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It’s Tampa Bay Lightning day at PHT

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Tampa Bay Lightning. 

2017-18
54-23-5, 113 pts. (1st in the Atlantic Division, 1st in the Eastern Conference)
Playoffs: Lost in seven games to the Washington Capitals, Eastern Conference Final

IN
Andy Andreoff

OUT
Chris Kunitz
Matthew Peca
Andrej Sustr
Peter Budaj

RE-SIGNED
J.T. Miller
Nikita Kucherov
Cedric Paquette
Ryan McDonagh
Louis Domingue
Adam Erne
Slater Koekkoek

– – –

For a good stretch last season, the Tampa Bay Lightning legitimately had the forerunner in the Hart, Vezina and Norris races.

They were also the favourites to win the Stanley Cup.

In the end, they wound up with Norris going to the Victor Hedman, and arguments can still be made that Nikita Kucherov and Andrei Vasilevskiy should have won the Hart and Vezina, respectively.

But there was no Cup-hoisting in Florida.

It’s plain to see that the Lightning were a juggernaut last season, at least until they weren’t.

Fatigue and a subsequent drop in performance ended up costing Vasilevskiy the Vezina. The disappearance of goal scoring — from the team that score the most goals in the regular season — in Games 6 and 7 of the Eastern Conference Final would up costing the Lightning a chance to play for the Stanley Cup.

Judging by how the regular season went, the disappointment of being up 3-2 needing just a win to head to the Cup Final seems like a failure despite all the successes.

Kucherov hit 100 points. Stamkos came back after playing in just 17 games in 2016-17 and was a point-per-game player once again.

Second-year forward Brayden Point took a big step in his game, hitting the 30-goal plateau and rummaging up 66 points — and another 16 in 17 playoff games to boot — as he continues his ascent to stardom.

[Breakthrough: Brayden Point | Under Pressure: Steve Yzerman | Three questions]

Hedman was, well, Hedman, racking up 17 goals and 63 points, rookie Yanni Gourde put himself into the Calder conversation with 25 goals in 64 games and the deal that sent Jonathan Drouin to Montreal in exchange for Mikhail Sergachev looked like a masterstroke by general manager Steve Yzerman after the latter had 40 points in his rookie season.

One of the deepest teams in the NHL also found a way to add better depth when they exchanged Vladislav Namestnikov, a prospect and two picks for Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller.

But losing when on the cusp of the Cup Final… that lingers as much as it stings.

The Lightning may not have won it all this year, but my goodness do they have a team set up for several runs at Lord Stanley. They will also be a case-study in how a team handles giving monster contracts to several players and still is able to building a winner around that, but the talent they have under long-term contracts is a bit silly. Keeping McDonagh and Miller on extensions is big, and they’ve even been linked in the Erik Karlsson sweepstakes.

Perhaps that would put them over the top.

They’ve reached the conference final in three of the past four seasons — and the Stanley Cup Final once — but just can’t get it done. Their two biggest names have failed to show up in those big games, too.

Maybe they can take a cue from the Capitals from this season, of how to exercise those past demons.

Prospect Pool

Boris Katchouk, LW, 20, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL) – 2016 second-round pick

The Tampa Bay Lightning have another prospect in the system that’s dominating the Ontario Hockey League as a junior player. Given some of the talent on the big club that has done the same, this bodes well. Katchouk had 42 goals and 85 points in 58 games this season with the Greyhounds. He was solid with Team Canada at the world juniors as well, scoring three goals and six points as Canada won gold. The Lightning have the luxury of sending Katchouk to the American Hockey League next season to continue his progression.

Cal Foote, D, 19, Kelowna (WHL) – 2017 first-round pick

Foote had 19 goals and 70 points in 60 games last season with the Rockets, scoring 13 more goals than in his sophomore season. Like Katchouk, Foote featured at the world juniors, adding three assists for Team Canada in seven games and then got a chance to play in the AHL to cap off his season, scoring once in six games. Like Katchouk, Foote will head to Syracuse next season to hone his game at the professional level.

Taylor Raddysh, RW, 20, Erie/Sault Ste. Marie (OHL) – 2016 second-round pick

Syracuse is getting a big influx of top-end junior hockey talent this season, and Raddysh can be counted among those joining the ranks. Like Katchouk (teammates after a mid-season trade) and Foote, Raddysh will be afforded time to grow as a professional amongst men. He was also on Team Canada, also won gold at the world juniors and also lit up the OHL with 33 goals and 83 points in 58 games.

Tampa’s farm system is incredibly stacked.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Stars vs. Lightning: Three keys to Game 3 of 2020 Stanley Cup Final

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After the Stars held off a late push to beat the Lightning in Game 1 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final, the Lightning returned the favor in Game 2. In Game 3 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final (Wednesday, 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN (livestream), we’ll see which team grabs a 2-1 series lead.

Let’s consider three key factors in Game 3 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final between the Stars and Lightning.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

1. More offense from defense?

As the grind of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs wears on, it’s not surprising that teams are leaning on point shots for a decent chunk of their offense.

Defensemen have certainly factored into scoring for both teams so far. During Game 1, the Stars received unexpected offense from defensemen Jamie Oleksiak and Joel Hanley. John Klingberg factored into Dallas’ Game 2 comeback push with two nice assists, while Kevin Shattenkirk scored the game-winner for Tampa Bay.

After Klingberg took his turn, will Miro Heiskanen erupt (one assist in his last four games, yet still a point per playoff game [23 in 23 GP] during this run)? Could we see another big goal from Victor Hedman?

[Taking a look at the Lightning’s strong “trade deadline line”]

2. Stars need to walk “that fine line” better in Game 3

Look, it’s probably in the Stars’ best interests to bring a certain level of nastiness to their battles with the Lightning during the 2020 Stanley Cup Final. Chances are, if the Stars hoist the Stanley Cup, it will be after playing at least a solid chunk of ugly hockey.

But ugly hockey doesn’t always just lend itself to destroying flow and finesse. When players lapse into bad penalties, it can cause many trips to the penalty box.

While the Stars have acquitted themselves nicely on the power play, that’s still not the game they want to play against the Lightning. Tampa Bay showed how quickly its man advantage can go from cold to hold in Game 2, as those early strikes made the difference for the Lightning.

If history teaches us anything, officials will become less and less willing to call penalties as the 2020 Stanley Cup Final wages on. Still, we’re only in Game 3, so Dallas is better off being careful between whistles.

[Can Tyler Seguin break out of his 2020 Stanley Cup Final slump?]

3. Who starts and finishes strong?

Each team (Stars in Game 1, Lightning in Game 2) took a turn protecting a healthy lead during the 2020 Stanley Cup Final. In each case, they sat back a bit. One shouldn’t take all of the credit away from each rally attempt, but when you sit on a lead, you often play with fire.

Getting the first goal will, as always, be huge. Yet the fabled “full 60-minute effort” could be key this time around. (Then again, the Lightning can attest to games going a lot longer than 60 minutes … but hopefully you catch the drift.)

Such approaches — taking a foot off the gas, or turtling altogether with a lead — boil down to the philosophies of Rick Bowness and Jon Cooper. If there’s another beefy lead on either side, will the Lightning/Stars find a happy medium between being safe and snatching defeat from the jaws of victory?

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.

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.”