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Matthews return, Nylander deadline make Leafs team to watch

With a nice 17-8-0 record, it’s not as if the Toronto Maple Leafs are failing to deliver on the hype so far this season.

Even so, we haven’t really gotten a taste of what kind of juggernaut this team can truly be, but that could all change if the Maple Leafs finally resolve one lingering problem and see a superstar shake off lingering injuries.

Yes, it’s looking like an exciting week for the Maple Leafs. Here’s why just about any hockey fan should share that excitement, or at least a healthy dose of fascination.

Matthews makes a comeback

To start, it sounds like Toronto will get that aforementioned superstar back from injury on Wednesday, as Auston Matthews is slated to get back in the lineup as the Buds face the San Jose Sharks. Matthews last suited up on Oct. 27, yet his numbers still look pretty splendid, as he generated 10 goals and six assists for 16 points in just 11 games, and that last contest was abbreviated by his latest, unfortunate injury.

The Maple Leafs were 8-3-0 after winning that Oct. 27 game against Winnipeg. With John Tavares and Frederik Andersen putting together excellent work in Matthews’ absence, Toronto produced a solid 9-5-0 mark without the American center, thus leaving them at 17-8-0.

It’s not yet clear who Matthews will line up with tonight, although TSN’s Mark Masters notes that Matthews raved about his stretch playing alongside Patrick Marleau and Kasperi Kapanen, explaining that “we all bring different things to the table, but I think all of us want to play fast.”

Looking at Natural Stat Trick’s even-strength listings, Matthews has clearly stuck with those two the most; amusingly, he’s been on the ice more often with Marleau (143:52) than his goalie Andersen (126:19).

Matthews said that it might take him time to get back up to speed, but then again …

Nylander deadline

We won’t have to wait much longer to find out what happens with William Nylander, whose contract-less situation has dragged on far longer than just about anyone expected.

While there’s the outside chance that things could be pushed to a February deadline noted by The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun (sub required), it’s tough to imagine Nylander’s holdout costing him the 2018-19 season outright. About a week ago, Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston reported that the two sides might hash out something along the lines of a six-year deal worth about $6.9 million per season, although there’s an indication that the sides are about $300K apart.

One way (a contract signing) or the other (trading Nylander’s rights to another team), it sure seems like we’ll get some closure by the Saturday (Dec. 1) deadline of 5 p.m. ET.

Let’s set contract rumblings – along with memories of Ryan Smyth crying in an airport because of a relatively small discrepancy – and ponder what the Maple Leafs would be getting if the two sides could hammer out an agreement.

Nylander, 22, has played two full seasons in the NHL, plus a 22-game run in 2015-16. He’s generated 20+ goals twice, and 61 points in each instance, giving him an impressive 135 points in 185 games. But how good is he, really?

If you spend any time on Hockey Twitter, you’ve probably seen people arguing about Nylander, whether the discussion turns to accusations of greed, being “carried” by Matthews, or – on the opposite end – bold proclamations regarding his greatness.

The deeper you dig, the better Nylander tends to look. The Athletic’s Ian Tulloch ($) noted back in October that Nylander’s per-minute numbers stack up really well against other notable players, including teammate Mitch Marner. Their work from 2017-18 seems quite comparable based on the wide array of metrics covered by Bill Comeau’s SKATR comparison tool, among others:

via Bill Comeau

Long bar graphs/story short, it can sometimes feel a little vague to deem Nylander a “top-six forward,” so maybe it would be best to describe as someone who could fit into plenty of top lines around the league, and prosper along the way?

Combining Matthews, Marner, and Nylander with Tavares won’t be cheap, something the Maple Leafs are making quite clear. It will likely be worth the headaches, though, because that’s a scary group.

There also might be a silver lining to this long, drawn-out process, beyond Toronto potentially making the money work.

Gains for the supporting cast

With Matthews and especially Nylander out, other players have been asked to step up.

The most tantalizing development probably comes in the strong year for Kasperi Kapanen. Would he have received so many opportunities with high-end linemates if Nylander was around since Game 1? Judging by past seasons, the answer sure feels like “No.”

Kapanen’s really run with the opportunity, displaying speed and skill while collecting 17 points in 25 games. His 18.9 shooting percentage indicates that he might slow down a bit, yet Kapanen’s likely earned serious trust with Mike Babcock and others.

