postseason, which is a lot for a player coming from the point.

The Lightning defender has the second-most goals scored on his team– trailing Brayden Point’s eight tallies this postseason.

The next closest Bolts defender(s)? Kevin Shattenkirk and Ryan McDonagh with one goal.

Both Hedman and Shattenkirk have played in 15 games this postseason, while McDonagh’s been limited to 12 games due to injury.

Anyway, the moral of the story is that Hedman has the second-most goals on the Lightning this postseason (and is a defender). That is all.

Oh, P.S., he extended his goal streak to four games and trails only Paul Coffey for the longest such run in a postseason among defenders. Coffey had a five-game goal streak in the 1983 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Now go warm the kettle.

2. Did the Islanders get to play their game?

If Game 1 was all Tampa, then Game 2 was all New York.

The Islanders limited the Lightning to 21 shots, but still found a way to lose like how they dropped three games one way or another in their seven-game Second Round series against the Philadelphia Flyers.

Don’t actually look those stats up to find out if I’m right or not, since the real point I’m trying to make here is that the Isles play a “boring” game that suppresses offense– sometimes to the point that they’ve prevented their own opportunities and let a close game slip away.

With some adjustments from Islanders head coach, Barry Trotz, and a full 60-minute effort from his players, New York looks poised to continue to pressure the Bolts to the utmost of their ability as long as they meet or exceed their compete level from Game 2.

The fact that the Lightning didn’t blow the Islanders away in two games in-a-row means that New York willed the game their way more, which can only be to their benefit.

Well, most of the time.

3. Can Nikita Kucherov be stopped?

Kucherov is doing his usual thing– scoring all the time, despite trailing Point in team scoring by a point.

Point has 8-15–23 totals in 15 games this postseason, while Kucherov had the game-winning goal at 19:51 of the third period to net his 22nd point in this year’s playoffs.

He has six goals and– a team leading– 16 assists in 15 games, which should be enough to remind even the most casual fans that Steven Stamkos is not the entirety of the Lightning roster.

It’s no surprise that Kucherov, Point and Hedman’s presence in their usual roles have led Tampa– along with their goaltender, Andrei Vasilevskiy– to greatness despite missing their captain in Stamkos due to abdominal muscle surgery since mid-March.

Maybe hockey is a collective action sport, you know, like a team sport.

Maybe you need a team. We’re a team.

Lightning players not named “Stamkos” are quoting Ottawa Senators General Manager, Pierre Dorion, on one thing that makes them great this [post]season.

4. Not bad, keep Semyon Varlamov in net.

Losing a game doesn’t sound great, but allowing two goals on roughly the usual amount of shots against by the end of two periods in a game isn’t the worst thing in the world and wasn’t indicative of Semyon Varlamov’s ability to bounce back after hitting a rough patch at the tail-end of the Second Round and the “Game 1 That Must Not Be Named” in Islanders lore.

Despite making 19 saves on 21 shots against on Wednesday, Varlamov’s goals against average dropped to a 2.21, while his save percentage remained stagnant at a .913.

He still has two shutouts going for him in his back pocket, which, once again, Vasilevskiy has yet to do strangely.

Is this one of those “only in 2020” things?

5. Isles in a “must win” scenario.

Going back to No. 2, let’s face it, the Islanders are in a “must win” scenario, otherwise they’ll practically be eliminated in Game 3.

One thing that has remained true throughout their franchise history is that whenever Tampa takes a 3-0 or 3-1 series lead, the Lightning will close things out in Game 4 or 5.

Even if New York splits the next two games it wouldn’t do them any good.

No team has comeback to beat the Lightning if Tampa has a 3-1 series lead and the Bolts have had a 3-1 series lead, what like, seven or eight times in their history– including approximately all of them against the Boston Bruins in the Second Round in two out of the last three postseasons.

The playoffs are all about momentum and, despite losing in Game 2, the Isles took some of the thunder out of the Lightning, but now they need to figure out how to make it rain in Games 3 and 4.

Down the Frozen River(.com!)