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The Bruins are quietly becoming contenders in the East

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It might be time to start taking the Boston Bruins seriously as a legitimate contender in the Eastern Conference.

A few months ago — heck, even a few weeks ago — that sentence would have been laughable given where the team was in the standings and where it seemed to be headed after consecutive non-playoff seasons. And to be fair, the criticism they were facing at the time was not entirely unwarranted.

Management had made its share of questionable moves in recent years, including the short-sighted Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton trades, to their inability to address their holes on defense, to not giving Tuukka Rask a reliable backup goaltender.

But a funny thing has been happening with the Bruins this season: They have quietly been a sneaky good team all year, and they are now starting to get the results to show it.

In some ways they are starting to resemble the Penguins team that went on its run in the second half of last season to win the Stanley Cup.

You have the in-season coaching change. You have a defense that has been a season-long point of concern that doesn’t look overly impressive on paper, but has found a way to get the job done on the ice. While the Bruins may not have a Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin at the top of their lineup, they still have their share of elite players that can change a game. Patrice Bergeron is still one of the NHL’s best two-way centers. Brad Marchand has become one of the NHL’s best offensive players over the past two years and along with David Pastrnak gives the Bruins two of the league’s top-20 goal scorers this season.

And it’s not just the anecdotal evidence that draws the comparison. It’s in the performance in a lot of ways, too.

All season the Bruins have been the best possession and shot generation team in the league. Earlier in the season when they were struggling to score goals it became sort of a punchline about how shots don’t matter unless they go in the net. As true as that might be, it was still a sign that the Bruins were doing something right, and that there was evidence to suggest that their luck might change.

It has. Since the start of the new calendar year the Bruins have averaged more than 3.3 goals per game over the past 30 games, a number that is fifth best in the league during that stretch.

Right now the Bruins are a better than 55 percent Corsi team for the season and averaging 33.8 shots on goal per game.

Since the start of the 2007-08 season there have only been four teams that finished a season with Corsi percentage higher than 55 and averaged more than 33 shots per game.

  • 2013-14 Chicago Blackhawks
  • 2009-10 Chicago Blackhawks
  • 2008-09 Detroit Red Wings
  • 2007-08 Detroit Red Wings

Three of those teams (the ’09-10 Blackhawks, and the two Red Wings teams) all reached the Stanley Cup Final. The fourth lost an overtime Game 7 in the Conference Finals. Of the three teams that reached the Final, two of them won while the third lost a one-goal Game 7 at home on a buzzer-beating save.

On top of that, the Bruins have one of the NHL’s best penalty kills (an essential ingredient for success in the playoffs), both in terms of success rate (second best) and their ability to limit shot attempts (fifth best).

Even though the defense isn’t what it used to be on paper, they are in the top-10 in goals against. Great penalty kill. Great possession. Good defense. An offense with high-end players that is starting to click.

All of the ingredients are there.

But perhaps most important of all is their potential path in the playoffs.

If they can stay in the top-three of the Atlantic Division (where they are right now) they would avoid the second Wild Card spot and thus avoid having to face any of the Metropolitan Division until the Conference Finals. While there are no guarantees in a best-of-seven series, there wouldn’t be a potential matchup in the first two rounds where they wouldn’t at least have a great chance to come out of it, especially given the way they are playing at the moment.

Are they on the same level as a Pittsburgh or Washington right now? That remains to be seen. But the Bruins are starting to come on strong at the right time of year as everything is beginning to come together. They might not win it all, but they’re also probably not a team anybody wants to play at the moment.

Stars continue to succeed playing ‘underdog’ role

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No matter how hard teams have tried, the Dallas Stars just won’t go away.

The Tampa Bay Lightning were 16:22 away from winning the Stanley Cup Saturday night. Mikhail Sergachev’s third-period goal broke the 1-1 deadlock and it was looking like there would be a big celebration on the Rogers Place ice. Joe Pavelski had other ideas, forcing overtime 10 minutes later.

Tampa then just needed a single goal to capture the Cup. It didn’t come after the first overtime, and despite some high-danger chances, it never came. Instead, Corey Perry put home a loose puck 9:23 into the second overtime to keep the Stars’ season alive and force a Game 6 Monday night (8 p.m. ET, NBC).

It was Dallas’ ninth comeback win of the playoffs, tying the franchise record in a single postseason. The record was set in the spring of 1999 when they claimed their only Stanley Cup title.

It was another moment during an improbable run the Stars have been on this postseason. Not given a chance against either the Colorado Avalanche or Vegas Golden Knights in the previous two rounds, Dallas stuck together and embraced the challenge.

