Your definitive PHT NCAA hockey tournament preview

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College hockey’s version of March Madness gets underway this afternoon and the 16 teams that are in the tournament, they know that one loss ends their season. How do things shake out in the four regionals? Safe to say we’ve got 12 curious games to get us through the weekend.

Here’s the quick and the dirty on the first round games as well as my idea on how things shake out as the road to Pittsburgh and the Frozen Four sets up.

Northeast Regional – Manchester, NH

1. UMass-Lowell vs. 4. Wisconsin

Lowell took down their first ever Hockey East tournament title while Wisconsin roared through the WCHA to win that conference’s tourney. For a 1-4 game, this one’s a doozy. The Badgers have the tourney history, while the Riverhawks have been rolling since December. Lowell will go as far as freshman goalie Connor Hellebuyck takes them.

Players to watch: Connor Hellebuyck (G – FR) for Lowell. Nic Kerdiles (F – FR) for Wisconsin.

2. New Hampshire vs. 3. Denver University

Both teams bowed out of their conference tournaments early. Both teams landed extended vacations before the NCAAs. Who does the break help? Who does it hinder? New Hampshire has home ice and Denver didn’t do well in 2010 when they headed east for the tournament. Hmm…

Players to watch: Kevin Goumas (F – JR) for New Hampshire. Nick Shore (F—JR) for Denver.

East Regional – Providence, RI

1. Quinnipiac vs. 4. Canisius

It’s the top seeded team in the tournament against the last seeded team. In the NCAA basketball tourney that usually means the top team wins in a walk. Not so for the hockey tourney. That said, Canisius is on a roll after winning the Atlantic Hockey tournament. Then again, they were not overly good this season. Quinnipiac lost in the semifinals of the ECAC tournament to Brown. This could wind up being the closes of the 1 vs. 4 games in this year.

Players to watch: Hobey Baker finalist Eric Hartzell (G – SR) for Quinnipiac. Kyle Gibbons (F – JR) for Canisius.

2. Boston College vs. 3. Union College

An intriguing match-up of what could’ve been last year’s national championship game had Union beaten Ferris State in the national semis. BC is the perennial vampire of the playoffs. They’re not done until you put the stake through their heart. Union is on fire having won their way through the ECAC tournament on their way to the title. The Dutchmen are a chic pick to make the Frozen Four out of this region and that’s just what Boston College (with Jerry York back behind the bench) likes to hear.

Players to watch: Hobey Baker finalist Johnny Gaudreau (F –SO) for BC. Wayne Simpson (F – SR) for Union.

Midwest Regional – Toledo, OH

1. Notre Dame vs. 4. St. Cloud State

The Fighting Irish battled their way through to win the final CCHA tournament and earn a No. 1 seed. Lucky for them they get to face the WCHA’s co-regular season champs from St. Cloud State. Some reward. Jeff Jackson’s Fighting Irish played strong throughout the playoffs while St. Cloud disappointed in the Final Five. This one’s an honest to goodness toss-up, but keep in mind that the Huskies did not fare too well out of conference this season (swept by Northern Michigan and New Hampshire, lost to Rensselaer).

Players to watch: Anders Lee (F – JR) for Notre Dame, Drew LeBlanc (F –SR) for St. Cloud.

2. Miami University vs. 3. Minnesota St. – Mankato

The Redhawks have become a fixture in the NCAAs. Unfortunately for them, they have yet to win a national title. They came up short in the CCHA tournament so they’ve got motivation to prove they’re better than that. Minnesota St. is making their first appearance in the NCAAs since 2003 and don’t look for them to take the “glad to be selected” approach. They’re a darkhorse team to come out of this region.

Players to watch: Austin Czarnik (F – SO) for Miami, Matt Leitner (F – SO) for Minnesota St.

West Regional – Grand Rapids, MI

1. Minnesota vs. 4. Yale

The Golden Gophers were a co-dominant force this season along with Quinnipiac and are the definitive No. 2 team in the tournament. Getting rewarded with a mercurial Yale squad doesn’t make life easy for them. If they run into the Bulldogs team that has goalie Jeff Malcolm stopping everything and them pushing the pace offensively, Minnesota will have their hands full. If they get the Yale team that “showed up” in the ECAC semis and consolation game, it’ll be a walk in the park as they haven’t scored a goal since the ECAC quarterfinals against St. Lawrence.

Players to watch: Erik Haula (F—JR) for Minnesota and recently traded for Jarome Iginla prospect Kenny Agostino (F –JR) for Yale.

2. North Dakota vs. Niagara

The formerly Fighting Sioux boast perhaps the best offensive one-two punch in the tournament with Hobey Baker finalist forwards Danny Kristo and Corban Knight. They’ve combined for 99 points this season alone but Niagara boasts a Hobey finalist of their own in junior goalie Carsen Chubak. You can debate the competition he’s faced but his numbers do all the talking (1.91 GAA, .938 SV%). North Dakota is capable of winning it all, but Niagara will look to give them fits.

