Tag Archives: 2020 Western Conference Final

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 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 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 Western Conference Final

Paul Stastny opened the game’s scoring with the eventual game-winning goal as the Vegas Golden Knights shutout the Dallas Stars, 3-0, in Game 2 of the 2020 Western Conference Final to tie the series, 1-1.

William Karlsson and Tomas Nosek each had a goal in the win as the Golden Knights evened the series thanks to Robin Lehner’s second consecutive shutout– his fourth of the postseason overall.

So with Game 3 in mind on Thursday night (8 p.m. ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS), let’s review some takeaways from Game 2 and where the series might go from here.

1. Now that we’ve seen Vegas respond, the obvious “will Dallas respond in Game 3?” must be asked.

Dallas came out flying in Game 1, despite only scoring one goal and winning, 1-0– Vegas looked flat to kick off the series.

Just like in 2018, however, the Golden Knights went full throttle in Game 2 of the Western Conference Final, nearly scored four goals (Shea Theodore had a goal disallowed due to incidental contact with the goaltender courtesy of Max Pacioretty on the doorstep of the crease) and notched the shutout to tie the series.

Now, of course, how will the Stars respond?

Especially since they were outshot, 8-5, in the first period and, 19-7, in the second period alone. After 40 minutes, the Stars trailed the Golden Knights, 3-0, on the scoreboard (all Vegas goals were scored in the second period– traditionally what has been a better period for Dallas since their comeback over the Calgary Flames in Game 6 back in the First Round) and, 27-12, in total shots on goal entering the second intermission.

To Dallas’ credit, however, the Stars outshot Vegas, 12-5, in the third period alone.

In fact, the Golden Knights didn’t even have a shot on goal through the midpoint of the final frame, despite finishing with the advantage in shots on net, 32-24, at the final horn.

How will Stars interim head coach, Rick Bowness, respond to Vegas bringing out the big guns?

Especially since Ryan Reaves returned from his one-game suspension and suited up alongside William Carrier and Nick Cousins, which has been an effective shutdown fourth line thus far in the postseason.

2. Never tip your hand on a good future goalie.

Stars goalie, Jake Oettinger, made his NHL debut after Anton Khudobin was pulled prior to the third period.

The Boston University Terriers men’s hockey team standout amassed a league-leading .917 SV% among first year American Hockey League goaltenders in 2019-20 with the Texas Stars (AHL affiliate of Dallas).

Oettinger was the second goalie to make his league debut this postseason, joining Dan Vladar of the Boston Bruins as the other goalie to do so in the 2020 playoffs and marking the first time since 1937, that two goalies made their NHL debuts in the same postseason.

Whereas Vladar was fed to the wolves (a.k.a. the Tampa Bay Lightning) without much help in both ends of the ice, the Stars played better in front of their backup goaltender after clearly getting the message from Bowness– that they had let Khudobin down.

Oettinger only faced five shots and made five saves in 17:09 time on ice.

Yes, you read that right.

Despite Khudobin amassing 40 minutes played on Tuesday, Oettinger played less than a full period because Bowness pulled his netminder for an extra attacker with lots of time remaining in the game on the off-chance Dallas could score three quick goals and tie the game, at least.

They did not, but in the meantime, at least they didn’t rush Oettinger into any NHL action before it became absolutely necessary (though some watchful eyes of the minor leagues might wonder why Oettinger didn’t get a start earlier in the postseason to offset Khudobin’s workload while Ben Bishop is still injured and “unfit to play”).

Kudos to the Stars for not letting everyone else know about Oettinger’s impressive development thus far, though.

3. So… Robin Lehner the rest of the way?

This one should be obvious, but Lehner just had his fourth shutout this postseason (and second consecutive, if you didn’t read earlier).

Though Marc-Andre Fleury made 24 saves on 25 shots in Game 1, Lehner is the hotter goaltender right now– hands down.

Fleury’s 2.27 goals against average and .910 save percentage is fine. It pairs well with his 3-1 record in four games in the 2020 postseason.

But Lehner has a 1.84 GAA and a .924 SV% to go with the four shutouts, as well as a 9-4 record in 13 games played, which, if you’re wondering is better than Andrei Vasilevskiy of the Lightning in GAA and shutouts.

Vasilevskiy is 11-3 with Tampa so far in 14 games and has a 1.92 GAA, a .930 SV% and no shutouts in that span.

Yeah, this should be an easy decision for Golden Knights head coach, Peter DeBoer. It’s Lehner’s crease until the team advances or comes up short this year.

4. They scored a goal (at even strength)!

The Golden Knights entered Game 2 against Dallas without a goal from their forwards at even strength since the third period of Game 4 against the Vancouver Canucks in the Second Round.

Thankfully, Stastny put an end to Vegas’ misery at 5-on-5 (or 4-on-4) play with his third goal of the 2020 postseason at 4:53 of the second period.

Vegas added one more goal at even strength when Nosek scored his second playoff goal this year on a beautiful 3-on-1 rush to make it a three-goal game at 14:32 of the second period.

Prior to Stastny’s tally, however, the Golden Knights’ last four goals (dating back to Game 6 against Vancouver in the Second Round) included two empty net goals and a pair of goals from Theodore.

As long as the compete level from Game 2 doesn’t dissipate, Vegas looks to have snapped their even strength skid.

5. Shutouts galore!

Vegas’ last four games have all been shutouts.

The Canucks shutout the Golden Knights, 4-0, in Game 6 of their Second Round matchup as Thatcher Demko emerged as a playoff hero before the Golden Knights returned the favor with a, 3-0, shutout in Game 7– courtesy of Lehner.

To kick things off in the 2020 Western Conference Final, Khudobin had a, 1-0, shutout in Game 1 for the Stars, then Lehner returned the favor again with another, 3-0, shutout in Game 2 for Vegas.

Then there’s this to consider– Lehner is the first NHL goaltender to record four shutouts in a single postseason since Fleury did so in 2018 with the Golden Knights on their run to a Stanley Cup Final appearance in their inaugural season.

Only five goalies in league history have recorded more shutouts in a playoff year.

Lehner’s extended his shutout streak to 131:44 in the process, which is the second-longest postseason shutout streak by a Golden Knights goaltender since Fleury had a 144:04 shutout streak going in 2018.

And finally, with both teams earning a shutout through the first two games of the Western Conference Final, Dallas and Vegas joined the Toronto Maple Leafs and Columbus Blue Jackets this season as the only teams to record shutouts in their first two games in a series this year.

The Stars and Golden Knights also joined a longer list in the process since the NHL’s Modern Era (since 1943-44) that includes the Lightning and New York Islanders in the 2004 Eastern Conference Quarterfinal, the Islanders and Ottawa Senators in the 2003 Eastern Conference Quarterfinal, the Philadelphia Flyers and Senators in the 2002 Eastern Conference Quarterfinal, the Florida Panthers and New York Rangers in the 1997 Eastern Conference Quarterfinal, the New Jersey Devils and Rangers in the 1997 Eastern Conference Semifinal and the Montreal Canadiens and Maple Leafs in the 1947 Stanley Cup Final.

Here’s to another shutout in Game 3 for either team to make more history, probably.

Take five: Five takeaways from Game 1 of the 2020 Western Conference Final

The Dallas Stars beat the Vegas Golden Knights, 1-0, on Sunday night in Game 1 of their Western Conference Final matchup as the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs roll on at Rogers Place in Edmonton.

That bland lede encapsulates everything about Game 1 of the series– a lot happened and nothing happened.

Physics were defied as Shea Theodore’s stick spontaneously combusted.

John Klingberg scored the only goal, which also happened to be the game-winning goal for Dallas, while Vegas started Marc-Andre Fleury in net over Robin Lehner.

But enough about the game itself, here’s five takeaways for the next game (Game 2 is Tuesday night at 8 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN or TVAS depending on where you live), as well as the series as a whole.

1. Will Vegas get their offense going efficiently, if at all?

The Golden Knights outshot the Vancouver Canucks, 36-14, in Game 7 of their Second Round series and won, 3-0, but weren’t able to score a goal on Thatcher Demko until the third period– then added two empty net goals to seal the deal.

Vegas outshot Vancouver, 48-23, in their, 4-0, loss to the Canucks in Game 6 and the Golden Knights outshot the Canucks, 43-17, despite losing, 2-1, in Game 5 of their Second Round series.

Sunday night against the Stars in Game 1, shots on goal were even, 25-25.

So on nights when Vegas is badly outshooting their opponent, they can’t score, but on nights when they’re undershooting their quota, they… also can’t score.

All said, that’s four goals for in Vegas’ last four games and seven goals against in that span. Generally speaking, you want to score more goals than your opponent to win a game, let alone a series.

2. Will we see more Marc-Andre Fleury?

The Golden Knights started Malcolm Subban in net against the Stars in their two regular season matchups and went 1-1-0 before the pandemic canceled the rest of the regular season.

Subban made 24 saves on 28 shots against on Nov. 25th in a, 4-2, loss to the Stars, then turned aside 28 shots on 30 shots faced in a, 3-2, overtime win on Dec. 13th.

At the other end of the rink, Ben Bishop was in the crease for Dallas in both games.

Bishop entered Game 1 with a 5.43 goals against average and an .844 save percentage in three games (1-2) this postseason while battling an injury, so naturally Anton Khudobin continued to tend to the crease as the Stars’ starter.

Fleury got the nod for the Golden Knights on Sunday and made 24 saves on 25 shots faced for a .960 SV%– his second best game this postseason since he posted 26 saves on 27 shots faced (.963 SV%) against the Chicago Blackhawks in the First Round on Aug. 15th.

Before questioning Vegas head coach, Peter DeBoer’s decision making to shelve his hot goaltender this postseason– Robin Lehner– for a game and start Fleury, well, consider this– Fleury is historically better against Dallas.

Nothing about these playoffs feels exactly like the postseason everyone’s used to and if we’re going off of the “every postseason is really just a brand new season– throw out everything from the regular season you just played (five months before the bubble)” theory then you could make an argument in DeBoer’s favor, since Fleury carries a career 11-5-0 record against the Stars in 16 regular season matchups with a 2.12 GAA and a .926 SV%, as well as 34 goals allowed in that span.

Lehner is 2-5-2 in 10 career games against Dallas with a 3.43 GAA, an .899 SV% and 25 goals allowed in that span.

Regardless of the strength of the defense in front of them on prior teams, DeBoer’s perspective is simple– start Fleury over Lehner against the Stars since Dallas has a track record for knowing how to score on Lehner.

Stranger things have happened.

3. Will Tyler Seguin… score?

In 16 games this postseason, the five-time 30 goal-scorer and one-time 40-goal scorer has a whooping two goals for the Stars.

That’s… not ideal.

Seguin has made fewer postseason appearances with Dallas (36 games) than he had with the Boston Bruins (42 games), but he’s amassed 21 points in his Stanley Cup Playoffs career with the Stars (.583 points per game), which is more than his 18 points in a Bruins sweater in the postseason (.429 points per game).

While Jamie Benn isn’t leading his team in scoring, he contributed an assist on Klingberg’s goal in Game 1 and has amassed 5-9–14 totals in 17 appearances this postseason.

Benn has twice the amount of points (14) more than Seguin (seven) in the 2020 postseason.

If Seguin can’t score the clutch goals in the playoffs for the Stars, at least Miro Heiskanen (5-16–21 totals in 17 games), Denis Gurianov (8-7–15 totals in 17 games) and Joe Pavelski (8-4–12 totals in 17 games) have found a way to makeup for a serious lack of offense from Dallas’ superstar.

To his credit, Seguin was “unfit to play” in one game this postseason, which could indicate an injury has ailed his performance, but there might be trouble afoot for Dallas’ offense if any of the aforementioned team points leaders miss any action.

4. The same goes for William Karlsson…

William Karlsson has three goals and five assists (eight points) in 16 games this postseason for Vegas.

Shea Theodore leads all Golden Knights players with 6-10–16 totals in 16 games, while Alex Tuch leads the Golden Knights in goals scored with eight in 16 games.

A big part of their inaugural season success– Karlsson– has been relatively quiet in the bubble.

In 2017-18, he had 43 goals and 35 assists (78 points) in 82 games with the Golden Knights.

Last season, he had 24-32–56 totals in 82 games, which, while not in the 40-goal range, nor 70-point range, is still acceptable from a top-six forward.

This season, Karlsson missed eight games due to injury and had 46 points (15 goals, 31 assists) in 63 games.

He’s become more of a playmaker in his days with Vegas– what with the acquisitions of Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone via trades, as well as Paul Stastny via free agency in the last couple of seasons– but his clutch goal-scoring touch seems out of sync thus far this postseason.

The good news for Karlsson, however, is that the Golden Knights’ offense is more spread out– built around goals from anyone– at anytime– from anywhere.

So if playmaking is all he does, while notching assist after assist, then they’ll be just fine.

5. Can Anton Khudobin really pull this off?

Khudobin’s spectacular 2020 Stanley Cup Playoff run has culminated in his first career postseason shutout in Game 1 against Vegas– the second first career playoff shutout in as many days by a goaltender aged 34 or older.

His 9-5 record in 15 games played this postseason is backed up by a 2.74 GAA and a .914 SV% (with one shutout to go alongside those stats now).

That 2.74 GAA is not Conn Smythe Trophy worthy goaltending, but does it really reflect the kind of run Khudobin’s been on?

In his 15 appearances this postseason, Khudobin’s faced 30 or more shots eight times– with the most he’s faced being 44 shots against in Game 7 against the Colorado Avalanche in the Second Round, in which the Stars won, 5-4, in overtime.

In fact, Colorado gave Khudobin the most problems with half of those 30 or more shots faced games coming against the Avalanche.

Two of those four games where he faced 30 or more shots against were losses.

Interestingly enough, he also dropped a game against the Avs in the Round Robin– in which Colorado fired 40 shots against the Dallas netminder.

Khudobin’s allowed four or more goals in half of the games that he’s faced 30 or more shots on net, but he’s faced fewer than 30 shots in seven games this postseason.

Has he been challenged enough on a night-to-night basis such that he can settle into some semblance of a routine?

Though Dallas has quelled their opponent’s offense about half the time this postseason, the Stars’ defense needs to elevate their game to help ease the load against their netminder to prevent what almost happened against Colorado– a series loss.

Khudobin’s not the issue, but he is playing with fire– whether on fire (like, on a hot streak) or getting flamed by his opponent thanks to his teammates having a breakdown in coverage.

2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs Western Conference Final Preview

The calendar flipped to September and it’s time to gear up for preseason hockey— I mean the Conference Finals!

Yes, for the first time in recorded history, the National Hockey League is hosting both the Western Conference Final and the Eastern Conference Final in one hub city as Edmonton, Alberta plays host to the third round of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, as well as the 2020 Stanley Cup Final, but we’ll get there in a moment.

First, there’s a little leftover business to take care of and that’s figuring out which of the two Western Conference finalists will emerge victorious at Rogers Place and remain in the bubble to contend for what every NHL player dreams of– raising Lord Stanley’s mug high over their shoulders and going for a skate.

Though they were at first excluded from the bubble, some family members will be allowed to partake in the Conference Final and Stanley Cup Final festivities as long as they are Canadian citizens that are currently in Canada, but they have to self-isolate at home for seven days and produce three negative COVID-19 tests before traveling.

Then, of course, they’ll have to remain in quarantine in a separate hotel room in the bubble and produce four more negative tests before they can interact with the players.

The NHL is still waiting for clearance from the Canadian government, as well as the provincial government in Alberta, with regards to allowing citizens from outside of Canada into the Edmonton bubble and remains in ongoing discussions with the NHLPA, as well as the respective governments to work on a plan.

ESPN‘s, Emily Kaplan, goes into great detail to explain the precautions, plans and policies the entities are creating, working through and dealing with in the face of the pandemic with regards to allowing families into the bubble.

And no, none of the family members and/or romantic partners of any the players are a distraction.

If anything, they are a welcome sense of normalcy while the four remaining teams, staff and workers in the bubble have been isolated from the outside world for the last six weeks.

For now, let’s get back to breaking down the 2020 Western Conference Final and trying to predict a winner in some number of games.

(1) Vegas Golden Knights (39-24-8, 86 points) vs (3) Dallas Stars (37-24-8, 82 points)

Vegas: 71 games played, .606 points percentage, 30 regulation wins.

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

The Vegas Golden Knights are fresh off of a, 3-0, shutout of the Vancouver Canucks in Game 7 of their 2020 Second Round matchup and previously eliminated the Chicago Blackhawks in five games in their First Round battle.

Max Pacioretty led the Golden Knights in the regular season with 32-34–66 totals in 71 games in the regular season, while Mark Stone (63 points in 65 games) and Reilly Smith (54 points in 71 games) were second and third on the roster, respectively, in scoring.

In the 2020 postseason, Shea Theodore has emerged as the leader scorer all the way from the blue line with six goals and 10 assists (16 points) in 15 games after being treated for testicular cancer prior to the 2019-20 regular season.

Theodore set career-highs in goals (13), assists (33) and points (46) in 71 games in the regular season and was a plus-12 for Vegas.

Hot on his tail, Stone has 6-9–15 totals through 15 playoff games entering the Western Conference Final, while Smith has 13 points (four goals, nine assists) in 15 games for Vegas.

Alex Tuch, who’s goal scoring ability lead the Golden Knights with eight goals this postseason, is fourth on the roster in playoff points with 8-2–10 totals in 15 games.

In the crease, Marc-Andre Fleury led the way in the regular season as Vegas’ starter with a 27-16-5 record in 49 games played (48 starts) with a 2.77 goals against average, a .905 save percentage and a five shutouts in that span.

Malcolm Subban posted a 9-7-3 record in 20 games (19 starts) with a 3.18 GAA and an .890 SV% before being traded to the Chicago Blackhawks as part of a three-team trade at the deadline with the Toronto Maple Leafs mitigating the acquisition of Robin Lehner from Chicago to Vegas.

Lehner finished the regular season with a 3-0-0 record in three games played (all starts) for the Golden Knights, while amassing a 1.67 GAA, a .940 SV% and one shutout.

Oscar Dansk made an appearance in one game (one start) and had a 6.00 GAA, as well as an .838 SV% to go with his 0-1-0 record this season.

Controversy swirls Golden Knights head coach, Peter DeBoer, entering the Western Conference Final for going with Lehner as his playoff starter over Fleury, but the results speak for themselves.

Lehner is 8-4 in 12 games with a 1.99 GAA, a .918 SV% and three shutouts this postseason, while Fleury has a 3-0 record in three games with a 2.67 GAA, an .893 SV% and no shutouts in that span.

At the other end of the rink, the Dallas Stars beat the Calgary Flames in six games in the First Round and held off the Colorado Avalanche in a, 5-4, overtime win in Game 7 of their Second Round matchup– preventing a, 3-1, series lead collapse in the process.

Tyler Seguin led the way for Dallas in the regular season with 17-33–50 totals in 69 games, while Jamie Benn (39 points in 69 games) and Miro Heiskanen (35 points in 69 games) were second and third in scoring on the roster, respectively.

Second-year defender, Heiskanen has broken out into a two-way prowess leading the Stars with 5-16–21 totals in 16 playoff games entering the Western Conference Final.

First year-forward, Denis Gurianov, is second in points this postseason for Dallas with eight goals and seven assists (15 points) in 16 postseason games, while Benn rounds out the top-three in scoring for Dallas in the 2020 playoffs with 5-8–13 totals in 16 games.

Joe Pavelski– seeking revenge (despite his team winning the game) on the Golden Knights for his injury in Game 7 of the 2019 First Round series while a member of the San Jose Sharks– and John Klingberg each have 12 points in 16 and 15 games respectively heading into Sunday night’s Game 1 meeting with Vegas.

In net, Ben Bishop had a 21-16-4 record in 44 games (43 starts) with a 2.50 GAA, a .920 SV% and two shutouts as Dallas’ starting goaltender, while Anton Khudobin went 16-8-4 in 30 games (26 starts) and had a 2.22 GAA, as well as a .930 SV% in that span.

Bishop has been limited due to injury to a 1-2 record in three games this postseason– amassing a 5.43 GAA and an .844 SV% in the process.

Enter, Khudobin, the fringe starter turned de facto starter for the Stars that’s put up an 8-5 record in 14 games played (13 starts) with a 2.94 GAA and a .909 SV% in that span.

Vegas and Dallas went head-to-head in two games this season before the pandemic truncated the 2019-20 regular season– with the Golden Knights amassing a 1-1-0 record and the Stars going 1-0-1 in the season series.

As this is only the third season in Golden Knights franchise history, these two franchises have never met in the postseason until now.

Dallas is riding the hot hands of consistent scoring, while Vegas has the advantage in the crease if they play their cards right (it has to be Lehner).

The Stars are trying to make their first Stanley Cup Final appearance since 2000, while Vegas is hoping to make it back to the Stanley Cup Final after losing to the Washington Capitals in five games in 2018.

If Vegas can’t translate their numerous shots on goal into concrete goals like how they struggled to score against the Canucks, then Dallas has a great chance of dragging the series in favor of the Stars.

Regardless, this one feels like it’ll go all seven games in favor of the Golden Knights.

Regular season outcomes:

4-2 DAL at American Airlines Center on Nov. 25th, 3-2 F/OT VGK at American Airlines Center on Dec. 13th

Schedule:

9/6- Game 1 DAL @ VGK in Edmonton 8 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS

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

9/10- Game 3 VGK @ DAL in Edmonton 8 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS

9/12- Game 4 VGK @ DAL in Edmonton 8 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS

9/14- Game 5 DAL @ VGK in Edmonton 8 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS*

9/16- Game 6 VGK @ DAL in Edmonton 8 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS*

9/18- Game 7 DAL @ VGK in Edmonton 9 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS*

*If necessary