Capitals vs. Canadiens Game 7: Keys to the game

HabsFan.jpgIn case you didn’t know, last night was the first of back-to-back
Game 7’s. While the Detroit Red Wings taking on the Phoenix Coyotes
isn’t exactly as momentous a game as the Habs having a chance to knock
off the Capitals, there are some similarities between the two games.

Despite
the Coyotes heading into the game with the better record and home ice
advantage, there were many who considered the Red Wings to be the better
team. After all, the Wings had finished the regular season as the
hottest team in the NHL and had fought back to the 5th seed after a
first half of the season riddled with injuries. Add to that the overall
talent level and experience of the Red Wings, and it’s easy to see why
the Coyotes were considered the underdogs.

Yet the Coyotes were
able to take the Red Wings to the brink with a Game 7, as they at times
surprised Detroit with their tenacity and overall team approach to the
game. The Coyotes won as a team, yet the Red Wings were only going to do
as good as their superstars would perform. In the end, Detroit
dominated a guarded and ginger Coyotes team that seemed deathly afraid
of making any mistakes in the biggest game of the season. The Red Wings’
stars took over on their way to a 6-1 rout.

After the jump, some
lessons for both teams headed into tonight’s game that can be learned
from Detroit’s victory:

Don’t stray from what’s been
successful

Save for one game, the Canadiens have been able
to surprise the Capitals by jumping out to early leads and then
stifling the Capitals from there on out. In their first two wins, and
for the first 40 minutes of Game 2, it was the defense of the Habs that
did the trick, frustrating Alex Ovechkin and company to no end on their
way to surprising victories. In Game 6, it was the superb play of
Jaroslav Halak that did the trick, as he was calm and collected in net
and never out of control. Still, Ovechkin was held in check once again
by the defensive play of the Habs. This is what they’ll need to do once
more. It’s when they’ve strayed from this philosophy that they’ve gotten
themselves in trouble.

Weather the early storm

With
the Capitals facing a do-or-die game, on home ice, expect each and
every player on that team to hit the ice like they were shot out of a
cannon. The Capitals will be hungry and pissed off and fueled by what is
sure to be an insane home crowd. The key is not lose control when the
pressure is on and take bad penalties.  The Coyotes were able to
somewhat stay in the game early on, but found themselves down two quick
goals thanks to putting a talented team on the power play. Don’t play
with fire.

Don’t wait to “turn it on”

The
Capitals have been waiting to play a full 60 minute game for the entire
first round. Despite what their Game 3 and 4 wins may say, even the
Capitals will admit they weren’t their best overall effort. The Capitals
have had this issue since returning from the Olympic break, really, as
they’ve literally had nothing to play for the past month of the season.
Now they’re being asked to play their best hockey when it counts the
most. Against this team, a Canadiens team with nothing to lose and
everything to gain, the Capitals must finally put together a complete
game. The Red Wings were able to put the accelerator to the floor when
it mattered most, jumping all over a Coyotes team that was doubting
itself at times. This is what the Capitals will need to do.

The
superstars will have to shine

The Capitals will not win
this game unless Alex Ovechkin is their best player. Sure, you could say
the same thing about Semyon Varlamov, but this is why Ovechkin was
named captain of the team. The rest of the players feed off of his
energy and production; if he’s frustrated and not driving the play
forward, then it’s going to tough for the rest of the team to follow
suit. The Capitals are starting two young defenseman on the blueline
tonight, so the uber-talented forwards the Captials employ will need to
be better than they ever have been before. While Backstrom, Semin and
Green all need to rise to the occasion, it’s Ovechkin who will be the
difference. If he truly is as great as we all think he is, this is his
time to shine.

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    Lightning-Stars stream: 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final

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    NBC’s coverage of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs continues with Saturday’s Stanley Cup Final matchup between the Lightning and Stars. Coverage begins at 8 p.m. ET on NBC. Watch the Lightning-Stars stream on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

    In by far the most competitive and only back-and-forth game this series, the Lightning came out on top in the first overtime game of this Cup Final. Tampa trailed 2-0 and 3-2 before taking its first lead of the game when Alex Killorn scored 6:41 into the third period to make the score 4-3. Joe Pavelski tied things back up with 8:25 left in regulation, forcing each club’s first overtime game since their respective Conference Finals series-clinchers. Offseason signee Kevin Shattenkirk, playing on his fifth team and in his first Cup Final, then netted the winner, 6:34 into the extra session to move the Lightning one win from their second-ever Stanley Cup (2004).

    Tampa can become the first team in the NHL expansion era (1967- present) to win the Stanley Cup the season after being swept in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Last season, the Lightning tied the NHL regular-season record with 62 wins but lost four straight games to the Blue Jackets in the opening round for an early playoff exit. Over the last six years, no team has more playoff wins or Conference Finals appearances than Tampa, and now they’re one victory away from their first title in the Jon Cooper era.

