Who’s going to win the Stanley Cup? Here are PHT’s picks…

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Not to brag, but half of PHT staffers correctly predicted the Los Angeles Kings would win the Stanley Cup last season. We’re back to try again in 2014-15. Feel free to add your picks below. Also, don’t forget to suggest we have no idea what we’re talking about. Like last year when all those people ripped two of us for picking the Rangers to make the Final.

Jason Brough: Tampa Bay Lightning over St. Louis Blues

The first thing that any Cup winner needs is great players. Analysis! (But seriously, sometimes people forget this.) Well, the Lightning have three players who have shown they can be elite at their respective positions. Steven Stamkos is, obviously, one of the best in the game. But there’s also Victor Hedman, who finished ninth in Norris Trophy voting last season, and Ben Bishop, who finished third in the Vezina Trophy race. Other things to really like about Tampa Bay: a deep defense, a strong contingent of contributing youngsters, a handful of experienced vets, and a good coach. Maybe I’m getting sucked in by a trendy pick and I should just play it safe with Chicago or L.A. But that’s boring, and this group that Steve Yzerman has assembled gets my nod.

Mike Halford: Pittsburgh Penguins over Los Angeles Kings

You guys remember what happened the last time Pittsburgh changed coaches, right? Granted, the switch from Michel Therrien to Dan Bylsma happened during the season rather than over the summer, but the fact still remains — there’s a new face behind the Pittsburgh bench, and that’s probably a good thing. There’s no denying the Pens got stale and frustrated under Bylsma, and it’s wise of Mike Johnston to preach (for now, anyway) that they should be enjoying themselves, rather than suffocate under the pressure of expectations. And hey, this is still a pretty good team. Pittsburgh has the NHL’s best player (Sidney Crosby), the best one-two center combo in the league (assuming Evgeni Malkin’s healthy), its best bottom-six forward depth in years and gifted puck-movers on defense in Kris Letang, Christian Ehrhoff and Paul Martin — guys that can get pucks onto the forwards’ sticks. Too many people are sleeping on the Pens.

James O’Brien: Chicago Blackhawks over Montreal Canadiens

It’s easy to imagine the Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings playing hot potato with the Stanley Cup for ages, yet with just one more season of Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews being paid below market value, the clock may be ticking on Chicago’s staggering depth. Luckily, they still have the 2014-15 season to flaunt their almost unfair array of talent, and guys like Brandon Saad (and maybe eventually Teuvo Teravainen?) seem primed for great things. Oh yeah, it doesn’t hurt to employ Brad Richards when he has a) plenty to prove and b) money to earn. Meanwhile, out East, Montreal is positioned to take a big step forward after an often-promising 2013 postseason run. P.K. Subban and Carey Price are up there with any one-two punch, Alex Galchenyuk seems ready to leap and P.A. Parenteau bolsters a forward group that suddenly looks pretty deep.

Ryan Dadoun: St. Louis Blues over Boston Bruins

I (incorrectly) picked the Blues to win the Stanley Cup last season, and I’m sticking with that prediction for 2014-15. There’s no shortage of worthy contenders, but what makes me gravitate towards St. Louis is its elite defense and offensive depth. The big X-factor is Brian Elliott. In the past, when he was hot, he was one of the best goalies in the league. It’s just that, when he was cold, he was unworthy of a roster spot. But he’s been a superb backup in St. Louis, and at the age of 29, perhaps he can become more consistent as the number one goaltender. As for the Bruins, they have an elite netminder and a balanced offense. Zdeno Chara isn’t getting any younger, but he’s still a force, and they’ve got some great young defensemen that seem capable of taking the torch.

Cam Tucker: Chicago Blackhawks over Pittsburgh Penguins

Preface this by saying my prediction will almost certainly be wrong. But let’s get on with it anyway… The Chicago Blackhawks were one goal away from reaching last season’s Stanley Cup Final and their core group of players still includes Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa and Duncan Keith. So they do have the top-end talent, and I’m not overly worried about their goaltending with Corey Crawford. I still think that in a very difficult Western Conference, this team will remain at or near the top, and when the playoffs conclude, they’ll be back atop the NHL like they were two years ago. The Penguins should’ve knocked off the New York Rangers last year and didn’t. It’s a gamble with them this season. They have a new coach in Mike Johnston and Marc-Andre Fleury has struggled at times in the postseason. But if Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are at their best, the Penguins should still be a force in the East.

