Panthers no easy mark for struggling Leafs

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A couple of weeks ago, right about the time the Toronto Maple Leafs were preparing for a tough stretch of contests against some of the NHL’s elite, the Florida Panthers’ visit to the ACC on Dec. 17 probably looked like a respite of sorts.

After all, the Panthers entered December with a 7-15-5 record and had recently fired their coach, Kevin Dineen. They were also the worst team in the league last season.

Today, though, the Panthers don’t look like such an easy mark. With five wins in their last six tries, they’ve found some traction under new coach Peter Horachek.

On Sunday, Florida went into Montreal and won 2-1, with the Canadiens only managing 18 shots against goalie Scott Clemmensen.

“Our guys were diving in front of shots, putting sticks out there to deflect passes,” said Clemmensen, per the Miami Herald. “I tip my hat to the guys in front of me. When you don’t have to make a save, it makes things a lot easier.”

Per Extra Skater, here’s how the Panthers are trending in terms of their possession stats:

source:

Meanwhile, the Leafs have just three regulation wins in their last 20. Despite an impressive win over Chicago Saturday, they were outplayed by a badly banged-up Penguins team last night, losing 3-1 and seeing their record fall to 17-15-3.

Coyotes-Avalanche stream: 2020 NHL Stanley Cup First Round

Coyotes-Avalanche stream
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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs continues with Friday’s First Round matchup between the Coyotes and Avalanche. Coverage begins at 3 p.m. ET on CNBC. Watch the Coyotes-Avalanche stream at 2 p.m. ET on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

When you look at effort alone, the Coyotes presented a night-and-day difference between their play in Game 1 (passive, bad) and Game 2 (aggressive, good). Unfortunately for Arizona, the Avalanche are also aggressive and good, and they were able to squeeze out a win.

With that, the Coyotes find themselves down 2-0 heading into Game 3. The two teams played a physical, close game on Friday, so it will be interesting to see how the Avs and Coyotes perform during this back-to-back.

Could the fatigue factor benefit the defense-minded Coyotes? Maybe the Avalanche can burst out of the gate in Game 3 and leave the Coyotes feeling less than confident? So far, Nathan MacKinnon has been deadly, while Nazem Kadri has been clutch. Meanwhile, time is running out for Taylor Hall and the Coyotes. It could be a short series if Arizona can’t get it done in this one.

WHAT: Arizona Coyotes vs. Colorado Avalanche
WHERE: Rogers Place – Edmonton
WHEN: Saturday, August 15, 3 p.m. ET
TV: CNBC
ON THE CALL: Kenny Albert, Pierre McGuire
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Coyotes-Avalanche stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

No. 2 Colorado Avalanche vs. No. 7 Arizona Coyotes (COL leads 2-0)

Wednesday, Aug. 12: Avalanche 3, Coyotes 0 (recap)
Friday, Aug. 14: Avalanche 3, Coyotes 2 (recap)
Saturday, Aug. 15: Colorado at Arizona, 3 p.m. ET – CNBC
Monday, Aug. 17: Colorado at Arizona, 5:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
*Wednesday, Aug. 19: Arizona at Colorado – TBD
*Friday, Aug. 21: Colorado at Arizona – TBD
*Sunday, Aug. 23: Arizona at Colorado – TBD

*if necessary

MORE:
• Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round schedule

Hurricanes-Bruins stream: 2020 NHL Stanley Cup First Round

No Rask Halak starts Bruins Hurricanes livestream Game 3
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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs continues with Saturday’s First Round matchup between the Hurricanes and Bruins. Coverage begins at 12 p.m. ET on NBC. Watch the Hurricanes-Bruins stream on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

When Tuukka Rask made comments about not being in “prime shape” for the NHL Return to Play, maybe we should have seen it coming. Even so, it was a little startling to hear that Rask opted out of the return to play before Game 3 of Bruins – Hurricanes.