[3 Takeaways from Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final]

Dallas’ season could have come to an end in Game 5, but Perry handed them a lifeline. In order for the Stars to be crowned champions, Friday’s defeat will have to serve as their final loss of the 2019-20 NHL campaign. The Lightning have been the better team in the series, so many might believe this is just delaying the inevitable. But Dallas has shown time and time again that you cannot count them out.

“We enjoy being called underdogs,” said Tyler Seguin, who has five points in the last two games. “Every person this whole time we’ve been in the bubble seeming to choose the other team we’re playing, we relish that. We believe in each other, we’ve got a confident group, and we don’t want to leave the bubble. We’re having fun.”

That belief has been instilled into the DNA of the Stars from veterans like Pavelski and Perry, both have been this far in the postseason before. Perry was in his second NHL season when the Anaheim Ducks won the Cup in 2007. This is his 10th trip to the playoffs to win a second title.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

“I was a young kid coming into the league, 22 years old and I had the opportunity to win,” Perry said. “Here we are 13 years later and we’ve got a chance to do it with this group. In that dressing room we believe we can and that’s the biggest thing. It’s belief and resiliency throughout this whole season.”

The doubters have only fueled this Dallas run. Twenty-four teams entered the Edmonton and Toronto bubbles in late July. Only two remain and there are at most two games left in this season. 

Only one team has ever come back from a 3-1 series deficit in a best-of-seven Cup Final. You won’t be able to stop the Stars from thinking they’ll be the second team in that trivia question and they will be the ones celebrating after a Game 7 Wednesday night.

“We came here with 51 people and all those guys in that dressing room believe that we can go out there and get this done,” Perry said. “That’s all that really matters.”

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars (TB leads 3-2)

Stars 4, Lightning 1 (recap)
Lightning 3, Stars 2 (recap)
Lightning 5, Stars 2 (recap)
Lighting 5, Stars 4 [OT] (recap)
Stars 3, Lightning 2 [2OT] (recap)
Game 6: Monday, Sept. 28, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*Game 7: Wednesday, Sept. 30, 8 p.m. ET – NBC

*if necessary

————

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.

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 (TB leads 3-2)

Stars 4, Lightning 1 (recap)
Lightning 3, Stars 2 (recap)
Lightning 5, Stars 2 (recap)
Lighting 5, Stars 4 [OT] (recap)
Stars 3, Lightning 2 [2OT] (recap)
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)

3 Takeaways: Perry, Seguin help Stars avoid elimination in Stanley Cup Final

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If the Lightning’s overtime Game 4 win wasn’t enough for hockey fans on Friday, the Stars one-upped that effort a night later, staying alive with a 3-2 double-overtime Game 5 win on Saturday.

Beyond “the 2019-20 season not being over,” what did we learn from the Stars’ double-OT Game 5 win? Let’s consider three takeaways from a dizzying contest. Game 6 (Monday at 8 p.m. ET on NBC) isn’t that far away during a 2020 Stanley Cup Final already brimming with twists and turns.

1. Stars have something in pairing Tyler Seguin with Corey Perry

Not that long ago, there were worries about Tyler Seguin’s playoff production. Maybe he just needed a change of pace?

Whatever the explanation might be, the difference is stark.

  • Seguin previously suffered through a five-game pointless streak. More troublingly, he only had an assist in an 11-game stretch from Aug. 30 (midway through the Avalanche series) through Sept. 23 (Game 3 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final).
  • While the Stars lost Game 4, Seguin and Perry were factors. Seguin collected two assists in what would turn out to be a prelude.

Perry scored two huge goals (the Stars’ first and last of Game 5), while Seguin generated assists on all three Stars goals in Game 5.

Yes, it’s true that it would be tough to sustain this scoring pace. But it’s not all luck. Via Natural Stat Trick, Seguin, Perry, and Joel Kiviranta generated seven high-danger chances for and only allowed one against at even-strength in Game 5.

2. Putting the whistles away?

No doubt about it, officiating was a talking point from Game 4 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final. After some serious griping from the Stars regarding the Jamie Benn penalty that opened up an opportunity for the power-play game-winner by Kevin Shattenkirk, would there be a chilling effect on officiating?

Well, that can be a chicken-and-the-egg argument.

Frankly, officials tend to put away their whistles more often as a series goes along. Especially when a team is facing elimination. Maybe it’s not as bad as the Dead Puck Era, but it’s still something.

Whether it was inevitable or a reaction to complaints, the lack of calls sometimes got a little comical.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

To be clear, both the Stars and Lightning had reason to complain about non-calls. You could probably argue that Dallas actually experienced some of the most prominent flubs.

Big-picture, though? If I were Rick Bowness, I’d be grinning ear-to-ear that there were only three power plays in Game 5 (one for the Lightning, two for the Stars). Tampa Bay’s power play was red-hot, and for all the adjustments you can make in the film room, you know what’s the best way to stop it? Not let them go on the man advantage at all.

Again, the Stars will almost certainly gripe about individual calls, but a low-penalty style behooves them.

3. The Lightning’s top line remains terrifying

By certain underlying metrics, the Stars controlled the Ondrej PalatBrayden PointNikita Kucherov line about as well as one can expect in Game 5.

But, frankly, there were enough close calls that it would be foolish to think the Stars really found a lasting answer.

Ondrej Palat scored a significant 1-1 goal with a great move. Brayden Point assisted on both Lightning goals, including an impressive entry on Mikhail Sergachev‘s 2-1 tally.

Both Point and Nikita Kucherov found space for near-goals during the overtime period(s), too. They didn’t land the knockout blow in Game 5 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final, but Anton Khudobin and Stars defenders still have their work cut out for them.

(Especially if the Lightning get more than one power play in Game 6 (Monday at 8 p.m. ET on NBC).

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars (TB leads 3-2)

Stars 4, Lightning 1. (recap)
Lightning 3, Stars 2. (recap)
Lightning 5, Stars 2. (recap)
Lightning 5, Stars 4 [OT]. (recap)
Stars 3, Lightning 2 [double OT].
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.

Perry’s double OT Game 5 goal keeps Stars alive vs. Lightning in Stanley Cup Final

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When Mikhail Sergachev gave the Lightning a third-period lead, elimination looked likely for the Stars in Game 5 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final. This Stars team just keeps fighting, though, staying alive by beating the Lightning 3-2 in double OT in Game 5.

Corey Perry scored the game-winner in double overtime to keep the Stars alive.

The Stars and Lightning will try to rest up for Game 6 (Monday at 8 p.m. ET on NBC) after closing off these two tight back-to-back Stanley Cup Final contests. The Lightning’s series lead shrinks to 3-2 after this double-overtime loss.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Stars avoid elimination, beat Lightning in Game 5 of 2020 Stanley Cup Final

Tyler Seguin continues to seem invigorated by Stars line changes. Once again, Seguin set the table for a great Corey Perry goal, putting Dallas up 1-0. (Seguin would create at least one other great chance for Perry, who’s been a factor in this series.)

The Lightning once again showed that they can shake off deficits. The top line of Brayden Point, Ondrej Palat, and Nikita Kucherov looked dangerous early and often in Game 5.

While Kucherov couldn’t score again on a breakaway vs. Anton Khudobin, Ondrej Palat broke through with a great power move during the second period.

After a great entry by Brayden Point, Mikhail Sergachev scored his third goal of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Maybe a weaker-willed team would have wilted, but the Stars would not go down without a fight. Late in a third-period power-play opportunity, Joe Pavelski scored a pretty goal off of a rebound opportunity to make it 2-2. In doing so, Pavelski scored his 61st career playoff goal, setting a new record for U.S.-born skaters. Pavelski passed Joe Mullen and former Stars icon Mike Modano.

Double overtime for Stars and Lightning

Through the first half of the opening overtime period, the Lightning created some near-misses. Nikita Kucherov looked primed to score the clincher, but Joel Hanley got a stick on it. Desperation plays and goalie saves kept Dallas in Game 5.

While the Stars struggled to register a shot on goal (7-1 SOG advantage for Tampa Bay) during the first OT period, they had some close calls themselves.

And, once again, there were questionable calls. Prominently, Alexander Radulov was taken down by Victor Hedman on a semi-breakaway without a penalty. A puck appeared to go off Andrei Vasilevskiy‘s pad, but that was missed, and the Stars were called for icing. Maybe the toll of back-to-backs affected everyone?

After Corey Perry and Tyler Seguin narrowly avoided an offside, Perry cashed in for his second goal of Game 5, and the double-OT-winner. The Stars live to see another day in large part thanks to veterans like Perry and Pavelski.

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars (TB leads 3-2)

Stars 4, Lightning 1. (recap)
Lightning 3, Stars 2. (recap)
Lightning 5, Stars 2. (recap)
Lightning 5, Stars 4 [OT]. (recap)
Stars 3, Lightning 2 [double OT].
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.