Dhiren Mahiban: Chicago Blackhawks over Boston Bruins 

Chicago’s core is solid. More than solid, actually. Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, and Marian Hossa up front along with Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya on the back end know what it takes to win, and will lead this team back to the promised land. The Blackhawks’ time to win is now, before Kane’s and Toews’ new monster deals kick in next season and some tough choices may need to be made. Add offseason signing Brad Richards, who will want to prove his doubters wrong after how things ended in New York, and this team has exceptional depth (I didn’t even mention Marian Hossa or Brandon Saad).  The Blackhawks have been the model of consistency — winning at least 44 games each season, excluding the lockout-shortened season — since 2008-09. There’s no big reason things will change this year.

Lightning’s Stamkos ruled out for start of Stanley Cup Final

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Captain Steven Stamkos is out, Brayden Point is hurting and Anthony Cirelli is hobbling, too.

The Tampa Bay Lightning enter the Stanley Cup Final against the Dallas Stars with several key players dealing with injuries the team somehow was able to withstand during an impressive run to the Eastern Conference championship.

Stamkos, a two-time Richard Trophy winner who’s been chasing a NHL title for 12 seasons, has yet to play this postseason because of a lower-body injury.

He finally got on the ice for Game 6 of the East final, but only to celebrate the Lightning advancing to hockey’s biggest stage for the first time since 2015.

”You need a lot of good players to get to this point. And resiliency,” general manager Julien BriseBois said Friday.

”Once you have a good enough team to get into the playoffs, it’s who’s going to find a way,” BriseBois added. ”At this point you have two teams that have found a way to get to the Final, and one of us is going to find a way to lift the big trophy.”

Stamkos has been skating with teammates, however there’s no definitive timetable for his return.

Game 1 is Saturday night.

”He’s still rehabbing. We haven’t ruled him out,” BriseBois said. ”I don’t expect him in the lineup (Saturday).”

Point was injured during Game 2 of East final against the New York Islanders. He missed Games 3 and 5, while playing at less than 100 percent in Games 4 and 6.

Cirelli, meanwhile, scored the series-clinching goal in overtime Thursday night after earlier appearing to injure his right knee in a second-period collision with Islanders captain Anders Lee.

Cirelli returned in the third period and delivered the winner, as coach Jon Cooper described it, while playing ”basically on one leg.”

”Obviously, I was in a little bit of pain there,” Cirelli said, ”but I was fine and was fortunate enough to finish the game.”

Point shrugged off a question about how he’s feeling.

”I think everyone on both sides has something they’re dealing with,” Point said. ”You don’t get here without getting dinged up a little bit. It’s just about competing.”

BISHOP STILL OUT

Injured Stars goaltender Ben Bishop probably isn’t getting the net back even if he’s healthy given the way Anton Khudobin is playing, and the team still doesn’t have an update on him. Bishop skated Thursday, coach Rick Bowness said, and is still rehabbing.

”Ben’s been a big part of our success since he’s come here and unfortunately he’s injured,” general manager Jim Nill said. ”We’re going to take that day by day. But he’s a big part, he’s been in the dressing room with the guys, he’s cheering them on, he’s working hard in practice and that’s where we’re at right now.”

Also out for Dallas are defenseman Stephen Johns and winger Radek Faksa.

CUP CONNECTIONS

Beyond Bowness facing a team he was an assistant for under Jon Cooper for five years, there are plenty of connections between Dallas and Tampa Bay.

Bishop was the starter for the Lightning in 2015 when they went to the Stanley Cup Final and lost to Chicago and was replaced in net by Andrei Vasilevskiy when he got injured. Tampa Bay’s Barclay Goodrow and Dallas’ Joe Pavelski also played together in San Jose and went to the 2016 final. When Pavelski was a free agent in the summer of 2019, the Lightning and Stars were among his final choices, and now he’s facing the team he didn’t pick in another chance to win it all.