As the reigning Presidents’ Trophy winners, the Bruins were already dealing with turmoil. You don’t often see top seeds fall all the way to fourth place, but then again, sports leagues also don’t often need to navigate global pandemics. If the Bruins are going to go deep in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, they clearly need to overcome more than the Hurricanes.

While these are far from ideal circumstances, don’t count the Bruins out altogether. Boston turns to capable backup Jaroslav Halak, who probably could have had a shot at a starting job (or at least a 1A/1B situation) if he didn’t stick with the Bruins.

Being that David Pastrnak missed Game 2, the Bruins are dealing with some tough times. In the Hurricanes, they also face a very tough opponent. We’ll see if Boston can roll with the punches in Game 3 on Saturday afternoon on NBC.

WHAT: Carolina Hurricanes vs. Boston Bruins
WHERE: Scotiabank Arena – Toronto
WHEN: Saturday, August 15 – 12 p.m. ET
TV
: NBC
ON THE CALL: John Forslund, Mike Milbury, Brian Boucher
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Hurricanes-Bruins stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

No. 4 Boston Bruins vs. No. 5 Carolina Hurricanes (Series tied 1-1)

Wednesday, Aug. 12: Bruins 4, Hurricanes 3 (2OT) (recap)
Thursday, Aug. 13:Hurricanes 3, Bruins 2 (recap)
Saturday, Aug. 15: Boston at Carolina, 12 p.m ET – NBC
Monday, Aug. 17: Boston at Carolina, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
*Wednesday, Aug. 19: Carolina at Boston – TBD
*Thursday, Aug. 20: Boston at Carolina – TBD
*Sunday, Aug. 23: Carolina at Boston – TBD

*if necessary

MORE:
• Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round schedule

Bruins’ Tuukka Rask opts out of NHL return to play

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The Boston Bruins announced on Saturday morning that starting goalie Tuukka Rask has opted out of the NHL’s return to play this postseason and will be leaving the bubble in Toronto.

Rask had started the first two games of their First Round series against the Carolina Hurricanes.

The two teams play in Game 3 of the series on Saturday afternoon (12 p.m. ET, NBC).

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

“I want to be with my teammates competing, but at this moment there are things more important than hockey in my life, and that is being with my family. I want to thank the Bruins and my teammates for their support and wish them success,” said Rask in a statement released by the team.

Bruins general manager Don Sweeney said on a conference call that the team “completely” understands where Rask is coming from in his decision to opt out, and that the organization fully supports his decision, why he made it, and is not totally surprised by it.

Sweeney pointed out that Rask has three children at home, including a newborn daughter and that family has to be the priority. He also added that Rask’s family is safe and healthy and that there was no specific incident that resulted in him opting out, other than that he was having a difficult time being away in this environment.

With Rask now leaving the bubble, Jaroslav Halak will take over the starting goaltending duties for the Bruins.

Halak started one game for the Bruins in the Round-Robin phase, stopping 25 out of 29 shots in a loss to the Philadelphia Flyers. He appeared in 31 games during the regular season, posting an 18-6-6 record with a .919 save percentage.

No. 4 Boston Bruins vs. No. 5 Carolina Hurricanes (Series tied 1-1)

Wednesday, Aug. 12: Bruins 4, Hurricanes 3 (2OT) (recap)
Thursday, Aug. 13: Hurricanes 3, Bruins 2 (recap)
Saturday, Aug. 15: Boston at Carolina, 12 p.m ET – NBC
Monday, Aug. 17: Boston at Carolina, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Wednesday, Aug. 19: Carolina at Boston – TBD
*Thursday, Aug. 20: Boston at Carolina – TBD
*Sunday, Aug. 23: Carolina at Boston – TBD

*if necessary

MORE:
• Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round schedule

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.

The Wraparound: Game 3 back-to-backs and rubber matches for Saturday NHL playoff action

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The Wraparound is your daily look at the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. We’ll break down all of the NHL playoff games today with the all-important television and live streaming information included.

