Why this year’s Philadelphia Flyers look an awful lot like last season’s Chicago Blackhawks

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It wasn’t always pretty – after all, they needed a shootout win over the New York Rangers on the last game of the regular season to clinch a playoff spot – but the 2009-10 Philadelphia Flyers found a way to mesh together, bought into new coach’s Peter Laviolette’s system and finished two wins away from a Stanley Cup.

While this might paint the picture in the broadest strokes, there were two ways the Flyers could have reacted this season: 1) by fading into oblivion, thus proving that they merely got hot at the right time or 2) prove that they are a genuine contender with a great season. It seems like they went with option two, considering the fact that Philadelphia is the top team in the Eastern Conference right now.

In fact, the 2010-11 Flyers might be in a remarkably similar situation as the 2009-10 Chicago Blackhawks team that thwarted them for the ’10 championship. Let’s take a look at the intriguing similarities between the two teams, starting with the most important shared characteristic. For the sake of honest discussion, I’ll also discuss a few key differences that keep the two teams’ similarities from being Sedin twins-level creepy.

Long term core, short term depth

Last season, it seemed like the Blackhawks’ salary cap situation would be even more crippling than it ended up being. Yet they still lost some crucial pieces, particularly Dustin Byfuglien and (admittedly struggling) goalie Antti Niemi.

The Flyers don’t face the same dire situation (CapGeek.com estimates their 2011-12 cap space to be more than $3.64 million with 17 roster spots covered), but Philly will likely lose some of their impressive depth players during the next summer or two.

Ville Leino (unrestricted) and Andreas Nodl (restricted) are free agents this summer along with steady, affordable goalie Brian Boucher. Valuable defensemen Braydon Coburn and Matt Carle will be unrestricted free agents while James van Riemsyk – the second overall pick of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft –  will be a restricted free agent in July 2012. Leino and JVR are particularly likely to see considerable raises, which might price them out of Philly.

In other words, the Flyers boast an outstanding group of top-end players such as Mike Richards and Jeff Carter – much like the Blackhawks still employ Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith – but they’ll only be able to boast almost unfair depth for another season or two.

Laviolette = Joel Quenneville

However you feel about the dismissal of John Stevens, the Flyers are clearly a better hockey team under Laviolette. Much like coach Q, the feisty former Carolina Hurricanes bench boss arrived with instant credibility (and a Cup from his time with the ‘Canes). It’s a telling pattern that talented teams flourish with some new blood, from Dan Bylsma in Pittsburgh to Bruce Boudreau in Washington and Guy Boucher in Tampa Bay.

Sergei Bobrovsky = Antti Niemi?

Cristobal Huet was supposed to be the man in Chicago. Michael Leighton was supposed to make good on his surprise Cup run this season. Yet Niemi eventually usurped the pricey Huet and Bobrovsky took advantage of Leighton’s poorly timed injury issues to nab the No. 1 gig.

The best part for Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren is the big difference between the two: while Niemi’s contract expired last summer, Bobrovsky’s entry-level deal won’t run out until the 2012-13 season concludes. (Of course, there’s that other major difference: Niemi already won Chicago a Cup.)

Losing to a champion

I’m not sure if the cliche is as valid in the unpredictable days of the salary cap, but many people think that a team “needs to learn how to lose before they learn how to win.”

There’s some truth to that in the way the Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins fell to the Detroit Red Wings before winning Cups the last two seasons. Perhaps the Flyers will take that lessons learned from losing to Chicago and win a Cup this season?

***

So as the Flyers and Blackhawks play for the first time since the two teams grappled in the Cup finals, forgive some double-takes in Chicago. It’s just that they might feel like they’re looking back at their 09-10 selves (only in black, white and orange jerseys).

Lightning-Stars stream: 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final

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NBC’s coverage of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs continues with Monday’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.

Facing elimination for the second time this postseason, the Stars overcame a third-period deficit and won the first Cup Final double-overtime game since 2014 to deny the Lightning the title and force Game 6. In what was the second set of a back-to-back, two aging offseason signees were the difference for Dallas as 36-year-old Joe Pavelski tied the game with 6:45 remaining in regulation and 35-year-old Corey Perry ended the second overtime game in as many days with his put back 9:23 into the second extra session.

Pavelski has now scored 13 goals, tied with Brayden Point for the most in these playoffs. He’s one shy of his total in the 2016 playoffs (14) when he led all players in the only other postseason he reached the Cup Final. That series against Pittsburgh, Pavelski had a goal in 6 games – his only point in the series. In this Cup Final, he has four goals in five games (all in last four games).

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

In two games facing elimination this postseason, Stars goaltender Anton Khudobin has stopped 79 of 85 shots, with both wins coming past regulation. With a win in Game 6 he will have the second-most victories in a single postseason in franchise history.

Lightning head coach Jon Cooper announced Sunday that captain Steven Stamkos will not appear the rest of this series, meaning if Tampa wins the Cup it’ll be the first time since the Flames in 1989 that a team has a captain not play in the Cup-clinching game.

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: Monday, September 28, 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 3-2)

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)
Game 6: Monday, Sept. 28, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
*Game 7: Wednesday, Sept. 30, 8 p.m. ET – NBC

*if necessary

NHL Power Rankings: Point, Hedman, Kucherov still lead Conn Smythe race

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The Tampa Bay Lightning need just one more win to capture the Stanley Cup for the second time in franchise history. If they are able to get it the Conn Smythe Trophy debate is going to be as close as it has been in years between their top-three players — Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, and Victor Hedman — as all of them have a great argument for it.

We take a look at the ongoing race for the Conn Smythe in our weekly NHL Power Rankings.

The Lightning have another chance to get that win on Monday night in Game 6 (8 p.m. ET, NBC; livestream) against the Dallas Stars.

Since the Lightning are the closest team to winning the Cup they definitely have the top-three favorites as of this moment, but a lot can change if the Stars win Game 6 on Monday.

Who all makes the Conn Smythe watch in our latest update?

To the rankings!

1. Brayden Point, Tampa Bay Lightning. It is really difficult to differentiate between Point and Kucherov right now. They play on the same line, they are equally dominant, they are both deserving. Point gets the slight edge right now for the simple fact that he already has four goals and seven total points in the Cup Final, and going back to the earlier rounds of the playoffs has two overtime winning goals, including a series-clincher. He has an NHL best 13 total goals and 10 even-strength goals this postseason.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

2. Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning. One of the finest postseason performances we have seen from a defenseman in years. He controls the game at an absurd level and enters Game 6 on Monday having already scored 10 goals in 24 playoff games. He is only one goal away from matching his regular season total that he reached in 66 games. But it is not just the goal-scoring that makes him so dominant. He is simply the most complete defenseman in the NHL right now for his ability to shut things down defensively, control the transition game, and be a major factor in the offensive zone.

3. Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning. In most years his performance would make him a slam-dunk Conn Smythe winner, and it a testament to the overall brilliance of Point and Hedman that it is even a debate at this point. It is not just the overall production that stands out, but the consistency as well.

4. Miro Heiskanen, Dallas Stars. I don’t know that he has been quite as dominant in the Cup Final as he was in earlier rounds, but he has still been the Stars’ best and most consistent player from the moment the postseason began. He is still their top scorer (as a defenseman!) and best overall player. A rising superstar in the NHL.

5. Joe Pavelski, Dallas Stars. A big-time late push from the Stars’ big free agent acquisition. After a somewhat underwhelming debut regular season, Pavelski has proven to be exactly what the Stars wanted — and needed — in the playoffs to help balance out their offense, taking some of the pressure off of their top line. His 13 goals are tied for the league lead in the playoffs (with Point) and he already has four in the Stanley Cup Final. The biggest of those four was his game-tying goal late in Game 5 to send it overtime, setting the stage for Corey Perry‘s game winner.

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

6. Anton Khudobin, Dallas Stars. After a slow start to the Cup Final, Khudobin came through in a big way in Game 5 to extend the series. Do you know what would rapidly make him get back closer to the top of this race? Two more dominant starts to pick up wins.

7. Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning. It is still a little wild that Vasilevskiy has played every minute for the Lightning this postseason and has a .920-plus save percentage and is barely even an afterthought in the Conn Smythe discussion. But given the performance of the top-three Lightning players he just does not really have much of a chance. He has still be great. Just as he always is.

8. Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars. It has been an incredible postseason for Benn and a nice reminder that he can still be a productive top-line player. But his offense has gone a little cold in the Cup Final and barring two massive performances to power a series comeback that will hurt him in the Conn Smythe race.

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.

Lightning ‘turning the page’ after missing first chance to clinch Cup

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It was a missed opportunity, but the Tampa Bay Lightning still hold the series lead. Up 3-2 in the Stanley Cup Final, they get a second chance to hold a celebration at center ice inside Rogers Place Monday night (8 p.m. ET, NBC; livestream) against the Dallas Stars.

One thing that has defined this Lightning team in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs has been their ability to bounce back. Of the 24 games they’ve played inside a bubble this postseason, Tampa has only lost seven of them. Each loss has been followed up by a win, making them 6-0 since the Round-Robin after a defeat. The last time they posted consecutive losses was their two final games before the March NHL pause.

“The sting after a game, for both teams, whenever they lose, is usually that night,” said head coach Jon Cooper. “But the next day, I can only speak for our team, we’ve done a pretty good job of turning the page. When you are that close, you can sit here and say you can taste it, but in the end, we’re still up 3-2 in the series, and we feel pretty decent about our game, so let’s bring it [Monday] night and see what happens.”

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

In Tampa’s minds, Corey Perry‘s goal in double overtime Saturday night was just delaying the party. After Mikhail Sergachev scored early in the third period, the Lightning were 16:22 away from winning their second Cup in franchise history. Joe Pavelski had other ideas.

It’s a tough pill to swallow, knowing you were a goal away from winning it all. But there are still two games max to play, and Tampa holds has the advantage in the series.

“We can’t rewrite history,” Cooper said. “We can’t go back and say, ‘What if.’ There were so many times in these playoffs that we were like, ‘Holy cow, I can’t believe we did that, or we did this.’ So that’s happened way more than second-guessing a missed shot or a post here.

“We’ve got a plan. It’s gotten us this far and we fully believe it’ll get us through the end.”

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars (TB leads 3-2)

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)
Game 6: Monday, Sept. 28, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
*Game 7: Wednesday, Sept. 30, 8 p.m. ET – NBC

*if necessary

MORE: Lightning rule out Steven Stamkos for rest of Stanley Cup Final

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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.

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 3-2)

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)
Game 6: Monday, Sept. 28, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
*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)