”It was one of those moments where if I was going to be leaving San Jose, I wanted to go to a place I was going to have a good chance to win,” Pavelski said. ”One of the things I liked, for me, was just I like the goalies here, I like the structure defensively. … There’s also some high-end talent on this team, as well.”

NICE TO BE BACK

Pavelski and Corey Perry both spent well more than a decade with their original NHL teams, facing each other constantly as division rivals.

Perry’s NHL debut came with the Anaheim Ducks in 2005-06, a year before they won the Stanley Cup. That championship season for Perry came the same year Pavelski was a rookie with the San Jose Sharks.

Both remained with those West Coast teams until last summer, when both signed with the Dallas Stars in free agency. They sat at a podium together Friday, the day before getting to play in another Stanley Cup Final.

”It’s been awesome,” Pavelski said. ”We competed against each other for a long time.”

The Sharks lost in the Stanley Cup Final four years ago, Pavelski’s first season as their captain. This is also Perry’s first time back to a final.

”There’s lots of battles that we’ve gone through,” Perry said. ”There’s been a lot of hockey played between us, and it’s nice to be sitting here beside him right now doing this.”

One other team Pavelski considered last summer was Tampa Bay – the team the Stars are facing now.

”For me, it was one of those moments where if I was going to be leaving San Jose, I wanted to go to a place that was going to have a good chance to win,” he said. ”I identified a few places. There were a few places that had interest, and then we went from there.”

Stanley Cup: Stars and Lightning turn defense into offense

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This was already going to be an unusual Stanley Cup, and it now has a matchup for all of those who like their games to be a bit defensive.

The Dallas Stars and Tampa Bay Lightning, two of the league’s southernmost teams playing for the title in a bubble in the NHL’s northernmost arena in Edmonton, have defensemen who provide plenty of points.

Is that defensive offense or offensive defense? Either way, they’ve done that and also been pretty good at what blueline players are primarily expected to do in shutting down the opponent.

”In today’s NHL you need that for your team to be successful,” Lightning defenseman Ryan McDonagh said Friday. ”You need that second wave of players joining the rush. … It’s something that we stress.”

Game 1 of the best-of-seven Stanley Cup is Saturday night, two days after Tampa Bay won the Eastern Conference in Game 6 against the New York Islanders. The Stars eliminated Western Conference top seed Vegas in Game 5 on Monday.

Tampa Bay veteran Victor Hedman, a fourth-time finalist for the Norris Trophy that goes to the league’s best all-around defenseman, is scoring postseason goals at a record pace. The Stars have Miro Heiskanen, who at barely 21 is already the highest-scoring defenseman ever in a postseason for his franchise.

”We’re not surprised,” Stars defenseman John Klingberg said. ”Let Miro be Miro, and he’s going to take over games.”

Only Lightning forwards Nikita Kucherov (26 points) and Brayden Point (25 points), and Colorado center Nathan McKinnon (25 points in 15 games), have more postseason points than the 22 (five goals, 17 assists) by Heiskanen, the third overall pick in the 2017 draft.

Heiskanen and Klingberg (three goals, 13 assists), who has two game-winning goals, have outpointed some standout teammates: Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov, who are primarily on the top line with captain Jamie Benn, and playoff veteran Joe Pavelski, who is in his first season with Dallas.

”It’s way easier to play with with five guys on the ice than three or two,” said Heiskanen, whose birthday was during the NHL’s 4 1/2-month pause because of the pandemic. ”So it’s great to have the good D core, and let’s try to use it as much as we can, and just keep going there.”

Dallas defensemen have combined for 53 points (13 goals, 40 assists), the most during a postseason in history of the franchise in its first Stanley Cup Final since 2000. The previous mark was 47 (nine goals, 38 assists) in 1981 when the Minnesota North Stars lost in the final.

”Modern hockey, you create a lot of offense from the back end as well and you want to be able to have your Ds join the rush,” Klingberg said.

Tampa Bay defensemen have 46 points, and helped the Lighting go 10-2 in one-goal games this postseason. Since falling behind 1-0 in Game 4 against New York, they have allowed only three goals in more than 195 minutes.

