Soaring Jets get set to start at home vs. experienced Wild

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The NHL’s return to Winnipeg has been an instant success in the seats, with regular sellouts since the Jets arrived in 2011 for a second landing in the smallest market in the league.

Progress on the ice has been measurably slower, with just one appearance in the playoffs in the first six years in wintry Manitoba after a struggling franchise moved north from Atlanta, but the patience of general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff has been rewarded and then some this season.

Sporting the second-best record in the NHL, the Jets have carried the momentum of 11 wins in their last 12 games into their first-round series against Minnesota.

Stanley Cup Playoffs streaming, schedule and more

They boast one of the game’s coveted prodigies in 19-year-old Patrik Laine and his 44 goals. They have a balanced roster that ranked second in the league in scoring and fifth in fewest goals against. They face the Wild on Wednesday night at home, where they’re an NHL-best 32-7-2 this season.

“Enjoy it, right?” Jets coach Paul Maurice said. “We work real hard to get to a place where there’s mounting pressure and mounting enthusiasm, and then we want to keep working to get to more and more and more. So you have to be a part of it. You have to enjoy it for sure.”

Their time to take a big step forward to join the league’s elite has arrived. They even, considering their seed, represent the best hope to bring the Stanley Cup back to Canada for the first time since 1993.

Toronto is the only other team that made the playoffs this year, and the Maple Leafs must start the first round on the road against the Boston Bruins.

“You don’t know how many times you’re going to come across this opportunity,” goalie Connor Hellebuyck said, “and especially now with the great team like we have here. I’m really excited to see what these guys bring.”

With another series of “Whiteout ” events planned for Bell MTS Place, with fans encouraged to wear white team gear to the arena and surrounding parties, the city has been buzzing all week even as winter again overstays its welcome.

“I’m very excited. I can start feeling my body getting those butterflies,” Hellebuyck said.

The knock against the Jets is the collective lack of postseason experience, with a four-game sweep by the Anaheim Ducks in 2015 serving as the only action in the playoffs for some of these players. Laine hadn’t even been drafted yet.

That’s where the Wild have a clear advantage, with this their sixth straight appearance in the 16-team tournament.

Though they were overshadowed in the Western Conference this season by the Jets, the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Nashville Predators and the expansion Vegas Golden Knights, the Wild posted the third-best record in franchise history. Center Eric Staal had 42 goals, his most in 12 years. Jason Zucker scored a career-high 33 goals. Their defensemen ranked second in the league with 200 points.

“You really got to go through it to know what it’s about,” left wing Zach Parise said, adding: “I know they’ve been short-lived the last couple years, but you hope with just being there that will help us.”

Here are some other key angles to follow with the series:

PALS IN PADS

Hellebuyck and Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk met last summer in British Columbia during training sessions and rounds of golf that forged a friendship, with Dubnyk encouraging Hellebuyck to keep his head up after the Jets signed Steve Mason to an $8.2 million contract.

Sure enough, Mason stumbled early and Hellebuyck supplanted him as the primary netminder to tie for the NHL lead with 44 wins and finish eighth in goals-against average.

“It’s been fun to watch but that’s enough now,” Dubnyk said. “It’s been a great year for him, but I’ll stop cheering for him now.”

SUTER OUT, SPURGEON IN

One of the Wild’s greatest assets for this matchup will be absent, with a season-ending broken ankle for stalwart Ryan Suter, who tied a franchise defenseman record with 51 points in 78 games.

The upside is that Jared Spurgeon, who missed the last 17 games with a torn hamstring, is on track to return. He practiced with one of the two power-play units on Tuesday, and coach Bruce Boudreau said he’d make a game-time decision about Spurgeon’s availability on Wednesday.

WHEELS UP

Jets captain Blake Wheeler tied for the NHL lead with 68 assists this season and finished ninth with 91 points, fueling a potent first line with Kyle Connor and Mark Schiefele to take some of the scoring pressure off Laine.

Wheeler played at Breck High School in the Twin Cities area and in college for Minnesota before turning pro. He has never missed more than three games in any regular season since his debut with Boston in 2008-09.

CULLEN’S CUPS

Wild center Matt Cullen contributed a modest 11 goals and 11 assists from the fourth line, but the 41-year-old’s contribution transcends points. He’s played in 123 postseason games, winning three Stanley Cups including the past two with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

“This is why we got him, his experience in positions like we’re in right now,” Boudreau said. “So we’re hoping he’s going to be valuable.”

