2010-2011 NHL season preview: St. Louis Blues

davidbackes1.jpgLast season: (40-32-10, 90 points, 4th in Central Division, t-9th in Western Conference) A terrible start derailed the Blues’ chances at making the playoffs. The team got in such a hole that despite their furious play in the second half of the season, they weren’t able break into the playoffs the way they did two seasons ago. An unassuming bunch on paper manged to play hard at the end of the year once new coach Davis Payne took over for the deposed Andy Murray. Perhaps that’s a sign of things to come.

Head coach: Payne gets his first chance at a full season with the Blues, who went 23-15-4 after he took over. Factoring that kind of action out over a whole season would make the Blues a playoff team and it’s clear Payne’s attitude and style seems to better fit a now very young team.

Key departures: F Keith Tkachuk (retirement), F Paul Kariya, G Chris Mason, F D.J. King. Tkachuk’s retirement, while a tough loss for the team, clears the decks for more of the young players to get their shot this season. Same applies for Kariya’s departure as he sits out this season to deal with post-concussion syndrome. Mason signed on with the Thrashers in the offseason after the Blues acquired Jaroslav Halak from Montreal.

Key arrivals: G Halak, F Vladimir Sobotka, D Alex Pietrangelo. Halak is the big acquisition of the summer, coming over in a trade with Montreal. He was the Habs’ hero in the playoffs and the Blues are banking on him being the real deal after signing him to a four-year contract. Sobotka was tossed aside from Boston after getting fingered for a costly too many men on the ice penalty in Game 7 against Philadelphia. Pietrangelo will be coming out of junior hockey — potentially for real this time — after getting nine-game tryouts in previous seasons with St. Louis.

Under pressure: On such a young team with a new coach and a new goalie it’s tough to pick out a player or executive under pressure, but in this case the guy meant to shoulder the burden for the Blues is defenseman Erik Johnson.

Johnson is a former No. 1 overall pick of the Blues. After missing a full season from a questionable golf-cart incident two years ago, he came back last season and didn’t do much to impress. Coming back from knee injuries is a tough thing to do, but much is expected of Johnson and if there’s a weakness on this Blues it’s along the blue line. Johnson needs to step up and play like a No. 1 pick and put up the kinds of numbers he’s capable of doing. Another middling season from him should make Blues executives nervous.

GYI0061755551-halak-dilipvashnawat-getty.jpgProtecting the house: In case you missed it, Halak is the man in goal. He had a solid season for the Canadiens and was one of the best goalies in the playoffs, carrying Montreal to the Eastern Conference finals. Ty Conklin is still around to provide relief in the backup role. If there’s something that Halak dealt with on occasion in Montreal that will help him be prepared for St. Louis it’s being expected to bail out your defensemen on occasion because he’ll get his resolve tested in Missouri this year.

Johnson leads the way on defense for the Blues with Eric Brewer, Barret Jackman, and Roman Polak backing him up. Where things go from there defensively is the question. Carlo Colaiacovo is banged up again, Pietrangelo is still trying to win a job and they’re both being pushed by former Notre Dame defenseman Ian Cole. How things factor out there for St. Louis with a host of youth to contend with means the Blues will be a bit mistake prone at times as guys get to learn on the job. Then again, that could apply for a lot of guys in St. Louis.

Top line we’d like to see: Alex Steen-Andy McDonald-David Backes. McDonald is the ‘old man’ of this bunch at 33. Steen had a breakout season last year playing on the third line and Backes is a freakin’ American hero. He’s also a pretty good power forward to boot. Let McDonald do his thing and win faceoffs, let Steen run free to skate and set things up and just let Backes steamroll people into submission and score dirty goals. There’s no way this doesn’t work.

Oh captain, my captain: It’s Brewer. We’re betting you weren’t too aware of that because, let’s face it, the Blues stay under the radar pretty well and Brewer isn’t a guy you immediately think of when listing off Blues players. There was some debate during the offseason wondering if Brewer should continue to be the captain, but Payne stuck by him. That’s likely a good move to make with such a young locker room. There’s no need to throw things out of whack like that in such a situation and, let’s face it, Brewer isn’t a guy we hear bad things about. He’s got the experience to be a good enough leader in St. Louis and until someone amongst the newer bunch of Blues emerges as a leader on the ice and the locker room (ahem, Backes) status quo will do for now.

camjanssen3.jpgStreet fighting man: The Blues love to drop the gloves. Even with D.J. King now in Washington, the Blues top three fighters from last season are still around. Cam Janssen. Janssen is the ring leader here for pugnaciousness with 19 fights last season. Not far behind him is sneaky fighter B.J. Crombeen with 18. Chances are if you’ve got a problem with something the Blues are doing on the ice, you’ll have your choice of guys to address it with. If you’re looking for more of a small-time fighter, Jesse Winchester will be happy to oblige you as he had 10 fights last season. If you’re matching up with St. Louis, you’d best be putting on the foil.

