Capitals’ Devante Smith-Pelly once again embraces the big stage

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WASHINGTON — Why does Devante Smith-Pelly play some of his best hockey in the playoffs? If you ask him, there’s nothing different; it’s just that the spotlight is bigger.

“The things that make my game successful are magnified at this time of year. All season I try and play physical, try and block shots and do those kind of things,” he said. “Obviously, this time of year it matters a whole lot more. It’s the most fun time to play. This is what you dream of. This is the Stanley Cup Playoffs and making it to the Final and scoring that goal in the big game — I think I just really enjoy the big stage in games that matter and games that are fun.”

Smith-Pelly has scored a couple of big goals for the Washington Capitals during their run to the Cup Final, like the insurance tally in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final that forced a Game 7 against the Tampa Bay Lightning. His most recent one, his fifth of the playoffs, was during Game 3 Saturday night that served as the dagger to the Vegas Golden Knights’ comeback hopes in the third period.

This isn’t the first time he’s been a big scorer beyond the regular season. As a member of the Anaheim Ducks four years ago, he scored five times during the 2014 playoffs. He has 40 career regular season goals in 341 games. Through Game 3, he now has 11 goals in 46 career playoff games.

“I love playing in the playoffs. It’s fun,” he said. “It just so happens maybe I’m scoring goals at the right time. I don’t know. I love playing in the playoffs. That’s really the only way I can kind of explain it.”

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Last June 30 Smith-Pelly was informed his time with the New Jersey Devils was over. He would be waived for buyout purposes and the first few days of free agency would be spent finding a fourth NHL team in four seasons. He would sign a one-year deal with the Capitals in early July and have to prove himself to make the team out of training camp. Initially, head coach Barry Trotz had low expectations about the move.

“I wasn’t sure on him, to be honest with you,” Trotz said in January via the Washington Post. “Just because of not seeing him enough and not knowing him, I knew there was something there, but to be honest with you, I wasn’t a big fan.”

After arriving in D.C., Smith-Pelly and Trotz sat down for a conversation where the head coach gave his opinion of the forward’s game from an outsider’s perspective. Trotz obviously wanted the signing to work and the two discussed areas of Smith-Pelly’s game that were strong and what areas could be built upon. 

That was the start of Smith-Pelly finally feeling at ease. As a player who thrives with confidence, with Trotz being forgiving about certain mistakes, the 25-year-old forward’s comfort level with his new environment continued to grow.

“Roller coaster,” said Smith-Pelly, describing his season. “Starting from the summer and signing here, having to make the team out of camp, it’s been a roller coaster but at the same time I’ve had a lot of fun too.”

One of Smith-Pelly’s strengths is his versatility. He plays a physical game, can block shots, play on the penalty kill and chip in offensively. And when needed, he can move up and down the lineup, as shown when he played along the Capitals’ top line during Tom Wilson’s suspension earlier in the playoffs (even if it didn’t work out that great.)

Smith-Pelly is part of a Capitals’ secondary scoring group whose contributions have helped them to this point: two wins away from the franchise’s first championship.

“His career’s gone up and down a little bit like a lot of guys in both series,” said Capitals forward Brett Connolly. “He’s stepped up huge for us and we’re going to need him to keep doing what he’s been doing for sure.”

MORE:
• NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub

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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.

Lightning-Stars stream: 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs continues with Wednesday’s Stanley Cup Final matchup between the Lightning and Stars. Pre-game coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Watch the Lightning-Stars stream on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Tampa scored three goals in the first 15:16 minutes of the game, including two on the power play, and held off a late push by Dallas to win 3-2 and even the Stanley Cup Final at one game apiece. Brayden Point opened the scoring by netting his 10th of the postseason and Ondrej Palat and Kevin Shattenkirk each scored to give the Lightning a three-goal lead they would not relinquish.

Since the beginning of their First Round series against Columbus, the Lightning are a perfect 5-0 following a loss this postseason. Tampa last lost consecutive games on March 8th and 10th – its final two games before the pause. Andrei Vasilevskiy has not lost consecutive starts since dropping three straight from Feb. 20-25.

After going 0/14 on the power play in their previous four games, the Lightning scored twice on the man-advantage in Game 2, with both tallies coming in the first period. Point and Palat scored power-play goals 2:59 apart in the first period in the win. Dallas took three penalties in the first 14 minutes of play and the Lightning were able to take control by scoring twice.

