Shane Doan leads Coyotes through adversity, ready to show his “DoanFace” again

Riding the roller coaster of success and failure in Phoenix has been trying at times, but through it all one thing has been constant and that’s the stoic leadership of Shane Doan. With the Coyotes sitting in fourth place in the Western Conference and locked in a battle with the Sharks for the top spot in the Pacific Division, they’re poised to make the playoffs for a second straight year and a threat to go deep in the playoffs. With attention being turned towards the postseason, Doan says staying locked in on getting there isn’t a problem.

“Right now it’s pretty easy (to stay focused) with the playoffs being as close as they are and everything that’s going on and every team seems to be right in the battle. It’s pretty easy to keep your mind focused on what you have to do. I’ve talked about how we can take care of ourselves and if we keep winning we don’t have to worry about anyone else.”

As things go in Phoenix lately, staying focused with what’s going on on the ice can be a bit trying. The continuing off-ice distractions surrounding the possibility of the team being sold either to Matthew Hulsizer or being relocated to Winnipeg if that bid fails are there and if nothing else it seems to have emboldened the team. That said, it’s a distraction nonetheless even for a veteran like Doan.

“It’s difficult when you’re not on the ice. As a dad or a friend or a husband it’s something that comes up in conversation regardless of how you block it out when you get to the dressing room,” Doan says. How does it work in the dressing room though? The strategy is simple to keep the off-ice business out of sight and out of mind.

“The guys here have been phenomenal. From five o’clock on game day to ten o’clock on game day it’s not an issue. It’s not something we choose to discuss and if there is something that goes on regarding it you pretty much ignore it. You have selective hearing and you hear the things you want to hear and you don’t hear the other things.”

Of course with the playoffs on the way and the impression Doan and the Coyotes left on fans last year, most in particular the now famous “DoanFace” (seen above and virtually everywhere else across the Internet), the thought of an encore production makes us wonder just what could possibly top the grand euphoria of the DoanFace.

For the Coyotes captain, he wasn’t even totally aware of the Internet frenzy he created with his goal celebration from Game 2 against Detroit.

“I didn’t know (it was a big deal). Biz, Paul Bissonnette said something to me but I never really… I’m not an overly techie guy. My phone works and that’s the extent of it,” Doan says.

All right so how about an encore performance?

“Nothing would make me happier than having the ability to get that excited about a goal again. Obviously you’ve gotta find ways to get there then once you get there find ways to contribute and help out. We need to find ways to win as a team and we need to find ways get out of the first round. Everybody wants to get to the playoffs and after you get there you want to make some noise.”

Playoff success would be a huge thing for the Coyotes. After going so long without making the playoffs and then going to seven games with the Red Wings before bowing out, getting back to the postseason and winning there would be a big deal for more than the obvious reasons. Doan keeps the focus straight though.

“Right now our focus is the playoffs and getting there. Once we get there I think that everyone thinks that the experience from last year of what happened after game seven and going seven games and not finding ways to win. It’s disappointing and I think people want to answer that.”

The Coyotes marketing slogan this year has been “Don’t Blink” and judging by how Doan controls the room in Phoenix, you might think he’s the mastermind behind that as well. If it translates into playoff success and ultimately a Stanley Cup in the desert, they might not need to worry about moving anywhere ever again.

Marc-Andre Fleury wants to stay in Vegas, isn’t asking for trade

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The biggest question for the Vegas Golden Knights this offseason is going to be how they handle their suddenly complex goaltending situation.

Marc-Andre Fleury, the face of the franchise, remains under contract for two more seasons, while the team seems determined to try and re-sign Robin Lehner, who had taken over the starting job during the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs after he was acquired at the NHL trade deadline.

While keeping both players would seem to be an ideal set-up (having two goalies capable of being a high level starter is a good thing!) the financial and logistical circumstances around it would seem to be incredible difficult.

Not only would it require a substantial salary cap commitment to a position where only one player can play at a time, there is also the delicate balance of playing time. Both goalies are starters, both will want to start, and both have earned the right to start. That has resulted in speculation that the Golden Knights could trade, or perhaps even buy out, Fleury this offseason.

There was also the school of thought that Fleury might ask for an exit given the way the goaltending situation unfolded this postseason.

That does not seem to be the case.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Fleury told The Athletic’s Jesse Granger this week that while he realizes the potential of a trade, he has no intention of asking the team for one this offseason and that he is still committed to finishing his career in Vegas.

Even if it means potentially sharing the net.

Via the Athletic (subscription required):

“I want to stay in Vegas,” he told The Athletic Wednesday afternoon. “I don’t know what the future holds, but I’ve loved every moment since I got here.”

Fleury emphasized that he is not seeking a trade, and if it were up to him he would finish his career in Vegas.

“This team means a lot to me, and the city has been so good to me,” Fleury said. “The fans, and (owner Bill Foley) have been so awesome. It’s a great team, and I thought when I came here that maybe I could retire here. I wanted to end my career here.”

Fleury added that he gets along great with Lehner, and that while his goal is to not be just a backup, he said he intends to “practice hard, try to play well, and hopefully get some games.”

The problem here is if Vegas is successful in re-signing Lehner it would probably carry a price tag similar to Fleury’s. That would mean Vegas would have somewhere in the neighborhood of $14-15 million tied up in net. The only team in the league this season that is slated to spend that much on goaltending is Montreal with the newly formed Carey PriceJake Allen duo.

Montreal has the salary cap space to make that sort of a commitment to the goalie position.  Vegas, on the other hand, may not. Not unless it makes a drastic cut somewhere else on the roster.

Even though the Golden Knights do not have any other significant free agents to deal with, they still have a handful of RFA’s to re-sign and are already crunched against the cap. Even if were to shed salary elsewhere to keep both goalies it would still probably prohibit the team from making any other outside addition via trade or free agency. It is a very good team, one of the very best in the league, but they are still going to want to make some improvements to the roster. That may be difficult, if not impossible, with both goalies on the roster.

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.

Nikita Kucherov’s postseason defined by redemption, consistency

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Like pretty much every other player on the Lightning roster, the 2018-19 playoffs ended up being a very forgettable experience for Nikita Kucherov.

During their four-game loss to the Blue Jackets, Kucherov managed just two points (both in their Game 4 loss), zero goals, and even missed a game due to a suspension for an ugly hit late in their Game 2 loss. It was a dreadfully disappointing end to a season where Kucherov had put together one of the finest regular season performances of the modern era for a record-setting team. He finished the season with 128 points (the most points the league had seen in 23 years) and took home the Hart Trophy (MVP) and Ted Lindsay Award (most outstanding player as voted by the players) on a team that won 62 regular season games.

But because of their inability to win even a single playoff against the No. 8 seed, it will mostly end up being a footnote to the season.

All of them — from Kucherov on down the roster — had to redeem themselves this postseason and flip the script on a team that was starting to become more known more for postseason shortcomings instead of for what it actually is — one of the league’s elite teams, driven by some of the best players in the world.

Entering Game 4 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final Friday night (8 p.m. ET, NBC; livestream), Kucherov and the Lightning are in the process of getting that redemption.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

They hold a 2-1 series lead and have looked like the far superior team these past two games.

Kucherov has been at the center of most of it.

His playmaking was on display in the Lightning’s Game 2 win by setting up a pair of power play goals to help power their fast start. In Game 3, he pounced on a Miro Heiskanen turnover in the neutral zone and buried a quick shot behind Anton Khudobin on a breakaway to help open the floodgates in a 5-2 win.

For the playoffs, he is already up to 30 points (seven goals, 23 assists) in 22 games, which is currently tied for the fourth highest total in a single postseason over the past 20 years, trailing only Evgeni Malkin (36) and Sidney Crosby (31) in 2008-09, and Washington’s Evgeny Kuznetsov (32) in 2017-18.

It’s not just that he is generating points that stands out.

He is driving the most dominant line in the league this postseason alongside Brayden Point and Ondrej Palat. His underlying numbers are also off the charts. Of the 98 skaters that have logged at least 200 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey this postseason, Kucherov ranks second in total shot attempt share (63.6 percent), second in goals for percentage (76 percent), second in expected goals percentage (68 percent), fifth in scoring chance share, and second in high-danger scoring chances (67.9 percent). In most of those categories the only players that rank ahead of him are either Tampa defenseman Victor Hedman, or Palat, who is one of Kucherov’s current linemates.

Then we get to the consistency aspect of this, and just how steady his overall production has been.

There is no more overrated and overused word in hockey than “consistency,” at least as it relates to goal and point production. Every player in the league is inconsistent to a certain degree, and even the best players tend to score their goals and points in bunches. The season is a mountain range full of peaks and valleys. But Kucherov, for a few months now, has been residing on one of those mountains.

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

He has not gone more than two consecutive games without a point since the middle of January, and there was only one stretch of games this entire season where he went more than two games without finding the scoresheet — and even that was only a three-game stretch.

He also has eight multi-point games this postseason, and when you exclude the three Round-Robin games before the start of the playoffs that means he has recorded at least two points in more than 40 percent of his games this postseason.

That is a stunning level of production and dominance.

Just looking at recent Conn Smythe Trophy winners, Ryan O'Reilly had multiple points in only 20 percent of his postseason games for the Blues last season. Alex Ovechkin was at 33 percent in 2018. Sidney Crosby had multiple points in 33 percent (2016-17) and 20 percent (2015-16) in his most recent Conn Smythe seasons.

The Lightning have been one of the league’s best teams and Kucherov has been one of the best players for six years now. But because of the way their postseasons have ended there has always been that “yeah, but…” following them around, especially after last year’s dismal First Round showing.

They all needed to rewrite the story around themselves.

They are not exactly where they want to be just yet (they still have two more wins to get), but they have put themselves in a great position to finally accomplish their ultimate goal.

MORE: Conn Smythe Watch: Victor Hedman makes his move

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 2-1)

Stars 4, Lightning 1 (recap)
Lightning 3, Stars 2 (recap)
Lightning 5, Stars 2 (recap)
Game 4: Friday, Sept. 25, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
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)

Conn Smythe Watch: Victor Hedman makes his move

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Thanks to a couple of fast starts, a bounce-back from their power play unit, and a brief appearance from captain Steven Stamkos the Lightning have been able to win back-to-back games and take a 2-1 series lead in the 2020 Stanley Cup Final.

It has been the usual suspects leading that charge for them as forwards Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point, and top defenseman Victor Hedman, continue to pace their offense.

All three players find themselves at the top of our latest Conn Smythe Watch.

1. Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning. Truly a dominant postseason in every possible way. He has already scored 10 goals (with 10 assists) in 22 games and completely controls every game when he is on the ice. He has played more than 434 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey this postseason, and during that time the Lightning are outscoring their opponents by a 24-6 margin and controlling close to 60 percent of the total shot attempts and expected goals (via Natural Stat Trick). With all due respect to Kucherov, Point, and a healthy Stamkos, he is pobably the best player on this team.

2. Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning. He leads the league in assists and total points this postseason and has helped jumpstart Tampa’s power play in the Cup Final. His performance in Games 2 and 3 got the Lightning off to fast starts that helped them take the series lead.

3. Brayden Point, Tampa Bay Lightning. Point had been emerging as the top Conn Smythe favorite for Tampa. His drop to the third spot is simply a testament to how good the other two guys currently ahead of him have been. Point and Kucherov have been unstoppable at times this postseason offensively and it is starting to get to the point where it is difficult to separate one from the other. They are great individually. Together they are a nightmare for the Stars. And every other team that has tried to slow down the Lightning.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

4. Miro Heiskanen, Dallas Stars. His first period turnover that led to Kucherov’s goal in Game 3 was the low-point of his postseason, and one of the few mistakes he has made this entire postseason. He has been the Stars’ best and most consistent player from the start of the playoffs and if they are able to win three of the next four games and win the Stanley Cup he will be one of the biggest reasons why. He is averaging a point-per-game offensively as a defenseman, is playing a shutdown role defensively, and still has not taken a single penalty in the playoffs even though he spends 20-plus minutes per night playing against the top players in the world. A stunning player.

5. Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars. He has proved this postseason that he still has a lot left in the tank and can be a top-line offensive producer. He has been one of the Stars’ most productive forwards and come through in some huge moments for them.

6. Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning. He has not only played every minute for Tampa in the Toronto and Edmonton bubbles, he has done so at an incredibly high level. He enters Game 4 of the Cup Final on Friday (8 p.m. ET, NBC; livestream) with a .928 save percentage. On most other teams that sort of goaltending performance would be at the top of this list. But the rest of Tampa’s roster is so good, and so dominant that it kind of gets overlooked.

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

7. Anton Khudobin, Dallas Stars. It would be unfair to say that he has been bad in the Cup Final, because he hasn’t been. He has also had some rotten puck luck work against him. But he also has not been as good as he was in the Western Conference Final. Dallas is going to need him to be.

8. Denis Gurianov, Dallas Stars. The most underrated player on this Stars team. Whenever he is on the ice, something good seems to happen for the Stars. He is one of their most productive and impactful players despite still only getting about 13 minutes of ice-time per game. He is averaging more than two points per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 ice-time. Play him more, Dallas!

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.