Devils aren’t getting shootout bounces like last season

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Last season, the New Jersey Devils took advantage of a 12-4 shootout record to produce a 102-point season. They’re still in the mix in the East, but after Saturday’s 4-3 shootout loss to the Buffalo Sabres, they’re now 0-3 in the skill competition in 2013.

Ilya Kovalchuk discussed the importance of getting those extra points to The Bergen Record’s Tom Gulitti.

“Last year, we got (12) shootout wins, so it’s (12) extra points,” Kovalchuk said. “If we wouldn’t (get) that, I don’t think we would have made the playoffs.”

Technically speaking, Kovalchuk is correct; the Devils would have finished with 90 points; the eighth-place Ottawa Senators ended 2011-12 with 92.

It’s hard to imagine any team going 0-16 in shootouts during a full season, but either way, head coach Peter DeBoer still regrets seeing three bonus points slip away already.

“We’re leaving a lot of points on the table,” DeBoer said. “We were the benefactor of that last year and this year we’re on the other side of it.”

The Devils are now on a four-game losing streak, yet they’re still just one standings point behind the Atlantic Division-leading Pittsburgh Penguins as of this moment. Winning more shootouts might just close the gap (or keep them in the playoffs).

Shootouts aren’t everything, though, obviously. As the Buffalo News’ Mike Harrington points out, the struggling Sabres hold the NHL’s best shootout record at 3-0.

Lightning-Stars stream: 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final

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

Boosted by the long-awaited and “inspirational” return of Steven Stamkos, the Tampa Bay Lightning got goals from all three of their first-line forwards, their top defenseman and their captain in a threee-goal win to move within two wins of the franchise’s second Stanley Cup. For the second straight game, Tampa jumped out to a multi-goal first-period lead before the Stars got on the board. The Dallas Stars cut the deficit to one entering the second period, but the middle frame was all Lightning, outscoring Dallas 3-0 in large part thanks to a 21-4 shot differential.

After Game 2, Kevin Shattenkirk said, “when we play our best game it’s hard for teams to win.” In Game 3, Tampa played one of its best games this postseason, getting major contributions from its usual suspects in the top line trio and Hedman and also a quantifiable (one goal from Stamkos) and unquantifiable lift from the return of its captain.

The top line of Palat, Point and Kucherov carried the day once again, combining for three goals and six points in Game 3, their second straight game with four-plus points. Point leads all players this postseason with 11 goals and with Palat and Hedman also reaching double-digit goals in Game 3, the trio make Tampa the first team in a decade to have three players with 10-plus goals in the same postseason.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Tyler Seguin has struggled mightily in the 2020 playoffs. The 28-year-old has now gone 12 consecutive games without a goal and has just one assist over that span (which was six games ago). His last goal came in Game 3 of the Second Round vs. Colorado

Along with Seguin, some of Dallas’ other forwards have been quiet recently as well:

Jamie Benn: Zero points this series after ending West Final on a three-game goal streak
Denis Gurianov: Zero points, three shots this series (OT goal and assist in series-clincher vs. Vegas)
Alex Radulov: Zero goals, three assists this series

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.

WHAT: Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars
WHERE: Rogers Place – Edmonton
WHEN: Friday, September 25, 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 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

Cracking Khudobin: How Lightning have solved Stars goalie

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EDMONTON, Alberta (AP) — The goaltender known as ”Dobby” has lost some of his magic in the Stanley Cup Final.

After three rounds of dominant play put him in the playoff MVP mix, Anton Khudobin has allowed the Tampa Bay Lightning to score eight goals over the past two games to take a 2-1 series lead on the Dallas Stars. Solving Khudobin is a combination of the Lightning making it harder on him in multiple ways, perhaps finding the right place to shoot the puck at, Khudobin playing the most hockey of his NHL career and the Stars breaking down in front of him – and it might be enough to help Tampa Bay lift the Cup.

”There were three shots that beat him blocker side in Game 3. … Have they figured something out?” said retired goaltender Brian Boucher, who’s rinkside inside the bubble as an NBC Sports analyst. ”It might be a little fatigue and it also just might be that, you know what, Tampa’s got a really good team that’s got some great offensive weapons, that’s got some guys that play with some real grit and sandpaper that’s wearing down some of the Dallas defense and they’re exposing them right now a little bit.”

Khudobin posted a .920 save percentage in his first 19 games this postseason and set a Cup final record making 22 stops in the third period of the Stars’ Game 1 win. He has allowed eight goals on 60 shots – an .867 save percentage – in five periods since and got pulled after the second period of Game 3 only because coach Rick Bowness wanted to rest him with a back-to-back coming up.

The Stars don’t see Khudobin as a problem, and he’ll be back in net for Game 4 Friday night.

”We need to play better in front of him,” Bowness said. ”He doesn’t have to do anything better. He doesn’t have to do anything different. He just has to keep doing what he’s doing, and in terms of our team, it would help him a lot if we didn’t make it so easy for the other team to play against us sometimes.”

That’s why it’s such a multifaceted situation. It starts with Tampa Bay, the most talented team Khudobin and the Stars have faced since hockey resumed with a core and coach who have been here before.

NHL Network analyst Kevin Weekes, who tended goal in the NHL for 11 seasons, thinks it’s a product of the Lightning practicing with Vezina Trophy finalist Andrei Vasilevskiy and generating better scoring chances.