Other players to watch: Rocco Grimaldi (F—FR) for North Dakota, Giancarlo Iuorio (F—SR; 21 goals) for Niagara.

Prediction: Keep in mind I’m terrible at predictions (but you knew that by now) but I like UMass-Lowell, Boston College, Minnesota St., and North Dakota to make it to Pittsburgh. If I go 0-for-4 on those picks, I won’t be the least bit surprised. There’s no overly dominant team with a gift-like road to the Frozen Four this year.

3 Takeaways: Lightning beat Stars in Game 4 of 2020 Stanley Cup Final

3 Takeaways: Lightning beat Stars in Game 4 of 2020 Stanley Cup Final Benn penalty
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Through the first three games of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final, the adage “No lead is safe” felt a bit unsafe. Leads worked out pretty well for both the Tampa Bay Lightning and Dallas Stars.

But Game 4 ended up being a wilder affair. Ultimately, the Lightning beat the Stars 5-4 in overtime of Game 4, leaving Tampa Bay one win from a Stanley Cup with the two teams turning around to play Game 5 on Saturday (8 p.m. ET on NBC: (livestream).

1. Fans, we have some controversies

Death, taxes, and complaints about penalties. When it comes to hockey, and really all professional sports, there aren’t many big games that go without fans griping.

Even by those standards, controversies abounded in Game 4 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final.

In what is probably the least surprising development ever, the Stars weren’t happy with the tripping penalty Jamie Benn got whistled for after tangling with Tyler Johnson. Joe Pavelski griped in the most entertaining way.

Frankly, while Benn wasn’t guilty of tripping, it’s not outrageous to call some sort of obstruction penalty for that exchange.

And, let’s also be honest: officials might have been looking for a chance to whistle a “makeup call.” Brayden Point drew what could have been an honest penalty for some, er, stick work on Corey Perry. Instead, officials made a very questionable embellishment call on Point to even things up. From there, Tyler Seguin drew a penalty call when Mikhail Sergachev obstructed him greatly, giving the Stars a power play that was one part 4-on-3, and one part 5-on-4 in overtime.

Here’s the thing. When contests are as frenetic as Game 4 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final between the Stars and Lightning, you run into human limitations. Officials will miss things.

2. Seriously, the Stars need to avoid the penalty box as much as humanly possible

Look, if this style of play continues, hockey fans are in for a treat. Especially if the Stars can avoid being eliminated in Game 5.

But you have to wonder if the Stars might want to settle down the pace of this series.

On one hand, they’ve acquitted themselves nicely when things get wild during the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Stars were able to hang with the Avalanche, and while they’re down 3-1, Game 4 was far from a certainty for the Lightning.

Faster play can force you to hook someone to slow them down. Or reach for a a puck on a breakaway and instead trip up your opponent. Or merely look like you’re doing things.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

To that end, you wonder if the Stars can somehow find a way to slow things down like they did for the first two periods of Game 1 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final. During the opening 40 minutes, the Lightning didn’t receive a single power-play opportunity. The Stars actually won the shots on goal battle during that frame, opening Game 1 up 18-14.

Of course, the Stars were rested, and the Lightning just finished slugging it out with the Islanders. It’s still worth chasing that if you’re Dallas, in my opinion.

That’s because the Lightning are feasting on the power play. Going 0-for-3 like the Stars did in Game 4? That happens; it’s only disastrous when the other team manages a ridiculous 3-for-4 output. Kevin Shattenkirk‘s OTGWG was the killer, but the Lightning won Game 4 by dismantling the Stars’ PK efforts.

There was some luck, yet the Lightning also moved the puck with confidence and a sense of danger.

Bowness needs to go back to the drawing board and find a way to mitigate what’s been a massive advantage for Tampa Bay. That unit has now scored six goals during this three-game winning streak. Yikes.

3. Tyler Seguin looked like Tyler Seguin again

OK, so Tyler Seguin’s shooting percentage remains … almost tragic?

It feels like his near-miss on a power play from Game 4 is the story of his playoff career, aside from winning a Stanley Cup with Boston when he was still wet-behind-the-ears.

Despite lacking that coveted goal, Seguin was a force for the Stars in Game 4 against the Lightning. Seguin did just about all of the work to set up Corey Perry’s goal.

It looked like Joe Pavelski’s 4-4 tally actually went off of Seguin, but instead it went off of Kevin Shattenkirk. But Seguin created some chaos to make that happen.

Seguin also forced the issue for Mikhail Sergachev, drawing a penalty in overtime. The Stars couldn’t cash in, but that, some near-misses, and two assists all roll up into an argument that Seguin might have his groove back.

