Around the rink – Saturday, December 18th

A busy day and night lies ahead in the NHL with one matinee game kicking things off in style in Philadelphia as the Flyers play their first game without Chris Pronger. Getting the gutsy Rangers first should make for an interesting test. As for the rest of the night, our eyes are peeled in Boston as the Capitals come calling again and in Nashville where the red hot Predators deal with the Kings. Oh yeah, and Ilya Kovalchuk makes his less-than-triumphant return to Atlanta. Does he get booed or laughed at? All times are Eastern.

1:00 pm

NY Rangers @ Philadelphia

No Pronger for Philly and Oskars Bartulis gets to replace him. No pressure there we’re sure. Meanwhile, the Flyers are on a four game win streak while the Rangers come in winners of three straight. It’s got all the makings of a rivalry classic in Philly. The Rangers are winning the tough close games while the Flyers have found the offense to put teams away more effectively.

7:00 pm

Washington @ Boston

Something’s got to give here. Two teams that are trending in bad ways. The Caps are losers of seven in a row while the Bruins have dropped their last three. Boston’s played tough in their last two but have come out on the short end of things while the Caps have been temperamental alternating between poor efforts with worse results to playing great and getting no breaks. This is the fourth and final time these two teams meet up this season and the Bruins own a 2-1-0 edge on the Caps. Washington will be without Alexander Semin who didn’t travel with the team to Boston because of a lower body injury. The flu bug that’s gone through the entire Caps locker room is bothering defensemen Scott Hannan and Tyler Sloan. There’s one great eight the Caps don’t want to see by the end of the night and that’s an eighth straight loss. Captain Ovechkin will have shoulder the load against the tough Bruins.

New Jersey @ Atlanta

How’s this for a turn of events? Ilya Kovalchuk gets dealt to New Jersey after years of playing for losing teams in Atlanta. Now he returns to Atlanta for the first time this season and the Thrashers are in the thick of the playoff hunt while the Devils are mired in second-to-last place in the Eastern Conference. We know that Kovalchuk will hear boos but we can’t help but wonder if a chorus of “Ha-Ha’s” a la Nelson Muntz from “The Simpsons” might be more fitting. The Devils are coming off another bad loss last night, this time to Nashville, meanwhile Atlanta has dropped two in a row in the shootout.

Phoenix @ NY Islanders

Well hey look, the Islanders are on fire. All right, so one win doesn’t necessarily mean you’re on fire but it’s close enough for the woeful Isles. Getting to match up with a Coyotes team that isn’t fairing too well on the east coast trip could help keep themselves motivated. Phoenix has dropped two in a row and are coming off a shootout loss to the Rangers that stung worse because they blew a 3-1 lead in that one.

Anaheim @ Carolina

A grumpy Ducks team rolls into Raleigh after suffering the ignominy of losing to the Islanders. Carolina, on the other hand, have won three straight including two in the shootout. The Hurricanes are getting some great play from Brandon Sutter of late and having him pick things up helps keep the pressure off of rookie Jeff Skinner. The Ducks, meanwhile, need to get some production from lines aside from the first one. Bobby Ryan, Ryan Getzlaf, and Corey Perry can’t do the heavy lifting every night.

Dallas @ Columbus

Columbus sure seemed to miss Kristian Huselius. Without Huselius’ hat trick against Edmonton on Thursday night the Blue Jackets 6-3 loss would’ve looked even uglier than it actually was. As it is, the Jackets would kill to get some efficiency out of goalie Steve Mason. Mason over the last four weeks has been nothing short of miserable and now that backup goalie Mathieu Garon has returned to earth after a hot start of his own, the defensive deficiencies of Columbus are really starting to show through. Going up against a Dallas team that’s got Brad Richards and James Neal playing great won’t help matters there very much. After going on a five game win streak, the Blue Jackets have won just two of their next 11 games. The Stars would like to just regain some consistency as they’ve alternated between wins and losses over their last four games.

Toronto @ Vancouver

An odd early start out on the west coast for this one, but for Leafs fans across Canada, they get to see their team in prime time on Hockey Night in Canada. The Leafs will be without Jean-Sebastien Giguere as he’s out indefinitely with another groin injury.  If the Leafs continue to play defense the way they did in a 5-2 loss to Calgary it won’t matter who’s in goal for them because they will lose. Vancouver has won three of their last four games and appear to be snapping out of their mental funk that’s kept them playing inconsistent this year winning seven of their last nine games.

7:30 pm

Buffalo @ Tampa Bay

After laying an egg last night against Florida, the Sabres hope to find their stride again. After they got a big win over Boston earlier this week, that could’ve been the turnaround they were looking for. A 6-2 loss to Florida says they’re back to square one. Tampa Bay meanwhile has Vincent Lecavalier back in the lineup and they’re winners of two in a row. If they can get their goaltending right, they’ll be able to start scaring some teams.

8:00 pm

San Jose @ St. Louis

The Blues will be hoping to continue their assault against California teams. They’re coming off a big win over Los Angeles and now dealing with a Sharks team that’s playing like they’re on a roller coaster, catching them on the right night means getting a win. With the Sharks you just never know what you’re going to get. One night it’s the offensive juggernaut, on others it’s a fight with bad goaltending, and on others it’s the team decked out in v-neck sweaters singing fractured Christmas carols.

Los Angeles @ Nashville

Life is good for Nashville of late. They’re missing a bunch of guys up front and their starting goalie and it just doesn’t matter. They keep winning. They’ve won eight of their last nine games and have trimmed the distance between themselves and the Red Wings in the Central. Now they face off with a Kings team eager to put their failure in St. Louis behind them. For the Kings it’s the first of two brutal back-to-back games as they’ll head to Chicago for a game on Sunday following this tough one with the Predators. If the Kings are going to show what they’re made of, getting a win in Nashville would be huge.

10:00 pm

Minnesota @ Calgary

Hockey Night in Canada’s nightcap game doesn’t really give us the warm fuzzies, but when these two get together you’re either guaranteed a huge game from Jarome Iginla or the Wild opening up the floodgates on the Flames. This time around, we’re praying for both things to happen to keep us going into the late night hours. The Wild come in losers of two in a row while the Flames have won two straight.

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

Trade: Rangers save money, Red Wings get second-rounder, Marc Staal

Marc Staal trade Rangers Red Wings second-round pick
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With the Marc Staal trade, both the Detroit Red Wings and New York Rangers gain benefits that make sense for where they are. The rebuilding Red Wings gain a 2021 second-round pick and a veteran in Marc Staal, while the Rangers save $5.7 million in cap space for 2020-21.

(And, um, receive “future considerations.” Uh huh.)

Red Wings receive: Marc Staal, 2021 second-round pick

Rangers receive: $5.7M in cap space from trading Staal, “future considerations.”

Rangers gain some serious cap flexibility, perhaps room for free agent splurge?

With Cap Friendly estimating the Rangers at a bit more than $20M in space, they have some interesting flexibility.

Now, that number can be a little misleading out of context. After all, it’s based on 14 roster spots being filled, so Rangers players will eat that up. That said, it will be interesting to see if the Rangers have more tricks up their sleeves, especially if they might want to move on from RFAs such as Ryan Strome and/or Anthony DeAngelo.

Either way, moving on from that $5.7M gives the Rangers options.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

And it’s not as if the Rangers lack draft assets to continue rebuilding while also possibly flirting with another free agent splash after seeing Artemi Panarin become a Hart Trophy finalist in 2019-20.

As you likely remember, the Rangers won the 2020 NHL Draft Lottery, almost certainly netting them Alexis Lafreniere. Even if Lafreniere hits the mark for various incentives, his entry-level contract will likely be a boon for the Rangers.

By also trading Brady Skjei to the Hurricanes, the Rangers have two first-rounders for 2020. While the Rangers now lack second-rounders in 2020 and 2021, they enjoy quality (two first-rounders, two third-rounders) and quantity (three seventh-rounders) in the upcoming 2020 NHL Draft.

In other words … Rangers GM Jeff Gorton is still doing some strong work. (Even if there’s the occasional Jacob Trouba disappointment to go with a Panarin smash success.)

Red Wings absorb final year of Staal deal to bolster rebuild

Yes, you can sell the addition of Marc Staal. Granted, you’d be leaning heavily on “good in the room” and “veteran leadership”-type subjective viewpoints.

“Marc Staal has been an exemplary hockey player, teammate, and person from the moment he joined the New York Rangers organization,” Rangers exec John Davidson said. “A consummate professional, Marc’s perseverance and dedication to the game made him such an integral part of our organization.”

On the ice? Frankly, Staal’s been limited for quite some time, if not an active detriment to the Rangers’ success.

One sneaky plus for the Red Wings is that Staal won’t actually cost them $5.7M. Considering the financial uncertainty of these times, and the Red Wings’ likely place as a lower-end team in 2020-21, that’s no small concern.

Staal’s total salary for 2020-21 is $4.2M, and the Rangers likely already paid his $1M salary bonus. So the Red Wings pay $3.2M while filling up $5.7M of cap space.

