Five questions ahead of U.S.-Canada semifinal showdown

32 Comments

1. Will the revenge factor work in the Americans’ favor?

“Everyone knows the history of the two teams in Vancouver,” said Sidney Crosby, referring to the 2010 Olympics when the U.S. beat Canada in the preliminary round, only to lose in the gold-medal game. “They’ll be motivated.”

It was the Canadians who were especially motivated four years ago, with all the pressure of hosting the Games on their home ice. Anything less than gold and they’d have experienced something similar to what the Russians are experiencing right now.

According to American forward David Backes, beating the Canadians was “something that was on our list” coming into Sochi.

“We’ve got 13 returners, which are guys really on a mission to avenge our loss in Vancouver in the gold-medal game,” he said.

Watch the game live online Friday at noon

While Backes didn’t want to overstate things — “the team that loses this isn’t shamed out of the tournament,  or anything like that” — he clearly hasn’t forgotten the disappointment he felt when Crosby scored the golden goal.

2. Will the Canadian forwards start scoring?

Given the depth of talent up front, it’s somewhat extraordinary that only four Canadian forwards have managed to score in four games. Crosby remains goalless, as does Corey Perry, Chris Kunitz, Rick Nash, Patrick Marleau, Jonathan Toews, and Patrice Bergeron — all of whom have received a considerable amount of ice time from coach Mike Babcock.

Not that they haven’t had their chances.

“I mean, we were all over them,” Crosby said after Wednesday’s 2-1 win over Latvia. “To get that many shots and that many good quality chances, it was tough to not see it go in.”

The next day, Crosby was again forced to answer questions about his lack of statistical production.

VIDEO: Will Canada raise its level pf play vs. U.S.?

“If the chances are there, you can’t really do much besides make sure you focus on putting them in. I don’t think I’m second guessing anything,” he said.

“I’m playing and reacting, trusting that it’s going to go in and sometimes it feels like it’s not going in very easily, but usually it takes one and they all start going in. I think that’s kind of been the theme with our entire team. We’ve been right around there, doing a lot of good things and we just have to trust and keep doing that until eventually the pucks start going in in bunches.”

There also seems to be a sense among the Canadians that playing the U.S. — as opposed to European sides like Norway, Finland, and Latvia — will be a better fit, style wise.

“Looking at some of the teams we played, they focused first and foremost on checking us and making our lives miserable in the offensive zone,” said Toews. “It just seems like you need one, two or three plays to go right for things to work against those teams. Tomorrow, I think we can check well, we can concentrate on our defensive game and try to make them make mistakes.”

3. Will the American forwards keep scoring?

“I think the Americans have scored really easy in the tournament,” said Babcock. “The puck just seems to go in the net for them, so they’ve been a good team. I don’t think they’ve had a match-up, besides the Russians, where they were beat at all. They’ve just beat everyone big time.”

Phil Kessel has led the way for the U.S., with five goals in four games. Backes has three goals. Dustin Brown and Paul Stastny have two each.

Against Canada, however, the Americans will face a team that’s surrendered just three goals all tournament long, and one that features arguably the best blue line in the world as well as two of the most celebrated defensive forwards, Toews and Bergeron, in the sport.

VIDEO: Highlights from U.S. win vs. Czech Republic

“We are not going to try to outshoot a team like Canada,” said U.S. coach Dan Bylsma. “We are going in with a blue-collar mentality, to outwork them. We want to win a low-scoring game, a 2-1 game.”

4. How will the American defense hold up?

Against the Russians, Ryan Suter was on the ice for almost 30 minutes, with Bylsma shortening his bench to defend a team with a dangerous top six.

Well, the Canadians not only have a dangerous top six, they have a dangerous top 12. Even after losing John Tavares, all four lines are still filled with NHL all-stars, and that can’t be said for any of the teams the U.S. has faced so far.

Suter should play a ton again Friday, as should Ryan McDonagh. But the difference may be in the performance of a youngster like Cam Fowler or Kevin Shattenkirk, or a veteran like Brooks Orpik or Paul Martin.

If the Americans were going to have an Achilles’ heel in Sochi, a lot of people thought it would be the blue line. So far, that hasn’t been the case. But the U.S. hasn’t seen anything like Canada.

5. How will the goaltending story play out?

Because, really, what big hockey game doesn’t end with at least some talk about the goaltenders? Jonathan Quick and Carey Price have both been solid so far. The former has a .935 save percentage in three games; the latter has a .941 save percentage, also in three games.

“When I’ve seen Quick make some big saves early, he seems to become unbeatable,” said Drew Doughty of Quick, his teammate in L.A. “That’s why we’ve got to get one early on him. The only way we’re going to score on him is that we’ve got to get pucks up high, and we’ve got to get screens in front, and tips. He’s going to make the easy saves every time. It’s going to be a big challenge for us.”

VIDEO: Highlights from Canada’s win vs. Latvia

As for Price? “He’s an unbelievable goalie, so skilled. He’s awesome, and he’s come up big when we needed him. And it’s tough for a goalie to play with only 15, 16 shots. It’s not easy, and he’s done an unbelievable job.”

Still, both Bylsma and Babcock have left themselves open to considerable second-guessing given the guys they relegated to the bench. Ryan Miller was brilliant for the U.S. four years ago in Vancouver, and his numbers this season in Buffalo are better than Quick’s in Los Angeles. Roberto Luongo, meanwhile, won gold for Canada in 2010, and he’s got far more big-game experience than Price, even if all those big games haven’t gone particularly well.

Bylsma and Babcock would’ve been left open to second-guessing whichever goalie they went with, but that won’t make the debate any less heated should one of Quick or Price perform poorly on Friday.

Stars continue to succeed playing ‘underdog’ role

Leave a comment

No matter how hard teams have tried, the Dallas Stars just won’t go away.

The Tampa Bay Lightning were 16:22 away from winning the Stanley Cup Saturday night. Mikhail Sergachev’s third-period goal broke the 1-1 deadlock and it was looking like there would be a big celebration on the Rogers Place ice. Joe Pavelski had other ideas, forcing overtime 10 minutes later.

Tampa then just needed a single goal to capture the Cup. It didn’t come after the first overtime, and despite some high-danger chances, it never came. Instead, Corey Perry put home a loose puck 9:23 into the second overtime to keep the Stars’ season alive and force a Game 6 Monday night (8 p.m. ET, NBC).

It was Dallas’ ninth comeback win of the playoffs, tying the franchise record in a single postseason. The record was set in the spring of 1999 when they claimed their only Stanley Cup title.

It was another moment during an improbable run the Stars have been on this postseason. Not given a chance against either the Colorado Avalanche or Vegas Golden Knights in the previous two rounds, Dallas stuck together and embraced the challenge.

[3 Takeaways from Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final]

Dallas’ season could have come to an end in Game 5, but Perry handed them a lifeline. In order for the Stars to be crowned champions, Friday’s defeat will have to serve as their final loss of the 2019-20 NHL campaign. The Lightning have been the better team in the series, so many might believe this is just delaying the inevitable. But Dallas has shown time and time again that you cannot count them out.

“We enjoy being called underdogs,” said Tyler Seguin, who has five points in the last two games. “Every person this whole time we’ve been in the bubble seeming to choose the other team we’re playing, we relish that. We believe in each other, we’ve got a confident group, and we don’t want to leave the bubble. We’re having fun.”

That belief has been instilled into the DNA of the Stars from veterans like Pavelski and Perry, both have been this far in the postseason before. Perry was in his second NHL season when the Anaheim Ducks won the Cup in 2007. This is his 10th trip to the playoffs to win a second title.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

“I was a young kid coming into the league, 22 years old and I had the opportunity to win,” Perry said. “Here we are 13 years later and we’ve got a chance to do it with this group. In that dressing room we believe we can and that’s the biggest thing. It’s belief and resiliency throughout this whole season.”

The doubters have only fueled this Dallas run. Twenty-four teams entered the Edmonton and Toronto bubbles in late July. Only two remain and there are at most two games left in this season. 

Only one team has ever come back from a 3-1 series deficit in a best-of-seven Cup Final. You won’t be able to stop the Stars from thinking they’ll be the second team in that trivia question and they will be the ones celebrating after a Game 7 Wednesday night.

“We came here with 51 people and all those guys in that dressing room believe that we can go out there and get this done,” Perry said. “That’s all that really matters.”

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars (TB leads 3-2)

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)
Game 6: Monday, Sept. 28, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*Game 7: Wednesday, Sept. 30, 8 p.m. ET – NBC

*if necessary

————

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

7 Comments

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 3-2)

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)
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)

3 Takeaways: Perry, Seguin help Stars avoid elimination in Stanley Cup Final

Leave a comment

If the Lightning’s overtime Game 4 win wasn’t enough for hockey fans on Friday, the Stars one-upped that effort a night later, staying alive with a 3-2 double-overtime Game 5 win on Saturday.

Beyond “the 2019-20 season not being over,” what did we learn from the Stars’ double-OT Game 5 win? Let’s consider three takeaways from a dizzying contest. Game 6 (Monday at 8 p.m. ET on NBC) isn’t that far away during a 2020 Stanley Cup Final already brimming with twists and turns.

1. Stars have something in pairing Tyler Seguin with Corey Perry

Not that long ago, there were worries about Tyler Seguin’s playoff production. Maybe he just needed a change of pace?

Whatever the explanation might be, the difference is stark.

  • Seguin previously suffered through a five-game pointless streak. More troublingly, he only had an assist in an 11-game stretch from Aug. 30 (midway through the Avalanche series) through Sept. 23 (Game 3 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final).
  • While the Stars lost Game 4, Seguin and Perry were factors. Seguin collected two assists in what would turn out to be a prelude.

Perry scored two huge goals (the Stars’ first and last of Game 5), while Seguin generated assists on all three Stars goals in Game 5.

Yes, it’s true that it would be tough to sustain this scoring pace. But it’s not all luck. Via Natural Stat Trick, Seguin, Perry, and Joel Kiviranta generated seven high-danger chances for and only allowed one against at even-strength in Game 5.

2. Putting the whistles away?

No doubt about it, officiating was a talking point from Game 4 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final. After some serious griping from the Stars regarding the Jamie Benn penalty that opened up an opportunity for the power-play game-winner by Kevin Shattenkirk, would there be a chilling effect on officiating?

Well, that can be a chicken-and-the-egg argument.

Frankly, officials tend to put away their whistles more often as a series goes along. Especially when a team is facing elimination. Maybe it’s not as bad as the Dead Puck Era, but it’s still something.

Whether it was inevitable or a reaction to complaints, the lack of calls sometimes got a little comical.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

To be clear, both the Stars and Lightning had reason to complain about non-calls. You could probably argue that Dallas actually experienced some of the most prominent flubs.

Big-picture, though? If I were Rick Bowness, I’d be grinning ear-to-ear that there were only three power plays in Game 5 (one for the Lightning, two for the Stars). Tampa Bay’s power play was red-hot, and for all the adjustments you can make in the film room, you know what’s the best way to stop it? Not let them go on the man advantage at all.

Again, the Stars will almost certainly gripe about individual calls, but a low-penalty style behooves them.

3. The Lightning’s top line remains terrifying

By certain underlying metrics, the Stars controlled the Ondrej PalatBrayden PointNikita Kucherov line about as well as one can expect in Game 5.

But, frankly, there were enough close calls that it would be foolish to think the Stars really found a lasting answer.

Ondrej Palat scored a significant 1-1 goal with a great move. Brayden Point assisted on both Lightning goals, including an impressive entry on Mikhail Sergachev‘s 2-1 tally.

Both Point and Nikita Kucherov found space for near-goals during the overtime period(s), too. They didn’t land the knockout blow in Game 5 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final, but Anton Khudobin and Stars defenders still have their work cut out for them.

(Especially if the Lightning get more than one power play in Game 6 (Monday at 8 p.m. ET on NBC).

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars (TB leads 3-2)

Stars 4, Lightning 1. (recap)
Lightning 3, Stars 2. (recap)
Lightning 5, Stars 2. (recap)
Lightning 5, Stars 4 [OT]. (recap)
Stars 3, Lightning 2 [double OT].
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.

Perry’s double OT Game 5 goal keeps Stars alive vs. Lightning in Stanley Cup Final

Leave a comment

When Mikhail Sergachev gave the Lightning a third-period lead, elimination looked likely for the Stars in Game 5 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final. This Stars team just keeps fighting, though, staying alive by beating the Lightning 3-2 in double OT in Game 5.

Corey Perry scored the game-winner in double overtime to keep the Stars alive.

The Stars and Lightning will try to rest up for Game 6 (Monday at 8 p.m. ET on NBC) after closing off these two tight back-to-back Stanley Cup Final contests. The Lightning’s series lead shrinks to 3-2 after this double-overtime loss.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Stars avoid elimination, beat Lightning in Game 5 of 2020 Stanley Cup Final

Tyler Seguin continues to seem invigorated by Stars line changes. Once again, Seguin set the table for a great Corey Perry goal, putting Dallas up 1-0. (Seguin would create at least one other great chance for Perry, who’s been a factor in this series.)

The Lightning once again showed that they can shake off deficits. The top line of Brayden Point, Ondrej Palat, and Nikita Kucherov looked dangerous early and often in Game 5.

While Kucherov couldn’t score again on a breakaway vs. Anton Khudobin, Ondrej Palat broke through with a great power move during the second period.

After a great entry by Brayden Point, Mikhail Sergachev scored his third goal of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Maybe a weaker-willed team would have wilted, but the Stars would not go down without a fight. Late in a third-period power-play opportunity, Joe Pavelski scored a pretty goal off of a rebound opportunity to make it 2-2. In doing so, Pavelski scored his 61st career playoff goal, setting a new record for U.S.-born skaters. Pavelski passed Joe Mullen and former Stars icon Mike Modano.

Double overtime for Stars and Lightning

Through the first half of the opening overtime period, the Lightning created some near-misses. Nikita Kucherov looked primed to score the clincher, but Joel Hanley got a stick on it. Desperation plays and goalie saves kept Dallas in Game 5.

While the Stars struggled to register a shot on goal (7-1 SOG advantage for Tampa Bay) during the first OT period, they had some close calls themselves.

And, once again, there were questionable calls. Prominently, Alexander Radulov was taken down by Victor Hedman on a semi-breakaway without a penalty. A puck appeared to go off Andrei Vasilevskiy‘s pad, but that was missed, and the Stars were called for icing. Maybe the toll of back-to-backs affected everyone?

After Corey Perry and Tyler Seguin narrowly avoided an offside, Perry cashed in for his second goal of Game 5, and the double-OT-winner. The Stars live to see another day in large part thanks to veterans like Perry and Pavelski.

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars (TB leads 3-2)

Stars 4, Lightning 1. (recap)
Lightning 3, Stars 2. (recap)
Lightning 5, Stars 2. (recap)
Lightning 5, Stars 4 [OT]. (recap)
Stars 3, Lightning 2 [double OT].
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.