Bulletin-board material: Why your team won’t win the Stanley Cup

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We did this last year and went a whopping 15-1, with only the Chicago Blackhawks ruining our perfect game. Pretty impressive, right? Let’s see if we can do even better this year…

Columbus Blue Jackets: The worst team to make the playoffs. Which, hey, is better than the best team to miss the playoffs, but still doesn’t bode well for their Cup chances. The fact is, the Jackets are the picture of mediocrity. They don’t score a ton of goals, they aren’t great defensively, and their special teams are merely average. We suppose it’s nice they’re in the playoffs for the second time in franchise history. Maybe this time they can actually win a game.

Dallas Stars: Cue all the stats nerds crowing about the Stars’ Corsi. Here’s what people who actually watch the games see: a team that’s way too reliant on Jamie Benn, a 24-year-old with zero playoff experience, and Tyler Seguin, a 22-year-old the Bruins deemed too soft and too unprofessional to trust. Even if the Stars can get past the Ducks (we’ll get to those paper tigers shortly), their second-round opponents will be either the Kings or Sharks. At which point Dallas won’t even have Corsi on its side.

Minnesota Wild: Ilya Bryzgalov is their goalie. Shall we move on? OK, fine – here’s something else about the Wild: they can’t score. Minnesota’s offense ranked 24th in the NHL, right below the Calgary freakin’ Flames. For all the money this team has spent in the last few years, you’d think they could put a few more pucks in the net. Of course, first you have to get shots if you want to score, and only the Buffalo Sabres finished with fewer of those this season.

Tampa Bay Lightning: No más! No más! Apologies for the dated boxing reference, but how much can one team take before it throws in the towel? The Lightning cannot overcome an injured Ben Bishop. To suggest they can beat Montreal without him would be to ignore how well he played during the season. Frankly, it would be an insult. And please, don’t be fooled by Anders Lindback and the three decent games he managed to string together. His overall numbers are beyond atrocious, and he’s got next to no playoff experience.

Philadelphia Flyers: To win a Stanley Cup, a team typically needs a great goalie, a great defenseman, and a great two-way center. The Flyers have not one of those three things, and it shows in their statistics. Defensively, Philly ranks 20th in the NHL, allowing 2.77 goals per game. Last year, Chicago finished first in that category. The year before, Los Angeles finished second. The year before that, Boston was second. Are you sensing a pattern?

New York Rangers: It’s always entertaining, in a head-shaking kind of way, to hear Alain Vigneault portrayed as some sort of coaching genius who was brought in to rescue the Rangers from the medieval methods of John Tortorella. In reality, it’s Torts who’s got a ring and Vigneault who was behind the bench for one of the great choke jobs in Stanley Cup history. Vancouver lost 10 of its last 11 playoff games under AV. He wasn’t fired there for nothing. When the pressure’s on, his teams melt down. Oh, and by the way, the Rangers last season under Torts: 2.62 goals per game. This season under AV: 2.61 goals per game.

Montreal Canadiens: Canada’s only hope has, well, very little hope. The Habs were one of the worst possession teams in the NHL this season, ranking 26th in five-on-five, score-close Corsi. The only four worse than that? Calgary, Edmonton, Toronto, and Buffalo. Not good company to keep. Having said that, Montreal does have Carey Price, and he might be enough to get the Habs past Team No Mas. But sorry, just because he was able to stand around and watch a stacked Team Canada win gold in Sochi doesn’t mean he’s impervious to pressure and can carry the Canadiens on a deep playoff run. Certainly, his career .905 save percentage in the postseason leaves a lot to be desired. As does a team that finished the season with the 21st-ranked offense.

Detroit Red Wings: What a nice story it was: an injury-riddled team pulls together to make the playoffs, extending its postseason streak to 23 while playing the “Red Wing way.” Too bad it’s a bunch of nonsense. The only reason the Wings made the playoffs is because the teams below them were a bunch of pathetic disasters. Consider: no playoff side finished with a worse goal differential than Detroit (minus-8), and no team finished with fewer regulation/overtime wins (34). Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk weren’t hurt the whole season. Everyone realizes that, right?

Colorado Avalanche: Too much has already been written about the Avs and their poor underlying stats. By now, everyone knows how much they rely on Semyon Varlamov, so there’s no need to keep repeating how lucky they’ve been. All it does is encourage their fans to float more and more ridiculous theories about why the Avs are the exception that will prove the numbers wrong, like a pack of deranged gamblers who go on a nice little run at the tables and believe it’s their divine right to get rich playing blackjack. So instead of focusing on that angle, let’s focus on the Avs’ injuries. Because this is not a healthy team.