”When you give those players (on) Tampa that type of time and space and when they fight to get that type of time and space, it’s tough,” Weekes said. ”Those are Grade A looks that Tampa’s getting now. Here’s the thing: Tampa’s not settling really for just plays off the rush. They’re not settling for that, and they’re not settling for like long-distance shots off nice passing plays. They’re skating the extra 5 feet, the extra 8 feet to get to a more prime shooting area.”

The Lightning learned their lesson from Vegas’ downfall in the Western Conference final, when players peppered Khudobin with some easy-to-stop shots and got frustrated. Tampa Bay did that trying to mount a comeback in the third period of Game 1, and Khudobin set a Cup Final record with 22 saves.

The onslaught started with two power-play goals early in Game 2 that got Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point and Victor Hedman going, and they’ve taken fewer shots to the outside that Khudobin can stop and build up his own confidence. They’re waiting it out for those Grade-A chances.

”You’d rather have 45 shots from the outside and everybody’s boxing out and there’s no second-chance opportunities,” Boucher said. ”The high-end players for Tampa, I do think in general these guys look for the better play. And really high skilled players, guys of high offensive IQ, they’re not just OK with getting the puck to the net.”

That’s why Barclay Goodrow‘s assertion that the Lightning are just getting the puck to the net more isn’t quite right. They put up five goals on 29 shots in Game 3 by getting to prime scoring areas.

Then there’s Khudobin himself. The 34-year-old had never started an NHL playoff game before August.

”I think the amount of hockey he’s played, eventually it catches up to you,” said Boucher, a veteran of 43 playoff games.

That’s not to take anything away from the Lightning, who adjusted well to Khudobin after their Game 1 loss. Point said the idea was ”trying to get to that net hard,” and he and his teammates are doing a good job of making the offensive zone a crowded mess.

”You’ve got to make it busy in front of the net,” Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said. ”There’s one thing about screening shots, but you screen passes. Guys have been really good on faking shots and moving pucks and being deceptive around the net.”

Cooper between Games 2 and 3 was reticent for cracking Khudobin, saying, ”I’m not sitting here saying we’ve gotten to him.” Still, for many reasons, they have, and it may be the key to a championship.

Hedman leading the way for Lightning in Stanley Cup Final

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Victor Hedman’s skill set as one of the NHL’s best defenseman is well-known. The Tampa Bay Lightning blue liner has been a Norris Trophy finalist in each of the last four seasons, winning the award in 2018.

He’s an all-world defender, one whose offensive game has flourished over the last seven seasons. Since 2013-14, Hedman has hit double digit goals ever year and averaged 55 points per season. Prior to this summer, he’d never scored more than four goals or recorded more than 14 points in one playoff. He’s blown both of those personal bests out of the water this postseason.

Through 22 games, Hedman has 10 goals. He’s currently tied with Bo Horvat, Joe Pavelski and Ondrej Palat for second in the NHL, only behind teammate Brayden Point (11). Only Paul Coffey (12) and Brian Leetch (11) have scored more goals in a single postseason among defensemen. (Hedman did not score in three Round-Robin games.)

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

The increase in offense is a result of Hedman shooting more. Since 2015-16, he’s averaged over two shots per game, scoring 56 times over that period. This postseason he’s firing pucks at a 3.22 per game rate and has been held to one shot or fewer only three times.

“When he’s shooting the puck, we’re in a better spot,” Tampa head coach Jon Cooper said last week. “I think he realizes that and we’re definitely taking advantage of it.”

Hedman added to his total this postseason during Wednesday’s 5-2, Game 3 win over the Stars. It was a timely goal coming 54 seconds into the second period after Dallas had cut the lead to 2-1. It was also a power play marker, another sign that the once-struggling special teams unit was back on track.

But ask the 6-foot-6 Swede about his own exploits and he’ll give you the typical hockey player answer.

“I like to contribute offensively, but we’re not here for our personal stats, we’re here for one thing and that’s winning the Stanley Cup,” Hedman said after Game 3. “When I get the puck on my stick, I’ll make a pass or shoot for a goal. Obviously happy with the way things have been going, but at the end of the day it’s about helping our team win, and if it’s by a goal or a blocked shot, it doesn’t really matter to us. The end goal is still the same.”

[2020 Stanley Cup Final schedule]

How dominant has Hedman been this postseason? He is a favorite for the Conn Smythe Trophy, but his defensive ability has been unrivaled. According to Natural Stat Trick, when he’s on the ice the Lightning have outscored opponents 24-6 at even strength since the start of the First Round. In all situations, he’s averaged 27:46 of ice time in his last 19 games.

“He’s a pretty determined player,” Cooper said. “He’s been nominated for four straight Norris Trophies, so he’s pretty damn good. His timing and uplifting us at these big moments when we need a boost — overtime winning goals, defensive plays he’s made — the timing of a lot of things he’s done has been remarkable. But I guess if you’re doing great things your timing is always going to be good.”

Timing is everything — whether it’s a goal to increase a lead or a great defensive play to deny a goal scoring opportunity. Denis Gurianov found that out in Game 3.

Hedman has developed the ability to carry his team when other stars are out of the lineup. This Lightning team is deep and can find its own way should he have an off night. But when he’s on, which is more often than not, life isn’t easy for opponents.

Said Tyler Johnson: “I’m pretty thankful he’s on our team.”

You can watch Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final Friday at 8 p.m. ET on NBC and the NBC Sports app.

MORE: Stamkos on Game 3 return: ‘It was a dream come true’

————

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 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)