Tyler Seguin, who is making his third appearance in the Stanley Cup Final, has struggled mightily in the 2020 playoffs. The 28- year-old has gone 11 consecutive games without a goal and has just one assist over that span. His last goal came in Game 3 of the Second Round vs. Colorado.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

WHAT: Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars
WHERE: Rogers Place – Edmonton
WHEN: Wednesday, September 23, 8 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
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 (Series tied 1-1)

Stars 4, Lightning 1 (recap)
Lightning 3, Stars 2 (recap)
Game 3: Wednesday, Sept. 23, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
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

Can Tyler Seguin break out of scoring slump for Stars during Stanley Cup Final?

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During the 2020 Stanley Cup Final, Tyler Seguin is enduring a scoring slump at the “even the Dallas Stars can’t deny it” level. Stars coach Rick Bowness couldn’t totally dismiss Seguin’s scoring struggles before Game 3 against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET. NBCSN; livestream).

“Do we need more from him? Yes,” Bowness said. ”He had some really good looks last game. He needs one of those to go in, there’s no question. He’s working. He needs a break.”

Seguin believes he can shake off 2020 Stanley Cup scoring slump

During the past 11 playoff games, Seguin failed to score a single goal, and settled for a single assist. Stretching back through the entire 2020 postseason, Seguin produced two goals and six assists for eight points over 22 games played.

Not good.

While I’m sure Seguin is growing weary about production questions, he gave an upbeat answer to the media.

”I feel like I’ve been playing a lot better as of late,” Seguin said. ”Definitely looking for that one bounce, but good things are happening when you’re getting chances and that’s what you look at.”

Indeed, Seguin’s gotten some looks.

Through the first two games of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final, Seguin fired five shots on goal. During this postseason, he’s averaged about 2.64 SOG per game (58 in 22).

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

That’s a little off his full career playoff average (3.05 SOG per game), which already represents a drop-off from Seguin’s regular season career (3.51 SOG per game), but it’s not like Seguin’s totally in his own head. Maybe.

Can Seguin snap out of this streak?

It wouldn’t be surprising to see Seguin heat up as this series goes along. The talent is there, and at 28, it’s not as if he’s totally out of the window of his peak.

That said, it’s also fair to wonder if we should become accustomed to Seguin shooting slumps.

Consider his playoff career. While Seguin’s career shooting percentage (5.1, 13 goals in 84 playoff games) is better than his ice-cold 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs run (3.4 percent, two goals in 22 games), it’s not exactly promising.

As mentioned before, Tyler Seguin’s playoff scoring struggles remind me of Rick Nash. Whether it’s a flaw in his game, or prolonged bad luck, it’s baffling (because it’s not just one postseason).

Throughout his playoff career, Seguin’s been snakebitten. His playoff debut represents the only time his postseason shooting percentage was in double digits (three goals, seven points in 13 games, 13.64 percent during the Bruins’ 2011 Stanley Cup run).

Aside from that, Seguin’s second-best percentage was just 8.16 percent, while he’s mostly been below even five percent.

It’s fair to wonder if, for all of his skill, Seguin may simply settle for being a “volume shooter.”

After enjoying 11.9 percent shooting or better through his first three seasons with the Stars, Seguin’s shooting percentage went below 10 percent during three of his last four campaigns. Overall, his career 10.7 shooting percentage is respectable, but maybe not quite what you’d expect from someone whose talent seems evident from the “eye test.”

While it seems clear that Seguin is working hard, he’s generally been getting out-chanced, so he’s not exactly providing lockdown defense in lieu of production.

Being that his frequent linemates Jamie Benn (18 points in 23 GP) and Alexander Radulov (17 points in 23 GP) have been making big impacts, it’s all the more puzzling that Seguin can’t buy a bucket.

None of this is to condemn Seguin as a player. We see plenty of scorers go ice cold, especially when goals are so hard to come by amid playoff competition. It seems like Seguin’s been close on multiple occasions, and he might get on a roll if he can work past this.

Yet, as the 2020 Stanley Cup Final wages on, it’s also fair to wonder if Bowness may feel tempted to make some tweaks. Maybe someone like Roope Hintz would get more out of Radulov and Benn? Perhaps Benn could center a line with Radulov and, say, Denis Gurianov or Joel Kiviranta, being that Benn’s been beastly on faceoffs lately? And maybe easier matchups may open up space and confidence-boosting chances for Seguin?

Aggravating as it must be, Seguin’s struggles remain a factor to watch during this tight series.

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars (Series tied 1-1)

Stars 4, Lightning 1 (recap)
Lightning 3, Stars 2 (recap)
Game 3: Wednesday, Sept. 23, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
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

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.

Stanley Cup Faceoff: Stars, Lightning showing value of draws

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EDMONTON, Alberta (AP) — When Ron Francis knew something was working on faceoffs, he would experiment and not use his best moves right away.