Best-case scenario: The Blues get the consistently good goaltending they’re praying for out of Halak. The Blues roll out two lines of scoring that all connect on the potential they’ve got to fill the net. Former 40-goal scorer Brad Boyes finds his touch once again while Backes and David Perron make jumps in their own goal production. Steen continues to improve his game built on his 24-goal success last season while Swedish centerman Patrik Berglund emerges into the playmaker they’re hoping he’ll become. T.J. Oshie and Jay McClement become a dynamic pairing of two-way forwards.The defense plays more than capable and the Blues roll back into the playoffs to potentially scare the living daylights out of a top-three seed.

Worst-case scenario: The offense sputters brutally once again and Halak plays inconsistently in goal, causing this season to resemble last season in lots of eerie ways. The defense plays as inconsistent and spotty as they look like they could on paper, meanwhile youngsters Berglund and Perron don’t evolve into better scorers leading to the Blues missing out on the playoffs once again, giving way to an equally inconsistent and hard-nosed team.

Keeping it real: The Blues have a nice setup. All four of their lines should be solid and while there’s not too much there to work with depth-wise, the team is very, very young. Payne’s most important job this season is to make sure the effort level from the team is consistent night in and night out and that the team plays hard at all times. Halak is an upgrade over Chris Mason in goal and the issues the Blues will have on defense could be remedied by having young guys like Pietrangelo or Cole jump into the lineup and seize the opportunity as both will eventually become good defensemen in the future.

There are a lot of question marks with the team because there are so many unknown factors, but this team could fly under the radar in the West thanks in part to being in the same division with the Red Wings and Blackhawks.

Stanley Cup chances: On a scale from 1-5, with one being the worst and five being the best, the Blues are a 2. They’re not a terrible team by any means so they’re not worthy of being a 1, but they’re not consistent enough and worthy of a 3. That’s quibbling at its very worst. Suffice to say, a lot of things would need to go very right for St. Louis to get a shot in the West to make the finals and a lot of things would need to go very wrong for the contenders to fall down in front of them. St. Louis will give the fans some hope and perhaps a playoff spot to go with it, but that’s about all.

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    NHL Bubble Wrap: Lightning get through to Stanley Cup Final

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    • The Tampa Bay Lightning are going to the Stanley Cup Final for the third time in franchise history.
    • Anthony Cirelli helped them making history by winning another series with an overtime winner.
    • Brayden Point returned for Game 6 after missing Game 5 on Tuesday.

    Tampa Bay Lightning 2, New York Islanders 1 (OT) (Lightning win series 4-2)

    It was starting to look like it was not going to happen for them, but the Tampa Bay Lightning finally broke through in overtime on an Anthony Cirelli goal to win Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final and punch their ticket to the Stanley Cup Final. For the Lightning it will be their third trip to the final and the first since 2014-15 when they lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games. They previously won the Stanley Cup Final during the 2003-04 season. For the second game in a row the Lightning failed to convert on an extended power play that carried over into overtime. This time, though, they were on the right end of a 2-1 decision. Victor Hedman scored the other goal for Tampa Bay, continuing what has been a magnificent postseason. The Lightning also had Brayden Point back in the lineup after he missed Game 5 due to injury. The Islanders played Thursday’s game without one of their top defenseman, Adam Pelech, who will need surgery according to coach Barry Trotz.

    [NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

    Three Stars

    1. Anthony Cirelli, Tampa Bay Lightning. When you score the goal that sends your team to the Stanley Cup Final, you get top star honors for the night. Cirelli is one of the Lightning’s most underrated players, but remains a key part of their lineup. He is already one of the league’s best defensive forwards and is developing into a strong offensive player. He is the perfect complement to the superstar talent at the top of the roster.

    2. Semyon Varlamov, New York Islanders. Yeah, his team lost. But he is the only reason his team made it to overtime and the only reason it had a chance. He stopped 46 out of 48 shots on the night and did everything he could to single handedly keep the series going. The only other thing he could have done was actually score a goal himself.

    3. Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning. He only had to face 27 shots, but he made an absolutely massive save in overtime to stop Brock Nelson on a breakaway that could have sent the series to a decisive seventh game.

    Highlights of the Night

    Anthony Cirelli scores the game-winning goal.

    Hedman’s goal to tie the game for the Lightning in the first period.

    Devon Toews scored the only goal for the Islanders.

    Factoids

    • Tampa Bay’s win on Thursday is already its sixth overtime win of the postseason. [NHL PR]
    • This is the sixth time in NHL history that both Stanley Cup Final teams advanced to that round with overtime wins. [NHL PR]
    • No team has played more overtime hockey in a single postseason than this year’s Lightning team. [NHL PR]

    Stanley Cup Final Schedule

    Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars

    Game 1: Saturday, Sept. 19, 7:30 p.m. ET – NBC
    Game 2: Monday, Sept. 21, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
    Game 3: Wednesday, Sept. 23, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
    Game 4: Friday, Sept. 25, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
    *Game 5: Saturday, Sept. 26, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
    *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.

    Cirelli’s overtime goal sends Lightning to Stanley Cup Final

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    Thanks to Anthony Cirelli‘s goal at the 13:18 mark of overtime, the Lightning are on their way back to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since the 2014-15 season.

    It is there that they will play the Stars. Game 1 of the series takes place on Saturday night (7:30 p.m. ET, NBC) in Edmonton.

    Cirelli’s goal ended a slugfest of a game that saw the Lightning pepper Islanders goalie Semyon Varlamov with 48 shots and completely dominate territorially.

    His goal had to be a massive relief for Lightning fans, not only because it sent their team to the Cup Final, but because this game was starting to take on an eerily similar feel.

    One of the biggest issues the Lightning have had in the playoffs in recent years has been finishing series because of a slumping offense that could not convert on its chances. It happened to them in the 2015 Cup Final, and it happened to them in the 2016 and 2018 Eastern Conference Finals.

    After scoring one goal in Game 5 and only one goal through 70 minutes of hockey on Thursday it looked like it might be happening again.

    [NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

    It was also the second game in a row that the Lightning were given a four-minute power play at the end of regulation — this time due to an Andy Greene high-sticking call — that would carry over into overtime with a chance to clinch the series.

    For the second game in a row they failed to capitalize on that opportunity.

    Not only did they fail to score on that power play on Thursday, but Brock Nelson nearly ended the game for the Islanders on a breakaway only to have Andrei Vasilevskiy make his biggest save of the night.

    Later in the period the Lightning were guilty of a too many men on the ice penalty that gave the Islanders a power play, but Tampa successfully killed the penalty by not allowing a single shot on goal. That successful kill set the stage for Cirelli’s overtime goal.

    Cirelli had briefly exited the game in the second period after a collision at the blue line with Islanders captain Anders Lee.

    Every series win for the Lightning this postseason has ended with an overtime goal.

    2020 STANLEY CUP FINAL (Rogers Place – Edmonton)

    Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars

    Game 1: Saturday, Sept. 19, 7:30 p.m. ET – NBC
    Game 2: Monday, Sept. 21, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
    Game 3: Wednesday, Sept. 23, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
    Game 4: Friday, Sept. 25, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
    *Game 5: Saturday, Sept. 26, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
    *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

    2020 nhl stanley cup final schedule
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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

    Game 1: Saturday, Sept. 19, 7:30 p.m. ET – NBC
    Game 2: Monday, Sept. 21, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
    Game 3: Wednesday, Sept. 23, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
    Game 4: Friday, Sept. 25, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
    *Game 5: Saturday, Sept. 26, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
    *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)

    Lightning get Brayden Point back for Game 6; Islanders lose Pelech

    Brayden Point
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    The Tampa Bay are getting major a lift for Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final as they attempt to punch their ticket to the Stanley Cup Final.

    Brayden Point will be back in the lineup against the New York Islanders on Thursday after missing the Lightning’s Game 5 loss on Tuesday.

    It was the second game he missed this series, with those two being the only games the Lightning have lost in the series.

    He will skate in his usual spot on the top line between Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat.

    [NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

    Point has been the Lightning’s best overall player this postseason and has emerged as one of the leading contenders for the Conn Smythe Trophy. He enters Thursday’s game with 25 points in 16 games, including at least one point in 14 of those games. He has seven points in the Eastern Conference Final alone even though he has only played in two-and-a-half games in the series.

    But while the Lightning are getting one of their most important players back, the Islanders are losing one of their top players.

    Defenseman Adam Pelech will not be available for Game 6, a development that will leave a significant hole on their blue line.

    Pelech’s absence during the regular season was one of the biggest factors behind their second half slide. Losing him on the same night that Tampa Bay gets Point back is going to be a major issue for the Islanders.

    Noah Dobson will be in the lineup for the Islanders in Pelech’s place.

    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.