Bolts rediscover offense, beat Sabres for seventh straight time

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) Tampa Bay Lightning coach John Cooper wishes he wasn’t so impressed with his team’s offensive outburst on Thursday night.

Steven Stamkos, Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov scored first period goals, chasing Sabres goaltender Linus Ullmark, and Tampa Bay beat Buffalo 4-1 for its seventh straight win over the Sabres.

The Lightning led the NHL in scoring last season en route to the Stanley Cup finals, but they had scored one goal or less in five of six games, all losses.

“Now when we do score, it’s like, ‘Holy cow boys, look what we just did,”‘ Cooper said. “We’ve got to wipe that mindset away.”

Buffalo pushed back in the second with 21 shots, including rookie star Jack Eichel‘s fifth goal of the season.

But Tampa Bay goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy made 20 of his 30 saves in the frame, earning first star honors in the Lightning’s first multi-goal victory since Oct. 12.

“He held us in that whole period more or less,” Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman said. “We just completely lost our game.”

Vasilevskiy missed the first month of the season after requiring surgery to remove a blood clot near his collarbone. He said his second game back from injury was a bit of a roller coaster ride.

“First period, medium. Second period, it’s hard. Third period, it’s a bit easy,” Vasilevskiy said. “But the last couple minutes Buffalo played very well.”

Victor Hedman added an empty-net goal and the Lightning moved to 3-0 against Buffalo this season.

Stamkos scored 5:55 into the game, with Johnson netting one shortly after the midpoint of the first and Kucherov scoring with 1:40 remaining.

Chad Johnson replaced Ullmark and stopped all 10 shots he faced.

The Sabres have outshot their opponents in 10 of 13 games but are 4-6 in those contests.

Stamkos scored after beating Ryan O'Reilly‘s backcheck to receive a cross-ice pass from Valtteri Filppula. Stamkos put a hard snap shot past Ullmark’s late-arriving glove.

“Great play by my two linemates,” Stamkos said. “(Ondrej) Palat did a great job kicking it wide, go to the net, it’s pretty simple hockey.”

The Sabres’ power play was stymied by Vasilevskiy early, with O’Reilly’s slap shot kicked away. Matt Moulson was denied twice from the slot.

Later, Kucherov lifted an in-tight rebound over Ullmark, who was sprawled on the ice after losing sight of the initial shot.

“We’re a lot to blame for that one,” Sabres defenseman Cody Franson said. “Give them credit, they’re a great team. But our missed execution in the first period put us behind the eight ball early.”

Sabres coach Dan Bylsma pulled Ullmark, and then the Sabres put six shots on Vasilevskiy in the first 3 minutes of the second period.

Eichel scored when he snared Mike Weber‘s pass off the left boards and fended off a hook from Andrej Sustr, using Braydon Coburn as a screen to beat Vasilevskiy.

The Sabres came close to narrowing the gap on a late power play, but Tyler Ennis allowed Vasilevskiy to recover his empty net before firing wide of the goal.

Chances were few and far between for both teams in the third, but Vasilevskiy stopped David Legwand on a short-handed breakaway and then denied Eichel moments later.

“Pretty boring period but when you’re up by a couple goals you take that,” Stamkos said. “We did what we needed to do on the road and we have a chance to take three out of four on the road trip in the next couple days.”

NOTES: Sabres D Carlo Colaiacovo missed the game with an upper-body injury. … Tampa Bay LW Tye McGinn was scratched, while brother Jamie played on Buffalo’s fourth line with Sam Reinhart and Legwand.

‘Wild’ NHL playoffs move into next stage with final 16 teams

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Derek Stepan gave some words of advice to his Arizona Coyotes teammates not used to the bright lights of playoff hockey.

”It’s the best time of the year to be playing,” he said.

The time of year is different than usual, but the NHL’s Stanley Cup playoffs haven’t lost any of their luster or penchant for surprises.

After a qualifying round full of upsets, overtime heroics and comebacks, the traditional first round that starts Tuesday with 16 teams left is primed to feature even more entertainment and unpredictability.

”It’s wild,” said Barry Trotz, whose New York Islanders will next face the Washington Capitals he coached to the title in 2018.

”It’s made for TV, really. We didn’t know what was going to happen. We knew that there was going to be some strange things happen in this strange, unusual time and format. But it’s captivating.”

The Chicago Blackhawks that ranked 23rd out of 31 teams in the regular season are still playing, along with the Montreal Canadiens, who were 24th and not given much hope of moving on.

Chicago has a tough task against the Western Conference No. 1 seed Vegas, and Carey Price‘s Canadiens face the Philadelphia Flyers that earned top billing in the East by going 3-0 against Boston, Tampa Bay and Washington.

”It was a tall task to get that No. 1 seed and we did it,” Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere said. ”We came in here and have been strictly business. I think for us to go out there and get three big wins in a row and get that No. 1 seed is huge for us.”

In a very 2020 turn of events, the Bruins that won the Presidents’ Trophy as the top regular-season team went winless since the restart and now must take on the Carolina Hurricanes that swept their way to this point. It’s a rematch of the 2019 East final but with Carolina looking more prepared for this showdown.

”They swept us last year, which definitely is going to be good opportunity for us to kind of give back what they gave us last year,” Hurricanes forward Nino Niederreiter said.

The Hurricanes, Islanders and Golden Knights look scary, the Lightning could be without top players Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman for at least the start of their series, and the Bruins and Blues that met in last year’s Cup Final haven’t recaptured the dominance they showed until the season was halted in March and combined to go 0-6.

