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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Once more, Tampa scored on the ensuing power play.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They did not convert on the advantage.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2020 Stanley Cup Final Preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is currently no known timetable for his return.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Home ice means next to nothing in the bubble.

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

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

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

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

Regular season outcomes:

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

Schedule:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*If necessary

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Heroes and villains.

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

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

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

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

Time will tell and that time is Tuesday night.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leading is so overrated anyway.

3. Warmup drills.

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

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

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

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

4. Still no shutouts.

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

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

A shutout.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Vegas is doing that thing again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Everything’s bigger in Texas.

And nothing is bigger than Anton Khudobin these days.

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

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

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

5. Chance to advance (for Dallas).

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

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

When it mattered most, the Stars turned it on.

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

Simply put, this is an incredible run.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now, of course, how will the Stars respond?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, you read that right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. Shutouts galore!

Vegas’ last four games have all been shutouts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs Eastern Conference Final Preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(2) Tampa Bay Lightning (43-21-6, 92 points) vs (6) New York Islanders (35-23-10, 80 points)

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

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

The Tampa Bay Lightning have been Stanley Cup contenders for the last six or seven seasons, but have yet to capture their first Cup since 2004.

This year, as the Lightning make their sixth appearance in the Eastern Conference Final in franchise history, Tampa is poised for their best chance at winning the Cup despite not having the services of their captain, Steven Stamkos, since mid-March.

After avenging their 2019 First Round exit at the hands of the Columbus Blue Jackets in four games, the Bolts beat the Blue Jackets in five games in 2020. Then they had a repeat of their 2018 Second Round matchup with the Boston Bruins and ousted the 2019-20 Presidents’ Trophy winning team in five games– just like they did two years ago.

Now the Lightning are set to face the New York Islanders and their head coach, Barry Trotz, the one man with a masterplan that beat the Bolts in the 2018 Eastern Conference Final while he was then the head coach of the Washington Capitals.

Nikita Kucherov led Tampa in regular season scoring with 33-52–85 totals in 68 games played, while Stamkos amassed 66 points in 57 games and Brayden Point had 64 points in 66 games.

Kucherov and Point continue to lead the way for the Lightning, while trade deadline acquisitions, Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow have brought Tampa’s game to another dimension.

Point leads the Lightning in postseason scoring with 6-12–18 totals in 13 games, while Kucherov is second on the roster with 16 points in 13 games.

On the blue line, Victor Hedman is tied with glue-guy, Ondrej Palat, for the third most points on the team in the 2020 postseason as each player has five goals and four assists (nine points) in 13 games.

Palat tied a franchise record with Stamkos, Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis for the most consecutive postseason games with at least one goal (four games), while Hedman had the game-winning, series-clinching goal in double overtime against Boston in Game 5 of their Second Round series.

In the crease, Andrei Vasilevksiy earned Vezina Trophy finalist honors for the 2019-20 season after amassing a 35-14-3 record in 52 games (52 starts) with a 2.56 goals against average, a .917 save percentage and three shutouts in that span.

Tampa’s backup, Curtis McElhinney, produced an 8-7-3 record in 18 appearances with a 2.89 GAA, a .906 SV% and one shutout this season.

In the playoffs, Vasilevskiy has been the only goaltender to appear in game action for the Lightning, yielding a 10-3 record in 13 games with a 1.91 GAA and a .931 SV% in that span.

For the first time since 1993, the New York Islanders are in the Eastern Conference Final. 27 years ago the Isles lost to the eventual 1993 Stanley Cup champion, Montreal Canadiens in five games, and no Canadian team has won the Cup since.

That trend will continue– even though the Cup will be awarded in Canada this year for the first time since 2011– as all four teams remaining in the Edmonton bubble are based in the United States.

New York finished off the Florida Panthers in four games in their best-of-five game Qualifier, then took care of the Washington Capitals in five games in the First Round before overcoming the Philadelphia Flyers in seven games in the Second Round to make this year’s Eastern Conference Final.