(He’s probably dying to score that goal, of course. But at least Seguin looked alive for the Stars vs. the Lightning in Game 4 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final.)

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

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 one win from Stanley Cup after winning Game 4 OT thriller vs. Stars

Lightning one win from Stanley Cup after winning Game 4 OT thriller vs. Stars
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After a thrilling, back-and-forth Game 4 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final, the Lightning grabbed a 3-1 series lead by beating the Stars 5-4 in OT on Friday. The Stars face elimination with little time to gather their thoughts, while the Lightning aim to win the Stanley Cup in Game 5 on Saturday (8 p.m. ET on NBC: (livestream).

Kevin Shattenkirk scored the overtime game-winner on a power play following a polarizing penalty call against Jamie Benn. Hockey fans aren’t likely to debate this point, though: Game 4 of Stars – Lightning was the most thrilling bout of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final.

So far, at least.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

This time, a strong start wasn’t enough

Throughout the first three games of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final, strong starts made way for successful finishes. Game 4, on the other hand, required both the Stars and Lightning to deal with lead changes.

First, the Stars struck early. John Klingberg pounced on a loose puck from his initial (blocked) shot attempt to sneak one past Andrei Vasilevskiy. From there, Alexander Radulov used the power of geometry to break out Jamie Benn, who made a nifty pass to set up a Joe Pavelski goal. With about a minute and a half left in the first period, the Stars were up 2-0.

They wouldn’t go into the first intermission with that two-goal edge, however.

Kevin Shattenkirk sent Ondrej Palat down the ice, then Palat fed Brayden Point with a fabulous pass. On that semi-breakaway, Palat scored a beautiful goal to make it 2-1 late in the first.

Not long into the second, Point scored once again to tie things 2-2. Point cashed in on a wacky bounce, but the Lightning power play looked dangerous before he scored. It wouldn’t be the last time that man advantage made a big play.

Tyler Seguin didn’t score the 3-2 goal, yet he made it happen. Seguin did just about everything but score while creating havoc around the Lightning net, then Corey Perry punched it in.

It looked like the Stars would go up 4-2 on a rebound attempt by Nicholas Caamano, but Vasilevskiy made a save so nice it earned its own post.

Instead of falling behind 4-2, the Lightning power play made it happen again, with Yanni Gourde cashing in on some more fortunate bounces.

Stars and Lightning continue to trade punches as Game 4 goes to OT

So, the two teams entered the third period tied 3-3, and the twists and turns would continue. To start, Alex Killorn put up a prayer of a shot that beat Anton Khudobin. Khudobin received criticism for that 4-3 goal, but it’s also fair to note an accidental screening by John Klingberg.

That could have been a gutting game-winner, but not in this one. Joe Pavelski’s shot took a bounce off of Kevin Shattenkirk (and almost off of Tyler Seguin?) to make it 4-4. Remarkably, Game 4 went to overtime, representing the first contest of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final to need OT.

Heading into overtime, Point drew a penalty on Corey Perry, only officials made an iffy embellishment call on Point. With the two teams at 4-on-4, Tyler Seguin drew what seemed like a fateful penalty on Mikhail Sergachev.

After the Lightning power play dominated during regulation, would the Stars score amid some controversy? Nope, not yet at least.

Following a successful kill by the Lightning PK, Tampa Bay received a power play chance early in overtime, too. That had its own controversy, as some didn’t buy Jamie Benn being guilty of an infraction against Tyler Johnson.

Late in that power-play opportunity, Kevin Shattenkirk continued his rollercoaster of a Game 4 (and couple of seasons, really) with the overtime game-winner. It took until Game 4 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final for the Stars to lose in OT for the first time during this postseason.

The Lightning power play kept striking in Game 4, and just like that, the Stars are on the brink of elimination in the 2020 Stanley Cup Final.

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].
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

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’s Vasilevskiy stretches for amazing save vs. Stars in Game 4

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Game 4 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final hasn’t been very kind to Andrei Vasilevskiy, or at least his personal stats, so far. At one point, Vasilevskiy was basically battling .500 against the Stars. But if hearing that the Stars mainly beat Vasilevskiy in ways that were understandable, maybe an amazing save would do the trick?

Little-known Stars forward Nicholas Caamano looked likely to score a big goal. Caamano went backhand on a rebound, and it’s still surprising that Vasilevskiy denied him.

Vasilevskiy showed incredible reflexes against Caamano. And his elastic flexibility? It almost hurts to watch.

(Speaking of watching, Game 4 is airing on NBCSN right now — livestream.)

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

At that point, the Stars were up 3-2, so Vasilevskiy kept it from being 4-2. Keep this Vasilevskiy save in mind if the Lightning beat the Stars in Game 4 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final.

Even if the Stars tie the series, it was one heck of a save by Vasilevskiy.

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

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.