That was usually during the regular season. In the playoffs and in the Stanley Cup Final, the Hall of Fame center knows players can’t afford not to go all out to win them.

”They’ve become more and more key as the games become more and more important,” said Francis, now the general manager of the NHL’s expansion Seattle Kraken. ”In its simplest form, if you win the puck, you have possession. You start with possession and then you’re automatically on offense. If you lose the draw, now you’re on defense and you’ve got to go hunt to get it back and expend energy to kind of get it.”

Faceoffs late in tight games are always important, particularly those in the zone of a team clinging to a lead. While overall faceoff performance has been debated in recent years with more information available and different ways to analyze its importance, this final is showing the value of draws because of how the Dallas Stars and Tampa Bay Lightning prefer to play.

Dallas lost 64% of faceoffs in the first period of Game 2 and fell behind 3-0. The way Tampa Bay can dominate when it has the puck puts a spotlight on the faceoff circle in this series.

”It’s hard enough to get the puck, so it’s a set situation: one of the few times you can somewhat control what’s going to happen, and faceoffs are it,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. ”Often times you can see a team, if they’ve got a huge advantage in the faceoff circle, especially on special teams, it’s an advantage.”

Keith Jones thinks it’s a bigger advantage than ever before because of faceoff rule changes designed to increase offense. Gradually since 2005, the NHL has made it so all power plays start in the offensive zone; the team that ices the puck can’t change its players; the player on defense has to put his stick down first; and any puck shot out of play on offense stays in the attacking end.

Jones, a former NHL winger and now an NBC Sports analyst, pointed to multiple overtime goals in the Islanders-Flyers series that resulted from an icing mistake and a lost defensive-zone faceoff. Francis also noted the Stars’ power-play goal in Game 2 that came five seconds after a faceoff win.

”Certainly the four dots in the end zones are the most critical because they can lead to goals,” said Francis, a top faceoff artist as a player. ”It’s a part of the game that maybe a lot of people don’t talk about, but I think it’s extremely important and it leads to possession, which leads to offense.”

That’s why Stars interim coach Rick Bowness harped on the faceoff discrepancy early in the game Monday night. His team lost 13 of 20 even-strength faceoffs, then took penalties and turned the puck over more as a result of not being in control. The Lightning scored twice on the power play and once at 5-on-5.

”When you’re losing the faceoffs like we did in the first period, you’re chasing the game,” Bowness said. ”To beat this team, we need to be better in the faceoff circle and we need to manage the puck a lot better. If we do that, then we’re going to take less penalties.”

Because Dallas is the most penalized team in the playoffs, faceoffs are a nice starting point to cutting down on the lack of discipline. It becomes a mix of video study and practice, taking draw after draw during a morning skate.

”Every single time when you win the faceoffs, you are in charge of the game and you are creating the plays,” Stars defenseman Andrej Sekera said. ”We’ve just got to make sure that we have a plan after every faceoff and try to get the puck out from our zone up and go in their zone and play some hockey there.”

Easier said than done, especially without injured center Radek Faksa, who has won 128 of his 266 attempts for Dallas but brings added value no matter the result.

”I don’t think we can underestimate how important Faksa’s been to that team for a long time, and that’s part of his game,” Jones said. ”Probably not something that jumps off the page, but he’s an important guy not just in the faceoff circle but then sorting things out after a faceoff win or a loss.”

Possibly missing forward Blake Comeau, too, Dallas might have to find a way to better compensate if faceoffs again tilt heavily in the Lightning’s favor. Francis as an assistant coach would chart faceoffs live on the bench to know which matchups were good and bad for his team.

”To me, it was always kind of a chess match sort of within the game with me and the other centermen,” Francis said. ”If you’re losing multiple draws against (someone), you can’t keep sticking with the same thing. You’ve got to try and change something up or figure out what’s kind of going wrong for you.”

Figuring out what’s going wrong on faceoffs could also help players on the Stars – and Lightning, who Cooper said have been ”hot and cold in that department” – get their all-around game in order. Jones looks at how someone like Sidney Crosby shored up his faceoff prowess and believes it there is a clear boost from winning a visible, one-on-one competition.

”How it must feel psychologically to a centerman who’s struggling on the draws and knows that he’s letting his team down – he knows his wingers have to go out there and block a big blast from the point,” he said. ”Some of those things are critically important to a player’s psyche, not just the importance of possessing the puck but also the importance of winning draws and building confidence.”

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 (Series tied 1-1)

Game 1: Stars 4, Lightning 1 (recap)
Game 2: Lightning 3, Stars 2 (recap)
Game 3: Wednesday, Sept. 23, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
Game 4: Friday, Sept. 25, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
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)

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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)