Riding the Zamboni – Thursday, December 9th

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Florida 3 – Washington 0

You can’t say the Panthers didn’t give the Caps opportunities to win. The Caps were 0-8 on the power play tonight while Tomas Vokoun made 36 saves to preserve the shutout for Florida. Vokoun will flash brilliance every now and again and tonight was a sterling example of what he can do on any given night. Stymieing the Capitals slumping offense shows just how good he can be and it also reflects on how much the Caps are struggling to score goals. It’s the third time in eleven games the Capitals have been shutout. As for people who did score goals, Michael Frolik, Steve Bernier, and Mike Santorelli tallied for Florida. For the Panthers, it’s their third straight win.

Philadelphia 4 – Toronto 1

Ah the Maple Leafs. After showing some guts against Pittsburgh and getting wins over Boston and Washington, the Leafs were just about out of gas tonight against the Flyers. Daniel Briere scored twice while Chris Pronger and Ville Leino each had one as well. Brian Boucher stopped 31 shots to get the win for Philly. Things don’t get easier for the Leafs on Saturday as they’ll face off with their arch rivals from Montreal.

NY Rangers 5 – Ottawa 3

What looked like it would be a good start for the Sens turned into a third period meltdown. The teams traded goals all game long and then after a brutal Chris Neil penalty in the third, Mike Sauer’s power play goal, his first career NHL goal, put the Rangers up for good. Mike Fisher had two goals for Ottawa while Marian Gaborik and Michal Roszival had two assists each for New York.

All that actual game stuff aside, Matt Carkner turned out to be the game’s story when video surfaced showing what appeared to be Carkner flicking blood from his head onto the players on the Rangers bench after a fight with Derek Boogaard. Carkner denied after the game that he did that but it would seem to us that he’s just a good (bad?) liar.

Buffalo 6 – San Jose 3

Last night the Sharks played what could’ve been one of the games of the season beating the Flyers in a shootout. Tonight, they looked like a team that was just about out of gas. Buffalo took advantage of the tired Sharks and while the Sharks did well to hang in there, Buffalo dominated the action on the night. Thomas Vanek and Paul Gaustad each scored two goals. Gaustad and Cody McCormick each finished the game with three points as McCormick had a goal and two assists of his own. Logan Couture kept his hot play going for San Jose scoring a goal. For Buffalo it was their third win in four games and vaults them over Ottawa in the Northeast Division for third place.

Boston 5 – NY Islanders 2

Milan Lucic scored two goals, including his fourth empty net goal of the year, as the Bruins took out the Isles. The B’s were able to tack on two empty-netters at the end of the game after Rob Schremp made the score 3-2 with a late third period goal. Special teams is where the B’s made their stake tonight with two power play goals and a shorthanded goal. The real story was the great play from backup goalie Tuukka Rask making 33 saves in the win. Rick DiPietro stopped 32 saves but a failed poke check on Brad Marchand lead to his shorthanded goal in the second period that swung momentum back to the Bruins.

St. Louis 4 – Columbus 1

The slide of the Blue Jackets back to reality continues with another rough game. This time, they ran into a red hot Jaroslav Halak and couldn’t stop the Blues on the power play. Halak stopped 27 shots to get the win meanwhile the first three Blues goals of the night all came on the power play. Alexander Steen, Jay McClement, and Vladimir Sobotka had those man advantage tallies while David Backes added the empty netter. Steve Mason Mathieu Garon was underwhelming in the loss stopping 20 shots. Jan Hejda had Columbus’ lone goal. The Jackets have lost six of their last seven games and now sit last in the tough Central Division.

Minnesota 3 – Phoenix 2

Give it up to the Wild for playing a tough and complete game for the first time in a while. The Wild snapped a five-game losing streak on the back of two goals from Andrew Brunette and one by Brent Burns. Niklas Backstrom stopped 33 shots to earn the win but the only guy he couldn’t stop was Taylor Pyatt as he had both Phoenix goals. Ilya Bryzgalov was strong again for the Coyotes stopping 30 shots. On a disappointing note, the game was seen in front of just 7,749 in Glendale, Arizona. Ouch.

Los Angeles 2 – Calgary 1

A wild and exciting game in Los Angeles closes out with the Kings winning their third game in a row and the Flames losing in frustrating fashion. The Flames had an apparent Matthew Stajan goal disallowed in the first period after a video review because he was seen to have kicked it in. Later on in the first, Kyle Clifford got his first career NHL goal after a Wayne Simmonds centering pass bounced in the goal off his skate. Clifford didn’t kick at the puck and it counted. Anze Kopitar’s third period tip-in on the power play proved to be the decider and his third game-winning goal of the year. Both Jon Quick and Miikka Kiprusoff played out standing. Quick stopped 26 shots for the win while Kiprusoff stopped 30 in the loss.

The game closed out in angry fashion when Rene Bourque and Drew Doughty battled in front of the Los Angeles net. Doughty delivered a gamesman-like cross check to Bourque, but when Bourque got back up he speared Doughty in the groin. Bourque received a slashing penalty on the play but he may be hearing from the NHL tomorrow as the Flames have a game with Anaheim tomorrow night.