Mathew Barzal led the Islanders in the regular season with 19-41–60 totals in 68 games, while Brock Nelson (54 points in 68 games) had the second-most for New York in 2019-20.

Anders Lee (43 points in 68 games) and Josh Bailey (14-29–43 totals in 68 games) were tied for the third most points on the roster prior to the pandemic shortening the regular season.

Entering the Eastern Conference Final, Bailey leads the Islanders with 2-15–17 totals in 16 games, while Nelson has 15 points in 16 postseason games and Barzal has 13 points in 16 playoff games for the Islanders this postseason.

Anthony Beauvillier leads in goal-scoring for New York in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs with eight goals in 16 games as the Islanders play a more “defense first” mindset– shutting down and trapping star players from opposing teams to will the game the way of the Trotz’s plan.

Semyon Varlamov went 19-14-6 in 45 games (39 starts) in the regular season, amassing a 2.62 GAA, a .914 SV% and two shutouts in the process in the regular season, while Thomas Greiss went 16-9-4 in 31 games (29 starts) and had a 2.74 GAA, as well as a .913 SV% prior to the stoppage.

In the postseason, Varlamov has gotten more starts with a 9-4 record in 14 games and has a 2.00 GAA, a .921 SV% and two shutouts in the process, but Greiss earned the Game 7 win against Philadelphia and is 2-1 in three games (two starts) with a 1.08 GAA, a .960 SV% and one shutout in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Should Greiss get more action in the Eastern Conference Final?

It remains a possibility as Trotz hasn’t given any indication as to who he’s starting in Game 1.

New York went 2-1-0 against the Lightning this season, while Tampa was 1-2-0 against the Islanders in the regular season.

The Isles had 11 goals for in the season series and six goals against, despite the Bolts holding the combined shots on goal advantage, 97-68.

Greiss and Varlamov each had a win against the Lightning, while the Bolts opted to start McElhinney in their second matchup of the season, which resulted in a, 5-1, win for the Islanders on Dec. 9th at Amalie Arena.

It’s a good thing for the Lightning that Vasilevskiy likely won’t be getting chased anytime soon– unless the Islanders somehow muster enough courage to score more than enough goals to not have to fallback on “prevent defense”.

Nonetheless, Tampa is hot and when you’re hot, you’re… hot. Duh.

But if there’s one thing we learned about these playoffs, it’s that being hot doesn’t mean anything to the Islanders– they beat the Flyers after all, and Philly had the best stretch from February until the pause, then won the first seed in the East honors via the Round Robin tournament.

The Lightning are beatable, but they’re not easy.

It’ll be a long and grueling battle– a series that likely plays one way in one game and completely the opposite in the next.

Tampa is well rested, while New York just eliminated Philadelphia on Saturday.

The Bolts are also 2-0 all time against the Isles in postseason series matchups– winning in five games in the 2004 Eastern Conference Quarterfinal, as well as in five games in the 2016 Second Round.

The third time’s a charm, though, and the Islanders should pull off yet another upset in seven games and advance to their first Stanley Cup Final since 1984.

Regular season outcomes:

5-2 NYI at NYCB Live/Nassau Coliseum on Nov. 1st, 5-1 NYI at Amalie Arena on Dec. 9th, 3-1 TBL at Amalie Arena on Feb. 8th

Schedule:

9/7- Game 1 NYI @ TBL in Edmonton 8 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS

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

9/11- Game 3 TBL @ NYI in Edmonton 8 PM ET on USA, CBC, SN, TVAS

9/13- Game 4 TBL @ NYI in Edmonton 8 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS

9/15- Game 5 NYI @ TBL in Edmonton 8 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS*

9/17- Game 6 TBL @ NYI in Edmonton 8 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS*

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

*If necessary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Will we see more Marc-Andre Fleury?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stranger things have happened.

3. Will Tyler Seguin… score?

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

That’s… not ideal.

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

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

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

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

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

4. The same goes for William Karlsson…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. Can Anton Khudobin really pull this off?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lightning strike three times in Game 4, Bruins on verge of being eliminated

For the first time since 2018, the Tampa Bay Lightning are on the doorstep of making an appearance in the Eastern Conference Final after beating the Boston Bruins, 3-1, on Saturday in Game 4 of their 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs Second Round series.

The Lightning hold a, 3-1, series lead heading into Game 5 from Scotiabank Arena in Toronto on Monday and can eliminate the Bruins with a win.

The last time Tampa made the Eastern Conference Final, they beat Boston in five games to get there. History repeats itself.

Andrei Vasilevskiy (9-3 in 12 games this postseason, 1.98 goals against average, .927 save percentage) made 29 saves on 30 shots against for a .967 SV% in the win for the Bolts.

B’s netminder, Jaroslav Halak (4-4 in eight games this postseason, 2.94 GAA, .900 SV%) stopped 23 out of 26 shots faced for an .885 SV% in the loss.

After Wednesday’s, 7-1, loss in Game 3, Bruce Cassidy made a few changes to his lineup for Saturday’s Game 4.

First, Cassidy went back to dressing 12 forwards and six defenders, then he re-inserted Karson Kuhlman and Connor Clifton into the lineup while taking Jeremy Lauzon and John Moore back out of the lineup.

Kuhlman took the right side of the third line with Charlie Coyle at center and Nick Ritchie on the left wing, while Clifton resumed his role on the third defensive pairing with Matt Grzelcyk.

Sean Kuraly (unfit to participate) was still out of the lineup on Saturday with an injury.

Boston’s long list of scratches included Anders Bjork, Zach Senyshyn, Moore, Maxime Lagacé, Kuraly, Urho Vaakanainen, Jakub Zboril, Jack Studnicka, Lauzon and Trent Frederic.

Jon Cooper kept his lineup the same for the Lightning, so once again Tampa’s scratches included Mathieu Joseph, Carter Verhaeghe, Ryan McDonagh, Jan Rutta, Mitchell Stevens, Steven Stamkos, Alexander Volkov and Scott Wedgewood.

Midway through the opening frame, Chris Wagner turned the puck over in the neutral zone, which led to an entry into the attacking zone for Brayden Point whereby the Lightning worked the puck deep.

Torey Krug made a great effort to breakup an initial scoring chance, but then the rest of his teammates were caught looking on as Ondrej Palat (3) snuck into the slot for a one-timer over Halak’s blocker, off the crossbar and in to give Tampa a, 1-0, lead at 8:59 of the first period.

Point (10) had the only assist on Palat’s goal as Palat extended his goal scoring streak to three games and is now one game shy of matching the longest goal streak in Lightning postseason history.

Stamkos (2015 and 2018), Vincent Lecavalier (2007) and Martin St. Louis (2003) hold the record with a four-game goal scoring streak in the playoffs for the Bolts.

A few minutes later, Brandon Carlo slashed Nikita Kucherov and was assessed a minor infraction at 11:44, yielding the game’s first power play to the Lightning.

Boston killed Carlo’s minor with ease and resumed 5-on-5 action until Cedric Paquette hit Kuhlman along the boards and Ritchie took exception to it– dropping the gloves, grabbing Paquette and delivering a few jabs while Paquette would not budge to defend himself.

Though a minor for boarding could have been called in the eyes of the Bruin, none of the refs’ arms were in the air for a delayed call and, instead, Ritchie was the only player on the way to the box for roughing.

The Lightning didn’t bring the thunder on the ensuing power play, however.

As the opening frame came to a close, David Pastrnak fought hard for a loose puck until the horn sounded and the period was over, which led to Erik Cernak promptly responding and picking up a two-minute minor for roughing at 20:00 of the first period.

Through one period in Saturday’s action, Tampa held onto a, 1-0, lead on the scoreboard, despite being outshot by Boston, 9-8.

The Bolts had the advantage in blocked shots (3-2), takeaways (2-0) and giveaways (5-4), while the B’s led in hits (21-17) and faceoff win percentage (69-31).

Tampa was 0/2 on the power play heading into the first intermission. Boston had yet to see any time on the skater advantage entering the middle frame.

Clifton cross checked Blake Coleman and was sent to the box to kick things off in the middle frame at 5:46 of the second period.

The Lightning did not score on the ensuing power play, however.

A little past the halfway point, though, the Bolts extended their lead when Palat (4) fired a one-timer that caught a piece of Halak’s glove and floated behind the Bruins goaltender.

Anthony Cirelli (3) and Kucherov (11) had the assists on Palat’s second goal of the game and Tampa led, 2-0, at 12:29 of the second period.

About a minute later, Ritchie hit Gourde from behind and received a five-minute major for boarding at 13:32, while Gourde took some time to get up off the ice and get his bearings.

Late in the ensuing skater advantage, Victor Hedman (4) sent a shot that deflected off of Par Lindholm while the Bruins forward was trying to block the shot, then took a wacky bounce up in the air and apexed over Halak’s blocker side before landing in the net.

Tyler Johnson (3) and Kucherov (12) tallied the assists on Hedman’s goal and the Lightning led, 3-0, at 18:04 of the second period.

Just 59 seconds later, Zach Bogosian was penalized for holding the stick and sent to the box at 19:03, but even with the skater advantage bleeding over into the final frame of regulation, Boston was powerless on the power play thus far in the action.

Through 40 minutes of play on Saturday afternoon, Tampa led Boston, 3-0, on the scoreboard and, 20-19, in shots on goal– including a, 12-10, advantage in the second period alone.

The Bolts held the lead in blocked shots (12-6) and takeaways (5-2), while the B’s led in hits (34-30) and faceoff win% (70-30).

Both teams had seven giveaways aside.

Entering the second intermission, Tampa was 1/5 on the power play, while Boston was 0/2 on the skater advantage.

Coleman hooked Pastrnak 54 seconds into the third period and presented Boston with a 5-on-3 advantage for 10 seconds before returning to a regular 5-on-4 advantage for the remainder of Coleman’s minor infraction.

The Bruins came up empty on both advantages.

Moments later, Ritchie and Barclay Goodrow exchanged fisticuffs in what was the third fight of the postseason for Boston (all against Tampa, including one in the Round Robin) at 4:01 of the third period.

A minute later, Luke Schenn hooked Pastrnak at 5:05.

In the dying seconds of the power play, Jake DeBrusk (4) slipped a shot through Vasilevskiy’s five-hole while Ondrej Kase acted as a screen in front of the Tampa Bay netminder to disrupt the shutout.

Coyle (2) and Grzelcyk (1) were credited with the assists on DeBrusk’s power-play goal and the Bruins trailed, 3-1, at 7:04 of the third period.

It was the last event on the scoresheet for the afternoon– save for Boston’s timeout during a stoppage with 1:23 remaining in the game after pulling Halak for an extra attacker with about 2:13 to go.

The Bruins couldn’t muster a pair of goals and the Lightning were unsuccessful at scoring on the empty net, but Tampa emerged victorious, regardless, at the sound of the final horn.

The Lightning had won, 3-1, and taken a, 3-1, series lead while finishing Saturday’s Game 4 effort with the advantage in blocked shots (16-13), hits (45-38) and giveaways (11-10).

Boston, despite finishing the afternoon for the first time in the series leading in the final total shots on goal, 30-26, faces being eliminated in Game 5 on Monday.

The Bruins also finished Saturday’s effort leading in faceoff win% (65-35) and went 1/4 on the power play, while the Bolts were 1/5 on the skater advantage.

Tampa is, 6-0, all time when leading a series, 3-1. Teams with a, 3-1, series lead are 284-29 all time in the best of seven format in NHL history.

With the loss, the Bruins fell to 2-4 when trailing after one and 1-5 when trailing after two periods in the 2020 postseason.

Fans in the United States can catch Monday’s Game 5 on NBCSN at 7 p.m. ET, while those in Canada can tune to CBC, SN or TVAS.

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