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

Blackhawks-Oilers stream: 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers

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NBC’s coverage of the NHL’s Return to Play continues with Monday’s Stanley Cup Qualifier matchup between the Blackhawks and Oilers. Coverage begins at 10:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Watch the Blackhawks-Oilers Game 2 stream at 10:30 p.m. ET on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Connor McDavid scored 2:34 into the game to give Edmonton the early lead before Chicago scored four straight goals – two by captain Jonathan Toews – to take a 4-1 lead after the first period. Rookie Dominik Kubalik was the story the rest of the way.

While Toews, Patrick Kane, McDavid and Leon Draisaitl all found the score sheet, it was Kubalik who made the headlines. The Calder Trophy finalist, who led all rookies with 30 goals during the regular season, set an NHL record for most points (5) in a playoff debut.

Mike Smith allowed five goals on 23 shots before being pulled in the second for Mikko Koskinen.

“We’ll talk about where we are with our goaltenders, and I thought Mikko was fine in net,” Oilers head coach Dave Tippett said. “We have confidence in both our guys, we had long discussions about it. We think we’ll use both in the [postseason]… We started the season 5-0 (with) Smitty. We thought we wanted to start the postseason the same way. We were very confident in Smitty. Other than the giveaway that went off his back, he was kind of left on his own out there.”

Blackhawks forward Drake Caggiula has been suspended for Game 2 following an illegal check to the head of Tyler Ennis.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

WHAT: Chicago Blackhawks vs. Edmonton Oilers
WHERE: Rogers Place – Edmonton
WHEN: Monday, August 3, 10:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
ON THE CALL: Kenny Albert, AJ Mleczko, Pierre McGuire
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Blackhawks-Oilers stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

(5) Edmonton Oilers vs. (12) Chicago Blackhawks (Blackhawks lead series 1-0)

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

You can watch all the NHL playoff streams on the NBC Sports app.

MORE:
2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule

Reaves, Seguin, Lehner, Dickinson kneel during anthem before Stars – Golden Knights

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Two Golden Knights (Ryan Reaves and Robin Lehner) and two Stars (Tyler Seguin and Jason Dickinson) decided to kneel during both anthems before the teams’ round-robin game on Monday.

This comes after other noteworthy moments where NHL players made statements against racism, particularly Wild defenseman Matt Dumba.

After the Golden Knights’ 5-3 win against the Stars, Seguin explained his decision to kneel.

“I was giving it a lot of thought in the last 24 hours about what to do. I talked to Reaves during warmups. He said he saw what I was doing in Dallas, and that him and Lehner were going to kneel, and asked if I’d like to join them. So I told them I’d join them,” Seguin said, via ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski. “Before the game, I went into the dressing room and told everyone what I was doing. Told them there was absolutely no pressure to do anything. Dickinson grabbed me and said he’d like to be a part of it, and support his beliefs and my beliefs.”

More on Stars, Golden Knights, and Dumba kneeling during anthems

Wild defenseman Matt Dumba made a passionate speech before Game 1 of Blackhawks – Oilers on Saturday, then kneeled during the U.S. national anthem. Dumba also raised his fist during the national anthem before his own Wild’s win against the Canucks on Sunday.

As you can read more about here, Dumba said that he regretted only kneeling for the U.S. national anthem, rather than both anthems. In this latest case, Reaves, Lehner, Seguin, and Dickinson kneeled for both anthems before Stars – Golden Knights.

The Golden Knights also tweeted about their players kneeling:

While the Stars shared a similar (if shorter) sentiment:

Along with Dumba, Lehner, Reaves, Seguin, and Dickinson, other teams made statements of their own. Members of the Nashville Predators wore “Black Lives Matter” shirts before Game 1 against the Coyotes on Sunday.

Members of the Bruins wore a variety of shirts along similar lines, while Maple Leafs players made similar gestures early in the NHL Return to Play.

During the end of his passionate speech, Dumba hoped that the Hockey Diversity Alliance and other measures might inspire others in the future.

“I hope this inspires a new generation of hockey players and hockey fans,” Dumba said. “Because Black Lives Matter. Breonna Taylor’s life matters. Hockey is a great game. But it could be a whole lot greater. And it starts with all of us.”

