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Will Golden Knights be surprise trade deadline buyers?

By Stephen Whyno (AP Sports Writer)

The Vegas Golden Knights’ unpredictable success has put them in an unexpected spot.

On pace for by far the best inaugural season for an expansion franchise in NHL history, the Golden Knights are closer to winning the Presidents’ Trophy as the team with the most points than they are to missing the playoffs. Going into the season, forwards James Neal, Jonathan Marchessault and David Perron all looked like potential trade bait in the final year of their contracts.

Now they are among the leading scorers for a team in first place.

Marchessault has already been re-signed to a $30 million, six-year contract, Neal was an All-Star and there are no signs that general manager George McPhee will do any kind of the selling off at the deadline that most expected.

“The plan was simple: If we’re in the hunt or a playoff spot, we want to stay in the hunt for a playoff spot,” McPhee said by phone last week. “And if we’re not, we’ll do what teams do when they’re not in the hunt. The focus every day is to be the best we can be and see where we are come the deadline.”

Vegas has a six-game road trip and a seven-game home stand before the Feb. 26 deadline. Visits to Central Division powerhouse Winnipeg, defending Stanley Cup-champion Pittsburgh and former McPhee stomping ground Washington will test the Golden Knights, but their jaw-dropping effort so far has given them a nine-point cushion atop the Pacific Division.

In addition to Marchessault, Perron and Neal, William Karlsson has been a revelation with a career-high 27 goals after scoring 28 in his first 183 games. Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury has been as good as everyone thought he would be after missing time with a concussion, and an unheralded blue line led by Nate Schmidt and Colin Miller has done the job.

Vegas has scored the third-most goals and allowed the sixth fewest. Can an expansion team top the list of Cup contenders? Maybe so, along with the Eastern Conference-leading Tampa Bay Lightning. Would McPhee see any way of being a buyer at the deadline and potentially cutting into the organization’s surplus of draft picks and prospects?

“It’s hard to answer now because that’s a month away,” McPhee said. “There’s a long way to go between now and then. At this point, we’ll try to stay in it. I don’t know whether we would add. I don’t have the answer to that question.”

Perhaps the Golden Knights’ only weakness is the power play, where they’re 21st in the league. One of the most available potential deadline pickups is Mike Green of the Detroit Red Wings, whose 13 power-play points are tied for ninth among defenseman. He was a 2004 first-round pick of McPhee’s with the Capitals.

Green has a full no-trade clause, so he can pick his destination.

“I think in this league there’s always uncertainty,” Green said during All-Star weekend. “I’ve been around long enough I know how it works and what to expect. I think that’s why I don’t think about it all that much other than I understand the process, and when the decisions have to be made I’ll be ready to make them.”

TAVARES WATCH

While Green is a pending free agent who’s expected to be available, New York Islanders captain John Tavares very much isn’t. Tavares is 27 and tied for fifth in goals and points. He’s also the face of a franchise that will soon be moving to the new Belmont Park complex, closer to many members of their Long Island fan base. In the same spot is fellow Canadian Steven Stamkos, who re-signed with the Lightning in the summer of 2016 just before hitting free agency, Tavares said he hasn’t sought out the Tampa Bay captain’s opinion or anyone else’s.

“I try to be myself and be the best I can,” Tavares said. “I don’t think because it’s my contract year my approach or my thought process and the way I play should change. I just go out there on a nightly basis and worry about playing and try and have success and contribute. None of the other stuff comes into my mind when it comes to playing.”

MVP RACE

When the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association conducted its midseason award voting, Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov edged out the Colorado Avalanche’s Nathan MacKinnon for the Hart Trophy. It might hinge on whether MacKinnon can get the Avalanche to the playoffs and who leads the league in scoring. Right now it’s Kucherov in the lead.

“His work ethic, his skill obviously is great,” Capitals star and fellow Russian winger Alex Ovechkin said. “In the next year or next couple of years, he’s going to be the best player or he’s going to be one of them.”

THEY SAID IT

“Hockey’s a funny game. It goes in 10-game segments. We started off 9-2 and then in our last 11, I think we’re 2-9-2. So what team are we?” — New Jersey Devils winger Taylor Hall, who returned Monday after missing three games with a right thumb injury.