The Nylanders and Matthews of the league drive your success, yet sometimes it’s the growth of a player who could thrive or decline (possibly Kapanen, definitely someone like Brayden Point or Jake Guentzel) who can really make the difference in finding something special.

***

No doubt about it, the Leafs aren’t out of the woods. They still need to settle Nylander’s situation, and more strained contract talks await with Matthews and Marner.

Like just about any team in the salary cap era, they also must play well enough to make up for certain flaws. Putting a talented group on the ice doesn’t guarantee a deep run, and expectations are likely to be extremely high in Toronto if the Maple Leafs do get Matthews healthy and Nylander signed.

Success would be awfully sweet if that does happen, as the Maple Leafs could conceivably be the most dazzling team we’ve seen in some time. After all, good things come to those who wait, right?

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV 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.

Stars are defined by their resilience, ability to come back

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If the Dallas Stars are going to win the Stanley Cup it is going to require a herculean comeback against a completely dominant Tampa Bay Lightning team.

It would be the sort of comeback that has only happened one other time in NHL history (a 3-1 comeback in the Stanley Cup Final) and cap off an absolutely improbable postseason run that has already seen them knock off a pair of Stanley Cup favorites in Colorado and Vegas.

They took their first step in that comeback on Saturday night with a 3-2 double overtime win that was capped off with Corey Perry‘s game-winning goal.

Comebacks are a defining trait of this team.

What makes that goal and that win so notable — aside from the obvious fact that it kept the series going — is that it was already the Stars’ ninth come from behind win of the postseason.

Even before Saturday’s game they had already won three games this postseason when trailing after two periods. Over the past 20 years, only two teams had won more such games in a single postseason, and nobody had won more than four. There were only 10 other teams that have had three. Teams just do not typically come from behind that late in playoff games. It’s not easy.

It is not just the games where they trailed going into the third period, either. It is also the games where they’ve been tied going into the third, then fallen behind, and still come back to win. That is exactly what happened on Saturday night. After Mikhail Sergachev scored to put Tampa Bay ahead early in the third period, the Stars tied the game with less than seven minutes to play on a Joe Pavelski goal.

That is the already the fifth time this postseason, including the Round-Robin phase, where the Stars won a game that they had been trailing with less than seven minutes to play in regulation.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

That includes their series-clinching win against Vegas in the Western Conference Final when they trailed by two goals with 10 minutes to play in regulation.

Their ability to come back in these situations might seem surprising because they do not seem to be a team built to come from behind. They were one of the lowest scoring teams in the regular season, and are not really built to win high-scoring games.

But this isn’t a new development for them in the playoffs.

They have been doing it all year.

The Stars won a league best nine games when trailing after two periods during the regular season, while their .290 winning percentage in those situations was the third-best in the league trailing only Washington (.322) and St. Louis (.318). Other than those three teams nobody else in the league won more than 25 percent of their games when trailing after two periods.

So what’s the key to this?

A lot of it might come down to the fact that even when they are trailing they are never really out of a game. Their defensive play and goaltending is always going to keep them in games, so even if they are losing, they are typically only one shot away from tying the game. It’s one of the many benefits that great goaltending affords a team. It can not only steal a game, it can keep you in a game.

The Stars also see a little bit of a surge in their shot rates when trailing (like most teams do). It’s not so much a matter of them being able to “flip the switch” as much as it might be an ability to adapt and play any style and adapt to different circumstances and opponents.

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

While the Stars are not a team known for their offense, they DO have a pretty talented roster that should be able to score goals. Their top line when it is clicking can be elite. The offseason addition of Joe Pavelski and the emergence of young forwards Roope Hintz and Denis Gurianov also added more secondary scoring to a lineup that badly needed it. They also have two elite offensive defensemen on the blue line in Miro Heiskanen and John Klingberg.

We saw against Calgary and Colorado how they were able to light up the scoreboard offensively.

Against Vegas and during most of the regular season they were able to lock things down and lean on their goalie.

Whatever the reason for their ability to bounce back — and there is almost certainly some small element of luck to it as well — this Stars team never goes away.

Not in a single game. Not in a best-of-seven series. Whether they end up completing the comeback or not remains to be seen, but you can be sure they are not going to go away without a fight.