”It doesn’t matter what seed you’re in because you’ve got to beat every team anyways if you want to advance,” Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask said. ”It’s over now and start real hockey.”

Half of the remaining field has been playing real hockey for more than a week now. After knocking off the Nashville Predators, captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson said the Coyotes are ”up for the challenge” of taking on the Colorado Avalanche. The Canucks and Flames should also be feeling good after emotional series victories, though Vancouver must face an angry St. Louis bunch that blew leads in all three games.

”We’re not playing aggressive enough in my opinion,” Blues coach Craig Berube said. ”Getting the real thing going here will be important, for sure.”

It’s all best-of-seven until the Stanley Cup is handed out in late September or early October, though the prospect of playing in quarantined bubbles in Toronto and Edmonton could change the psychological dynamic of the playoffs.

”It’s one of those years it’s easier once you’re down to say, ‘Well, I do miss my kids, it’s not our year,”’ Boston coach Bruce Cassidy said. ”You can sort of have that in the back of your mind and certainly some players are going to go through it, and that’s why I feel that maybe some series will be closed out quicker than previous years.”

Only one qualifying round series went to a deciding Game 5: Columbus-Toronto, which also featured two shutouts and each team erasing a 3-0 deficit and winning in overtime. Over nine days, 44 games showed why the league and NHL Players’ Association worked hard to resume the season, and that was just the start of summer hockey madness.

”I’m sure it’ll continue,” Flames coach Geoff Ward said. ”Everybody’s healthy and there’s been extreme parity, but all the teams are playing extremely, extremely hard and that makes for whoever you play a very tough out and a very tough opponent. And I think as these playoffs go on, you’re just going to see more of the same.”

NHL Draft Lottery: No. 1 pick to be awarded Monday night

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The No. 1 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft will be announced Monday night during Phase 2 of the NHL Draft Lottery (6 p.m. ET, NBCSN; livestream)

All eight teams that were eliminated in the Stanley Cup Qualifying Round are eligible and each have a 12.5% chance of winning the No. 1 pick. Rimouski forward Alexis Lafreniere is expected to be chosen with the first overall selection.

Phase 1 of the draft lottery was held in June and won by a team involved in the NHL’s Return to Play. That means that one of the Rangers, Predators, Panthers, Wild, Penguins, Jets, Oilers, or Maple Leafs will pick first when the draft is held Oct. 9-10, 2020.

According to the NHL, since the 1995 draft, no team has held the No. 1 pick finishing better than 26th in the standings.

Here’s a look at the order of the first 15 picks:

ROUND 1 ORDER
1. Placeholder team
2. Los Angeles Kings
3. Ottawa Senators (via San Jose)
4. Detroit Red Wings
5. Ottawa Senators
6. Anaheim Ducks
7. New Jersey Devils
8. Buffalo Sabres
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9. Placeholder team
10. Placeholder team
11. Placeholder team
12. Placeholder team
13. Placeholder team
14. Placeholder team
15. Placeholder team

The seven losing teams from the First Round who do not win the No. 1 pick will fill out spots 9-15 by reverse order of their regular season points percentages. The remaining 16 Round 1 draft picks will be determined by the results of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

WHAT: 2020 NHL Draft Lottery – Phase 2
WHEN: Monday, August 10, 6 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the draft lottery stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

The prospects

Lafreniere will be the No. 1 pick. That’s been settled. After that? It could go a lot of different ways. Quinton Byfield (Sudbury – C- OHL), Tim Stutzle (Adler Mannheim – C/LW – DEL), Lucas Raymond (Frolunda – LW/C – SHL), Jamie Drysdale (Erie – D – OHL), Marco Rossi (Ottawa – C – OHL), Cole Perfetti (Saginaw – C – OHL), Jake Sanderson (D – USNTDP) are among the top prospects expected to be selected early.

Check out Ryan Wagman’s midseason mock draft to further educate yourself on these players.

MORE:
Top NHL Draft Lottery memories

Hockey Hall of Fame postpones 2020 induction

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The Hockey Hall of Fame has postponed its 2020 induction because of the pandemic. The ceremony was to have taken place Nov. 16 in Toronto.

The 2020 class was announced in June and featured forward Jarome Iginla, winger Marian Hossa, defensemen Kevin Lowe and Doug Wilson, Canadian women’s goaltender Kim St. Pierre and longtime general manager Ken Holland.

The Hall said Monday it will discuss rescheduling plans on Oct. 29. Chairman Lanny McDonald said the most likely scenario is to have the ceremony in November 2021, either by waiving the 2021 election or combining the 2020 and 2021 classes. He said a virtual induction ceremony was ruled out.

NHL reports second straight week of zero positive COVID-19 tests

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For the second week in a row the NHL has announced that it had zero positive COVID-19 tests during the Phase 4 portion of its return to play.

The league resumed the 2019-20 season and playoffs in late July with 24 teams playing within two hub cities (Toronto and Edmonton).

Since the participating teams entered their respective bubbles on July 25 they have reported zero positive tests during that time.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

The league announced on Monday that it conducted 7,245 tests between August 2 and August 8. Previously the league reported 43 positive tests during the Phase 2 portion of the return (small group workouts at team facilities) and two positive tests during the first week of Phase 3 (return to training camp). But since then the league has reported zero positive tests through the remainder of training camps and, to this point, during the return to play in the hub cities.

The NHL just completed the Qualifying Round and Round-Robin portion of its return to play and will begin the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs on Tuesday afternoon in Toronto and Edmonton.

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.