Doc Emrick looks back at one-of-a-kind 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs

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How did they pull this off?

During most playoff years, we ask this of the players. And, no doubt about it, the Tampa Bay Lightning showed a lot of perseverance fighting through bubble life to win the Stanley Cup. Doing so while Steven Stamkos played three minutes qualifies as “How did they pull this off?” material.

But, in the case of the 2020 Stanley Cup being handed out following the playoffs, this time we’re talking about the NHL, and everyone involved in keeping the playoff bubble from bursting.

It’s still surreal that we got this far.

NBC’s own Doc Emrick narrated the unlikely journey that was the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, which you can watch in the video above.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

This unlikely journey took us from second training camps, play resuming on Aug. 1, and a field of 24 teams narrowing down to the Stanley Cup champion Lightning. As Emrick says, it felt like a dream, but it came true for the NHL, even if it happened amid a nightmarish time.

Time will tell when the 2020-21 season may begin, but either way, it will be tough to forget the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, even if you’re not a Lightning fan.

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars (TB wins series 4-2)

Stars 4, Lightning 1 (recap)
Lightning 3, Stars 2 (recap)
Lightning 5, Stars 2 (recap)
Lighting 5, Stars 4 [OT] (recap)
Stars 3, Lightning 2 [2OT] (recap)
Lightning 2, Stars 0 (recap)

More on the Lightning winning the Stanley Cup

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Lightning had big Stanley Cup heroes beyond Conn Smythe winner Hedman

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If you’re like me, you’re prone to debate just about every Conn Smythe winner. That tradition continued with Victor Hedman winning the Conn Smythe as the Lightning won the 2020 Stanley Cup. And, as usual, you have to be a real nitpicker to actually get mad about Hedman winning it.

Because, again, Hedman ended up playing a huge role in the Lightning’s success, as the stupendous Swede has done for most of his already-impressive career.

Victor Hedman topped all Lighting players in ice time during their 2020 Stanley Cup run, and logged 25:01 time on ice (with an assist) in that clinching Game 6. Hedman flirted with a point-per-game (10 goals, 22 points in 25 games), a rare run for any skater, let alone a defenseman.

So you’re really splitting hairs by arguing against Hedman. With that, (powers up hair-slitting machine).

Other Lightning Conn Smythe possibilities after Hedman wins it

Brayden Point

TSN’s Frank Seravalli revealed that the Conn Smythe voting ended up being very close between Hedman and Brayden Point.

That’s like, “Two bad NFL wild-card teams who both probably shouldn’t make the playoffs, but one has to,” close.

Point scored the Stanley Cup-winning goal on the power play in Game 6, yet another example of the small forwards oversized clutchness.

Point finished with a whopping 14 goals and 33 points in 23 playoff games. If his injury(injuries?) carried over from the Islanders series, it was tough to tell.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Interestingly, Point was killer on the power play against the Stars, but otherwise roasted opponents most at even-strength. He generated 26 out of his 33 points when everything was even. In other words, Point often scored points in the toughest situations.

If I were voting, it would have come down to Point and his partner in crime …

Nikita Kucherov

After leading the NHL regular season in scoring during the 2018-19 season, Kucherov topped all point producers during the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Kucherov grabbed an assist on that Point Cup-clincher, giving him 34 points in 25 games.

Much like Point, it was fair to wonder how healthy Kucherov was during this run. And it was unhealthy for opponents to wonder how much more damage a full-strength Kucherov might have managed.

(Splitting-hairs machine chimes in: that said, if you’re choosing between Point and Kucherov, Kucherov was more assist-heavy [7 G, 27 A]. He also leaned more on the power play than Point.)

( … Speaking of splitting, maybe Kucherov and Point split some votes?)

Andrei Vasilevskiy

Normally, when a goalie manages a .927 save percentage during a Stanley Cup run, that goalie is the talk of the town. Frankly, Vasilevskiy was on the tips of fewer tongues than Stars goalie Anton Khudobin for most (if not all) of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final.

Granted, Khudobin presented a more entertaining underdog story.

Vasilevskiy is as close to “established” as a goalie can get in the modern NHL. He’s the rare contemporary first-rounder. Vasilevskiy boasts prototypical size, and carries the $9.5M cap hit that makes you merely expect great things.

Yet, if you followed goalies, you realize such performances are far from foregone conclusions.

Beyond winning a Stanley Cup, Vasilevskiy pulled off one of the only things he hadn’t done during this run in Game 6: he earned a shutout. Otherwise, his run was almost completely spotless. During a postseason when teams leaned on both of their goalies to an unusual degree, Vasilevskiy played every minute for the Lightning. And they never stared into the brink of elimination during this entire run.

Conn Smythe voters couldn’t have been blamed for choosing Point, Kucherov, or Vasilevskiy, but Hedman was a fantastic choice, too. This rich list of potential winners underscores the Lightning’s daunting power, and is a quick reference as to how they won the Stanley Cup despite Steven Stamkos being limited to about three minutes of playing time.