It seems like Dumba and others managed to inspire peers, including Reaves and Lehner of the Golden Knights and Seguin and Dickinson of the Stars.

Read more about the Hockey Diversity Alliance here, and at their website. The NHL also recently announced its #WeSkateFor initiative, which you can learn more about here.

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.

Kucherov leads Lightning past Capitals in round-robin play

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Shootout goals from Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point helped the Lightning beat the Capitals 3-2 in round-robin play Monday.

The first half of the game belonged to Tampa, who lead in possession and on the scoreboard until late in the second period. The Lightning controlled over 60% of shot attempts (per Natural Stat Trick) for most of the opening 40 minutes and built up a 2-0 lead thanks to goals from Kucherov and Mitchell Stevens.

Kucherov’s first of the postseason was the result of strong neutral zone play by the Lightning. They won the middle of the ice, and a Capitals turnover allowed Point to dance into the offensive zone and lay a pass off to Kucherov, who then proceeded to wire a shot by Braden Holtby.

Washington flipped the game to their side with a pair of goals 2:08 apart late in the second. First, Richard Panik put home a rebound that squeaked through Andrei Vasilevskiy‘s pads. Evgeny Kuznetsov then followed that up tapping home another puck that the Tampa netminder had trouble with.

No goals in the third period meant bonus hockey. Round-robin games will feature regular-season overtime rules, but 3-on-3 didn’t solve anything, so a shootout was needed.

Current Eastern Conference round-robin standings

Now that each team has played once, here’s where things stand:

• Lightning – 2 pts.
• Flyers – 2 pts.
• Capitals – 1 pt.
• Bruins – 0 pts.

Reminder that these games will determine seeding for Round 1. Any ties will be broken by regular-season points percentage.

Carlson remains out

Norris Trophy finalist John Carlson did not play Monday. The defenseman remained out after suffering an injury during the Capitals’ exhibition game last week against Carolina. He has practiced with the team since the weekend, but head coach Todd Reirden wanted to play it safe.

“We’re not going to put them in a situation where, if something were to go wrong or re-aggravate any injury or anything that’s going on that would potentially cause a chance for him to miss part of Round 1,” Reirden said on Sunday. “So we’ll do the thing that’s right for the player and obviously right for the team. We obviously wouldn’t put him out there in a situation where anything could become worse because he’s such a large part of our team and obviously a guy that had a tremendous year and is a huge part of our blue line.”

Bogosian makes postseason debut

Lightning defenseman Zach Bogosian has played 644 NHL games since breaking into the league with the Atlanta Thrashers in 2008-09. The No. 3 overall pick in the 2008 draft is with his third franchise and finally took part in the postseason for the first time in his career on Monday.

The last time Bogosian was in any sort of postseason? The 2008 Ontario Hockey League playoffs when he was with the Peterborough Petes. They lost their opening round series in five games to P.K Subban’s Belleville Bulls.

Eastern Conference round-robin schedule

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

Canadiens-Penguins stream: 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers

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NBC’s coverage of the NHL’s Return to Play continues with Monday’s Stanley Cup Qualifier matchup between the Canadiens and Penguins. Coverage begins at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Watch the Canadiens-Penguins Game 2 stream at 8 p.m. ET on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Jeff Petry scored with 6:03 remaining in overtime and Carey Price shut the door, stopping 39 of 41 shots he faced, to give the Canadiens the 3-2 upset win. Montreal became the second No. 12 seed to win on Saturday, joining the Blackhawks.

Pittsburgh’s Conor Sheary missed the net on a penalty shot with just over three minutes remaining in regulation, and Montreal’s Jonathan Drouin was awarded a penalty shot of his own in OT, where he over-handled the puck trying to make a deke to his backhand.

The power play was a big factor in the outcome of a number of the games on Day 1 of the playoffs, including this series. Pittsburgh went 1-for-7 with the man-advantage and failed to score on a 5-on-3.

Matt Murray will start Game 2 for the Penguins.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

WHAT: Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Montreal Canadiens
WHERE: Scotiabank Arena – Toronto
WHEN: Monday, August 3, 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 (Canadiens lead series 1-0)

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

You can watch all the NHL playoff streams on the NBC Sports app.

MORE:
2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule