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NHL goalie equipment continues to shrink, premium on scoring

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Winnipeg Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck recently stopped a puck near his collarbone. It was a shot that, in years past, he might not have thought about twice.

This time, it hurt.

”Didn’t feel very good,” Hellebuyck said.

He and his fellow NHL goalies will be wearing a smaller chest protector this season as the league continues to reduce the size of equipment, following recent reductions for pads and pants. The overall aim is to boost scoring while at the same time rewarding athletic ability in the crease by eliminating unnecessary padding that wasn’t protecting goalies, but instead simply helping them block pucks.

A 190-pound goalie and a 240-pound goalie will no longer cut the same figure on the ice.

”Three or four years ago, talking to some of the best goalies in hockey … they wanted us to try to find a way to make goalies look closer to the size they were,” Kay Whitmore, NHL vice president of hockey operations, told The Canadian Press. ”The biggest complaint was, ‘If I weigh 50 pounds more than another guy, why do we look the same?”’

The league, working in conjunction with the NHL Players’ Association, has focused on reducing the size of the shoulders on chest protectors by roughly an inch to make them less boxy and more form-fitting. The same goes for the padding on a goalie’s arms.

Getting the new equipment has taken longer because of delays with manufacturers, but Whitmore said the league is close to what will become the ”new normal.”

”We wanted to get it right once and for all,” he said. ”It was a more complicated piece of equipment than when we introduced the new pants or pads. We can ask companies to make changes, but things didn’t move very fast until we created a standard, gave them specifics and asked them to build to it.”

Whitmore, who played the position for 155 games with four NHL teams in his 15-year pro career, said safety remains a top priority.

”There’s no expectation that a goalie should have to do his job getting bruised daily,” he said. ”I don’t want to see guys go on the ice fearful of getting hit with pucks, because that’s what they do for a living.”

Mathieu Schneider, special assistant to NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr, said the personal nature of chest protectors has been a challenge. Some goalies had worn their old ones for a decade or more.

”The irony is each time we’ve made equipment smaller, it’s gotten lighter and goalies have gotten better,” said Schneider, a former NHL defenseman. ”It’s not like this snuck up on us.”

Toronto goalie Frederik Andersen said he is fine with the changes, adding that an inch of missing shoulder coverage shouldn’t make a difference in terms of results if he’s on his game.

”It’s about being square,” Andersen said. ”If I’m relying on that extra inch, I’m in trouble already.”

Fellow Maple Leafs goalie Garret Sparks said he thinks the change could eventually help raise the skill level at the position.

”It just pushes me to be better,” he said. ”I’m open to the challenge as long as everybody’s covered.”

NHL shooters scored more times in 2017-18 than in any season since 2005-06, averaging nearly six goals per game.

With that in mind, Hellebuyck said he doesn’t see a need to change – for any reason.

”I’m not happy about it because it’s my job,” he said. ”And really what they want is me to be worse.”

With the process underway since 2016, Whitmore said, recent history gives him confidence the new gear will provide the game an overall benefit.

”It makes the job a little more difficult,” he said. ”We changed other things to make goaltenders more mobile. At first they didn’t agree with it, but once they started playing they felt faster, quicker and actually got better. I don’t expect anything different from this once they adapt.”

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Lightning vs. Stars: 3 keys to Game 6 of Stanley Cup Final

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The Tampa Bay Lightning have another chance to win the Stanley Cup on Monday night when they take on the Dallas Stars in Game 6 (8 p.m. ET, NBC, LiveStream) of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final.

The Stars were able to extend the series on Saturday night with a double overtime thriller in Game 5 that was capped off with Corey Pery’s overtime winner.

Will they be able to keep the series going one more game?

Or will the Tampa Bay Lightning win the Stanley Cup for the second time in franchise history and for the first time since the 2003-04 season?

We find out tonight.

Here are the three keys to watch for going into Game 6 on Monday.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

1. Penalties

It really is pretty simple for the Stars right now. Stay out of the penalty box, give yourself a chance. Keep taking penalties, watch the Lightning skate around with the Stanley Cup.

The Stars were penalized just one time in their Game 5 win on Saturday, a major shift from what we saw from them in Games 2-4 of the series when early penalty troubles helped put them in a hole they could not climb out of.

The Lightning power play is too dangerous to keep putting on the ice, and that is especially true for the Stars right now as they are still dealing with injuries to three of their top penalty killing forwards (Radek Faksa, Blake Comeau, Roope Hintz). The Lightning still have the superior talent throughout their lineup, but if the Stars can keep things 5-on-5 it certainly increases their chances of tying things.

Even though the Lightning have controlled the possession, scoring chances, and expected goal numbers, the Stars actually have a slight 12-10 goals advantage during 5-on-5 play in the series.

Special teams have been the difference on the scoreboard.

2. Tyler Seguin

The Stars’ top line was under the microscope earlier due to their scoring slump.

Seguin in particular was having a difficult stretch as he was in the middle of a 12-game stretch where he recorded just a single a point (an assist in Game 3 of the Western Conference Final).

He still has not scored a goal in 14 consecutive games, but he has started to make a far more noticeable impact over the past two games of the Stanley Cup Final. It is during that stretch that he has an assist on five of the Stars’ eight goals, including each of Joe Pavelski‘s game-tying goals in the third period to send each game to overtime.

The Stars are getting some big contributions right now from Pavelski and Corey Perry, but getting something from their top players (including Seguin and Jamie Benn) would be a really significant boost.

3. Lightning top line

They are one of the keys to the game because they are quite simply a key to every game this postseason.

Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point are both leading the Conn Smythe race, while Ondrej Palat has been a perfect complement to the superstar duo.

When that trio is on the ice during 5-on-5 play in this series the Lightning are controlling more than 70 percent of the total shot attempts and have outscored Dallas by a 6-3 margin in just over 71 minutes of hockey, and it has not mattered who the Stars have tried to use against them in an effort to slow them down.

No one has been able to do it.

Just as no one on any team has been able to do it this postseason.

Point is tied for the league lead in playoff goal scoring.

Kucherov is leading the league in total points and has at least one point in 18 of the Lightning’s 24 games, including nine multi-point games.

At least one of those two has been on the ice for 48 of the Lightning’s 77 goals (62 percent!) this postseason, while the two of them have been on the ice together for 37 of those goals (48 percent), while they have also posted dominant shot and possession numbers.

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 (livestream)
*Game 7: Wednesday, Sept. 30, 8 p.m. ET – NBC

*if necessary

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

 

Pavelski signing paying off when Stars needed it most

Joe Pavelski Stars
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If the Dallas Stars have been known for anything during the Jim Nill era it has been their willingness to make a big splash every offseason.

Since Nill was hired as the team’s general manager in 2013 they have consistently been one of the big “winners” of the offseason.

Tyler Seguin, Jason Spezza, Patrick Sharp, Alexander Radulov, and Ben Bishop have been just some of the notable players the Stars have acquired under Nill’s watch. They were at it again this summer when they signed free agents Corey Perry and Joe Pavelski.

The hope was that they could serve as the missing pieces for what was an incredibly top-heavy team that was one game away from the Western Conference Final a year ago.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Both players have made a significant impact in the Stanley Cup Final as the Stars attempt to pull off another stunning upset in the 2020 playoffs.

Perry was the Game 5 hero on Saturday night by scoring a pair of goals, including the game-winner in double overtime to send the series to Game 6 on Monday night (8 p.m. ET, NBC, LiveStream).

Perry’s deal was always a very low-risk move because it didn’t really require the Stars to make any kind of a significant investment. It was a one year contract for $1.5 million, and if he turned out to be washed up it was not really costing them anything. He didn’t make a huge impact during the regular season, but he has been more noticeable in the playoffs, including his Game 5 heroics on Saturday.

Pavelski was the more significant addition.

As well as the bigger risk.

During his peak, Pavelski was one of the league’s top goal scorers and a cornerstone piece in San Jose. Even though he was entering his age 35 season was still coming off of an absolutely massive 38-goal performance for the Sharks a year ago and still seemed to have a little something left in the tank. Even if he did not duplicate that success — and no one should have expected him to — he still figured to add some much-needed balance to a Stars lineup that was only getting consistent offense from one of its lines a year ago.

The Stars landed him with a three-year, $21 million contract in free agency.

In the beginning, things were not working out all that well.

[Lightning vs. Stars: 2020 Stanley Cup Final schedule]

In his first 13 games with the Stars Pavelski had managed just two goals, an assist, and was barely averaging more than one shot on goal per game. There was almost no impact. Given the contract and the expectations, he was probably one of the most disappointing players on what had been a wildly disappointing start for the Stars.

But starting in February he really started to catch fire and play like the impact forward Dallas was hoping to acquire, finishing the regular season with six goals and 12 total points over his final 17 games.