Los Angeles Kings: Speaking of lucky, say hello to the luckiest Stanley Cup champions in modern NHL history. In case you forgot (and we wouldn’t blame you if you did, given how boring this team is to watch), the Kings won their first championship ever in 2012, beating the basket-case Canucks, the banged-up Blues, and then – simply amazingly – the Coyotes and Devils, two teams that had no business advancing that far, and haven’t been back to the playoffs since. Last spring, the Kings were given the unenviable task of playing a legitimately good team in the playoffs, and lost in five to Chicago.

San Jose Sharks: Everyone’s favorite choke artists are back for another kick at the can. The Sharks got into playoff form early this year, dropping four of their last eight in regulation, thus blowing any chance they had at winning the Pacific Division and getting the cupcake Stars in the first round. Did we mention two of those four losses were at home to the Jets and Predators? Honestly, if the Sharks couldn’t take care of business against the likes of Winnipeg and Nashville, why would anyone think this group of career underachievers has developed the killer instinct it takes to win the Cup? Let’s just move on.

Anaheim Ducks: Not sure if anyone outside of Orange County has noticed, but the top seed in the Western Conference has a serious question mark in goal, which just so happens to be the most important position in all of hockey. Apparently, all signs point to rookie Frederik Andersen, a kid with 24 career NHL starts to his name, getting the nod in Game 1 versus the Stars. This was not how it was supposed to play out. It was supposed to be Jonas Hiller, and you’re crazy if you think Bruce Boudreau isn’t worried about it. And if he’s not worried, he’s the one that’s crazy.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Finished the regular season with just seven wins in their last 17, and didn’t have a single regulation victory in their last five. Injuries were a factor, sure, but one has to wonder about a team that openly admits it wasn’t motivated to win down the stretch. Truly great teams want to win all the time, regardless if the games are “meaningless” or not. The way the Pens have been eliminated their last two tries (read: melting down against the Flyers and going embarrassingly dry against the Bruins), one would think they’d be a touch more fired up. Heck, the only guy who seems to be rounding into playoff form is Marc-Andre Fleury, and that’s never a good thing.

St. Louis Blues: It’s sad, really. Expectations were so high for this team that’s been around since 1967 and, to this day, remains best known for getting posterized by Bobby Orr. The Blues lost their last six games by a combined score of 22 to 5. As punishment, they received a first-round matchup with the defending champs. Should we really be surprised though? This is a franchise with a long history of getting its fans’ hopes up, only to fall short when it counts. In hindsight, maybe the Blues shouldn’t have hitched their wagon to a goalie whose teams, from college to the pros, haven’t won a darn thing.

Boston Bruins: This won’t be easy to hear, B’s fans, so we’ll just come right out and say it – Zdeno Chara is old. Not old for the earth; but definitely for the NHL. In fact, only 12 defensemen league-wide are older than Chara, not one of them more important to his team’s success. Yes, Chara’s an extremely fit 37-year-old, but it’s no secret he got worn down last year. He was a combined minus-6 in the last three games against Chicago, and hasn’t gotten any younger since. Plus, he had to play in the Olympics. Throw in Dennis Seidenberg’s injury and the Bruins’ blue line is looking downright vulnerable. Look, put it this way: you know a team’s thin on the back end when it trades for a guy who was a regular healthy scratch in Philly.

Chicago Blackhawks: The last time they were the defending champs, they lost in the first round. There hasn’t been a back-to-back Cup winner in the age of the salary cap. The only champion that made it back to the final, the 2009 Red Wings, lost to Pittsburgh. Which is to say, history does not give the ‘Hawks a very good chance of repeating. Nor does common sense. It takes a massive commitment, physically and emotionally, to win 16 playoff games. Doing it back-to-back, in a league where parity rules, is just too much to ask. And that’s not even mentioning that the ‘Hawks two superstar forwards, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, have been out with injuries. PS – Is Michal Handzus still the second-line center? But…but…’Hawks fans told us Brandon Pirri was so amazing.

NHL playoffs showcase Russia’s goaltending renaissance

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EDMONTON, Alberta (AP) — Nikolai Khabibulin wakes up in Yekaterinburg to watch NHL playoff highlights and beams with pride at the saves made by so many Russian goaltenders.

For the first time, there were three Russian starting goaltenders in the conference finals, with Anton Khudobin of the Dallas Stars, Andrei Vasilevskiy of the Tampa Bay Lightning advancing to meet for the title. Countryman Semyon Varlamov and the New York Islanders fell to Tampa Bay in overtime in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals Thursday night.

”It’s actually quite interesting to experience this because it has never happened before,” Khabibulin said. ”I would’ve never thought this would happen, but it is happening.”