GAME OF THE WEEK

The Toronto Maple Leafs visit the Boston Bruins on Saturday in what is becoming an increasingly likely first-round matchup.

LEADERS (through the All-Star break)

Goals: Ovechkin, 30; Assists: Jakub Voracek (Philadelphia); Points: Kucherov, 64; Ice Time: Drew Doughty (Los Angeles), 27:13; Wins: Andrei Vasilevskiy (Tampa Bay), 29; Goals-against average: Tuukka Rask (Boston), 2.16; Save percentage: Vasilevskiy, .931.

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AP Hockey Writer John Wawrow in Buffalo, New York, and Sports Writer Fred Goodall in Tampa, Florida, contributed.

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Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

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For more NHL coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

Latest NHL players to leave bubbles: Capitals’ Eller, Canucks’ Ferland

Lars Eller Micheal Ferland leave NHL bubbles
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Whether it be injuries or the expected birth of children, NHL players are occasionally needing to leave the bubbles in Edmonton and/or Toronto. In the latest cases, Lars Eller (Washington Capitals) and Micheal Ferland (Vancouver Canucks) had to leave their respective NHL bubbles.

Capitals’ Eller leaves bubble because of expected birth of child

As noted, the Capitals announced that Lars Eller left the bubble as planned for the expected birth of his second child. This may not be the only Capitals player who will need to leave, as the Washington Post’s Samantha Pell reports that Carl Hagelin‘s family is expecting a child in September.

Obviously, the Capitals would need to perform well for that September situation to come into play.

On the other hand, they’ll wave goodbye to Eller for a while. The Capitals announced that Eller will go through quarantine protocols when he returns to Toronto.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Overall, it’s difficult to guess how much time Eller might miss. The Capitals have two more round-robin games on their schedule:

Thursday, Aug. 6: Capitals vs. Flyers, 4 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Sunday, Aug. 9:
Bruins vs. Capitals, TBD

After that, the Capitals jump into the First Round of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs after an opponent is determined by re-seeding. Eller ranks as one of the Capitals’ more underrated players. He averaged a career-high 17:01 time on ice in 2019-20, contributing nice offense to go with stellar two-way play.

Along with Eller and possibly Hagelin, Blues forward Ivan Barbashev also left the bubble expecting the birth of a child. You see, NHL families tend to plan for August and to an extent September as usually a convenient time for “team-building.”

Ferland unfit to play in remaining Canucks series vs. Wild

Following a brutal 2019-20 season from a health standpoint, Micheal Ferland suffered another setback.

The Canucks announced that Ferland is “unfit to play” for the remainder of the team’s 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifier series against the Wild. It’s unclear when Ferland got hurt, but it likely didn’t help that he followed a season ravaged by concussions by fighting Marcus Foligno in Game 1:

Ferland also was fined, not suspended, for spearing Luke Kunin.

Yet, as eventful as Ferland’s reps have been during the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers, it’s fair to wonder how much of a loss he would be. Ferland only managed to appear in 14 regular season games for the Canucks in 2019-20. Ferland can be a useful power forward when healthy, but it almost feels wiser to grade him as an “Incomplete” for his debut Canucks season.

Again, Vancouver ruled him out for at least this best-of-five series against the Wild.

(7) Vancouver Canucks vs. (10) Minnesota Wild (Series tied 1-1)

Sunday, Aug. 2: Wild 3, Canucks 0 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Canucks 4, Wild 3 (recap)
Thursday, Aug. 6: Canucks vs. Wild, 2:30 p.m. ET (live look-in coverage on NBCSN)
Friday, Aug. 7: Canucks vs. Wild*, TBD
Sunday, Aug. 9: Wild vs. Canucks*, TBD

MORE:
• 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule

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.

Presidents’ Trophy winning Bruins lose chance at East’s top seed

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The Bruins’ loss Wednesday to the Lightning in their round-robin game gave us a little clarity into their future.

