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Goalie nods: Price, Holtby square off in battle of reigning Vezina winners

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Two years ago, Carey Price captured the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s top netminder.

Last year, Braden Holtby won the award.

As such, the obvious narrative has been set for tonight’s Caps-Habs game from the Bell Centre in Montreal — it promises to be a quality netminding affair, as two of the league’s best go head-to-head.

Holtby is coming off a terrific week, in which he was named the NHL’s third star. He posted back-to-back shutouts against the Blue Jackets and Senators, stopping all 59 shots faced, and now boasts an impressive .931 save percentage on the year.

Price hasn’t been to shabby lately either.

The ’15 Hart Trophy winner has emerged victorious in his first two starts of January, allowing just four goals on 59 shots. That’s pushed his save percentage to .930 on the year — just behind Holtby for fifth among NHL netminders.

Elsewhere…

Roberto Luongo returns from a brief injury absence as the Panthers take on the Devils in New Jersey. He’ll be up against his old Canucks teammate, Cory Schneider.

— After a very strong outing against Vancouver on Saturday (28 saves on 29 shots, for the win), Chad Johnson gets a second straight start for the Flames in Winnipeg. He’ll be up against Connor Hellebuyck, who allowed four goals on 36 shots in a loss to Buffalo on Saturday.

Kari Lehtonen, yanked in a loss to St. Louis over the weekend, appears to be back in goal when the Stars take on the Kings. No word yet on a Los Angeles starter.

Stars need to find way to get their top line going

Stars top line
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While the Tampa Bay Lightning’s top line spent the past two games filling the back of the net, the Dallas Stars are still waiting for theirs to make a noticeable impact in the Stanley Cup Final.

Entering Game 4 on Friday night  (8 p.m. ET, NBC; livestream), the Stars’ top trio of Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, and Alexander Radulov has combined for zero goals in the series, while only Radulov (three assists) has recorded a single point.

Seguin’s scoring funk this postseason has already been well documented. He has just two goals (both early in their Second Round series against Colorado) since the playoffs began and has managed just a single assist over his past 12 games. But while his offense has gone cold, Radulov and Benn had continued to help drive the offense.

Benn entered the series as one of the Stars’ most productive forwards, while Radulov hasn’t been far behind and had already scored four game-winning goals.

But so far against Tampa Bay everyone on that line has gone cold.

There are a few factors at play.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

For one, this is the best team that Dallas has had to play this postseason and the Lightning present several matchup problems. While they are known for their offense and have been the highest scoring team in the league for three consecutive years, they are also a fierce defensive team and one of the best lockdown teams in the league.

Victor Hedman is on the short list of best all-around players in hockey and is going to play close to half the game every night. He presents a challenge.

The Lightning have two forwards lines at the top of their lineup that have dominated in very different ways. The Nikita KucherovBrayden PointOndrej Palat duo is a tidal wave of talent that has overwhelmed every team they have faced this postseason. Behind them, the Lightning have the Blake ColemanYanni GourdeBarclay Goodrow line that has been a brick wall defensively.

Even if Stars coach Rick Bowness wants to try and pick and choose his matchups he can’t keep his top line off the ice forever waiting for one of those two lines to leave. At some point they are going to have to play against one of them.

Then in the event that the Stars do break through one of those lines, and do get by Hedman, they still have to deal with an elite goalie in Andrei Vasilevskiy.

So the matchup is part of it.

One way to potentially get around that is to split up the top line and spread them throughout the lineup. That way you could potentially get one or two of them into a more favorable matchup. Bowness was asked about that possibility on Friday afternoon, but would not commit to it one way or the other.

[Lightning vs. Stars: 2020 Stanley Cup Final schedule]

One option that might be worth looking at would be to put Seguin alongside Denis Gurianov in an effort to get the former going again. They haven’t spent a lot of time together the past two seasons, but when they have they mostly dominated during the regular season. They did play 22 minutes together earlier this postseason with less success, but I wouldn’t let that small sample size stop me from trying something new in an effort to jumpstart things. Especially when Gurianov probably deserves more ice-time anyway.

There is also an element of puck luck at play here because it’s not as if the trio hasn’t been able to generate shots. Together they have combined for 23 shots on goal through the first three games of the series with zero goals between them. Given their shot rates during the regular season they would have been expected to score at least two goals as a group on that same number of shots. Nobody wants to hear about luck and bad bounces in the Stanley Cup Final, but to ignore it would be ignoring reality. Sometimes the puck just doesn’t go in the net for you.

One of the biggest problems the Stars have had in recent years was always the fact they had a great top line and little secondary scoring behind them. With the addition of Joe Pavelski, as well as the emergence of players like Gurianov and Roope Hintz they have definitely helped address that. And it has paid off in a big way this postseason.

Now they need that top line to find a way to get rolling again. It has not happened yet in this series, but it only takes one game to help change that narrative in their favor.

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars (TB leads 2-1)

Stars 4, Lightning 1 (recap)
Lightning 3, Stars 2 (recap)
Lightning 5, Stars 2 (recap)
Game 4: Friday, Sept. 25, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
Game 5: Saturday, Sept. 26, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
*Game 6: Monday, Sept. 28, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*Game 7: Wednesday, Sept. 30, 8 p.m. ET – NBC

*if necessary

MORE: Conn Smythe Watch: Victor Hedman makes his move

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.

Steven Stamkos will not play in Game 4; not ruled out for series

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Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper announced that captain Steven Stamkos will not be available for Friday’s Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final (8 p.m. ET, NBC; livestream) against the Dallas Stars.

Stamkos has been battling a lower-body injury for months and has only played in one game since the end of February.