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
*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.

Lightning rule out Steven Stamkos for rest of Stanley Cup Final

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The Tampa Bay Lightning made it official on Sunday and announced that team captain Steven Stamkos will not play again during the 2020 Stanley Cup Final.

After making a brief appearance in Game 3 of the series, Stamkos missed the past two games as he continues to deal with a lower-body injury that originally sidelined him in February.

“Hopefully next time we see him on the ice is during the trophy presentation,” said Lightning coach Jon Cooper.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

The Lightning lead the best-of-seven series by a 3-2 margin after losing Saturday’s Game 5 in double overtime.

They will have another chance to win the Stanley Cup in Game 6 on Monday night.

When the Lightning announced that Stamkos would not play the past two games they were not prepared to rule him out for the series. But now that we are down to only one or two games remaining it was getting obvious that he was running out of time to return.

If the Lightning are able to win one of the next two games it will be the first time since 1989 that a player wearing the captain’s C is not on the ice for a Stanley Cup clinching game. In that instance two of when 2 of Calgary’s “tri-captains” — Tim Hunter and Jim Peplinski — were healthy scratched for Game 6 of the final against Montreal.

That allowed the third “tri-captain”, Lanny McDonald, to get back into the lineup after not playing in Games 3-5.

Before that you have to go back to 1979 when Montreal’s Yvan Cournoyer did not play due to injury.

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
*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.

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 (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
*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)

***

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)

Stars continue to succeed playing ‘underdog’ role

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No matter how hard teams have tried, the Dallas Stars just won’t go away.

The Tampa Bay Lightning were 16:22 away from winning the Stanley Cup Saturday night. Mikhail Sergachev’s third-period goal broke the 1-1 deadlock and it was looking like there would be a big celebration on the Rogers Place ice. Joe Pavelski had other ideas, forcing overtime 10 minutes later.

Tampa then just needed a single goal to capture the Cup. It didn’t come after the first overtime, and despite some high-danger chances, it never came. Instead, Corey Perry put home a loose puck 9:23 into the second overtime to keep the Stars’ season alive and force a Game 6 Monday night (8 p.m. ET, NBC).

It was Dallas’ ninth comeback win of the playoffs, tying the franchise record in a single postseason. The record was set in the spring of 1999 when they claimed their only Stanley Cup title.

It was another moment during an improbable run the Stars have been on this postseason. Not given a chance against either the Colorado Avalanche or Vegas Golden Knights in the previous two rounds, Dallas stuck together and embraced the challenge.

[3 Takeaways from Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final]

Dallas’ season could have come to an end in Game 5, but Perry handed them a lifeline. In order for the Stars to be crowned champions, Friday’s defeat will have to serve as their final loss of the 2019-20 NHL campaign. The Lightning have been the better team in the series, so many might believe this is just delaying the inevitable. But Dallas has shown time and time again that you cannot count them out.

“We enjoy being called underdogs,” said Tyler Seguin, who has five points in the last two games. “Every person this whole time we’ve been in the bubble seeming to choose the other team we’re playing, we relish that. We believe in each other, we’ve got a confident group, and we don’t want to leave the bubble. We’re having fun.”

That belief has been instilled into the DNA of the Stars from veterans like Pavelski and Perry, both have been this far in the postseason before. Perry was in his second NHL season when the Anaheim Ducks won the Cup in 2007. This is his 10th trip to the playoffs to win a second title.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

“I was a young kid coming into the league, 22 years old and I had the opportunity to win,” Perry said. “Here we are 13 years later and we’ve got a chance to do it with this group. In that dressing room we believe we can and that’s the biggest thing. It’s belief and resiliency throughout this whole season.”

The doubters have only fueled this Dallas run. Twenty-four teams entered the Edmonton and Toronto bubbles in late July. Only two remain and there are at most two games left in this season. 

Only one team has ever come back from a 3-1 series deficit in a best-of-seven Cup Final. You won’t be able to stop the Stars from thinking they’ll be the second team in that trivia question and they will be the ones celebrating after a Game 7 Wednesday night.

“We came here with 51 people and all those guys in that dressing room believe that we can go out there and get this done,” Perry said. “That’s all that really matters.”

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

*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.