They remain on zero points through two games with one to go (Sunday vs. Washington). That means the 2019-2020 Presidents’ Trophy winners can finish no better than the No. 3 seed in the First Round of the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

Tyler Johnson‘s goal with 1:27 to go broke a 2-2 tie and helped Tampa to another victory. For Jon Cooper’s charges, that means the No. 1 seed remains up for grabs between them, the Capitals, and the Flyers. In their favor is the fact that they control their own destiny after taking maximum points through two games. A win over Philadelphia on Saturday would wrap up the top spot in the conference.

Current East standings
Tampa Bay Lightning (2-0-0, 4 points)
Philadelphia Flyers (1-0-0, 2 points)
Washington Capitals (0-0-1, 1 point)
Boston Bruins (0-2-0, 0 points)

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Suspension coming for Goodrow?

Lightning forward Barclay Goodrow may have earned himself a hearing with the NHL Department of Player Safety.

Midway through the third period, Goodrow caught Anders Bjork from the blindside and made contact with the head.

A charging minor was the call on the play. Bjork remained in the game.

How many games will Goodrow sit? One seems likely.

Ritchie really wanted his tooth

Bruins forward Nick Ritchie lost a tooth during a scrum with Lightning defenseman Ryan McDonagh. Once he realized he was missing a chiclet, he had to get it back. Minutes later, he went back onto the ice — while the Zamboni was doing work — to retrieve it.

He even got some help in his quest from Jaroslav Halak.

The tooth fairy must pay exceptionally well these days.

Eastern Conference round-robin schedule

Sunday, Aug. 2: Flyers 4, Bruins 1 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 3
: Lightning 3, Capitals 2 (SO) (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Lightning 3, Bruins 2
Thursday, Aug. 6: Capitals vs. Flyers, 4 p.m. ET, NBCSN
Saturday, Aug. 8: Flyers vs. Lightning, TBD
Sunday, Aug. 9: Bruins vs. Capitals, TBD

MORE:
2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule

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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 Qualifiers in league’s Return to Play

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It’s time to focus on the NHL games, including the 2020 NHL playoffs schedule. The 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers began on Saturday, Aug. 1 in the hub cities of Edmonton and Toronto.

The top four teams in both conference will play a three-game round robin for seeding in the First Round. The Stanley Cup Qualifiers will be best-of-5 series with the losing teams being entered into Phase 2 of the NHL Draft Lottery.

Below is a full 2020 NHL playoffs schedule of both the round-robin and the Stanley Cup Qualifiers.

EASTERN CONFERENCE (Scotiabank Arena)

Round-robin [Standings, scenarios]

Sunday, Aug. 2: Flyers 4, Bruins 1 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 3
:
Lightning 3, Capitals 2 (SO) (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 5:
Lightning 3, Bruins 2 (recap)
Thursday, Aug. 6:
Capitals vs. Flyers, 4 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Saturday, Aug. 8:
Flyers vs. Lightning, TBD
Sunday, Aug. 9:
Bruins vs. Capitals, TBD

(5) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (12) Montreal Canadiens (Series tied 1-1)

Saturday, Aug. 1: Canadiens 3, Penguins 2 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 3: Penguins 3, Canadiens 1 (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Penguins vs. Canadiens, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Friday, Aug. 7: Penguins vs. Canadiens, 4 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Saturday, Aug. 8: Canadiens vs. Penguins*

(6) Carolina Hurricanes vs. (11) New York Rangers (CAR wins series 3-0)

Saturday, Aug. 1: Hurricanes 3, Rangers 2 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 3: Hurricanes 4, Rangers 1 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Hurricanes 4, Rangers 1 (recap)

(7) New York Islanders vs. (10) Florida Panthers (NYI lead series 2-1)

Saturday, Aug. 1: Islanders 2, Panthers 1 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Islanders 4, Panthers 2 (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Panthers 3, Islanders 2 (recap)
Friday, Aug. 7: Islanders vs. Panthers, 12 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Sunday, Aug. 9: Panthers vs. Islanders*

(8) Toronto Maple Leafs vs. (9) Columbus Blue Jackets (Series tied 1-1)

Sunday, Aug. 2: Blue Jackets 2, Maple Leafs 0 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Maple Leafs 3, Blue Jackets 0 (recap)
Thursday, Aug. 6: Maple Leafs vs. Blue Jackets, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Friday, Aug. 7: Maple Leafs vs. Blue Jackets, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Sunday, Aug. 9: Blue Jackets vs. Maple Leafs*, TBD

