What went wrong: Los Angeles Kings

Last night the Kings went down in six game and while the end result wasn’t too shocking, the series was a lot closer than scanning the scores would indicate. Getting beaten badly in just one game while hanging in there or folding up the tents in historical fashion in the others the Kings proved they were a more than formidable opponent. Still, things didn’t go their way. So what went wrong? Let us count the ways.

1. Overtime failure
While it could be a sign of pride and proof that the Kings gave the Sharks all they could handle, the cold hard facts were that when the game went to overtime, L.A. was going to lose. Three times in this series the game went to overtime and three times the Kings lost. After being outshot in virtually every game and forcing Jon Quick to have to stand on his head, playing with fire like that will get you burned.

Sadly enough for Kings fans, this wasn’t the first time they’ve lost three overtimes in a playoff series. The last time it happened? 1993 during the Stanley Cup final against Montreal. Ouch.

2. Faceoff problems
Not winning faceoffs means not winning games Winning faceoffs is an underrated aspect of the game. In Los Angeles it was a completely unknown part of the game. The Kings as a team won just 44.5% of their faceoffs against San Jose, by far the worst in the playoffs. Their lone bright spot in the circle was Jarret Stoll who won 54.8% of his draws. The other three main guys that took them? Awful.

Michal Handzus took the most faceoffs in the series and won just 41.8% of them. Brad Richardson was 42.9% from the circle and Trevor Lewis was the worst of them all at 40%. If you’re not winning faceoffs, you’re not controlling the game or getting the puck back in the offensive zone. If you’re wondering if Anze Kopitar would’ve helped out here… Not so much. He won 49.9% of his faceoffs during the regular season, third best on the team.

3. Jon Quick had to do way too much
Making your starting goalie have to work too much and stop too many shots is a recipe for disaster. The Kings made Jon Quick earn his paycheck and thensome in the playoffs. While Quick was able to get a shutout in Game 2 and stop 51 shots in Game 5 to help the Kings win there, every game was like being in a shooting gallery for him. On average Quick faced 38.2 shots per game in the series with San Jose. His shots faced in each game? 45, 34, 36, 27, 52, 35.

The scary part of all this? The Kings blocked 117 shots, the most in the playoffs. When you’re getting beaten like this it makes life hard on everyone to stand tall, especially when you’re laying out to block shots. It’s tough to win games when you’re being outshot on average by ten shots a game (L.A. averaged 28.2 shots per game). It’s crazy to think Quick could’ve been a lot busier through those six games.

4. Carelessness
Care to guess which team in the playoffs gave up the puck like it was covered in Ebola? Yup, it was the Kings. The Kings had 79 giveaways through six games. Not keeping a hold on the puck is obviously a major issue especially when the other team is spending the majority of the game in your zone peppering your defense and goalie with shots. While both teams were good about giving up the puck (Sharks had 71 giveaways) with the Kings being in the position they were in throughout most of the series, giving away the puck did them no favors.

***

The Kings show a lot of promise. They’ll have to find ways to hang with the better teams (San Jose was certainly one of those) and Dean Lombardi is in a great position heading into next season. The Kings are loaded with talent and they’ve got a goalie tandem that can keep themselves fresh heading into the postseason next year.

With Kopitar coming back, Brayden Schenn getting a real chance to shine, and the Kings delving into the free agency waters to find a legitimate second center to be a playmaker for them (imagine a Kopitar and Brad Richards one-two punch up the middle) they’ll be just fine.

Hockey Culture: Bryant McBride on Hockey is for Everyone, Willie O’Ree doc

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Welcome to Hockey Culture, the NBC Sports multi-platform content offering dedicated to bringing equality and inclusion to hockey. Led by NBC Sports’ Anson Carter, Hockey Culture addresses contemporary topics within the sport, aim to promote diversity around the game , and increase community engagement.

This week Anson talks with former NHL executive Bryant McBride about the league’s early efforts to become more diverse and his documentary Willie, which chronicles the trailblazing life of Hockey Hall of Famer Willie O’Ree.

You can catch Willie on Peacock, NBC’s new steaming service.

Subscribe to NBC Sports on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/nbcsports

You can watch previous Hockey Culture episodes featuring Ryan Reaves, Darnell Nurse, Kelsey Koelzer, Harnarayan Singh, and more by clicking here.

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 Tampa Bay 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.