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars (TB wins series 4-2)

Stars 4, Lightning 1 (recap)
Lightning 3, Stars 2 (recap)
Lightning 5, Stars 2 (recap)
Lighting 5, Stars 4 [OT] (recap)
Stars 3, Lightning 2 [2OT] (recap)
Lightning 2, Stars 0 (recap)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Stamkos joins Lightning for Stanley Cup celebration

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After controlling Game 6 against the Dallas Stars, the Tampa Bay Lightning won their second Stanley Cup in franchise history. Beyond repeat Stanley Cup champion Patrick Maroon, winning the Stanley Cup was a first for every Lightning player. Considering the road the Lightning traveled to this Stanley Cup victory, should it be surprising that they decided to mix up the celebration, and create a great moment with Steven Stamkos in the process?

As Gary Bettman noted, the Lightning chose to take that group Stanley Cup celebration photo before the trophy was raised.

In an emotional moment, Lightning captain Stamkos ended up on the ice, becoming the first Lightning player to raise the Stanley Cup, prompting a jubilant celebration from teammates. It all makes that lone goal from Game 3 even sweeter for Stamkos.

Great stuff.

Following Stamkos, Conn Smythe Trophy winner Victor Hedman got his chance to raise the Stanley Cup. Some veterans took their laps, while eventually Nikita Kucherov, Andrei Vasilevskiy, and others celebrated with the Stanley Cup.

Along with the players, Jon Cooper and GM Julien BriseBois received a chance to bask in the glory. Both played big roles in the Lightning getting this far (as did former GM Steve Yzerman, now with the Red Wings).

Watch highlights of the Lightning’s 2-0 win against the Stars in Game 6 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final in the video below:

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars (TB wins series 4-2)

Stars 4, Lightning 1 (recap)
Lightning 3, Stars 2 (recap)
Lightning 5, Stars 2 (recap)
Lighting 5, Stars 4 [OT] (recap)
Stars 3, Lightning 2 [2OT] (recap)
Lightning 2, Stars 0 (recap)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

NHL successfully completes bubble Stanley Cup Playoffs

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It began 63 days ago and ended Monday night with a new NHL Stanley Cup champion.

When NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announced the league’s Return to Play plan in May, there was lots of skepticism that we would see a conclusion to the 2019-20 season. The plan was to start August 1 and finish the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs in late September with bubbles in Toronto and Edmonton. It was a big challenge, but worth the effort.

“I don’t want to sound Pollyanna, but canceling is too easy a solution,” Bettman said in May.

When puck dropped on the Penguins-Flyers exhibition game July 28 from Scotiabank Arena, it was different. No crowd, piped in atmosphere, and plenty of uncertainty about how the following two months would go. But round after round confidence grew that this postseason would be completed without issue. Week after week the NHL announced their latest round of COVID-19 test results, and in total, 33,174 tests were given with not one returning positive.

Yet, Bettman held off on celebrating until it was his time to award the Cup to the winning team’s captain. He was able to do just that, posing for the annual photo at center ice inside Rogers Place — this year with Steven Stamkos of the Lightning. 

“To be in this place, at this time under these circumstances is remarkable and frankly, overwhelming,” Bettman said before awarding Victor Hedman with the Conn Smythe Trophy and presenting the Cup. “It’s a testament to everybody that participated in our Return to Play and it’s a testament to a great Stanley Cup Final from the Tampa Bay Lightning and Dallas Stars.”

[Lightning needed to ‘feel failure’ before earning Cup success]

The on-ice celebration, like everything else in life since March, was different. There was no raucous crowd celebrating with the players; no media on the ice grabbing postgame soundbites. It was like it had been for the last two months: the Lightning, altogether, taking part in a post-Cup tradition under unique circumstances.

What hadn’t changed were the emotions of winning. This postseason was a grind on everyone involved. The Stars and Lightning have been away from their families and inside bubbles since July. Hotel rooms became their home away from home. Video games, FaceTime calls, and the occasional time outside were highlights of off days. The road to the Cup Final was different, but when the players gave their thumbs up to the Return to Play plan they knew it wouldn’t be easy.

“I missed an anniversary, birthday, another one’s coming up, first day of school, hockey tournaments, my daughter making the swimming team, my other daughter going to her first dance class,” said Lightning head coach Jon Cooper last week. “Where do you want the list to go?”

“There won’t be one thing about bubble life I’m going to miss,” said Stars interim head coach Rick Bowness.

It’s over now. Six and a half months after the league and world paused, we finally have a 2019-20 NHL champion. The Lightning and Stars won’t ever forget this experience.

“It takes a lot to be in a bubble for 80 days or whatever long it was,” said Hedman afterward. “But it’s all worth it now. We’re coming home with the Cup.”

MORE:
Bubble won’t be back for full 2020-21 NHL season
Doc Emrick looks back at one-of-a-kind 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.