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The challenge for Yeo? Make better use of Blues’ speed

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Let’s face it, no matter what Mike Yeo does as head coach of the St. Louis Blues, no matter what changes he makes after today’s firing of Ken Hitchcock, no matter how well he motivates his players, the team isn’t going anywhere without better goaltending.

More than halfway through the season, Jake Allen and Carter Hutton both have save percentages below .900. Those two are the prime reason the Blues are barely clinging to a playoff spot. They are the epitome of the Harry Neale quote: “Goaltending is 75 percent of your hockey team. Unless you don’t have it, then it’s 100 percent.”

Now, you could certainly blame the general manager, Doug Armstrong, for not finding Allen a suitable backup after Brian Elliott was traded to Calgary. Hutton, 31, has never put up particularly good NHL numbers. He was decent last season in Nashville, but in a very limited role behind Pekka Rinne.

Allen is the starter, though, and he has to be better, plain and simple. That’s why the Blues also fired goalie coach Jim Corsi today, replacing him with Martin Brodeur and Ty Conklin. The hope is that Brodeur and Conklin can connect with Allen and somehow help him rediscover his form.

At the same time, Yeo will try to get the Blues to play faster and more aggressively — first, in their own end, and then on the attack.

“We want to be a team that’s structured,” Yeo said today, “but we want to defend quickly, we want to defend aggressively, and with that, I think what we’ll see is us having the ability to showcase our speed and our ability to get to the offensive zone and on the attack a bit quicker.”

If we can forget the goaltending for a moment, let’s focus on the phrase “showcase our speed.” Because the past few years, the Blues have been more big and heavy than fast. That was their identity. They were hard to play against. When they hit you, it hurt.

And then David Backes and Troy Brouwer left.

Looking back, there’s no doubt that the departures of those two veteran forwards changed the Blues’ identity.

Just ask Armstrong.

“I think what we’ve seen in the NHL this season is that it’s still a man’s league, and you still have to get to the hard areas to score,” he told the Post-Dispatch a couple of weeks ago. “But I think you have to play to how your roster is built. You don’t replace a Backes and a Brouwer with another Backes and Brouwer at a younger age, or if you do, we didn’t have those guys in our group.

“I don’t think you can ask Robby Fabbri to play the way David Backes did. I just think it’s unrealistic. So our coaches’ responsibility is to use their expertise to find different ways to play. We have to find different ways to get the same results. I think you need a good balance and we’re trying to find that balance.”

That responsibility now falls to Yeo. Perhaps he’ll be a better fit with the current roster than Hitchcock, who had success with the big-and-heavy Blues but didn’t get the same results with a speedier, more skilled group.

Again, though, the Blues first and foremost need better goaltending. They cannot be losing games, 7-3, when they only surrender 18 shots, which is exactly what they did a couple of weeks ago to Washington.

Yeo made clear today that Allen is the Blues’ goalie of the present, and also the future.

So expect Allen to get the start tomorrow against the high-scoring visitors from Toronto.

It won’t get any easier after that. On Saturday, the Blues host the Pittsburgh Penguins, and then it’s on the road for five games.

Related: Armstrong rips into Blues after firing his ‘best friend’

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 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 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.

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)

Lightning get Brayden Point back for Game 6; Islanders lose Pelech

Brayden Point
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The Tampa Bay are getting major a lift for Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final as they attempt to punch their ticket to the Stanley Cup Final.

Brayden Point will be back in the lineup against the New York Islanders on Thursday after missing the Lightning’s Game 5 loss on Tuesday.

It was the second game he missed this series, with those two being the only games the Lightning have lost in the series.

He will skate in his usual spot on the top line between Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Point has been the Lightning’s best overall player this postseason and has emerged as one of the leading contenders for the Conn Smythe Trophy. He enters Thursday’s game with 25 points in 16 games, including at least one point in 14 of those games. He has seven points in the Eastern Conference Final alone even though he has only played in two-and-a-half games in the series.

But while the Lightning are getting one of their most important players back, the Islanders are losing one of their top players.

Defenseman Adam Pelech will not be available for Game 6, a development that will leave a significant hole on their blue line.

Pelech’s absence during the regular season was one of the biggest factors behind their second half slide. Losing him on the same night that Tampa Bay gets Point back is going to be a major issue for the Islanders.

Noah Dobson will be in the lineup for the Islanders in Pelech’s place.

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.