”They have some big D, guys that can move and score,” Pavelski said. ”You see what Hedman’s doing right now.”

The Stars are 1-0 in one-goal games, and held Vegas to two goals or fewer in each of their wins in the West final. They scored five goals in each of their four wins against Colorado.

Hedman, the 6-foot-6 Swede who was the second overall pick in the 2009 draft, had the only goal in regulation for the Lightning in their East-clinching 2-1 victory over the Islanders.

It was Hedman’s sixth goal in eight games and part of his NHL-best plus-19 rating since the season resumed. His nine goals are the most ever in a postseason for a Tampa Bay defenseman, the most in the NHL since Brian Leetch of the New York Rangers had 11 in 1994 and only three shy of the league record 12 by Edmonton’s Paul Coffey in 1985.

”I think any time he gets the puck, in his mind, he’s shooting it because he knows the kind of run that he’s on,” said fellow defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk. ”Whenever I get the puck at the blue line, I’m trying to find him as often as possible. … He’s doing it all right now.”

The Stars signed 14-year veteran Andrej Sekera as a free agent last summer, and he is finally in his first Stanley Cup Final with his fifth team. Their other defensemen who have played 20 games this postseason – Heiskanen, Klingberg, 2014 first-rounder Jamie Oleksiak and Esa Lindell – were all drafted by the Stars.

Shattenkirk, a free agency addition last offseason who is a plus-11 this postseason, and McDonagh are among four Lightning defensemen with at least 10 seasons of NHL experience now in their first Stanley Cup Final. The others are Zach Bogosian, the 12-year veteran who became available in February when Buffalo terminated his contract, and Luke Schenn.

”Everyone is obviously very hungry to go all of the way,” said Hedman, part of Tampa Bay’s loss to the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Final five years ago. ”They’ve been in the league for a long time, and they haven’t been in this situation before. They’re super excited and played a huge part in why we’re here.”

How Tampa Bay Lightning put together a Stanley Cup contender

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As we await Game 1 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final (Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBC: livestream), let’s reflect on how the Dallas Stars and Tampa Bay Lightning put together playoff rosters.

Earlier on Friday, we broke down how the Dallas Stars were built by GM of the Yeafinalist Jim Nill.

Now let’s consider the Tampa Bay Lightning, built by another GM of the Year finalist, Julien BriseBois. (With ample credit also going to Steve Yzerman, of course.)

How the Tampa Bay Lightning built a roster that reached the 2020 Stanley Cup Final

Two huge first-round stars, but a sneaky-high number of misses

The Lightning’s reputation for shrewd drafting is well-earned. When it comes to the first round, though, they didn’t always find the mark.

That said, they did when it mattered the most. Landing Steven Stamkos (first overall in 2008) and Victor Hedman (second in 2009) was instrumental in turning the Lightning around.

Of course, the Lightning got this far with Stamkos on the shelf, so they didn’t only live off of being in the right place, at the right time.

Again, though, the Lightning can feel the Stars’ pain in biffing a few first-rounders.

Slater Koekkoek (10th, 2012), Jonathan Drouin (third, 2013), and Tony DeAngelo (19th, 2014) all ended up on other teams, with only Drouin netting the Lightning a big-time return in potential star defenseman Mikhail Sergachev.

But the Lightning are where they are today because of what they did outside of the first round, and sometimes outside of the draft altogether.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Lightning made huge draft (and undrafted) gains, largely with small players

Old-school types feasted on a perceived lack of toughness when the Blue Jackets swept the Lightning. Yet, you kind of wonder if there’s a defensiveness there. After all, the Lightning feasted on old-school obsessions with size over skill and production.

From Nikita Kucherov (58th in 2011) to Brayden Point (79th in 2014), the Lightning unearthed its top stars by looking below the 6-foot-mark. Ignoring height when it came to Yanni Gourde and Tyler Johnson allowed the Bolts to unearth undrafted gems.

Not every Lightning draft steal boiled down to different cover songs of finding Martin St. Louis, mind you.

But either way, the Bolts paralleled the Red Wings dynasty era by finding diamonds in the rough.