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

WESTERN CONFERENCE (Rogers Place)

Round-robin [Standings, scenarios]

Sunday, Aug. 2: Avalanche 2, Blues 1 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 3: Golden Knights 4, Stars 3 (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Avalanche vs. Stars, 6:30 p.m. ET – (live look-in coverage on NBCSN)
Thursday, Aug. 6: Golden Knights vs. Blues, 6:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Saturday, Aug. 8: Golden Knights vs. Avalanche, TBD
Sunday, Aug. 9: Stars vs. Blues, TBD

(5) Edmonton Oilers vs. (12) Chicago Blackhawks (Series tied 1-1)

Saturday, Aug. 1: Blackhawks 6, Oilers 4 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 3: Oilers 6, Blackhawks 3 (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Oilers vs. Blackhawks, 10:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Friday, Aug. 7: Oilers vs. Blackhawks, 6:45 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Saturday, Aug. 8: Blackhawks vs. Oilers*, TBD

(6) Nashville Predators vs. (11) Arizona Coyotes (ARZ leads series 2-1)

Sunday, Aug. 2: Coyotes 4, Predators 3 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Predators 4, Coyotes 2 (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Coyotes 4, Predators 1 (recap)
Friday, Aug. 7: Predators vs. Coyotes, 2:30 p.m. ET – (live look-in coverage on NBCSN)
Sunday, Aug. 9: Coyotes vs. Predators*, TBD

(7) Vancouver Canucks vs. (10) Minnesota Wild (Series tied 1-1)

Sunday, Aug. 2: Wild 3, Canucks 0 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Canucks 4, Wild 3 (recap)
Thursday, Aug. 6: Canucks vs. Wild, 2:30 p.m. ET (live look-in coverage on NBCSN)
Friday, Aug. 7: Canucks vs. Wild, 10:45 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Sunday, Aug. 9: Wild vs. Canucks*, TBD

(8) Calgary Flames vs. (9) Winnipeg Jets (CGY leads series 2-1)

Saturday, Aug. 1: Flames 4, Jets 1 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 3: Jets 3, Flames 2 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Flames 6, Jets 2 (recap)
Thursday, Aug. 6: Flames vs. Jets, 10:30 p.m. ET – CNBC
Saturday, Aug. 8: Jets vs. Flames*, TBD

* – 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.

Canadiens-Penguins stream: 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers

Canadiens-Penguins stream
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NBC’s coverage of the NHL’s Return to Play continues with Wednesday’s Stanley Cup Qualifier matchup between the Canadiens and Penguins. Coverage begins at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Watch the Canadiens-Penguins Game 3 stream at 8 p.m. ET on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Sidney Crosby opened the scoring in the first period and Pittsburgh added two more goals late in the third, one from Jason Zucker and an empty-netter from Jake Guentzel, to even their series against Montreal.

After making 39 saves in Game 1, Carey Price was outstanding again on Monday, making 35 saves to keep the Canadiens within touching distance throughout the game. Price, the 2015 Vezina and Hart winner, has stopped 74 of 78 shots faced in this series.

Crosby has two goals in this series, scoring in each of the first two games. With his goal in Game 2, Crosby tied Gordie Howe for 18th all-time with 68 playoff goals. The only active player with more postseason goals is Crosby’s teammate, Patrick Marleau. The goal also gave Crosby 188 career playoff points, tying Joe Sakic and Doug Gilmour for eighth-most in history.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

WHAT: Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Montreal Canadiens
WHERE: Scotiabank Arena – Toronto
WHEN: Wednesday, August 5, 8 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
ON THE CALL: John Forslund, Mike Milbury, Brian Boucher
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Canadiens-Penguins stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

(5) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (12) Montreal Canadiens (Series tied 1-1)

Saturday, Aug. 1: Canadiens 3, Penguins 2 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 3: Penguins 3, Canadiens 1 (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Penguins vs. Canadiens, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN (Livestream)
Friday, Aug. 7: Penguins vs. Canadiens, 4 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Saturday, Aug. 8: Canadiens vs. Penguins*

MORE:
2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule