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Perry, Stars force Game 6 with, 3-2, 2OT win in Game 5 against Lightning

The last time someone scored in double overtime in a Stanley Cup Final, Alec Martinez won the Cup for the Los Angeles Kings in five games against the New York Rangers in 2014.

This time, the Dallas Stars didn’t want to be on the losing end– at least not yet, anyway– as Corey Perry scored a pair of goals– including the game-winning goal in double overtime– to force a Game 6 with a, 3-2, win against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta on Saturday.

Anton Khudobin (14-9, 2.72 goals against average, .917 save percentage in 24 games this postseason) made 39 saves on 41 shots against for a .951 SV% in the win for Dallas.

Bolts goaltender, Andrei Vasilevskiy (17-7, 1.97 GAA, .925 SV% in 24 games this postseason) stopped 30 out of 33 shots faced (.909 SV%) in the loss.

Despite the loss, Tampa leads the series 3-2 with a chance to win the Cup on Monday night (Sept. 28th).

With Roope Hintz, Radek Faksa and Blake Comeau out of Dallas’ lineup due to injury, Stars head coach, Rick Bowness, toyed with his forward lines starting Jamie Benn, Joe Pavelski and Alexander Radulov on the first line with Joel Kiviranta, Tyler Seguin and Perry rounding out Dallas’ top-six forwards.

Bowness opted to insert Justin Dowling in Hintz’s place on the third line with Mattias Janmark on the left side and Denis Gurianov at right wing.

Dallas’ fourth line trio of Andrew Cogliano, Jason Dickinson and Nick Caamano remained untouched since Caamano went into the lineup in place of the injured Comeau.

On defense, Bowness kept the same pairings.

Lightning head coach, Jon Cooper, kept his lineup for Game 5 the same as it was in Game 4.

Meanwhile, Dallas’ list of scratches included Faksa, Comeau, Jason Robertson, Hintz, Stephen Johns, Ben Bishop, Landon Bow, Taylor Fedun, Gavin Bayreuther, Thomas Harley and Ty Dellandrea.

Tampa’s list of scratches for Saturday night included Luke Schenn, Mathieu Joseph, Zach Bogosian, Scott Wedgewood, Braydon Coburn, Mitchell Stephens, Steven Stamkos and Alexander Volkov.

For the first time since the 2009 Stanley Cup Final– and just the second time since 1955 overall– a pair of Stanley Cup Final games were played on consecutive days.

Additionally, Saturday’s Game 5 marked the first time in Stanley Cup Final history that games on consecutive days required overtime.

Early in the opening frame, Seguin tripped Brayden Point yielding the first power play of the night to the Lightning at 4:19 of the first period.

Tampa’s skater advantage wasn’t as functional as it was in Game 4’s win on Friday, however, as the Bolts weren’t able to muster a power play goal.

Late in the period, Perry jumped on a loose puck that had deflected off of Seguin’s stick while No. 91 in green and white struggled to settle the rubber biscuit.

Perry (4) wired a shot through Vasilevskiy’s arm to give the Stars a, 1-0, lead at 17:52 of the first period.

Seguin (9) and Jamie Oleksiak (4) had the assists as Dallas scored first for the second consecutive game in as many nights.

Entering the first intermission, the Stars led, 1-0, on the scoreboard, while the Lightning led in shots on goal, 10-8.

Dallas held the advantage in blocked shots (5-3) and takeaways (5-3), while Tampa led in giveaways (4-3), hits (22-17) and faceoff win percentage (55-46).

The Lightning were 0/1 on the power play, while Dallas had yet to see any time on the skater advantage heading into the middle frame.

Ondrej Palat (11) tied the game, 1-1, as the Lightning forward received a pass from Nikita Kucherov on a rush into the attacking zone, brought the puck in deep towards the goal line, then cut towards the slot with a deke as Khudobin dove paddle-first in desperation while Palat slide the puck into the twine.

Kucherov (26) and Point (18) tallied the assists on Palat’s goal at 4:37 of the second period.

Midway through the middle period, Carter Verhaeghe slashed Miro Heiskanen and received a minor infraction at 12:33.

Dallas did not convert on the ensuing power play, however.

Through 40 minutes of action on Saturday, the score was tied, 1-1, while the Bolts led in shots on goal, 23-14– including a, 13-6, advantage in the second period alone.

Tampa held the advantage in hits (37-31) and faceoff win% (52-48), while the Stars led in blocked shots (13-11) and takeaways (7-6).

Each club had nine giveaways and was 0/1 on the power play heading into the second intermission.

Khudobin’s 22 saves through the first two periods in Game 5 boosted his 2020 postseason totals to 700 saves in 24 games– becoming the fifth goaltender since 1955-56 (when shots on goal and saves began to be tracked) to record at least 700 saves in a single playoff year.

The other goaltenders to do so? Tim Thomas (798 saves) with the Boston Bruins en route to winning the Cup in the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Kirk McLean (761) with the Vancouver Canucks in the 1994 postseason, Tuukka Rask (715) with the Bruins in the 2013 postseason and Jonathan Quick (705) with the Kings en route to the Cup in 2014.

Upon the conclusion of Saturday night’s, 3-2, win in double overtime for Dallas, Khudobin has amassed 717 saves this postseason– good enough for the third-most in a postseason since 1955-56.

Mikhail Sergachev (3) put the Lightning ahead of the Stars on a one-timer from the point while Kucherov and Palat screened Khudobin at 3:38 of the third period.

Point (19) had the only assist on the goal as the Bolts pulled ahead, 2-1.

Midway through the period, Erik Cernak caught Pavelski with a high stick and was assessed a minor penalty at 11:06 of the third period– presenting Dallas with their second power play opportunity of the night.

The Stars failed to convert on the skater advantage, but caught Tampa in the vulnerable minute after special teams action as Pavelski (13) collected the garbage on a rebound and tied the game, 2-2, at 13:15.

Benn broke up a clearing attempt from Kevin Shattenkirk, then Heiskanen fired a shot from the point that Pavelski ultimately snagged on a rebound and pocketed the loose change for his 61st career postseason goal– the most by any United States born player in NHL history.

Heiskanen (20) and Seguin (10) were credited with the assists on the goal as Heiskanen became the fourth defender in NHL history to record 20 assists in a single postseason.

Perry and Pavelski, in the meantime, became the eighth and ninth players in league history to score on consecutive days in the Stanley Cup Final– joining Justin Abdelkader (in 2009 with the Detroit Red Wings), Jean Beliveau (in 1955 with the Montreal Canadiens), Ted Lindsay (in 1952 with the Red Wings), Sid Abel (in 1950 with the Red Wings), Tony Leswick (in 1950 with the New York Rangers), Allan Stanley (in 1950 with the Rangers) and Harry Watson (in 1948 with the Toronto Maple Leafs) in doing so.

Additionally, both Perry and Pavelski became the first players aged 35 or older to score in consecutive games in the Stanley Cup Final (in general, not necessarily on consecutive days) since Mark Recchi did so in Games 2 and 3 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final with Boston.

At the end of regulation, the score remained tied, 2-2, despite the Lightning leading in shots on goal, 30-27.

Dallas had a, 13-7, advantage in shots on net in the third period alone and maintained a lead in blocked shots (19-13) and takeaways (10-7) heading into overtime.

Meanwhile, Tampa led in giveaways (21-16), hits (53-42) and faceoff win% (54-46).

The Bolts were 0/1 and the Stars were 0/2 on the power play entering the extra frame(s).

About nine minutes into the first overtime period, Tampa surpassed the 200-minute mark of overtime hockey in this postseason alone (extending their ongoing record).

Dallas had their first shot on goal in the overtime period at 17:53, while the Lightning looked like (and were) the more dominant team in the first overtime period.

Alas, without a game-winning goal, 80 minutes of hockey was not enough as the Bolts and Stars remained tied, 2-2, on the scoreboard, despite Tampa leading in shots on net, 37-29– including a, 7-2, advantage in the first overtime period alone.

Dallas maintained an advantage in blocked shots (30-14) and takeaways (14-10), while the Lightning led in giveaways (23-21), hits (62-53) and faceoff win% (51-49).

As there were no penalties called in either overtime period, the Lightning finished the night 0/1 on the power play, while the Stars went 0/2.

Midway through the second overtime period, John Klingberg let go of a shot that Perry (5) found on the rebound and scored the game-winning goal while Vasilevskiy dove glove-first in desperate attempt to prolong the Game 5 action.

Klingberg (17) and Seguin (11) notched the assists on Perry’s game-winning goal at 9:23 of double overtime.

Dallas finished the effort with a, 3-2, win and forced a Game 6 while trailing in the series 3-2.

Tampa finished the night leading in shots on goal, 41-33, as well as in giveaways (24-23), hits (64-57) and faceoff win% (51-49).

The Stars finished Saturday night leading in blocked shots (33-18), while both teams managed four shots on goal apiece in the second overtime period.

Despite not scoring a goal in 13 games, Seguin managed to amass three assists as the Stars improved to 5-1 in overtime this postseason.

The Lightning fell to 6-2 in overtime in the 2020 postseason as a result of the Game 5 loss.

Meanwhile, Dallas became the fifth team in NHL history to win a multi-overtime game in which their opponent could have clinched the Stanley Cup.

It was also the second time that the Stars achieved the feat– having previously beaten the New Jersey Devils in Game 5 of the 2000 Stanley Cup Final (before losing the series in six games).

Dallas did, however, beat the Buffalo Sabres in Game 6 of the 1999 Stanley Cup Final– winning the Cup in triple overtime that year– as a bonus fun fact.

Tampa has another chance to finish the Stars and win their second Stanley Cup championship in franchise history Monday night in Game 6 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final from the Edmonton bubble at Rogers Place.

Puck drop is scheduled for a little after 8 p.m. ET and viewers in the United States can tune to NBC to catch the action, while those in Canada can tune to CBC, SN or TVAS.

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 (16-6, 1.89 goals against average, .928 save percentage in 22 games this postseason), made 22 saves on 24 shots faced for a .917 SV% in the win, while Dallas netminder, Anton Khudobin (13-8, 2.72 GAA, .918 SV% in 22 games this postseason), was chased after two periods and 24 saves on 29 shots against (.828 SV%).

Jake Oettinger (0-0, 0.00 GAA, 1.000 SV% in two games this postseason) 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.

Stamkos returned to the lineup for the first time since Feb. 25th for the Lightning after having core muscle surgery in mid-March, skating in June, then missing most of the postseason until Wednesday night.

He had a goal in the effort, but also briefly went down the tunnel before returning to the bench and only amassed 2:47 of ice time in Game 3.

Meanwhile, Stamkos replaced Carter Verhaeghe on Tampa’s fourth line as part of Jon Cooper’s only change to his game plan from Game 2 to Game 3.

Stars interim head coach, Rick Bowness, replaced Blake Comeau with Nick Caamano on his fourth line due to Comeau being forced out of the lineup with an injury.

Dallas scratches included Radek Faksa, Comeau, Jason Robertson, Stephen Johns, Ben Bishop, Justin Dowling, Landon Bow, Taylor Fedun, Gavin Bayreuther, Thomas Harley and Ty Dellandrea on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Tampa’s long list of scratches for Game 3 included Luke Schenn, Mathieu Joseph, Verhaeghe, Zach Bogosian, Scott Wedgewood, Braydon Coburn, Mitchell Stephens and Alexander Volkov.