  • Check out NHL Bubble Wrap to look back at all of Friday’s action.
  • Could Alain Vigneault – Kirk Muller become the next great coaching feud? That would be impressive from Muller, who’s doing fill-in duty in the first place.
  • Every now and then, we’re getting back-to-back matchups in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Could that help or hinder the Coyotes as they try to make it a series against the Avs?
  • It’s not really playoff time without some Tom Wilson controversy, right?

NHL PLAYOFF GAMES TODAY

Game 3: Bruins vs. Hurricanes (Series tied 1-1) – 12 p.m. ET – NBC; livestream

Even with David Pastrnak banged up (he missed Game 2), there’s been plenty of drama on and off the ice during this series, and it’s early. That’s the plus side of the Presidents’ Trophy-winning team falling to the fourth seed under these unusual circumstances; this powerhouse Bruins team is facing a dangerous upstart squad, and it shows. Expect more twists and turns in Game 3, and beyond.

Speaking of twists and turns, the Bruins announced that Tuukka Rask opted out of the NHL Return to Play. As you can see from the video above, Rask recently made comments about not being in “prime shape” and also lamented the lack of fans. This is a huge loss for the Bruins, but Jaroslav Halak is an inexperienced goalie, and one of the best backups in the NHL. In other words, the Bruins are as well-equipped as any team to handle this.

But, considering how difficult an opponent the Hurricanes are, the mountain just got taller for the Bruins.

Game 3: Avalanche vs. Coyotes (COL leads 2-0) – 3 p.m. ET – CNBC; livestream

After being outclassed and colossally outshot in a Game 1 loss, the Coyotes gave the Avalanche a run for their money in Game 2. Unfortunately for Arizona, they still ended up empty-handed, as the Avs won Game 2 by a score of 3-2 on Friday. Will the quick turnaround of a back-to-back serve as an advantage to either team? As heartening as an improved effort was in Game 2, the Coyotes badly need this one.

[Full NHL First Round schedule]

Game 3: Lightning vs. Blue Jackets (Series tied 1-1) – 7:30 p.m ET – NBCSN; livestream

So, the Lightning won some obscure five-overtime marathon. You’d think that such a jarring loss would take some wind out of the sails of the scrappy Blue Jackets, right? Well … not exactly. While the Lightning looked OK on paper, the Blue Jackets won Game 2 by a comfortable-enough margin, and in a tidy 60 minutes to boot. Maybe you should expect the unexpected in Game 3, then. Actually, it’s fair to ask: what should we expect at this point? These two teams keep throwing curveballs, so maybe a knuckleball this time around?

(As of this writing, it doesn’t sound like Steven Stamkos will be available for the Lightning.)

Game 3: Blackhawks vs. Golden Knights (VGK leads 2-0) – 8 p.m ET – NBC; livestream

From the third period of Game 1 through the first period of Game 2, the Golden Knights dominated the Blackhawks as many expected. This is hockey, though, and the Blackhawks still boast the remnants of a Jonathan ToewsPatrick Kane duo that won three Stanley Cups. They showed serious spirit in pushing Game 2 to OT, but lost. They may need to dig even deeper to win Game 3, and make this a closer series than some anticipated.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

SUNDAY’S NHL PLAYOFF GAMES SCHEDULE

Game 3: Capitals vs. Islanders – 12 p.m. ET – USA
Game 4: Stars vs. Flames – 2 p.m. ET – CNBC
Game 4: Golden Knights vs. Blackhawks – 6:30 p.m ET – NBCSN
Game 3: Flyers vs. Canadiens – 8 p.m ET – NBC
Game 3: Blues vs. Canucks – 10:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN

PHT’s 2020 Stanley Cup playoff previews
Flyers vs. Canadiens

Lightning vs. Blue Jackets
Capitals vs. Islanders
Bruins vs. Hurricanes

Golden Knights vs. Blackhawks
Avalanche vs. Coyotes

Blues vs. Canucks
Stars vs. Flames

First Round predictions
Power Rankings: Best First Round matchups
Conn Smythe Watch: Korpisalo, Aho leading entering First Round
Roundtable: NHL playoff surprises; vulnerable top seeds