Potential future Selke winner Anthony Cirelli slipped to 72nd in 2015. If you want a seventh-rounder, consider Ondrej Palat (208th in 2011). From Alex Killorn to Mathieu Joseph to Cedric Paquette, Tampa Bay outfitted its roster with draft picks.

Like Brayden Point dangling around helpless defensemen, sometimes the Lightning made their peers look silly in the process.

[MORE: How the Dallas Stars were built.]

Building around Vasi

If you want to follow some of the most interesting Lightning-related team-building debates, follow the career of Andrei Vasilevskiy.

During a time when teams were timid about picking goalies in the first round, the Lightning snatched Vasilevskiy at 19th overall. Generally speaking, the “smart money” is not on picking a goalie in the first round, but it worked out in a big way for Tampa Bay.

That’s because, if you get it right and that goalie develops reasonably quickly, you can save money. The Lightning really only started paying Vasilevskiy big money ($9.5M cap hit) this season. Before, he was making just $3.5M per year.

Paying a goalie that much also flies in the face of “smart money,” yet Vasilevskiy’s been an ace for the Lightning. At 26, his prime years are ahead of him — although goalies are voodoo, so that $9.5M could still end up looking bad.

Overall, Vasilevskiy looms large as a huge part of the Lightning’s foundation.

Free agency: scraps, and mainly trying to avoid losses

As brilliant as the Lightning are in many team-building areas, they aren’t immune to the salary cap crunch that confounds contenders. (Even if they’ve basically been wizards at convincing stars to take less money. They must love to jet ski.)

But, either way, free agency for the Lightning mainly boils down to finding scraps, and trying not to lose too many important players.

This leaves the Lightning with the amusing distinction of having two Atlanta Thrashers high first-round picks in Zach Bogosian (third in 2008) and Braydon Coburn (eighth in 2003).

Yet, for every marginal depth defenseman (Luke Schenn, who went fifth in 2008), the Lightning sometimes convince quality veterans to accept pocket change to chase a Stanley Cup. Warts and all, Kevin Shattenkirk has been a great value for Tampa Bay. And, now that he’s healthy, Patrick Maroon has been useful during the playoffs.

Again, though: free agency is more an area of desperation than aspiration for GM Julien BriseBois.

Lightning are busy traders

While the Stars are light with trading but heavier on free agency, the Lightning are generally the reverse.

At the very top, this team is built around draft picks such as Stamkos, Hedman, Kucherov, Point, and Vasilevskiy. Even so, the supporting cast features significant trade additions, often at significant costs.

Consider Ryan McDonagh the result of the more blockbuster-quality trades Tampa Bay sought as it was growing. As mentioned before, Sergachev for Drouin was another tide-turning trade, and we’re still waiting to see the full impact.

After being swept, and with the salary cap closing in, the Lightning have been selling off picks and prospects in pursuit of that Stanley Cup. That’s meant saying goodbye to J.T. Miller in a trade that, for all its pain, was still pretty brilliant considering the Lightning’s desperation. That also meant paying expensive premiums to land quality depth in Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow.

Factoring in all the Lightning’s bumps and bruises — not to mention the Stars’ stingy, exacting style — it wouldn’t be surprising if Tampa Bay leans on Coleman and Goodrow quite a bit during the 2020 Stanley Cup Final.

The Lightning shine as one of the league’s most aggressive, and creative traders. They make things fun even when they’re not on the ice.

Final thoughts on how Lightning built their Stanley Cup-contending roster

To criticize the Lightning blueprint, you really have to nitpick about some first-round misses. Otherwise, they’re lapping all but the quickest of their peers.

They’ve found a great mix of skill and sandpaper, and oh yeah, they also employ one of the best coaches in the NHL in Jon Cooper. For all of the hysteria over that Blue Jackets sweep, the Lightning put together deep playoff run after deep playoff run for a reason.

Still, with the salary cap shackles clamping on, this team was also built to win now, and it remains to be seen if this strong foundation turns into a wobbly Jenga tower.

Then again, we thought it would topple multiple times before, yet BriseBois & Co. keep finding answers.

2020 STANLEY CUP FINAL (Rogers Place – Edmonton)

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars

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

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

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