That one game was the Lightning’s Game 3 win over the Stars, and his appearance lasted just a little less than three minutes. He made the most of that time on the ice by scoring a goal on his only shot before leaving the game shortly after. He did not return.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Cooper said that even though Stamkos is not playing on Friday the team is not ruling him out for the remainder of the series.

Of course, the series may not have many games left. If the Lightning win on Friday they would have a chance to clinch the series on Saturday night (8 p.m. ET, NBC). If Stamkos could not finish Game 3, and is out for Game 4, it would seem to be a stretch to assume he would suddenly be ready for Game 5 on Saturday.

In Stamkos’ absence the Lightning have been carried by All-Star defenseman Victor Hedman, as well as their top two forward lines. The top line, led by Nikita Kucherov and his consistent production, has been especially dominant, as has their newly formed second line that was pieced together at the trade deadline.

Including the Round-Robin phase the Lightning are 16-6 this postseason.

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars (TB leads 2-1)

Stars 4, Lightning 1 (recap)
Lightning 3, Stars 2 (recap)
Lightning 5, Stars 2 (recap)
Game 4: Friday, Sept. 25, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
Game 5: Saturday, Sept. 26, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
*Game 6: Monday, Sept. 28, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*Game 7: Wednesday, Sept. 30, 8 p.m. ET – NBC

*if necessary

MORE: Conn Smythe Watch: Victor Hedman makes his move

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.

Senators waive Bobby Ryan for purposes of a buyout

bobby ryan buyout
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The Senators have placed Bobby Ryan on waivers for the purpose of buying out the remainder of his contract.

Ryan came to Ottawa via trade from the Ducks during the 2013 off-season. The 33-year-old forward played 455 games with the Senators, scoring 107 goals and recording 266 points.

Friday marks the opening of the NHL’s first buyout window. It will run through Oct. 8 at 5 p.m. ET.

Buying out the final two years of Ryan’s contract will spread across Ottawa’s cap for the next four seasons. According to CapFriendly, the Senators will have a $3,583,333M cap hit for the 2020-21 and 2021-22 NHL seasons and then a $1,833,333M hit for 2022-23 and 2023-24.

This move will save the Senators $3.67M. GM Pierre Dorion will have plenty of money to spend in free agency in a few weeks, or perhaps take on a bad contract or two if there’s sweetener involved.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Ryan was a four-time 30-goal scorer while in Anaheim but his offense took a dip over his final seasons in Ottawa. He netted 23 in his first year there and then 22 in 2015-16, but he never reached 20 goals again. This past season he took a leave of absence from the Senators to deal with an alcohol problem. He returned in February and recorded an emotional hat trick in his first home game back.

For his efforts, Ryan was awarded the 2019-20 Masterton Trophy by the Professional Hockey Writers Association.

Dorion is in makeover mode and his recent moves show he’s preparing for the future. Mark Borowiecki and goaltender Craig Anderson were told they won’t be back, and now Ryan will be gone as well. A youth movement is in place and will be helped by the team owning nine picks in the opening three rounds of the upcoming draft.

————

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.

Lightning-Stars stream: 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final

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NBC’s coverage of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs continues with Friday’s Stanley Cup Final matchup between the Lightning and Stars. Coverage begins at 8 p.m. ET on NBC. Watch the Lightning-Stars stream on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Boosted by the long-awaited and “inspirational” return of Steven Stamkos, the Tampa Bay Lightning got goals from all three of their first-line forwards, their top defenseman and their captain in a threee-goal win to move within two wins of the franchise’s second Stanley Cup. For the second straight game, Tampa jumped out to a multi-goal first-period lead before the Stars got on the board. The Dallas Stars cut the deficit to one entering the second period, but the middle frame was all Lightning, outscoring Dallas 3-0 in large part thanks to a 21-4 shot differential.

After Game 2, Kevin Shattenkirk said, “when we play our best game it’s hard for teams to win.” In Game 3, Tampa played one of its best games this postseason, getting major contributions from its usual suspects in the top line trio and Hedman and also a quantifiable (one goal from Stamkos) and unquantifiable lift from the return of its captain.

The top line of Palat, Point and Kucherov carried the day once again, combining for three goals and six points in Game 3, their second straight game with four-plus points. Point leads all players this postseason with 11 goals and with Palat and Hedman also reaching double-digit goals in Game 3, the trio make Tampa the first team in a decade to have three players with 10-plus goals in the same postseason.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Tyler Seguin has struggled mightily in the 2020 playoffs. The 28-year-old has now gone 12 consecutive games without a goal and has just one assist over that span (which was six games ago). His last goal came in Game 3 of the Second Round vs. Colorado

Along with Seguin, some of Dallas’ other forwards have been quiet recently as well:

Jamie Benn: Zero points this series after ending West Final on a three-game goal streak
Denis Gurianov: Zero points, three shots this series (OT goal and assist in series-clincher vs. Vegas)
Alex Radulov: Zero goals, three assists this series

Tampa can become the first team in the NHL expansion era (1967-present) to win the Stanley Cup the season after being swept in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

WHAT: Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars
WHERE: Rogers Place – Edmonton
WHEN: Friday, September 25, 8 p.m. ET
TV: NBC
ON THE CALL: Mike Emrick, Eddie Olczyk, Brian Boucher
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Lightning-Stars stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars (TB leads 2-1)

Stars 4, Lightning 1 (recap)
Lightning 3, Stars 2 (recap)
Lightning 5, Stars 2 (recap)
Game 4: Friday, Sept. 25, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
Game 5: Saturday, Sept. 26, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
*Game 6: Monday, Sept. 28, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*Game 7: Wednesday, Sept. 30, 8 p.m. ET – NBC

*if necessary