Get your game notes: Bruins at Sabres

This evening on NBCSN, it’s the Buffalo Sabres hosting the Boston Bruins starting at 7:30 p.m. ET. Following are some game notes, as compiled by the NHL on NBC research team:

— Boston, 1st in the Atlantic Division, visits Buffalo, last in the Atlantic Division, in the fourth of five meetings this season – Bruins have won two of the three meetings including the most recent matchup, 4-1 in Boston on Dec. 21, but lost the last meeting in Buffalo, 4-2 on Dec. 19.

— Buffalo is coming off a 3-2 win at home last night over Carolina, the first game on the NHL calendar post-Olympics. The win snapped an eight-game home losing streak for the Sabres dating back to Jan. 4 & improved their home record to 10-17-5; only the N.Y. Islanders (8-14-8 at home) have fewer home wins this season. Buffalo’s 17 regulation home losses are the most in the NHL.

— Four Sabres returned from competing in Sochi: Henrik Tallinder (SWE), Ryan Miller (USA), Zemgus Girgensons (LAT) & Jhonas Enroth (SWE), while five Bruins also participated in the Olympics: Patrice Bergeron (CAN), Zdeno Chara (SVK), Loui Eriksson (SWE), David Krejci (CZE) & Tuukka Rask (FIN).

  • Tallinder, playing in his second Olympics (2010) won his first medal (silver) playing alongside teammate & first-time Olympian Enroth.
  • Bergeron, playing in his second Olympics (2010), now has two gold medals – he played in each of Canada’s 6 games in Sochi & registered 2 assists. Eriksson (2G-A), also in his second Olympics (2010), won his first medal (silver) while Rask (3-1, 1 SO) picked up a bronze in his Olympic debut as Finland came in third for the second straight Games.
  • Sabres coach Ted Nolan led Latvia to the nation’s first-ever quarterfinal Olympic game, a 2-1 loss to Canada. Their 8th-place finish was the best in the country’s five Olympic appearances.
  • 63 NHLers – representing 25 of the league’s 30 clubs – won a medal
  • ANA, BOS & PHX were the only teams to have players win the gold, silver and bronze.

— Boston last played on Feb. 8, a 7-2 home win over OTT, & last played on the road on Feb. 6, a 3-2 OT loss at St. Louis. The Bruins won their previous road game, 6-3, at NYI on Jan. 27. Boston went into the Olympic break having earned at least one point in 10 of their last 11 games (8-1-2). Buffalo, before winning last night, had lost 4 straight in regulation & went 2-8-3 in their last 13 before the break.

— Tuukka Rask (BOS) did not travel with the team as he was given the game off to rest post-Olympics. Rask was under the weather in Sochi & did not play in Finland’s semifinal game against Sweden but returned to pitch a 27-save shutout against the U.S. in a 5-0 bronze-medal-game win. Chad Johnson (11-3-0 this season) will start in net tonight for the Bruins; he last was in goal on Feb. 8 (7-2 win over OTT). Johnson started in two of the three meetings against Buffalo this season (his only career games vs. the Sabres), winning on the road on Oct. 23, 5-2, and then losing at Buffalo on Dec. 19, 4-2.

— Jhonas Enroth (1-12-5 on the season) is expected to be in net for the Sabres in place of Ryan Miller, who backed up Jonathan Quick on team USA in Sochi & stopped 36 of 38 shots last night (& added 2 assists). In his career, Enroth is 0-4-2 against Boston & lost 4-1 on Dec. 21 in his only meeting against them this season. He dressed in five of six games in Sochi but Ranger Henrik Lundqvist was in net the entire tournament for Sweden. Enroth last played on Feb. 6 at OTT in a 3-2 loss.

— Buffalo is last in the league in scoring, 1.84 goals/game (L.A. is next at 2.25) & have the worst goal differential at -1.09 (FLA is next at -0.79). Boston averages 3.07 goals/game (5th-best) with a 0.93 goal differential (2nd-best). The Bruins have the second best goals allowed per game mark at 2.14 this season and the best team save percentage, .927.

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.