That improved production has continued into the playoffs.

Entering Game 6 on Monday, Pavelski is tied with Tampa Bay’s Brayden Point for the postseason lead in total goals (13) and even-strength goals (10), and has been especially hot in the Stanley Cup Final. He has already scored four goals in the first five games of the series, including a massive, season-saving goal late in the third period to tie Saturday’s game and send it to overtime. That overall production, as well some of his big moments (a hat trick in the First Round, for example) have helped put him on the Conn Smythe watch list.

Maybe Pavelski won’t be a $7 million player in the third year of his contract. Maybe he’s not even one right now. But the bottom line for the Stars is this: They were a Game 7 double overtime loss away from being in the Western Conference Final a year ago despite only having one line that presented itself as a serious scoring threat. They needed somebody else to make an impact to help get them over the hump and get closer to a championship.

They paid Pavelski to make an impact in these games. And he has. Exactly when they needed him to make an impact. If he helps them get two more wins and complete an absolutely improbable postseason run to a championship, through what would be an absolutely remarkable series of teams, no one in Dallas is going to care what the salary cap hit is.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Lightning-Stars stream: 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final

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NBC’s coverage of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs continues with Monday’s Stanley Cup Final matchup between the Lightning and Stars. Coverage begins at 8 p.m. ET on NBC. Watch the Lightning-Stars stream on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Facing elimination for the second time this postseason, the Stars overcame a third-period deficit and won the first Cup Final double-overtime game since 2014 to deny the Lightning the title and force Game 6. In what was the second set of a back-to-back, two aging offseason signees were the difference for Dallas as 36-year-old Joe Pavelski tied the game with 6:45 remaining in regulation and 35-year-old Corey Perry ended the second overtime game in as many days with his put back 9:23 into the second extra session.

Pavelski has now scored 13 goals, tied with Brayden Point for the most in these playoffs. He’s one shy of his total in the 2016 playoffs (14) when he led all players in the only other postseason he reached the Cup Final. That series against Pittsburgh, Pavelski had a goal in 6 games – his only point in the series. In this Cup Final, he has four goals in five games (all in last four games).

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

In two games facing elimination this postseason, Stars goaltender Anton Khudobin has stopped 79 of 85 shots, with both wins coming past regulation. With a win in Game 6 he will have the second-most victories in a single postseason in franchise history.

Lightning head coach Jon Cooper announced Sunday that captain Steven Stamkos will not appear the rest of this series, meaning if Tampa wins the Cup it’ll be the first time since the Flames in 1989 that a team has a captain not play in the Cup-clinching game.

Historically, a 3-1 series lead in the Cup Final has almost guaranteed an eventual Cup victory, with teams converting 33 times in 34 total tries. The only time a team blew a 3-1 lead in the Cup Final was in 1942, when Detroit lost to Toronto after leading the series 3-0.

WHAT: Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars
WHERE: Rogers Place – Edmonton
WHEN: Monday, September 28, 8 p.m. ET
TV: NBC
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 (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 (livestream)
*Game 7: Wednesday, Sept. 30, 8 p.m. ET – NBC

*if necessary

NHL announces ninth straight week with zero positive COVID-19 tests

NHL Covid-19 Tests
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As the Tampa Bay Lightning and Dallas Stars get closer to the crowning of a new Stanley Cup Champion, the NHL reported that it has gone a ninth straight week with zero positive COVID-19 test results from their postseason bubble.

The league said on Monday it has conducted 33,174 tests since the Phase 4 portion of its Return To Play plan began in late July with zero positive test results coming back.

That includes the 774 tests that were conducted during the week of September 20 through September 26.

The NHL’s postseason featured 24 teams reporting to two hub cities (Toronto and Edmonton) in late July with strict mask and social distancing measures in place. Each team was permitted to carry a 52-member traveling party with them into the bubbles, with each person undergoing daily testing.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

The league has not had a positive COVID-19 test result since mid-July when it had two positive results during Phase 3 (full training camps) of its return. Prior to that there were 43 positive tests during the Phase 2 (small group workouts at team facilities) portion.

The Eastern Conference played it Round-Robin, Qualifying Rounds, and First-and Second Rounds of the playoffs in Toronto, while the Western Conference played its games in Edmonton.

The Conference Finals and Stanley Cup Final have been played in Edmonton.

If the Lightning win Game 6 on Monday night it will wrap the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs and the bubble experience. If Dallas wins they will have one more game on Wednesday night.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.