    [NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

    Pat Maroon, who the Lightning signed in the offseason, is the only player on the team who has won a Cup and he can become the third player in the expansion era (since 1967) to win a title in consecutive seasons with different teams after helping the Blues win their first-ever championship last year (Cory Stillman 2004 with Tampa and 2006 with Carolina … Claude Lemieux 1995 with New Jersey and 1996 with Colorado).

    Historically, a 3-1 series lead in the Cup Final has almost guaranteed an eventual Cup victory, with teams converting 33 times in 34 total tries. The only time a team blew a 3-1 lead in the Cup Final was in 1942, when Detroit lost to Toronto after leading the series 3-0.

    WHAT: Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars
    WHERE: Rogers Place – Edmonton
    WHEN: Saturday, September 26, 8 p.m. ET
    TV: NBC
    ON THE CALL: Mike Emrick, Eddie Olczyk, Brian Boucher
    LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Lightning-Stars stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

    Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars (TB leads 3-1)

    Stars 4, Lightning 1 (recap)
    Lightning 3, Stars 2 (recap)
    Lightning 5, Stars 2 (recap)
    Lighting 5, Stars 4 [OT] (recap)
    Game 5: Saturday, Sept. 26, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
    *Game 6: Monday, Sept. 28, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
    *Game 7: Wednesday, Sept. 30, 8 p.m. ET – NBC

    *if necessary

    Stars will not have Roope Hintz, Blake Comeau for Game 5

    Stars Game 5
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    The Dallas Stars will be without several key forwards for Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final on Saturday night (8 p.m. ET, NBC, Livestream)  as they look to fight off elimination and extend their season.

    Coach Rick Bowness announced that forward Roope Hintz will not be available for Saturday’s game after he was injured in Game 4 on Friday night.

    Hintz logged just five minutes of ice-time in the Stars’ 5-4 overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

    [NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

    That is a pretty significant blow to the Stars’ lineup, not only because Hintz finished the season as one of their leading goal-scorers (19 goals in only 60 games), but because they are already dealing with injuries to a couple of key depth players.

    In addition to Hintz, the Stars will again be without forwards Radek Faksa and Blake Comeau.

    Comeau has missed the past two games in the Stanley Cup Final, while Faksa has been sidelined since the middle of the Western Conference Final.

    What really makes this an issue for the Stars is Comeau and Faksa were two of their most used forwards on the penalty kill during the season, with Hintz also playing a minor role in that spot.

    Tampa Bay’s power play has caught fire in the Stanley Cup Final, scoring on six of its 15 opportunities. Taking those three out of the lineup is not going to help the Stars’ chances of containing the Lightning power play.

    More: Stars need one more improbable run to complete improbable season

    Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars (TB leads 3-1)

    Stars 4, Lightning 1. (recap)
    Lightning 3, Stars 2. (recap)
    Lightning 5, Stars 2. (recap)
    Lightning 5, Stars 4 [OT]. (recap)
    Game 5: Saturday, Sept. 26, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
    *Game 6: Monday, Sept. 28, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
    *Game 7: Wednesday, Sept. 30, 8 p.m. ET – NBC

    *if necessary

    Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

    NHL schedule for 2020 Stanley Cup Final

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    The Stanley Cup Playoffs continue on Saturday, Sept. 19 in the hub city of Edmonton. Now that we are through the conference finals, the full 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final schedule has been announced.  

    The top four teams during the regular season in both conferences played a three-game round robin for seeding in the First Round. The eight winners of the best-of-5 Qualifying Round advanced to the First Round.  

    Rogers Place in Edmonton will host 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final.  

    Here is the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final schedule.

    2020 STANLEY CUP FINAL (Rogers Place – Edmonton)

    Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars (TB leads 3-1)

    Stars 4, Lightning 1 (recap)
    Lightning 3, Stars 2 (recap)
    Lightning 5, Stars 2 (recap)
    Lighting 5, Stars 4 [OT] (recap)
    Game 5: Saturday, Sept. 26, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
    *Game 6: Monday, Sept. 28, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
    *Game 7: Wednesday, Sept. 30, 8 p.m. ET – NBC

    *if necessary

    [NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

    CONFERENCE FINAL RESULTS

    EASTERN CONFERENCE FINAL
    Lightning beat Islanders (4-2)

    WESTERN CONFERENCE FINAL
    Stars beat Golden Knights (4-1)

    ***

    SECOND ROUND RESULTS

    EASTERN CONFERENCE
    Lightning beat Bruins (4-1)
    Islanders beat Flyers (4-3)

    WESTERN CONFERENCE
    Golden Knights beat Canucks (4-3)
    Stars beat Avalanche (4-3)

    ***

    NHL QUALIFYING ROUND / ROUND-ROBIN RESULTS

    EASTERN CONFERENCE
    Philadelphia Flyers (3-0-0, 6 points)
    Tampa Bay Lightning (2-1-0, 4 points)
    Washington Capitals (1-1-1, 3 points)
    Boston Bruins (0-3-0, 0 points)

    Canadiens beat Penguins (3-1)
    Hurricanes beat Rangers (3-0)
    Islanders beat Panthers (3-1)
    Blue Jackets beat Maple Leafs (3-2)

    WESTERN CONFERENCE
    Vegas Golden Knights (3-0-0, 6 points)
    Colorado Avalanche (2-1-0, 4 points)
    Dallas Stars (1-2-0, 2 points)
    St. Louis Blues (0-2-1, 1 point)

    Blackhawks beat Oilers (3-1)
    Coyotes beat Predators (3-1)
    Canucks beat Wild (3-1)
    Flames beat Jets (3-1)

    ***

    FIRST ROUND RESULTS

    EASTERN CONFERENCE
    Flyers beat Canadiens (4-2)
    Lightning beat Blue Jackets (4-1)
    Islanders beat Capitals (4-1)
    Bruins beat Hurricanes (4-1)

    WESTERN CONFERENCE
    Golden Knights beat Blackhawks (4-1)
    Avalanche beat Coyotes (4-1)
    Stars beat Flames (4-2)
    Canucks beat Blues (4-2)

    Stars need one more improbable run to complete improbable season

    Stars Stanley Cup
    Getty
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    It would be easy at this point to write off Dallas Stars’ chances in the 2020 Stanley Cup Final.

    They enter Game 5 on Saturday night (8 p.m. ET, NBC, Livestream) facing a 3-1 series deficit to a steamroller of a Tampa Bay Lightning team that is clicking on all cylinders.

    They need to find a way to win three games in a row against a team that has more regular season and playoff wins than anybody else over the past six years. Three wins in a row against team that has lost three games in a row on just five different occasions over the past three full seasons.

    Not only that, but in the history of the league only one team has comeback from being down 3-1 in the Stanley Cup Final, and it required a lot of madness and insanity for it to happen (read about it here).

    The odds, clearly, are not in the Stars’ favor right now.

    [NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

    But when has that mattered in this NHL season, in this bubble, in this year? Especially for this Stars team that just keeps finding ways to surprise people.

    It’s been easy to write this Stars team off all season. When they started the season 1-7-1 through their first nine games, no one would have blamed you for making them an afterthought and forgetting about the.

    The same was true when they went through a sudden and shocking mid-season coaching change.

    And it was true when they ended the regular season on a seven-game losing streak, and then lost two out of their three Round-Robin games in the Return To Play, all while looking like a complete inept offensive team.

    It was a foregone conclusion to pretty much everyone outside of Dallas that Colorado was going to skate by them in the Second Round. Then when the Avalanche failed to beat them, it was just generally accepted the Stars’ luck would run out against Vegas. Wrong again! Both times!

    Now here we are again in a position where it’s easy to say, yeah, they’re done.

    [Lightning vs. Stars: 2020 Stanley Cup Final schedule]

    But twice this postseason the Stars have ended a series by winning three games in a row (Calgary and Vegas). Obviously the circumstances here are a little different (playing a better team, actually facing elimination with no margin for error) but they have done it before and in a variety of ways. They have found a way to score goals when needed, and they have also been able to lock things down or lean on their goaltending when needed.

    If the first four games of this series have shown us anything it’s that they may need more of the latter approach to stay in this. Khudobin has cooled off considerably over the past few games, but he is absolutely capable of turning things around in the blink of an eye. In his two years with the Stars he has .923 save percentage in his 95 appearances (regular season and playoffs combined), which is one of the best marks for any goalie during that stretch. He helped single-handedly get them through the Vegas series. Does he have three more games like that in him?

    No matter how they go about it, the Stars’ backs are clearly against the wall here. But that has been the case from the very start of the season and it has not yet stopped them.

    They need to find a way to exceed the expectations one more time.

    Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars (TB leads 3-1)

    Stars 4, Lightning 1. (recap)
    Lightning 3, Stars 2. (recap)
    Lightning 5, Stars 2. (recap)
    Lightning 5, Stars 4 [OT]. (recap)
    Game 5: Saturday, Sept. 26, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
    *Game 6: Monday, Sept. 28, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
    *Game 7: Wednesday, Sept. 30, 8 p.m. ET – NBC

    *if necessary

    Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.