But, most of all, the Red Wings receive a second-round pick in 2021 for their troubles. As someone who’s called upon Steve Yzerman and Pierre Dorion to load up on picks by weaponizing cap space, the Marc Staal trade is a textbook example.

(OK, squeezing out a first-rounder would have been even better, but still.)

Consider the Red Wings’ boatload of draft assets:

  • They pick fourth overall in 2020. Odds are high that their 2021 first-round pick will be a premium one, too.
  • Detroit owns three second-round picks in both 2020 and 2021 (so six second-rounders during the next two drafts).
  • But wait, there’s more: two third-round picks in each of the next two drafts.

Being that Cap Friendly estimates the Red Wings’ cap space at about $27.375M, Yzerman would be wise to survey the landscape and replicate this Marc Staal trade. The Red Wings have been busy lately, also signing Sam Gagner and Robby Fabbri in recent moves.

This continues a tumultuous off-season for the Staal family, as Eric Staal was traded to the Sabres for Marcus Johansson. Should Jordan Staal avoid putting his phone on silent for a while?

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 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)

Lightning vs. Stars: 3 keys to Game 5 of Stanley Cup Final

Stanley Cup Final Game 5
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The Tampa Bay Lightning will have a chance to win the Stanley Cup in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final on Saturday (8 p.m. ET, NBC, Livestream) when they take on the Dallas Stars.

Injuries will again be a big factor as Steven Stamkos is set to miss yet another game for the Lightning as he continues to recover from a lower-body injury.

On the Dallas side, Roope Hintz, Blake Comeau, and Radek Faksa will all be unavailable, leaving a significant dent on a penalty killing unit that has already struggled in this series.

The Stars need to put together another improbable run this postseason, and it has to start on Saturday night.

Let’s take a look at three keys to the game to get you ready.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

1. The Lightning power play vs. the Stars penalty kill

You could also go back to the No. 1 key from Game 4 and say that the Stars have to remain disciplined, but that ship seems like it has already sailed in this series. Plus, with the way the Lightning are clicking on the power play right now they may not need many opportunities to change the game and get a big goal.

The Lightning have scored on six of their 15 power play opportunities in this series and are coming off of a Game 4 performance where they found the back of the net three times, including on Kevin Shattenkirk‘s overtime winning goal.

This group is just too good, too talented, and too precise to consistently slow down. Add in the fact that the Stars are without Radek Faksa, Blake Comeau, and Roope Hintz (three regulars on the PK, with the former two being two of their most utilized players) and it becomes an even bigger challenge.

That is a lot to replace.

2. Goalies on the back-to-back

Most teams do not like playing their goalies in both ends of a back-to-back during the regular season, and we even saw a lot of teams use their backups during this year’s postseason to help reduce the workload.

But no coach is going to sit their starter in the Stanley Cup Final, especially in a potential elimination game.

So you are going to see Andrei Vasilevskiy and Anton Khudobin again on Saturday even though both goalies played an entire overtime game just 24 hours earlier.

Back-to-backs are always a lot for goalies, but when you consider the workload these two have taken on this postseason they have to be running on fumes at this point.

That has to be especially true for Vasilevskiy as he has played every single minute for the Lightning since the postseason began in late July.

Given the way this series has played out the Stars are going to need Khudobin to carry them again.

3. Tampa Bay’s top line

The trio of Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, and Ondrej Palat has been dominant all postseason, and they are somehow getting stronger in the Stanley Cup Final.

They have aleady combined for seven goals in the first four games of the series (four for Point, one each for Kucherov and Palat) while Kucherov has five assists.

They have not only helped get the power play rolling again, but their 5-on-5 play has been equally dominant.

Just take a look at the numbers this line is producing when all three are on the ice together during 5-on-5 play:

  • Total shot attempts: Tampa Bay 64, Dallas 26 (71.1 percent in Tampa Bay’s favor)
  • Shots on goal: Tampa Bay 31, Dallas 13 (70. 4 percent in Tampa Bay’s favor)
  • Expected goals: Tampa Bay 2.92, Dallas 1.06 (73.3 percent in Tampa Bay’s favor)
  • Goals: Tampa Bay 4, Dallas 1 (80.0 percent in Tampa Bay’s favor)

All of that in just 48 minutes of 5-on-5 ice time.

The Stars have no answer for them, and it hasn’t really mattered which defensive pairing they have tried to use as both Miro Heiskanen and John Klingberg have been unable to slow them down. The Klingberg pairing has especially struggled, as the Stars have been outscored 2-0 and out-attempted 25-4 in the 20 minutes that pairing has played against the Kucherov line.

(Data in this post via Natural Stat Trick)

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.