From Hall of Famer Vladislav Tretiak in the Red Army days to Khabibulin and Evgeni Nabokov last generation and guys now like Vasilevskiy, Varlamov and Florida’s Sergei Bobrovsky, Russia’s hockey history is full of strong goaltending. After a several-year gap caused by the downfall of the Soviet Union, the nation is again producing some of the best in the world with young prospects Igor Shesterkin, Ilya Sorokin, Ilya Samsonov and 2020 draft-eligible Yaroslav Askarov making up the next wave of stars.

”It’s crazy now we have all those goalies because before that was our problem, but now we have so many great goalies,” Washington Capitals winger Ilya Kovalchuk said. ”It says that hockey system is growing in Russia. The goaltenders who’s retired, they help the system to grow those young kids as good players. It’s great to see that many guys come to the NHL like Vasilevskiy, Varlamov and all those guys, Bobrovsky. They’re all dominating. It’s great.”

Nabokov, who lead goalies born in the Soviet Union or Russia with 353 regular-season and 42 playoff wins, is helping that process as goalie coach of the San Jose Sharks. While he deals with professionals, he notices Russian and Finnish goaltending coaches back home teaching the position to very young players.

”It’s got a little bit more organized,” Nabokov said. ”Now each team have a goalie coach and tons of camps throughout summer where you can go and be well-detailed and they prepare kids technique-wise from early ages.”

The three Russian goalies who made it the furthest in the playoffs have very different techniques. Vasilevskiy is the 6-foot-3 reigning Vezina Trophy winner with the perfect blend of fundamentals and athleticism, Varlamov is the poised veteran who can make difficult saves look easy and Khudobin is the undersized throwback goalie who teammate John Klingberg joked is ”swimming all over the crease” and somehow stopping the puck.

As Khudobin said after a game a couple of years ago, ”I like to save the pucks.” Khabibulin called Khudobin a modern version of three-time Cup winner Martin Brodeur because he plays standing up unlike almost everyone else who relies on the butterfly position to make stops.

”I was looking at some highlights of him, and it’s somebody took a goalie from 1990 and put him in a time machine and got him into 2020,” Khabibulin said. ”But nevertheless he does the job.”

Maybe without Khabibulin’s invitation to take part in an online goalie school chat, Khudobin wouldn’t be one of the top performers in his first NHL playoff action at age 34.

”He was really losing interest, I guess, because of the pandemic and we started YouTube channel and started talking on Zoom with hockey players and just talk about hockey,” Khabibulin said. ”He was one of the guests. We had a great talk. We usually do it for about an hour, hour 15 and with him it was almost two hours.”

Since getting the starting job when Ben Bishop was injured, Khudobin has gone 12-6 with a 2.54 goals-against average and .921 save percentage and backstopped the Stars into the Stanley Cup Final. Two years after signing Khudobin to a two-year contract, general manager Jim Nill joked he wished it was five now.

The Islanders signed Varlamov last summer to a four-year deal to replace Robin Lehner, who was the only non-Russian goalie in the final four wit Vegas. Varlamov had never gone this deep in the playoffs before and is a major reason New York reached the Eastern Conference final for the first time since 1993.

”Semyon, he was a No. 1 goalie, then he was a little bit off, then he was No. 1 again, kind of like nobody really paid attention to him,” Khabibulin said. ”And now he’s there.”

That’s Russian goaltending in a nutshell, and postseason is evidence of that. Vasilevskiy, Varlamov, Khudobin, Bobrovsky and Shesterkin have combined for 37 wins with a 2.28 goals-against average and .921 save percentage.

Nabokov credits this success and Russia’s goalie renaissance to a mix of more coaching and pure talent that’s possible now in the decades since the fall of communism there.

”The country went through certain things and people just didn’t pay attention to hockey that much: You can’t run hockey schools, you don’t have enough coaches, you can’t hire enough coaches,” he said. ”Russian goaltenders always been good, but it’s been a window where it’s kind of dropped off a little bit and now it’s back because we always had good hockey minds.”

NHL schedule for 2020 Stanley Cup Final

2020 nhl stanley cup final schedule
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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

Game 1: Saturday, Sept. 19, 7:30 p.m. ET – NBC
Game 2: Monday, Sept. 21, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Game 3: Wednesday, Sept. 23, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Game 4: Friday, Sept. 25, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*Game 5: Saturday, Sept. 26, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*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)

NHL Bubble Wrap: Lightning get through to Stanley Cup Final

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  • The Tampa Bay Lightning are going to the Stanley Cup Final for the third time in franchise history.
  • Anthony Cirelli helped them making history by winning another series with an overtime winner.
  • Brayden Point returned for Game 6 after missing Game 5 on Tuesday.