Nikita Kucherov (7) kicked off the game’s scoring with a breakaway goal off of a Miro Heiskanen turnover to give the Lightning a, 1-0, lead at 5:33 of the first period.

About a minute later, Stamkos (1) settled a rolling puck while entering the zone and snapped a shot over Khudobin’s blocker side to give Tampa a pair of goals in a 1:25 span on consecutive shots.

Hedman (9) and Jan Rutta (1) tallied the assists on Stamkos’ goal as the Bolts jumped out to a, 2-0, lead 6:58 into the opening frame.

Less than a couple of minutes later, Erik Cernak tripped up Caamano and presented the Stars with the first power play of the night at 8:13.

Dallas’ skater advantage was short lived, however, as Joel Kiviranta interfered with Anthony Cirelli at 9:34.

After an abbreviated span of 4-on-4 action, Jason Dickinson (2) one-timed a shot past Vasilevskiy on the short side between the blocker and the post to give Dallas a shorthanded goal and cut Tampa’s lead in half, 2-1.

Roope Hintz (11) had the only assist on Dickinson’s goal at 11:19.

Late in the opening frame, Alexander Radulov hooked Blake Coleman and was sent to the sin bin at 19:37 of the first period.

Entering the first intermission, Tampa led, 2-1, on the scoreboard despite trailing Dallas, 16-8, in shots on goal.

The Lightning also held the advantage in blocked shots (3-2) and giveaways (7-6), while the Stars led in takeaways (2-0) and faceoff win percentage (71-29).

Both teams had 21 hits each after one period, while Tampa was 0/2 and Dallas was 0/1 on the power play heading into the middle frame.

Hedman (10) sent a quick wrist shot past Khudobin on a rebound 54 seconds into the second period to put the Bolts ahead of the Stars by two goals once more, 3-1, as Cirelli (5) and Ondrej Palat (6) collected the assists.

Early in the middle frame, Radulov hooked Mikhail Sergachev at 4:31, but the Lightning weren’t able to convert on the ensuing power play.

Stamkos returned to the bench for the second period shortly thereafter, but he did not skate in any of the remaining action in the game.

Midway through the middle period, Brayden Point (11) scored on a 3-on-1 after Tampa caught Dallas on a line change with a forced turnover to make it, 4-1, Lightning at 12:02 of the second period.

Kucherov (23) and Hedman (10) tallied the assists on Point’s goal and the Bolts had a three-goal lead.

Tampa made it a four-goal lead late in the second period when Palat (10) backhanded a garbage goal from point blank on a rebound as Stars defender, Esa Lindell, hacked and missed at the loose puck.

Point (17) and Kevin Shattenkirk (9) notched the helpers on Palat’s goal and the Lightning led, 5-1, at 18:55.

Through 40 minutes of action on Wednesday, Tampa held a, 5-1, lead on the scoreboard and a, 29-20, advantage in shots on goal– including a, 21-4, advantage in shots on net in the second period alone.

Tampa also led in blocked shots (8-6), while Dallas held the advantage in giveaways (15-8), hits (41-38) and faceoff win% (56-44) after two periods.

Both teams had three takeaways each, while the Lightning were 1/3 on the skater advantage and the Stars were 0/2 on the power play entering the second intermission.

Bowness opted to change goaltenders ahead of the final frame of regulation– replacing Khudobin with Oettinger and making history in the process as Oettinger became the first goaltender from Boston University to ever appear in a Stanley Cup Final game.

Almost a few minutes into the third period, however, Palat and Mattias Janmark exchanged pleasantries and received roughing minors at 2:58, yielding two minutes of 4-on-4 action.

Less than a minute later, Jamie Benn and Rutta went at it and received roughing minors as well as ten-minute misconducts at 3:38 of the third period.

By that point it became clear that the officials were trying to keep the temperature of the game down– it didn’t last for long.

Prior to another eruption of emotions, however, Heiskanen (6) sent the puck on goal with eyes as the rubber biscuit bounced its way around the Lightning goaltender and into the twine to cut Tampa’s lead to three goals.

Joe Pavelski (6) and Andrew Cogliano (2) recorded the assists on Heiskanen’s goal and the Stars trailed, 5-2, at 6:49 of the third period.

Less than a few minutes later, Shatternkirk slashed Kiviranta, but the Stars weren’t able to convert on the ensuing power play.

Dallas got one more chance to muster anything on the skater advantage when Sergachev tripped Hintz at 12:41, but once more Dallas didn’t score on the power play.

In the closing minutes of the game with the final result all but assured, Pavelski, Cedric Paquette, Barclay Goodrow, Pat Maroon, Dickinson and seemingly just about everyone else on the ice at the time exchanged words and more.

Pavelski was assessed a roughing minor as well as a cross checking minor, Paquette, Goodrow and Dickinson each received a roughing minor, while Maroon was handed a misconduct– ending all of the aforementioned players’ nights early at 18:05 of the third period.

At the final horn, Tampa secured the 2-1 series lead with a, 5-2, win in Game 3 on Wednesday.

The Lightning finished the night leading in shots on goal, 32-24, despite trailing the Stars, 4-3, in the third period alone.

The Bolts also finished the game leading in blocked shots (12-9), while the Stars wrapped up the effort lead in giveaways (21-14), hits (59-54) and faceoff win% (55-45).

Tampa finished 1/4 and Dallas went 0/4 on the power play in the effort.

When leading a playoff series 2-1, the Lightning are 10-3 all time.

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 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 1 of the 2020 Eastern Conference Final

It seems everybody’s scoring points these days as the Tampa Bay Lightning won, 8-2, in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference Final matchup with the New York Islanders on Monday.

Seriously, 11 different Lightning players had at least a point in Monday night’s series opener, while Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov each had five points in the victorious effort.

Tampa carries a, 1-0, series lead heading into Game 2 on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET on NBCSN, CBC, TVAS). Here’s five takeaways for the next game, as well as the series as a whole.

1. Can the Islanders actually contain Tampa’s offense?

Thomas Greiss allowed three goals on nine shots against in the first 10:46 of the game before being replaced by Semyon Varlamov, but that wasn’t the only reason why New York is behind, 1-0, in the series.

Neither the Columbus Blue Jackets, nor the Boston Bruins were able to limit the Lightning’s attacking zone time and possession, which was not only evident by the fact that each of their series matchups with Tampa only lasted five games– the scoreboard reflected it too.

At any point in time, the Bolts can strike fast and amass goals in bunches (as exhibited by their three goals in the first 10:46 of Monday’s game, plus the other five goals they scored afterward).

It’s that momentum swing that the Islanders (or any team that may face the Lightning if Tampa advances to the Stanley Cup Final) will have to be wary about and eliminate at all costs.

Simply put, the Lightning play with a surge in electricity.

2. Inconsistent shots for the Isles

Tampa outshot New York, 10-6, in the first period and finished the second period with an, 18-17, advantage before going on to finish the game with a, 34-24, total shots on goal advantage.

The Lightning went 58:53 without missing the net in Game 1. The only shot attempt that did not go on net for the Bolts came with 67 seconds left in the game off of Cedric Paquette’s stick blade.

Meanwhile, the Islanders– a team primarily built on a defense-first game plan– failed to record at least 30 shots on goal for the second-straight game after amassing 26 shots on net against the Philadelphia Flyers in their, 4-0, win in Game 7 of their Second Round matchup.

New York only allowed 16 shots against that night too.

In their, 5-4, double overtime loss to the Flyers in Game 6, the Islanders recorded 53 shots on goal and allowed 31 shots against.

Game 5 against Philadelphia resulted in a, 4-3, loss in overtime, while shots on goal were even at 32 aside.

The Islanders were outshot, 38-33, in Game 4, but won, 3-2. New York had a, 29-27, advantage in their, 3-1, win in Game 3, as well as a, 34-31, advantage in their, 4-3, overtime loss in Game 2.

Both teams had 29 shots on goal in New York’s, 4-0, win in Game 1 of their Second Round series with Philadelphia.

Without breaking down the quality of their shots for and shots against, a generalized remedy for the Islanders would be to get more pucks on net (duh) and prevent the Lightning from hitting the twine or whichever goaltender Barry Trotz starts in Game 2 against the Bolts.

3. Followup question, who should start in net for New York?

It’s not like Greiss had really made consecutive starts in the postseason before doing just that from Game 7 against Philadelphia on Saturday to Game 1 against Tampa Bay on Monday.

His 2-2 record in four games doesn’t really speak for his 2.02 goals against average and .929 save percentage in the 2020 postseason.

Plus he got most of the night off, so he should still be fresh enough, in theory.

Meanwhile, Varlamov’s decent 9-4 record in 15 games this postseason stands out on its own, but his goals against average is on the rise as of his last two outings to a 2.22, while his save percentage has dropped to a .913.

Still, the Islanders goaltenders have combined for three shutouts this postseason (Varlamov has two, Greiss has one), which are three more shutouts than what Andrei Vasilevskiy has so far (zero, in case that wasn’t clear).

As bad as Greiss’ .667 SV% in Game 1 sounds, Varlamov still allowed five goals against after Greiss gave up the first three in the, 8-2, loss, so Varlamov’s .800 SV% in Game 1 isn’t ideal either.

If anything, Trotz will have to adjust his matchups to curb the speed of Tampa’s rush and instruct his players on getting in passing and shooting lanes to ease the high danger workload of whichever goaltender he opts for in Game 2.

4. Just how many franchise records will Tampa…

In case you haven’t heard by now, the Lightning are good.

So good, in fact, they tied, broke and set some franchise records in Game 1, including:

— The most assists in a playoff year by a Lightning player (Kucherov had four assists in Game 1 to break Martin St. Louis’ previous mark of 15 helpers in 2004, and set the new franchise record with 16 in 2020).

— The first players in franchise history to record five points in a playoff game (Point had two goals and three assists, while Kucherov had one goal and four assists).

— Tampa’s eight goals matched their franchise record for the most goals in a playoff game (the Lightning had eight in what was also an, 8-2, win in Game 5 of the 2011 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Penguins).

Oh and the Bolts improved to 5-0 in their last five playoff games going back to Game 2 against Boston in the Second Round, while outscoring their opponents by a combined, 25-9, margin in the process.

Plus, Point and Kucherov are the second pair of teammates to each record five or more points in a Conference Finals game (since 1982).

Paul Coffey had one goal and five assists (six points), while Jari Kurri had three goals and two assists (five points) in Game 5 of the 1985 Clarence Campbell Conference Final with the Oilers.

5. Will the Lightning buck the trend?

In the last decade or so, the team that plays a longer Conference Final than their opponent in the Stanley Cup Final usually wins the Cup.

It happened just as recent as last year, when the Bruins swept the Carolina Hurricanes in the 2019 Eastern Conference Final and had 10 days off before the 2019 Stanley Cup Final began.

Meanwhile, the St. Louis Blues beat the San Jose Sharks in six games in the 2019 Western Conference Final and only had five days between the third and fourth round of the postseason.

The Blues, of course, won the Cup in seven games.

In terms of significant time off between one series to the next, the Edmonton Oilers had eight days off after beating the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in five games in the 2006 Western Conference Final, then lost in the 2006 Stanley Cup Final in seven games to the Hurricanes who had just come off of a seven-game series win against the Buffalo Sabres in the 2006 Eastern Conference Final.

The aforementioned Mighty Ducks had 10 days off after sweeping the Minnesota Wild in the 2003 Western Conference Final, then lost to the New Jersey Devils in the 2003 Stanley Cup Final in seven games after New Jersey had just three days off between their seven-game series win over the Ottawa Senators in the 2003 Eastern Conference Final and the Cup Final.

Obviously those few examples don’t cover the last decade, but fear not, let’s get that out of the way now…

The 2010 Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks swept the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference Final, while the Philadelphia Flyers eliminated the Montreal Canadiens in five games in the Eastern Conference Final before losing in six games to Chicago in the Final.

O.K. that one didn’t fit the trend, but in 2011, the Vancouver Canucks ousted the Sharks in five games, while the Bruins beat the Lightning in seven games, then went on to beat Vancouver in seven games in the 2011 Stanley Cup Final.

In 2012, the Los Angeles Kings beat the Phoenix Coyotes in five games in the Western Conference Final, while the Devils overcame the New York Rangers in six games. Los Angeles beat New Jersey in six games to capture their first Cup in franchise history.

Wait, it happened again, didn’t it?

Well, in 2013, the Bruins swept the Pittsburgh Penguins in the East, while the Blackhawks took five games to knockout the Kings in the West, then beat Boston in six games in the 2013 Stanley Cup Final. A-ha! There’s one!

In 2014, the Rangers beat Montreal in six games in the Eastern Conference Final, while the Kings defeated the Blackhawks in seven games before Los Angeles won their second Cup in three years by defeating New York in five games.

In 2015, both Tampa and Chicago went all seven games in their respective Conference Finals matchups with the Rangers and Anaheim Ducks, respectively.

Chicago won their third Cup in five years in six games over the Bolts in the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, though.

In 2016, the Penguins beat the Lightning in seven games in the Eastern Conference Final, while the Sharks beat the Blues in six games in the Western Conference Final.

Pittsburgh defeated San Jose in six games in the 2016 Stanley Cup Final.

In 2017, the Penguins edged out the Senators in seven games in the East, while the Nashville Predators beat the Ducks in six games in the West.

Pittsburgh went back-to-back as two-time defending Cup champions with their fifth title in franchise history after defeating the Predators in six games in the 2017 Stanley Cup Final.

And, of course, back in 2018, the Washington Capitals beat the Lightning in seven games in the Eastern Conference Final, while the Vegas Golden Knights defeated the Winnipeg Jets in five games in the Western Conference Final.

Washington won the Cup in five games over Vegas in the 2018 Stanley Cup Final.

Back in 1993, of course, the Canadiens beat the Islanders in five games in the Prince of Wales Conference Final, while Los Angeles took seven games to eliminate the Toronto Maple Leafs in the Clarence Campbell Conference Final.

The Habs defeated the Kings in five games to capture the Cup in the 1993 Stanley Cup Final– what’s perhaps the most recent instance of a team amassing a week off between the Conference Finals and the Stanley Cup Final and still winning the Cup despite all that time off.

Either that or it’s one more chance to point out that this year’s Cup will be awarded on Canadian sole, but for the 27th year in-a-row, it won’t be going to a Canadian based NHL club.

Assuming (since they won Game 1) that the Lightning go on to punch their ticket to the 2020 Stanley Cup Final in as little as four or five games and the 2020 Western Conference Final matchup between the Dallas Stars and Golden Knights goes six or seven games, then Tampa could be in trouble.

Then again, with the bubble in place and resulting lack of travel— as well as a condensed schedule due to the hopes of still having an 82-game regular season in 2020-21— the earliest the 2020 Stanley Cup Final could begin would be around Sept. 21st or 22nd, since the league already determined the Final must end by or on Oct. 4th— which would leave the Bolts with about a week off to scout their next potential opponent in person for as long as the West takes to decide their series.

For any Islanders fans that thought I forgot about them, the Edmonton Oilers had eight days off after sweeping the Minnesota North Stars in the 1984 Semifinals (the precursor to the modern Conference Finals round), while New York took down Montreal in six games and had four days off between the Semifinals and the 1984 Stanley Cup Final.

Edmonton won the series in five games in what is the Islanders’ most-recent Stanley Cup Final appearance.

2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs Second Round Preview: Eastern Conference

The turnaround from the Qualifier to the First Round was too quick to get this out of the way (other than on the podcast), but at least the league and broadcasting partners gave us all a day or two between the First and Second Round– oh.

By the time that you’ll be reading this, all four Second Round series’ will have played at least one game, while some might have already played through two games.

Fear not, though, the series winner and other basic notes entering the Second Round were written down before puck drop and before the rest of the words in this post were filled around them.

Once again, this postseason is unpredictable– and that’s besides whatever happens on the ice.

At any point in time things could be shutdown again, because– you know– of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The players, coaches, team and league staff, as well as broadcasting crews and essential arena/hotel employees have all been in the bubble for almost a month now.

There aren’t enough words to express how taxing on the mind the isolation really is, despite teammates being in the bubble together, etc.

None on the league staff or team staff will see their families, romantic partners, roommates back home, etc. until they’re either eliminated or heading home with the Stanley Cup in their arms *fingers crossed*.

Luckily, the league’s made it this far into Phase 4 with no positive tests for COVID-19 out of the thousands of tests they’ve conducted.

For one reason or another (TV broadcast deals, probably), they’ve decided to make the Second Round feature a multitude of “back-to-backs”– that’s two games in two nights, whereas normally by this point in the playoffs there’s always (except for extenuating arena availability circumstances) a day off between each game in a series.

Alas, being in two bubble cities (Edmonton and Toronto), the league can do whatever it wants.

For now, let’s focus on the Eastern Conference teams in the Second Round.

As a reminder, the Conference Finals and Stanley Cup Final will be held at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, if everything goes according to plan. All Eastern Conference games before then, however, will take place at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Ontario.

Sadly, families won’t allowed to join the players in the Conference Finals and beyond as was first anticipated at the beginning of the bubble.

(1) Philadelphia Flyers (41-21-7, 89 points) vs (6) New York Islanders (35-23-10, 80 points)

Philadelphia: 69 games played, .645 points percentage, 31 regulation wins.

N.Y. Islanders: 68 games played, .588 points percentage, 24 regulation wins.

In his first season as head coach of the Philadelphia Flyers, Alain Vigneault led the team from finishing in fourth place in the Eastern Conference by points percentage at the stoppage to securing the top seed in the East as a result of an undefeated Round Robin performance in what can only be described as wild a ride as the year 2020 has been.

No, the Flyers haven’t had as many lows as what 2020 has brought to the world, but they’ve been on fire as of late– since February, really– so maybe the universe is collapsing only because Philadelphia has what might be their greatest chance at winning the Cup for the first time since 1975.

Oh and they have a legitimate goaltender, but we’ll get to that in a minute.

The Flyers beat the Montreal Canadiens in six games in the First Round to advance to their Second Round matchup with the New York Islanders and– as has been the trend with 2020– nobody quite knows what to expect going into this series.

Travis Konecny led Philly in scoring in the regular season with 24-37–61 totals in 66 games before the ongoing pandemic shortened the season. Sean Couturier had the second-most points with 59 in 69 games and Jakub Voracek was third on the roster in scoring with 56 points in 69 games.

Thus far in the postseason, Voracek leads the team entering the Second Round with eight points (four goals, four assists) in eight games. Kevin Hayes has 1-6–7 totals in nine games, while Scott Laughton and Couturier each have five points entering Philly’s matchup with the Islanders.

In the regular season, Carter Hart led the way in the crease with a 24-13-3 record in 43 games (40 starts), one shutout, as well as a 2.42 goals against average and a .914 save percentage in that span.

Brian Elliott forged a 16-7-4 record in 31 games (27 starts), with a 2.87 GAA, an .899 SV% and two shutouts as Philadelphia’s backup, while Alex Lyon made three appearances (two starts) and had a 3.55 GAA, as well as an .890 SV% in the process.

Entering the Second Round, Hart has a 6-2-0 record in eight games with a 1.71 GAA, a .943 SV% and two shutouts in the process, while Elliott made one start and one relief appearance (two games) for a 1-0-0 record with a 1.47 GAA and a .913 SV%.

At the other end of the ice, the New York Islanders overcame the Florida Panthers in four games (3-1) in their best of five Qualifier series, then defeated the Washington Capitals in five games (4-1) in the First Round of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs to line themselves up with the Flyers in the Second Round.

Mathew Barzal led the charge for the Isles with 19-41–60 totals in 68 games this season with Brock Nelson (54 points in 68 games), Anders Lee (43 points in 68 games) and Josh Bailey (43 points in 68 games) at the forefront of New York’s offense in 2019-20.

Thus far in the postseason, Bailey’s emerged as the Islanders’ points leader with 2-8–10 totals in nine games, while Anthony Beauvillier entered Game 1 against Philadelphia hot on his tail with 6-3–9 totals in nine games.

Meanwhile, Nelson and Barzal each had seven points in nine games for the third most points on the team in the 2020 postseason.

In the crease, Semyon Varlamov went 19-14-6 in 45 games (39 starts) in the regular season with a 2.62 GAA and a .914 SV%, as well as two shutouts in that span, while Thomas Greiss backed Varlamov up with a 16-9-4 record in 31 games (29 starts), a 2.74 GAA and a .913 SV%.

Varlamov has a 7-2 record in nine games entering the Second Round with one shutout, as well as a 1.67 GAA and a .934 SV% in that span.

The Flyers went 0-2-1 in the regular season against the Islanders and– despite being the hottest team since February– now have to face one of the best teams at shutting things down on a night-to-night basis.

Barry Trotz’ defensive scheme is a game plan for success with the Isles’ makeup, so the Flyers are going to have to pull them away from their go-to lanes.

Plus there’s the lack of offense to worry about for Philadelphia from their First Round matchup with the Canadiens that, if any of it is leftover for the Second Round, could spell trouble for Philly’s Cup hopes.

Meanwhile, despite Varlamov’s consistency this postseason, the Flyers have the upper hand in the crease with Hart getting into a rhythm and hitting his stride when it counts.

This is the fifth time these two clubs have met in the postseason and the Flyers hold the, 3-1, advantage in all time series meetings prior, but there’s a chance New York gets revenge on Philadelphia for the first time since 1980.

As much as New York could pull off the upset (based on seeding only and disregarding regular season head-to-head performance), the Flyers should be able to put it together and advance to their first Eastern Conference Final since 2010, by wrapping things up in six games.

Regular season outcomes:

5-3 NYI at NYCB Live/Nassau Coliseum on Oct. 27th, 4-3 F/SO NYI at Wells Fargo Center on Nov. 16th, 5-3 NYI at Barclays Center on Feb. 11th

Schedule:

8/24- Game 1 NYI @ PHI in Toronto 7 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS

8/26- Game 2 NYI @ PHI in Toronto 3 PM ET on NBCN, SN, TVAS

8/27- Game 3 PHI @ NYI in Toronto 7 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS

8/29- Game 4 PHI @ NYI in Toronto 12 PM ET on NBC, SN, TVAS

8/31- Game 5 NYI @ PHI in Toronto*

9/2- Game 6 PHI @ NYI in Toronto*

9/3- Game 7 NYI @ PHI in Toronto*

*If necessary

(2) Tampa Bay Lightning (43-21-6, 92 points) vs (4) Boston Bruins (44-14-12, 100 points)

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

Boston: 70 games played, .714 points percentage, 38 regulation wins.

Despite the Boston Bruins clinching the Presidents’ Trophy with the league’s best record in the 2019-20 shortened regular season, the Tampa Bay Lightning have the higher seed thanks to a better performance in the 2020 Round Robin.

Tampa avenged their elimination from last year’s First Round in four games by beating the Columbus Blue Jackets in the five games (4-1) in the 2020 First Round, which included a 5OT victory in Game 1 and a commanding overtime win in Game 5 (that ultimately ended the series, because that’s how a best-of-seven works).

Nikita Kucherov led the Lightning in the regular season with 33-52–85 totals in 68 games played, while Steven Stamkos had the second-most points on the team (66) despite being limited to 57 games due to injury.

Brayden Point, meanwhile, had the third most points on the team in the regular season with 25-39–56 totals in 66 games.

Entering the Second Round, however, Point was in command of Tampa’s scoring leaders with 5-5–10 totals in eight games, while Kucherov had nine points in eight games and a three-way tie for the third most between Tyler Johnson, Alex Killorn and Yanni Gourde had yet to be resolved as each had four points prior to Tampa’s series matchup with Boston.

Oh and nobody knows how long Stamkos will be out since having core muscle surgery in March, then leaving practice in July after supposedly recovering in the allotted six to eight weeks post operation.

In the crease, Andrei Vasilevskiy led the charge with a 35-14-3 record in 52 games played (all starts), as well as three shutouts, a 2.56 GAA and a .917 SV% in that span.

His backup, Curtis McElhinney, posted an 8-7-3 record in 18 games with a 2.89 GAA, a .906 SV% and one shutout this season.

Entering the Second Round, Vasilevskiy was 6-2 in eight games with a 1.98 GAA and a .927 SV%.

The Lightning have a lot of fire power and a defense that’s good enough to help inflate their goaltender’s win column, regardless of his status as a Vezina Trophy finalist this season– it certainly helps win some games every now and then when the rest of your teammates are limiting your workload for you.

At the other end of the ice, the Boston Bruins went winless in the Round Robin and failed to record a point in the tournament while Chris Wagner led the team in scoring with a pair of goals over the three Round Robin games.

Then they flipped the switch and beat the Carolina Hurricanes in five games (4-1) to advance to the Second Round of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs and, well, here they are.

David Pastrnak shared the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy honors with Alex Ovechkin in 2019-20, as both players scored 48 goals before the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic cut the regular season short.

Pastrnak also led the Bruins in scoring with 48-47–95 totals in 70 games.

Brad Marchand was second on the roster with 28-59–87 totals and Patrice Bergeron completed the first line, as well as the top-three trio in scoring with 31-25–56 totals in 61 games in the regular season.

In the postseason so far, the re-emergence of David “Playoff Krech” Krejci has come to fruition as No. 46 in black-and-gold leads his teammates in playoff scoring with 3-6–9 totals in eight games entering the Second Round.

Marchand (3-4–7 totals in eight games) and Bergeron (2-4–6 totals in eight games) are second and third on the roster, respectively, in scoring prior to their series matchup with Tampa.

Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak combined efforts to take home the William M. Jennings Trophy having allowed the fewest combined goals against (174) among goaltender(s) with a minimum of 25 games played in 2019-20.

Rask finished the regular season with a Vezina Trophy finalist nomination, as well as a 26-8-6 record in 41 games (41 starts), a 2.12 GAA, a .929 SV% and five shutouts in that span.

Halak went 18-6-6 in 31 games (29 starts) and had a 2.39 GAA, a .919 SV% and three shutouts prior to the pandemic cutting the regular season short.

Prior to opting out of the rest of the 2020 postseason due to a family medical emergency involving one of his daughters, Rask had a 1-3-0 record in four games (four starts) in the bubble with a 2.57 GAA and a .904 SV% in that span.

There is no blame for being a good parent and knowing that the right thing to always do is take care of your family first– even if your team is in the middle of what could be their last chance to win a Cup with their current core group of players.

The last time the league participated in a postseason in a pandemic, several players contracted the flu and one (Montreal Canadiens star, Joe Hall) died a few days after the 1919 Stanley Cup Final was called off from pneumonia as a complication from influenza.

Have some compassion, for once.

Halak, in the meantime, enters the Second Round as Boston’s starting goaltender with a 3-1-0 record in four games (four starts), as well as a 2.29 GAA and a .912 SV% in that span.

In the regular season, the Bruins went 1-2-1 against the Lightning, while the Bolts held a 3-1-0 record against Boston in the season series (their first game back on Oct. 17th being a, 4-3, shootout victory for Tampa).

Scoring was pretty even at a, 13-10, advantage for the Lightning across all four meetings, despite the Bruins outshooting the Bolts, 139-113, in the four games combined.

The two clubs are 1-1 all time in two previous postseason meetings, where Boston eliminated Tampa in seven games in the 2011 Eastern Conference Final and the Bolts returned the favor to the Bruins in five games in the 2018 Second Round.

Two years removed from Boston’s collapsed hopes of a deep run at the hands of the Lightning, the B’s made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final in 2019, thanks to the Blue Jackets sweeping the Lightning in the 2019 First Round, then bowing out to Boston in six games in the 2019 Second Round.

These two Atlantic Division teams are more intertwined than average fan might think and a rivalry has sprung as of, well, really since that 2011 series.

The Bruins have struggled to handle the Lightning– especially within the last few seasons, at least.

With everything in mind, it’s also important to remember just how hard it is to go all the way back to the Stanley Cup Final after making it in the previous year– let alone make it out of the First Round after having five months off due to a pandemic.

If anything, it’s not that Bruins are an “aging team”– so are the Lightning at their core with each and every passing year that Stamkos and Co. have not won a Cup ring.

If anything, it’s that the Lightning simply are Boston’s Kryptonite like how the Montreal Canadiens once were before the 21st century.

Boston might be able to win a game or two, but Tampa should really have this series taken care of in six games.

Regular season outcomes:

4-3 F/SO TBL at TD Garden on Oct. 17th, 3-2 TBL at Amalie Arena on Dec. 12th, 2-1 BOS at Amalie Arena on March 3rd, 5-3 TBL at TD Garden on March 7th

Schedule:

8/23- Game 1 BOS @ TBL in Toronto 8 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS

8/25- Game 2 BOS @ TBL in Toronto 7 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS

8/26- Game 3 TBL @ BOS in Toronto 8 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS

8/28- Game 4 TBL @ BOS in Toronto 7:30 PM ET on USA, CBC, SN, TVAS

8/30- Game 5 BOS @ TBL in Toronto*

9/1- Game 6 TBL @ BOS in Toronto*

9/2- Game 7 BOS @ TBL in Toronto*

*If necessary

2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs Second Round Preview: Western Conference

The turnaround from the Qualifier to the First Round was too quick to get this out of the way (other than on the podcast), but at least the league and broadcasting partners gave us all a day or two between the First and Second Round– oh.

By the time that you’ll be reading this, the Colorado Avalanche and Dallas Stars will likely already be well into the first period (at least) of Game 1 in their 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs Second Round matchup.

Once again, this postseason is unpredictable– and that’s besides whatever happens on the ice.

At any point in time things could be shutdown again, because– you know– of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The players, coaches, team and league staff, as well as broadcasting crews and essential arena/hotel employees have all been in the bubble for almost a month now.

There aren’t enough words to express how taxing on the mind the isolation really is, despite teammates being in the bubble together, etc.

None on the league staff or team staff will see their families, romantic partners, roommates back home, etc. until they’re either eliminated or heading home with the Stanley Cup in their arms *fingers crossed*.

Luckily, the league’s made it this far into Phase 4 with no positive tests for COVID-19 out of the thousands of tests they’ve conducted.

For one reason or another (TV broadcast deals, probably), they’ve decided to make the Second Round feature a multitude of “back-to-backs”– that’s two games in two nights, whereas normally by this point in the playoffs there’s always (except for extenuating arena availability circumstances) a day off between each game in a series.

Alas, being in two bubble cities (Edmonton and Toronto), the league can do whatever it wants.

For now, let’s focus on the Western Conference teams in the Second Round. We’ll get to the Eastern Conference later.

As a reminder, the Conference Finals and Stanley Cup Final will be held at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, if everything goes according to plan.

Sadly, families won’t allowed to join the players in the Conference Finals and beyond as was first anticipated at the beginning of the bubble.

(1) Vegas Golden Knights (39-24-8, 86 points) vs (5) Vancouver Canucks (36-27-6, 78 points)

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

Vancouver: 69 games played, .565 points percentage, 27 regulation wins.

The Vegas Golden Knights took care of the Chicago Blackhawks in five games (4-1) in the First Round and (if you remember, they didn’t have to play in any Qualifier by virtue of being one of the best four Western Conference teams– seeding determined by a Round Robin tournament) are set to experience what it’s like to face the Vancouver Canucks in the Second Round.

Vancouver hasn’t been back to the Second Round since their 2011 Stanley Cup Final appearance, so good news for them– they won a series for the first time in nine years.

The Golden Knights were led by Max Pacioretty (32-34–66 totals in 71 games played) in the regular season, with Mark Stone (63 points in 65 games) and Reilly Smith (54 points in 71 games) rounding out the top-three scorers on the team.

Through eight games this postseason, Vegas has looked like their usual selves.

Sure, the goaltending is a hot topic these days, but the team can jump out to a quick, 1-0, lead or play a long-range game where the club takes absolute control of the third period and beats their opponent into submission– both on the ice and on the scoreboard.

Stone (four goals, four assists) and Smith (three goals, five assists) lead the Golden Knights with eight points each in eight games thus far in the 2020 postseason.

Shea Theodore (four goals, three assists) and Jonathan Marchessault (two goals, five assists) have the second most points thus far for Vegas– each of them have seven points in eight games.

Oh and William Karlsson– the other usual suspect for Golden Knights offense– has 2-4–6 totals in eight games.

In the regular season, Marc-Andre Fleury amassed a 27-16-5 record in 49 games (48 starts) for the Golden Knights with a 2.77 goals against average and a .905 save percentage in the process, as well as five shutouts.

Malcolm Subban played the role of the backup with a 9-7-3 record in 20 games (19 starts), a 3.18 GAA and an .890 SV% until he was traded at the deadline to the Blackhawks in a three-team trade that witnessed Robin Lehner exchange hands from Chicago to the Toronto Maple Leafs to Vegas.

Lehner, in the meantime, went 3-0-0 with a 1.67 GAA, a .940 SV% and one shutout for Vegas until the stoppage due to the pandemic.

Oscar Dansk also made one appearance in 2019-20 for the Golden Knights, amassing a 6.00 GAA and an .838 SV% to go with his 0-1-0 record.

In the playoffs, there’s a growing goalie controversy– no, not mentioning Fleury’s agent posting… …whatever that was— but Fleury’s posted a 2-0 record in two games (two starts) with a 2.50 GAA and an .886 SV.

Meanwhile, Lehner has amassed a 5-1 record in six games with a 2.44 GAA and a .904 SV% in the process.

Lehner’s had his moments, but he’s looked more confident and able to carry himself so far since returning after, what, five months off from the regular season to Phase 4?

Fleury, on the other hand, has let in some goals that are reminiscent of his pre-three Stanley Cup rings with the Pittsburgh Penguins days.

Is it his age or simply a byproduct of not being able to get quite restarted after a pandemic stoppage? Well, we may never know, because despite the “controversy” he still managed to win both games he was in and now– after more of a workload than Fleury– Lehner is regressing to some sort of standard trend for Vegas goaltenders this season.

At the other end of the rink, the Canucks broke through with their first series win since 2011, by beating the Minnesota Wild in four games (3-1) to make the playoffs, then defeated the St. Louis Blues in six games (4-2) to meetup with the Golden Knights in the Second Round.

J.T. Miller (27-45–72 totals in 69 games) led Vancouver in scoring, while Elias Pettersson (66 points in 69 games) had the second most points and Bo Horvat (53 points in 69 games) was third.

Pettersson leads his team through 10 games with 4-9–13 totals this postseason as Miller (5-5–10 totals) and Quinn Hughes (1-9–10 totals) each battle it out for second in Canucks playoff scoring.

Horvat (six goals, two assists) and Brock Boeser (three goals, five assists) each had eight points for the third most in offensive production for Vancouver thus far.

In the crease, Jacob Markstrom led the way in the regular season with a 23-16-4 record in 43 games (43 starts), as well as a 2.75 GAA, a .918 SV% and two shutouts in 2019-20.

Thatcher Demko put up a 13-10-2 record in 27 games (25 starts) and had a 3.06 GAA, as well as a .905 SV% as Vancouver’s backup, while Louis Domingue made an appearance this season while the Canucks were depleted due to injury and amassed a 4.08 GAA and an .882 SV% to go with his 0-1-0 record in one game.

In the playoffs, it’s been all Markstrom, who is 7-3 in ten games with a 2.44 GAA, a .929 SV% and one shutout in that span.

Golden Knights head coach, Peter DeBoer, usually makes it to at least the Conference Finals– if not Stanley Cup Final– in his first season/partial season with a new team after being fired by his old team.

Good news for Vegas fans, DeBoer is behind the bench.

Canucks head coach, Travis Green, has been a long-time coming coaching prospect turned annual “is he in the hot seat?”– but not really– extraordinaire that, with the help of youth, time and forward progress, has been presented a roster that can and will turn heads both in the now and near future.

Basically, these two teams met on Dec. 15th and Dec. 19th and each won a game.

Vegas beat Vancouver, 6-3, at T-Mobile Arena on Dec. 15th, while the Canucks took home a, 5-4, overtime win on Dec. 19th at Rogers Arena.

The Golden Knights had a combined 89 shots against the Canucks, who had a combined 63 shots against Vegas this season.

Neither team’s goaltending looked solid in their head-to-head matchups, but entering the Second Round, Markstrom clearly has the upper hand.

That said, Vegas has the powerful offense– with recent playoff experience to boot– and their tried and true defense that saw the addition of clutch playoff performer and underrated leader when it really counts, Alec Martinez, at the trade deadline from the Los Angeles Kings.

It’s their first time ever meeting and it’s likely one that will last longer than most fans might think– because, again, Markstrom is a huge factor. Whether or not he’s actually this good all the time doesn’t matter.

He’s a hot goaltender this year and he’s been consistent thus far since returning from the stoppage.

It won’t be easy, but the Golden Knights should advance, however, to the 2020 Western Conference Final in six games when all is said and done.

Regular season outcomes:

6-3 VGK at T-Mobile Arena on Dec. 15th, 5-4 F/OT VAN at Rogers Arena on Dec. 19th

Schedule:

8/23- Game 1 VAN @ VGK in Edmonton 10:30 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS

8/25- Game 2 VAN @ VGK in Edmonton 9:45 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS

8/27- Game 3 VGK @ VAN in Edmonton, 8 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS

8/29- Game 4 VGK @ VAN in Edmonton, 8 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS

8/31- Game 5 VAN @ VGK in Edmonton*

9/1- Game 6 VGK @ VAN in Edmonton*

9/3- Game 7 VAN @ VGK in Edmonton*

*If necessary

(2) Colorado Avalanche (42-20-8, 92 points) vs (3) Dallas Stars (37-24-8, 82 points)

Colorado: 70 games played, .657 points percentage, 37 regulation wins.

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

Both the Colorado Avalanche and Dallas Stars were good enough in the Western Conference to participate in the Round Robin tournament while the Stanley Cup Qualifier was going on, after which, the Avs beat the Arizona Coyotes in five games in the First Round, while the Stars eliminated the Calgary Flames in six games.

Nathan MacKinnon led the way for Colorado in the regular season with 35 goals and 58 assists for 93 points in 69 games played. Rookie defender, Cale Makar, was second in team scoring with 50 points in an injury shortened 57-game season, while offseason acquisition, Andre Burakovsky amassed 20-25–45 totals in 58 games for the third most points on the team.

In the postseason, MacKinnon is still leading the way for the Avalanche with 13 points (four goals, nine assists) in eight games entering the Second Round. Nazem Kadri is a close-second with 11 points (six goals, five assists) through eight games, while Mikko Rantanen is third with 10 points (three goals, seven assists) in eight games.

In the net, Philipp Grubauer split time with Pavel Francouz.

Grubauer amassed an 18-12-4 record in 36 games played (36 starts), while putting up a 2.63 GAA, a .916 SV% and two shutouts.

Francouz had a 21-7-4 record in 34 games (31 starts) and yielded a 2.41 GAA, a .923 SV% and one shutout in that span.

Meanwhile, Michael Hutchinson made one appearance and recorded a 1.00 GAA, as well as a .944 SV% in that game for Colorado after being acquired at the deadline.

In the playoffs, Grubauer’s carried the weight with a 5-0-1 record in six games, a 1.49 GAA, a .937 SV% and one shutout in that span, while Francouz has made two appearances with a 1-1-0 record, a 1.02 GAA, a .958 SV% and one shutout in that stretch.

Entering Game 1, Grubauer was likely to see more time in the crease (but that’s changed now with his lower body injury that he sustained).

Across the ice, the Dallas Stars advanced to the Second Round after ousting the Flames and were led by Tyler Seguin’s 50 points (17 goals, 33 assists) in 69 games in the regular season, while Jamie Benn (19-20–39 totals in 69 games) and Miro Heiskanen (8-27–35 totals in 69 games) also played major roles leading up to the pause.

Entering the Second Round, Heiskanen has emerged as a generational talent for Dallas’ blue line with three goals and nine assists (12 points) in nine games thus far. Free agent signing, Joe Pavelski, has paid off with his usual clutch playoff performance– eight points (six goals, two assists) in nine games so far.

Meanwhile, rookie, Denis Gurianov (6-1–7 totals in nine games) and John Klingberg (1-6–7 totals in eight games) are battling it out for the third most points on the roster thus far in the 2020 postseason.

Gurianov had four goals and an assist against Calgary in Game 6– tying Chicago’s Dominik Kubalik for the most points in a playoff game by a rookie this postseason with five– one shy of the NHL record (Mikko Leinonen had six points– all assists– for the New York Rangers in Game 2 of their Patrick Division Semifinal against the Philadelphia Flyers on April 8, 1982).

In net, Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin made a solid goaltending tandem for the Stars with Bishop amassing a 21-16-4 record in 44 games (43 starts), a 2.50 GAA, a .920 SV% and two shutouts while battling injury at times.

Khudobin, meanwhile, held things down with a 16-8-4 record in 30 games (26 starts), a 2.22 GAA and a .930 SV%.

In the postseason, Bishop has been “unfit to play” for the majority of Stars games, while managing to put up a 1-1 record in two games, with a 4.04 GAA and an .862 SV%.

As a result, Dallas interim head coach, Rick Bowness, has had to rely on Khudobin, who’s amassed a 4-3 record in seven games, with a 2.49 GAA and a .919 SV% entering the Second Round.

Now is where the fun begins.

Despite all of their dominance in the regular season, Jared Bednar’s Avalanche have yet to crack the code on the Stars.

Dallas won all four matchups with Colorado, with the Avs dropping a game in overtime and in a shootout to the Stars this season.

Colorado outshot Dallas, 162-137, in combined shots on goal in their head-to-head meetings in 2019-20, but they managed exactly zero wins with Grubauer in net for all four matchups.

Now, of course, with Grubauer hurt in Game 1, they’ll have to be bailed out by Francouz if all else fails.

But coming into the series, for all the mighty strength the Avalanche have in scoring depth, a youthful defense that moves the puck with speed and skill– there’s a very real possibility the Stars overtake them.

For the most part, Colorado has a mix of playoff experience, but Dallas experienced the heartbreak of losing in a Game 7 to the St. Louis Blues that went to double overtime.

That alone is motivation enough for the Stars to make quick work of the Avs and get back to the Western Conference Final for the first time since 2008, when they lost to the eventual 2008 Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings in six games.

For Colorado, however, it’s been an even longer wait since their last appearance in the Western Conference Final. The Avalanche last made it in 2002, when they lost in seven games to the eventual 2002 Stanley Cup champion Red Wings.

But then there’s Colorado’s recent strides to improve from a First Round exit in 2018 to a Second Round exit last year to consider. There’s a chance they just keep marching forward and at least make it to the Western Conference Final in 2020.

Entering the series, the Avalanche would be a lock for eliminating the Stars in seven games.

But with the result of Game 1’s injury to Grubauer, it’s possible the Avalanche can’t get over the mountain and collapse.

Regardless, the Stars are riding the momentum of an emotional comeback from a three-goal deficit in Game 6 against the Flames in the First Round that it shouldn’t be/wasn’t a surprise that Dallas wins/won Game 1.

The regular season record means nothing– especially more so when the playoffs are five months after a shortened regular season due to a pandemic and completely isolated to two buildings (one per conference).

Colorado can get over the Stars if they first shoot for the moon and a seven-game series victory. It’ll be a good test for how they’ll measure up with the Golden Knights in the predicted 2020 Western Conference Final in this post.

And, boy, what a series that would be.

But first, it’s two teams that haven’t met since the 2006 Western Conference Quarterfinal, when the Avalanche won in five games– like they did in the 2004 Western Conference Quarterfinal.

The all-time playoff series between Colorado and Dallas is even at, 2-2, since the Stars initially beat the Avs in the 1999 and 2000 Western Conference Final– both years went all seven games.

Regular season outcomes:

2-1 DAL at Pepsi Center on Nov. 1st, 4-1 DAL at American Airlines Center on Nov. 5th, 3-2 F/SO DAL at American Airlines Center on Dec. 28th, 3-2 F/OT DAL at Pepsi Center on Jan. 14th

Schedule:

8/22- Game 1 DAL @ COL in Edmonton 8 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS

8/24- Game 2 DAL @ COL in Edmonton 9:45 PM ET on NBCSN, SN, TVAS

8/26- Game 3 COL @ DAL in Edmonton 10:30 PM ET on NBCSN, SN, TVAS

8/28- Game 4 COL @ DAL in Edmonton 10 PM ET on NBCSN, SN, TVAS

8/30- Game 5 DAL @ COL in Edmonton*

8/31- Game 6 COL @ DAL in Edmonton*

9/2- Game 7 DAL @ COL in Edmonton*

Hamilton duels as Hurricanes storm Bruins, 3-2, in Game 2

No, he didn’t throw away his shot– Dougie Hamilton scored the game-winning goal with it in the third period of Thursday’s, 3-2, victory for the Carolina Hurricanes over the Boston Bruins in Game 2 of their 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round matchup in the bubble at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto.

James Reimer (2-0 in two games played, 1.50 goals against average, .959 save percentage this postseason) made 33 saves on 35 shots against for a .959 SV% in the win for the Hurricanes.

Bruins goaltender, Tuukka Rask (1-3 in four games played, 2.58 GAA, .904 SV% this postseason) stopped 23 out of 26 shots faced (.885 SV%) in the loss.

Canes head coach, Rod Brind’Amour made a few adjustments to his lineup from Game 1 to Game 2 by replacing Jake Garidner, Joel Edmundson and Nino Niederreiter with Trevor van Riemsdyk, Sami Vatanen and Justin Williams as Williams and Vatanen made their return to the lineup after being “unfit to play” in the series opener.

B’s head coach, Bruce Cassidy, made a couple adjustments to his lineup after the Bruins announced that David Pastrnak was “unfit to play” in Game 2 about a half-an-hour before puck drop.

As a result, Anders Bjork was moved up to the right side of Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand on the first line, while Karson Kuhlman drew into the lineup in Bjork’s spot as the third line right wing.

After the game, Cassidy informed reporters in his media availability that Pastrnak was deemed “questionable” for Game 1 and is expected to be dealing with a short term problem.

Boston’s long list of healthy scratches on Thursday included Zach Senyshyn, Par Lindholm, John Moore, Maxime Lagace, Urho Vaakanainen, Jakub Zboril, Jack Studnicka, Connor Clifton, Dan Vladar and Trent Frederic while Pastrnak was “unfit to play” (and therefore not a “healthy” scratch, technically speaking).

Midway through the opening frame, Jeremy Lauzon responded to a clean hit and received a minor infraction for unsportsmanlike conduct at 11:41 of the first period.

Carolina didn’t convert on their first power play of the night, however, and the Bruins made the kill on Lauzon’s minor.

Less than a minute later, Brady Skjei was sent to the penalty box for catching Ondrej Kase with a hook at 14:26.

Almost midway through their first power play of the game, Boston worked the puck to David Krejci (2) for a shot from the high slot that beat Reimer’s blocker side to give the B’s a, 1-0, lead at 15:41.

Marchand (3) and Torey Krug (2) tallied the assists on Krejci’s power-play goal.

The goal tied Krejci with Peter McNab for sixth place in Bruins franchise history among the most career playoff goals scored with 38 in his career– trailing Johnny Bucyk (40) and Bergeron (41) for fifth and fourth, respectively.

Entering the first intermission, the Bruins led the Hurricanes, 1-0, on the scoreboard, despite trialing Carolina, 7-6, in shots on goal.

Boston held the advantage in blocked shots (7-5) and faceoff win percentage (54-46), while the Hurricanes led in takeaways (6-0) and hits (13-12).

Both teams had three giveaways each through 20 minutes of action, while the Canes were 0/1 and the B’s were 1/1 on the power play heading into the middle frame.

After colliding awkwardly with Charlie McAvoy along the boards, Andrei Svechnikov had to answer to Zdeno Chara, who expressed displeasure in seeing his defensive partner get rocked.

Cooler heads (kind of) prevailed and both Svechnikov and Chara received two minute minors for roughing at 6:57 of the second period.

Almost ten minutes later, Chris Wagner elbowed Skjei and was assessed an elbowing penalty at 14:56.

It didn’t take the Hurricanes long to convert on the ensuing skater advantage as Teuvo Teravainen (2) sniped a shot past Rask’s blocker side– tying the game, 1-1, in the process.

Svechnikov (3) and Sebastian Aho (7) collected the assists on Teravainen’s power-play goal at 15:13.

No. 37 in white and red put the Canes ahead, 2-1, with their first lead of the night 1:28 after Teravainen tied it.

Carolina kept the puck in the attacking zone and worked it to Svechnikov (4) on a zig-zag passing play while he caught the rubber biscuit and released a shot from the slot over Rask’s blocker side under the crossbar.

Martin Necas (2) and van Riemsdyk (1) had the assists on Svechnikov’s goal at 16:41 of the second period.

A couple minutes later, Teravainen was penalized for interference after inadvertently colliding with Krug at 18:18.

In the dying seconds of the second period, Marchand (1) redirected a shot pass from Bergeron to knot the game up, 2-2, at 19:55.

Bergeron (3) and Krejci (2) nabbed the assists on Marchand’s power-play goal and the two teams went into the dressing room for the second intermission tied, 2-2, on the scoreboard, despite Boston leading in shots on goal, 20-17– including a, 14-10, advantage in the second period alone.

The Bruins carried the advantage in blocked shots (11-10), giveaways (12-7), hits (30-24) and faceoff win% (51-49) through 40 minutes, while the Canes held the advantage in takeaways (8-2).

Carolina was 1/2 on the skater advantage, while Boston was 2/2 on the power play entering the second intermission.

Early in the final frame, Carolina thought they scored, but Wes McCauley quickly waved it off on the grounds that there was goaltender interference as Teravainen crashed the crease and pushed Rask with his forearm– impeding on Rask’s ability to reset and attempt to make a save on the followup shot.

This did not sit well with Brind’Amour, however– fined $25,000 for criticizing the league and its officials for a lack of calls and blown calls in Game 1– he used his coach’s challenge in effort to reverse the call on the ice.

After review, the call on the ice was confirmed– no goal– and play continued, much to the dismay of Brind’Amour.

As a result of the failed challenge, Carolina was assessed a bench minor penalty for delay of game at 3:32 of the third period. Ryan Dzingel served the infraction and Boston failed to capitalize on the skater advantage.

Almost midway through the final period, Dougie Hamilton (1) blasted a one-timer from the right point over Rask’s glove on the short side and put the Hurricanes on top, 3-2.

Necas (3) had the only assist on Hamilton’s goal at 8:30 of the third period and Carolina held onto the one-goal lead for the remainder of the action.

McAvoy hooked Warren Foegele at 9:30, but the Bruins dominated the ensuing shorthanded play by keeping the puck in the attacking zone and nearly evening the score before McAvoy was free from the box and the Canes let a power play opportunity go to waste.

With 1:16 remaining in the game, Cassidy pulled Rask for an extra attacker.

After a stoppage with 42.7 seconds to go, Boston used their timeout to draw up a last (less than a) minute plan, but Carolina held on for the, 3-2, win at the final horn and evened the series, 1-1, as a result.

Boston finished the night leading in shots on goal (35-26)– including a, 15-9, advantage in the third period alone– as well as in giveaways (17-8), hits (43-35) and faceoff win% (57-43), while Carolina wrapped up the night with the win and the final advantage in blocked shots (18-15).

The Hurricanes went 1/3 on the power play in Thursday night’s action, while the Bruins finished 2/3 on the skater advantage.

Meanwhile, the game-winning goal for Hamilton was just the second game-winning playoff goal of his career– and his first in more than six years as his only other game-winning goal in the playoffs came with the Bruins in Game 3 of their 2014 First Round at Detroit.

The series shifts to Carolina (metaphorically speaking) for Games 3 and 4 from the bubble.

Game 3 is scheduled for Saturday at 12 p.m. ET and the two teams should have no issues waiting for ice time, as it’ll be the first game on the Stanley Cup Playoffs schedule that day.

Viewers in the United States can tune in on NBC, while those in Canada can catch the game on Sportsnet or TVAS.

2020 Stanley Cup Qualifier Preview: Western Conference

Hockey’s back. In August!?! In this economy?!?

Yes, truer words have never been spoken. Hockey. Is. Back.

But not in the way you’re probably thinking if you’ve been under a rock for the last– let’s see, what month is it now?

The National Hockey League paused the 2019-20 regular season on March 12th due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic before canceling the rest of the regular season in late May and announcing a 24-team playoff format for 2020.

Make no mistake, whether you put an asterisk next to the winners of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final or not– it’ll be the hardest Cup to win since Lord Stanley of Preston announced he’d donate the silver rose bowl to the best hockey team in the world (so Canada) on March 18, 1892.

Despite all the training world class athletes do in contemporary times, nothing could prepare any athlete to stop playing, go through training camp after months of (in some cases) not being able to skate on any ice, then go full throttle for a championship tournament.

If anything, the asterisk next to the 2020 Stanley Cup champions will simply be a marker for the challenging times and remarkable feats of athleticism that team went through to put it all together and lift a 35-pound trophy at the end.

By now you’ve probably heard how the 2020 postseason will work– 24 teams vying for 16 spots, with eight teams (four in each conference) already locked into the playoffs, but fighting for the top-four seeds as the other 16 teams compete in a best-of-five series to punch a ticket into the playoffs.

Those 16 teams are in the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers, which technically isn’t part of the 2020 postseason according to the NHL, but the individual player and team stats will count towards the playoffs in the record books.

So for Arizona Coyotes fans, the long standing playoff drought since 2012, technically isn’t over yet. They’d have to beat the Nashville Predators first.

With all of that in mind, let’s take a look at the Western Conference Qualifiers, while the St. Louis Blues, Colorado Avalanche, Vegas Golden Knights and Dallas Stars sort themselves out.

All Western Conference games will be at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, including the Western Conference Final and all of the Stanley Cup Final.

(5) Edmonton Oilers (37-25-9, 83 points) vs (12) Chicago Blackhawks (32-30-8, 72 points)

Edmonton: 71 games played, .585 points percentage, 31 regulation wins.

Chicago: 70 games played, .514 points percentage, 23 regulation wins.

The Edmonton Oilers finished second in the Pacific Division with 83 points– three points behind the Vegas Golden Knights for the division lead. That’s how good the Oilers were at times and/or how far behind the Pacific Division was at times leading up to the premature end of the regular season due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

One thing is for sure about the always home-ice even without fans in the bubble Oilers team, their top players were much better than they were last season.

2019-20 Art Ross Trophy winner and Hart Memorial Trophy finalist, Leon Draisaitl had 110 points this season in 71 games played. He was on pace for 126 points had the regular season reached its original conclusion.

That would’ve been 21 points better than his previous high of 105 points in 82 games last season. Luckily for Draisaitl, he still set a new career-high in a pandemic– two new career-highs, actually.

Though 43 goals this season did not top the 50 goals he scored in 2018-19, Draisaitl set career-highs in assists (67) and points (110)– and yet, somehow he still was a minus-seven on the season.

Is it worth exploring moving Draisaitl out of Edmonton? MY COLUMN:

(If you’re wondering, that’s four consecutive seasons of at least 70 points and back-to-back 100-plus point seasons for Draisaitl, so no, he’s not going anywhere.)

Oilers captain, Connor McDavid, had 34 goals and 63 assists (97 points) in 64 games this season, which was 19 points shy of his career-high 116-points last season in 78 games in 2018-19. McDavid was on pace for 124 points this season at the time of the stoppage.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was third in scoring for Edmonton with 22-39–61 totals in 65 games this season, then the next highest skater had 34 points in 59 games (Zack Kassian). This season marked back-to-back 60-point seasons for Nugent-Hopkins for the first time in his career.

In goal, Mike Smith (19-12-6 in 39 games played, 37 starts, 2.95 goals against average, .905 save percentage and one shutout) split time with Mikko Koskinen (18-13-3 in 38 GP, 34 starts, 2.75 GAA, .917 SV% and one shutout in that span) this season.

The 38-year-old veteran goaltender, Smith, has a 2.17 GAA, a .938 SV% and four shutouts over 24 career Stanley Cup Playoff games.

Meanwhile, 32-year-old Koskinen has yet to appear in a postseason NHL game.

Smith’s .938 SV% in the playoffs, however, is league-leading among active NHL goaltenders with a minimum of 20 Stanley Cup Playoff games played.

Oilers head coach, Dave Tippett, might be smart to start Smith over Koskinen in Game 1, considering Smith’s career playoff numbers, but he did post a 3.20 GAA and a .917 SV% in five games with the Calgary Flames in the 2019 First Round en route to Calgary’s defeat at the hands of the Colorado Avalanche.

Smith did record one shutout in last year’s playoffs, however, and faced 205 shots against in those five games against the Avs.

That was about 34% of the number of shots he faced (602) in 16 games with the then known as Phoenix Coyotes en route to their 2012 Western Conference Final appearance against the eventual 2012 Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings.

At the other end of the rink, Patrick Kane led the way for the Chicago Blackhawks this season with 33-51–84 totals in 70 games, which was 24 points more than Jonathan Toews’ 60-point effort in 70 games for Chicago this season.

2019-20 Calder Memorial Trophy finalist, Dominik Kubalik, was third in Blackhawks scoring with 30 goals and 16 assists (46 points) in 68 games played.

For Kane, the pandemic shortened 2019-20 regular season marked five consecutive seasons with at least 70 points, while he was on pace for about 98 points had the regular season witnessed a full 82-game conclusion.

For Toews, he has never had a season with 82 games schedule below 50 points (though he had 48 points in 47 games in the lockout shortened 2012-13 season), but he did see a decrease in production from 81 points in 82 games last season to 60 points in 70 games this season. He was on pace for 70 points over an 82-game schedule in 2019-20.

In goal, Corey Crawford led the Blackhawks with a 16-20-3 record in 40 games played (39 starts), a 2.77 GAA, .917 SV% and one shutout this season.

Prior to being traded to the Vegas Golden Knights at the trade deadline via the Toronto Maple Leafs in a three-team trade– in which Chicago acquired, in part, Malcolm Subban– Robin Lehner served as Crawford’s tandem goaltender with a 16-10-5 record in 33 games played (31 starts), a 3.01 GAA, .918 SV% and no shutouts in that span with the Blackhawks.

Subban, on the other hand, made one appearance with Chicago after the trade and played in one minute as a Blackhawk. He had a 3.18 GAA and an .890 SV% in 20 games (19 starts) with the Golden Knights this season, however.

Should Blackhawks head coach, Jeremy Colliton, be given any reason not to opt for Crawford as his Qualifier starter, then there’s cause for concern as to whether or not Chicago can upset the Oilers if Subban can’t right the ship from his worst season as an NHL backup goaltender.

Four months off with plenty of rest to get in the right mindset might have been a good thing for his rhythm, however, as Crawford and Subban made a combined shutout effort in Chicago’s, 4-0, win over the St. Louis Blues in their exhibition matchup.

What’s more, the Blackhawks went 2-1-0 in three games against the Oilers this season, but before you start thinking there’s a chance Chicago upsets Edmonton with a sweep or anything, take caution as the Hawks had ten goals for and nine goals against in their season series.

This will be Colliton’s first appearance behind the bench as head coach in a postseason (but also not technically postseason) appearance for the Blackhawks– and Chicago’s first postseason action without Joel Quenneville at the reigns since before Quenneville was hired four games into the 2008-09 season.

It truly is a new era for Chicago, despite much of the core remaining from their three Cup championships in a five-year span.

Look for the Oilers to get the job done in four games with Tippett looking to punch his ticket back to the postseason since leading the Coyotes to the 2012 Western Conference Final, while The Hockey Gods favor Edmonton since the tragic loss of their teammate, Colby Cave, in April after the 25-year-old forward suffered a brain bleed and died days later after being placed in a medically induced coma.

Regular season outcomes:

3-1 CHI at United Center on Oct. 14th, 5-3 EDM at Rogers Place on Feb. 11th, 4-3 CHI at United Center on March 5th

Schedule:

8/1- Game 1 CHI @ EDM 3 PM ET on NBC, SN

8/3- Game 2 CHI @ EDM 10:30 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN

8/5- Game 3 EDM @ CHI in Edmonton 10:30 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN

8/7- Game 4 EDM @ CHI in Edmonton*

8/8- Game 5 CHI @ EDM*

*If necessary

(6) Nashville Predators (35-26-8, 78 points) vs (11) Arizona Coyotes (33-29-8, 74 points)

Nashville: 69 games played, .565 points percentage, 28 regulation wins.

Arizona: 70 games played, .529 points percentage, 26 regulation wins.

There’s something in the water in Nashville– and it’s not just catfish. Predators defender– and 2019-20 James Norris Trophy finalist– Roman Josi led the Preds in scoring this season with 65 points (16 goals, 49 assists) in 69 games.

He was on pace for 77 points at the time of the stoppage and trailed Washington Capitals defender– and fellow Norris finalist– John Carlson by ten points for the most points by a defender this season.

It was a career-season for Josi in goals, assists and points, by the way.

Nashville’s top-three in scoring, in fact, nearly contained two defenders as Josi led the way and Ryan Ellis notched 38 points in an injury-riddled 49-game season (a 64-point pace had the full 82-game schedule been completed if the pandemic never happened).

Ellis trailed Filip Forsberg (21-27–48 totals in 63 games) and Matt Duchene (13-29–42 totals in 66 games) in scoring on the Predators roster.

Juuse Saros finally emerged as a de facto starting goaltender for Nashville after amassing a 17-12-4 record in 40 games played (34 starts), as well as a 2.70 GAA, .914 SV% and four shutouts on the season.

Pekka Rinne, meanwhile, had an 18-14-4 record in 36 games (35 starts), which wasn’t bad, but his numbers past his overall record were actually a career-worst with a 3.17 GAA and an .895 SV% in 2019-20.

Rinne previously had a 3.80 GAA in a season, but that was only when he played in two games in 2005-06.

This was a season to forget for Rinne, but perhaps a larger indicator of more worries to come for Nashville in the net– especially more so after Saros didn’t exactly light it up as a starter with a goals against average that would even make a backup goaltender look, well, average.

The Arizona Coyotes enter the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifier with a new owner, as well as a new Interim General Manager in Steve Sullivan, as well as Nick Schmaltz leading the way in scoring with 11 goals and 34 assists for 45 points in 70 games played.

Not ideal, ideally speaking.

Clayton Keller had 44 points (17 goals, 27 assists) in 70 games and was on pace for 52 points had the pandemic not cut the regular season short.

Meanwhile, Conor Garland was third on the team in scoring with 39 points in 68 games, while establishing career-highs in goals (22), assists (17) and points (39) in the process.

Christian Dvorak and Phil Kessel each had 38 points in 70 games. Over an 82-game schedule, that’s about a 45-point pace, which would’ve still been a career-season for Dvorak and a disappointment for Kessel in his first season in the desert.

Granted, Kessel’s not playing with guys like Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin in his new home in Arizona.

He failed to reach the 20-goal plateau for the first time since the 2007-08 season, in which Kessel scored 19 goals in 82 games for the Boston Bruins in his sophomore season.

Kessel also failed to reach 30-assists for the first time since his first season as a Toronto Maple Leaf in 2009-10, in which he had 25 helpers in 70 games.

Finally, No. 81 on Arizona’s roster failed to amass at least 40 points in a season for just the third time in his career (29 points in 70 games while missing time battling testicular cancer with the Bruins in his rookie season in 2006-07, and 37 points in 82 games the following season in 2007-08 with Boston).

Granted, Kessel likely could have passed the 40-point plateau had the COVID-19 pandemic not interrupted plans for him and his Coyotes teammates.

In goal, Antti Raanta appeared in 33 games (32 starts) and had a 15-14-3 record, as well as a 2.63 GAA, a .921 SV% and two shutouts in that span.

Darcy Kuemper went 16-11-2 in 29 games played (all starts) and amassed a 2.22 GAA, while putting up a .928 SV% and two shutouts this season for the Coyotes.

If there’s any doubt Rick Tocchet has over deciding which goaltender to start in Game 1 against Nashville, there shouldn’t be any question– it has to be Kuemper.

Simply put, it’s Kuemper’s net to lose right now in Arizona and a little healthy competition isn’t a bad idea to try to spur Raanta in the right direction if he wants to be a starter in this league.

Boy, home ice advantage really would be something in this series by default, right? After all, each team won their only home game in their regular season matchups prior to the premature conclusion to the 2019-20 regular season due to the pandemic.

Since home ice is without fans in Edmonton for all Western Conference teams in the 2020 postseason, there’s not much to go off of in terms of these two clubs’ head-to-head meetings.

But the Predators have more than a few things going in their favor among their forwards and defenders who could also play forward, arguably.

The one thing Arizona has that Nashville hasn’t seen much of this season is a consistent starter in the crease.

If the Coyotes win the series, it’ll likely have something with Kuemper stealing a few games.

If the Preds sweep Arizona, it might have something to do with the sheer fire power in a last-ditch effort at what’s otherwise a closing window for a potential Cup contending roster.

At the very least John Hynes probably doesn’t have to worry about getting the same treatment as Peter Laviolette– who Hynes replaced in January– if the Predators dropped the ball in this series.

Let’s say Nashville in three, but give props to Kuemper for honing in his talents to tend the crease this well in his career. It hasn’t been easy, but he’s arrived and here to stay, unlike former Coyotes GM John Chayka.

Regular season outcomes:

5-2 ARI at Gila River Arena on Oct. 17th, 3-2 NSH at Bridgestone Arena on Dec. 23rd

Schedule:

8/2- Game 1 ARI @ NSH in Edmonton 2 PM ET on USA, NHL.TV, SN360

8/4- Game 2 ARI @ NSH in Edmonton 2:30 PM ET on NHLN, NHL.TV, SN1, SN360

8/5- Game 3 NSH @ ARI in Edmonton 2:30 PM ET on NHLN, NHL.TV, SN360

8/7- Game 4 NSH @ ARI in Edmonton*

8/9- Game 5 ARI @ NSH in Edmonton*

*If necessary

(7) Vancouver Canucks (36-27-6, 78 points) vs (10) Minnesota Wild (35-27-7, 77 points)

Vancouver: 69 games played, .565 points percentage, 27 regulation wins.

Minnesota: 69 games played, .558 points percentage, 30 regulation wins.

Entering the 2019-20 season, Vancouver Canucks General Manager, Jim Benning, added J.T. Miller to the fold in a trade with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Benning then went out and got Tyler Toffoli from the Los Angeles Kings leading up to the 2020 trade deadline.

As a result, the Canucks are much improved from last season to this season.

Miller led the team in scoring with 27-45–72 totals in 69 games played and was on pace for about 86 points at the time of the stoppage due to the pandemic.

Elias Pettersson (66 points in 69 games), Bo Horvat (53 points in 69 games) and Quinn Hughes (53 points in 69 games) rounded out the top-three in scoring for Vancouver.

Horvat and Hughes were tied for the third most points on the team as Hughes left his mark on the 2019-20 season by earning Calder Memorial Trophy finalist honors.

Meanwhile, Jacob Markstrom led the Canucks in the crease with a 23-16-4 record in 43 games played (all starts), as well as a 2.75 GAA, a .918 SV% and two shutouts in that span.

Thatcher Demko made 27 appearances (25 starts) as the backup goaltender and went 13-10-2 on the season with a 3.06 GAA and a .905 SV% in that span.

Louis Domingue also appeared in one game (one start) in the regular season for the Canucks and had a 4.08 GAA and an .882 SV%.

Markstrom will be the starter for Vancouver’s postseason run, but he’ll have to be a tad better in cutting down his goals against average for a deep run.

For Canucks head coach, Travis Green, it’s more of the same game plan to try to spur the Canucks back into the playoffs for the first time since their 2015 First Round appearance and elimination at the hands of the Calgary Flames in six games.

The Minnesota Wild removed the “interim” tag from their head coach, Dean Evason’s title since the pause in play and are looking to upset the Canucks and get back into the playoffs since missing the postseason last season.

Kevin Fiala led the way for the Wild in scoring with 54 points (23 goals, 31 assists) in 64 games played. He was on pace for 69 points had the season gone all 82 games, but still established career-highs in goals, assists and points in the shortened season regardless.

Ryan Suter led defenders and was second in scoring on the roster with 48 points (eight goals, 40 assists) in 69 games, while Eric Staal was ahead of Zach Parise by one point for third in scoring with 47 points in 66 games.

In goal, Alex Stalock (20-11-4 in 38 games played, 36 starts, 2.67 goals against average, .985 save percentage, four shutouts) outplayed Minnesota’s usual starter Devan Dubnyk (12-15-2 in 30 GP, 28 starts, 3.35 GAA, .890 SV%, one shutout) and will likely backstop the team in Game 1 against Vancouver.

Kaapo Kahkonen also made his NHL debut this season in the crease for the Wild in five games– amassing a 3-1-1 record, as well as a 2.96 GAA and a .913 SV%.

Both teams had nine goals for and nine goals against one another in their season series. They also each had 89 total shots on goal against one another in the 2019-20 regular season.

Though the Wild made strides this season at potentially avoiding a rebuild, it’s still an uphill climb for Minnesota against the Canucks on paper– regardless of their head-to-head matchups from the season.

Vancouver has the right combination of speed, skill and youth to limit Minnesota’s chances and, at times, lackluster offense.

The Canucks core is more defined than Minnesota’s fluid situation as Wild GM Bill Guerin evolves the roster over the next season or two.

It’s a transition period, nonetheless.

Benning and the Canucks are emerging from their transition and look to be ready to get back into the playoff hunt with what should be a four-game series win against the Wild.

Regular season outcomes:

4-1 VAN at Xcel Energy Center on Jan. 12th, 4-2 MIN at Xcel Energy Center on Feb. 6th, 4-3 F/SO MIN at Rogers Arena on Feb. 19th

Schedule:

8/2- Game 1 MIN @ VAN in Edmonton 10:30 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN

8/4- Game 2 MIN @ VAN in Edmonton 10:45 PM ET on USA, NHL.TV, SN

8/6- Game 3 VAN @ MIN in Edmonton TBD

8/7- Game 4 VAN @ MIN in Edmonton*

8/9- Game 5 MIN @ VAN in Edmonton*

*If necessary

(8) Calgary Flames (36-27-7, 79 points) vs (9) Winnipeg Jets (37-28-6, 80 points)

Calgary: 70 games played, .564 points percentage, 25 regulation wins.

Winnipeg: 71 games played, .563 points percentage, 30 regulation wins.

The Calgary Flames were led in scoring this season by their hottest controversial player, Matthew Tkachuk. Tkachuk ruffled some feathers en route to re-igniting the “Battle of Alberta” and managed to amass 23-38–61 totals in 69 games played in 2019-20.

He was on pace for 72 points this season at the time of the stoppage, but still had back-to-back seasons with at least 60 points nonetheless.

Johnny Gaudreau was second on the roster in points with 58 points (18 goals, 40 assists) in 70 games played, which was down from his 99 points in 82 games last season. That said, Gaudreau was still on pace for about 68 points when the regular season was cut short by the ongoing pandemic.

Instead, his streak of consecutive 60-plus point seasons was over at five seasons thanks to the pandemic.

Finally, Elias Lindholm managed to set a new career-high in goals (29), while scoring 54 points in 70 games this season– ranking third on the team in scoring.

In the crease, Calgary was saved by David “Big Save Dave” Rittich, who went 24-17-6 in 48 games played (all starts), had a 2.97 goals against average, a .907 save percentage and two shutouts this season.

Actually, on second thought, maybe that’s not very good numbers to have for a *checks notes* starting goaltender.

Alright, let’s check the backup…

Cam Talbot went 12-10-1 in 26 games played (22 starts), had a 2.63 GAA, a .919 SV% and two shutouts this season. Hmm, not much better.

Oh and did you remember that interim head coach, Geoff Ward, replaced Bill Peters after everyone found out Peters is racist?

The Winnipeg Jets landed in fifth place in the Central Division with 80 points this season– two points behind the Dallas Stars, who were the fourth best team in the Western Conference by points percentage and have earned themselves home ice in at least the First Round, which only matters so much in a bubble, but still, this was meant to show how close the Jets came to being a Round Robin team instead of playing in a Qualifier series.

Anyway, Kyle Connor soared as a Jet this season– establishing new career-highs in goals (38), assists (35) and points (73) in the process while playing in 71 games until the pandemic cut the regular season short.

Connor was on pace for 84 points this season if the full 82-game schedule could’ve occurred uninterrupted.

Meanwhile, Mark Scheifele actually tied Connor for the most points on the roster with 73, as Scheifele tallied 29 goals and had 44 helpers in 71 games. Not quite a career-season, but still respectable after setting career-high totals (38-46–84) last season in all 82 games.

Winnipeg’s captain, Blake Wheeler, contributed more than just actions and words in defense of the Constitution and human rights this season, scoring 22 goals and amassing 43 assists for third place on the roster in points (65) in 71 games played.

Patrik Laine, for those wondering, was fourth on the team with 63 points, which was back to his usual self, albeit with more assists (35) than goals (28) in 68 games.

Laine hasn’t been a bust for the Jets– he’s never had a season with fewer than 50 points (last season, 82 games) and was on pace for about 76 points had the season been played in full.

This was, however, the first season he failed to reach the 30-goal plateau, but he only missed it by two goals and, hello, the pandemic? Remember it? Yeah, that’s why he missed the mark, otherwise he would’ve (probably) scored a pair of goals in the remaining 11 games for Winnipeg on the 2019-20 regular season schedule at the time of the pause.

In goal, Paul Maurice relied on old reliable to bail him out even more so in the wake of Dustin Byfuglien’s decision to sit out the 2019-20 season and eventual mutual termination of his contract with the club.

2019-20 Vezina Trophy finalist, Connor Hellebuyck, held the fort down with a 31-21-5 record in 58 games played (56 starts), amassed a 2.57 goals against average and had a .922 save percenrage– as well as a league-leading six shutouts this season.

Yeah, it was kind of a big season for Hellebucyk and if he’s not the favorite among the NHL GMs that vote for the Vezina, well, who knows what games they were watching (presumably their own).

Laurent Brossoit went 6-7-1 in 19 games (15 starts) this season and had a dismal 3.28 GAA and an .895 SV% in that span. Yikes.

The defense looks different without Byfuglien, but Hellebuyck remained stable as their primary alternative to keeping the puck away from their own net.

That might not pay off against some of the powerhouses in the league, but luckily the Jets have enough time to let Maurice come up with a plan and enact it to cut down on Hellebuyck’s workload in the Qualifier if they want a chance to advance.

Oh, speaking of the Winnipeg and Calgary series– nobody knows what to expect!

The Jets and Flames met once this season– back in the 2019 Heritage Classic outdoors at Mosaic Stadium in Regina, Saskatchewan.

Winnipeg won in overtime in comeback fashion that night, 2-1.

They peppered Rittich with 45 shots (43 saves) and kept Hellebuyck to an ideal workload of 30 shots faced (29 saves).

If the Jets don’t win this series, it’ll be a huge disappointment– perhaps even bigger than making the First Round and getting stomped out by their next opponent after the phenomenal performance by Hellebucyk in the crease all season.

Then again, momentum no longer exists since everyone had about five months off.

Let’s say this one goes all five games for one reason or another and that Winnipeg can pull it off and advance to the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Regular season outcomes:

2-1 F/OT WPG at Mosaic Stadium, Regina, Saskatchewan on Oct. 26th

Schedule:

8/1- Game 1 WPG @ CGY in Edmonton 10:30 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, CBC, SN

8/3- Game 2 WPG @ CGY in Edmonton 2:30 PM ET on NHLN, NHL.TV, SN

8/4- Game 3 CGY @ WPG in Edmonton 4:45 PM ET on NHLN, NHL.TV, SN

8/6- Game 4 CGY @ WPG in Edmonton*

8/8- Game 5 WPG @ CGY in Edmonton*

*If necessary


2020 Western Conference Round Robin Action

Here’s a quick glance at the Round Robin schedule for the top-four Western Conference teams if you’re not at all interested in the Qualifiers for some reason.

Again, all games in the Western Conference are in Edmonton this year and all times Eastern.

St. Louis Blues

42-19-10, 94 points, 71 GP, .662 PTS%, 33 RW

Aug. 2nd @ COL in Edmonton 6:30 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN360

Aug. 6th vs. VGK in Edmonton, TBD

Aug. 9th vs. DAL in Edmonton, TBD

Colorado Avalanche

42-20-8, 92 points, 70 GP, .657 PTS%, 37 RW

Aug. 2nd vs. STL in Edmonton 6:30 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN360

Aug. 5th @ DAL in Edmonton 6:30 PM ET on NHLN, NHL.TV

Aug. 8th vs. VGK in Edmonton, TBD

Vegas Golden Knights

39-24-8, 86 points, 71 GP, .606 PTS%, 30 RW

Aug. 3rd vs. DAL in Edmonton 6:30 PM ET on NHLN, NHL.TV, SN1

Aug. 6th @ STL in Edmonton, TBD

Aug. 8th @ COL in Edmonton, TBD

Dallas Stars

37-24-8, 82 points, 69 GP, .594 PTS%, 26 RW

Aug. 3rd @ VGK in Edmonton 6:30 PM ET on NHLN, NHL.TV, SN1

Aug. 5th vs. COL in Edmonton 6:30 PM ET on NHLN, NHL.TV

Aug. 9th @ STL in Edmonton, TBD