Tampa Bay Lightning 2, New York Islanders 1 (OT) (Lightning win series 4-2)

It was starting to look like it was not going to happen for them, but the Tampa Bay Lightning finally broke through in overtime on an Anthony Cirelli goal to win Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final and punch their ticket to the Stanley Cup Final. For the Lightning it will be their third trip to the final and the first since 2014-15 when they lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games. They previously won the Stanley Cup Final during the 2003-04 season. For the second game in a row the Lightning failed to convert on an extended power play that carried over into overtime. This time, though, they were on the right end of a 2-1 decision. Victor Hedman scored the other goal for Tampa Bay, continuing what has been a magnificent postseason. The Lightning also had Brayden Point back in the lineup after he missed Game 5 due to injury. The Islanders played Thursday’s game without one of their top defenseman, Adam Pelech, who will need surgery according to coach Barry Trotz.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Three Stars

1. Anthony Cirelli, Tampa Bay Lightning. When you score the goal that sends your team to the Stanley Cup Final, you get top star honors for the night. Cirelli is one of the Lightning’s most underrated players, but remains a key part of their lineup. He is already one of the league’s best defensive forwards and is developing into a strong offensive player. He is the perfect complement to the superstar talent at the top of the roster.

2. Semyon Varlamov, New York Islanders. Yeah, his team lost. But he is the only reason his team made it to overtime and the only reason it had a chance. He stopped 46 out of 48 shots on the night and did everything he could to single handedly keep the series going. The only other thing he could have done was actually score a goal himself.

3. Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning. He only had to face 27 shots, but he made an absolutely massive save in overtime to stop Brock Nelson on a breakaway that could have sent the series to a decisive seventh game.

Highlights of the Night

Anthony Cirelli scores the game-winning goal.

Hedman’s goal to tie the game for the Lightning in the first period.

Devon Toews scored the only goal for the Islanders.

Factoids

  • Tampa Bay’s win on Thursday is already its sixth overtime win of the postseason. [NHL PR]
  • This is the sixth time in NHL history that both Stanley Cup Final teams advanced to that round with overtime wins. [NHL PR]
  • No team has played more overtime hockey in a single postseason than this year’s Lightning team. [NHL PR]

Stanley Cup Final Schedule

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars

Game 1: Saturday, Sept. 19, 7:30 p.m. ET – NBC
Game 2: Monday, Sept. 21, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Game 3: Wednesday, Sept. 23, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Game 4: Friday, Sept. 25, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*Game 5: Saturday, Sept. 26, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*Game 6: Monday, Sept. 28, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*Game 7: Wednesday, Sept. 30, 8 p.m. ET – NBC

*if necessary

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.

Cirelli’s overtime goal sends Lightning to Stanley Cup Final

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Thanks to Anthony Cirelli‘s goal at the 13:18 mark of overtime, the Tampa Bay Lightning are on their way back to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since the 2014-15 season.

It is there that they will play the Stars. Game 1 of the series takes place on Saturday night (7:30 p.m. ET, NBC) in Edmonton.

Cirelli’s goal ended a slugfest of a game that saw the Lightning pepper New York Islanders goalie Semyon Varlamov with 48 shots and completely dominate territorially.

His goal had to be a massive relief for Lightning fans, not only because it sent their team to the Cup Final, but because this game was starting to take on an eerily similar feel.

One of the biggest issues the Lightning have had in the playoffs in recent years has been finishing series because of a slumping offense that could not convert on its chances. It happened to them in the 2015 Cup Final, and it happened to them in the 2016 and 2018 Eastern Conference Finals.

After scoring one goal in Game 5 and only one goal through 70 minutes of hockey on Thursday it looked like it might be happening again.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

It was also the second game in a row that the Lightning were given a four-minute power play at the end of regulation — this time due to an Andy Greene high-sticking call — that would carry over into overtime with a chance to clinch the series.

For the second game in a row they failed to capitalize on that opportunity.

Not only did they fail to score on that power play on Thursday, but Brock Nelson nearly ended the game for the Islanders on a breakaway only to have Andrei Vasilevskiy make his biggest save of the night.

Later in the period the Lightning were guilty of a too many men on the ice penalty that gave the Islanders a power play, but Tampa successfully killed the penalty by not allowing a single shot on goal. That successful kill set the stage for Cirelli’s overtime goal.

Cirelli had briefly exited the game in the second period after a collision at the blue line with Islanders captain Anders Lee.

Every series win for the Lightning this postseason has ended with an overtime goal.

2020 STANLEY CUP FINAL (Rogers Place – Edmonton)

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars

Game 1: Saturday, Sept. 19, 7:30 p.m. ET – NBC
Game 2: Monday, Sept. 21, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Game 3: Wednesday, Sept. 23, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Game 4: Friday, Sept. 25, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*Game 5: Saturday, Sept. 26, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*Game 6: Monday, Sept. 28, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*Game 7: Wednesday, Sept. 30, 8 p.m. ET – NBC

*if necessary

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.