Call it a comeback: No lead safe as late rallies on the rise

By Pat Graham (AP Sports Writer)

DENVER (AP) — Don’t be fooled: That third-period lead isn’t so safe.

Not this season, anyway. There’s been quite a comeback for the comeback.

The NHL has seen 110 third-period comeback wins spanning 611 games through New Year’s Eve. That’s third-most in league history and not far off the 114 rallies in 2014-15 and 113 in ’13-14, according to research by the NHL stats and information department.

Going into the new year, the only teams without a third-period comeback for a win in regulation were Carolina (0-13-2 when trailing after two) and Los Angeles (0-17-1). And the only team not to lose with a final-period lead remains Toronto, which is 19-0-0.

Translation: Don’t leave early, because anything can and often does happen in the final period.

”Fans are getting what they want,” joked Montreal forward Tomas Tatar said. ”It’s got to be pretty intense for them.”

These days and in this speedy version of the game, no lead seems out of reach. Take Tampa Bay on Saturday: Down a goal in the third against Montreal, Adam Erne tied it up and then scored the game-winner with 1:02 remaining.

”There’s no more of sitting back and closing and trying to suffocate the other team,” Montreal coach Claude Julien said when his team was in Denver on Dec. 19. ”It’s a skating game now. With the skating game that’s being allowed right now, there’s more offense being showcased.”

Try sitting on the puck to protect a lead with the likes of Connor McDavid, Sidney Crosby, Nikita Kucherov or Nathan MacKinnon attempting to swipe it away.

Good luck with that.

”The league is just getting faster and faster, young guys are coming through the league and they’re really, really good skaters,” Tatar said. ”It’s just a fast game. It’s faster than ever.”

Not only that, but these youngsters don’t view things as erasing a deficit so much as an opportunity to crank up the intensity.

”Everybody is good throughout the lineup,” Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog said. ”That makes it that much harder to put teams away. It goes to show how many good players there are in the league and how many game-changers there are, that can turn things around.”

And no slashing. Or holding. Or hooking. Defensemen need to be on their best behavior.

”Defensively speaking, when you can’t clutch and you can’t grab – it’s been that way for 10 years now – that really opens up the ice and allows guys to score,” Avalanche defenseman Ian Cole said. ”The guys are as skilled as they’ve ever been. Every year, they’re more skilled and scoring more and more ridiculous highlight-reel goals. Guys are shooting from the goal-line and it’s going off the side of the goalie’s mask and in. Guys are doing stuff now that they haven’t done before – or doing it more often.

”The skill level is as high as it’s ever been in the league.”

Hence, the volume of comebacks. This also helps when down: A positive attitude.

”You always have to believe. You can’t give up,” Tatar said. ”And you don’t have to. There’s a big chance you score one or two goals and you’re back in the game.”

That was the case on Dec. 15 for Dallas, which fell behind the Avs 3-0 after one period and 4-2 after two. The Stars tied it up late in the final period before Colorado scored twice to earn the win.

Nothing is easy.

”I don’t feel comfortable with any lead until the buzzer sounds,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said. ”It’s a tribute to the talent around the league. When teams start feeling it, they start coming at you in waves, and it’s tough to defend.”

That’s why the best defense is sometimes to remain on the offensive. Don’t sit back – keep striking.

”We’re trying to stay aggressive,” Landeskog said. ”The O-zone is the best place to play defense. At least, that’s the way we think about it. That’s easier said than done. The team that’s behind is always going to push.”

THREE AMIGOS

Mikko Rantanen (17 goals, 45 assists) and MacKinnon (24 goals, 35 assists) get the lion’s share of the credit on the high-scoring top line for Colorado.

Chalk up another assist for Rantanen, though, because he wanted to make sure Landeskog received full credit, too. Landeskog’s tied for the team lead with 24 goals.

”He flies under the radar,” Rantanen said. ”The way he plays the game is the right way always. That’s real fun to watch.”

WINTER CLASSIC

The 2020 Winter Classic will be held at the Cotton Bowl in Texas. Dallas will host the 12th edition of the NHL’s annual outdoor game on New Year’s Day against an opponent yet to be determined. Commissioner Gary Bettman also said the Heritage Classic will return on Oct. 26 when Winnipeg plays Calgary at Mosaic Stadium in Regina, Saskatchewan. In addition, the NHL will bring an outdoor game to the Air Force Academy on Feb. 15, 2020, as part of the Stadium Series. Colorado will play a team not yet announced.

LEADERS (through Monday)

Points: Nikita Kucherov (Tampa Bay), 65; Goals: Alex Ovechkin (Washington), 29; Assists: Kucherov, 46; Game-winning goals: Gabriel Landeskog (Colorado), 7; Rookie goals: Elias Pettersson (Vancouver), 19; Goals-against average: Robin Lehner (New York Islanders), 2.14; Shutouts: Marc-Andre Fleury (Vegas), 5; Wins: Fleury, 22; Save percentage: Lehner, .930.

GAME OF THE WEEK

John Tavares leads Toronto against Minnesota on Thursday. Tavares is two goals shy of 300 for his career. He was the first overall pick by the New York Islanders in 2009.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

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    Lightning one win from Stanley Cup after winning Game 4 OT thriller vs. Stars

    Lightning one win from Stanley Cup after winning Game 4 OT thriller vs. Stars
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    After a thrilling, back-and-forth Game 4 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final, the Lightning grabbed a 3-1 series lead by beating the Stars 5-4 in OT on Friday. The Stars face elimination with little time to gather their thoughts, while the Lightning aim to win the Stanley Cup in Game 5 on Saturday (8 p.m. ET on NBC: livestream).

    Kevin Shattenkirk scored the overtime game-winner on a power play following a polarizing penalty call against Jamie Benn. Hockey fans aren’t likely to debate this point, though: Game 4 of Stars – Lightning was the most thrilling bout of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final.

    So far, at least.

    [NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

    This time, a strong start wasn’t enough

    Throughout the first three games of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final, strong starts made way for successful finishes. Game 4, on the other hand, required both the Stars and Lightning to deal with lead changes.

    First, the Stars struck early. John Klingberg pounced on a loose puck from his initial (blocked) shot attempt to sneak one past Andrei Vasilevskiy. From there, Alexander Radulov used the power of geometry to break out Jamie Benn, who made a nifty pass to set up a Joe Pavelski goal. With about a minute and a half left in the first period, the Stars were up 2-0.

    They wouldn’t go into the first intermission with that two-goal edge, however.

    Kevin Shattenkirk sent Ondrej Palat down the ice, then Palat fed Brayden Point with a fabulous pass. On that semi-breakaway, Palat scored a beautiful goal to make it 2-1 late in the first.

    Not long into the second, Point scored once again to tie things 2-2. Point cashed in on a wacky bounce, but the Lightning power play looked dangerous before he scored. It wouldn’t be the last time that man advantage made a big play.

    Tyler Seguin didn’t score the 3-2 goal, yet he made it happen. Seguin did just about everything but score while creating havoc around the Lightning net, then Corey Perry punched it in.

    It looked like the Stars would go up 4-2 on a rebound attempt by Nicholas Caamano, but Vasilevskiy made a save so nice it earned its own post.

    Instead of falling behind 4-2, the Lightning power play made it happen again, with Yanni Gourde cashing in on some more fortunate bounces.

    Stars and Lightning continue to trade punches as Game 4 goes to OT

    So, the two teams entered the third period tied 3-3, and the twists and turns would continue. To start, Alex Killorn put up a prayer of a shot that beat Anton Khudobin. Khudobin received criticism for that 4-3 goal, but it’s also fair to note an accidental screening by John Klingberg.

    That could have been a gutting game-winner, but not in this one. Joe Pavelski’s shot took a bounce off of Kevin Shattenkirk (and almost off of Tyler Seguin?) to make it 4-4. Remarkably, Game 4 went to overtime, representing the first contest of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final to need OT.

    Heading into overtime, Point drew a penalty on Corey Perry, only officials made an iffy embellishment call on Point. With the two teams at 4-on-4, Tyler Seguin drew what seemed like a fateful penalty on Mikhail Sergachev.

    After the Lightning power play dominated during regulation, would the Stars score amid some controversy? Nope, not yet at least.

    Following a successful kill by the Lightning PK, Tampa Bay received a power play chance early in overtime, too. That had its own controversy, as some didn’t buy Jamie Benn being guilty of an infraction against Tyler Johnson.

    Late in that power-play opportunity, Kevin Shattenkirk continued his rollercoaster of a Game 4 (and couple of seasons, really) with the overtime game-winner. It took until Game 4 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final for the Stars to lose in OT for the first time during this postseason.

    The Lightning power play kept striking in Game 4, and just like that, the Stars are on the brink of elimination in the 2020 Stanley Cup Final.

    Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars (TB leads 3-1)

    Stars 4, Lightning 1. (recap)
    Lightning 3, Stars 2. (recap)
    Lightning 5, Stars 2. (recap)
    Lightning 5, Stars 4 [OT].
    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.

    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 3-1)

    Stars 4, Lightning 1 (recap)
    Lightning 3, Stars 2 (recap)
    Lightning 5, Stars 2 (recap)
    Lighting 5, Stars 4 [OT] (recap)
    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

    [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)

    Lightning’s Vasilevskiy stretches for amazing save vs. Stars in Game 4

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    Game 4 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final hasn’t been very kind to Andrei Vasilevskiy, or at least his personal stats, so far. At one point, Vasilevskiy was basically battling .500 against the Stars. But if hearing that the Stars mainly beat Vasilevskiy in ways that were understandable, maybe an amazing save would do the trick?

    Little-known Stars forward Nicholas Caamano looked likely to score a big goal. Caamano went backhand on a rebound, and it’s still surprising that Vasilevskiy denied him.

    Vasilevskiy showed incredible reflexes against Caamano. And his elastic flexibility? It almost hurts to watch.

    (Speaking of watching, Game 4 is airing on NBCSN right now — livestream.)

    [NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

    At that point, the Stars were up 3-2, so Vasilevskiy kept it from being 4-2. Keep this Vasilevskiy save in mind if the Lightning beat the Stars in Game 4 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final.

    Even if the Stars tie the series, it was one heck of a save by Vasilevskiy.

    Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars (TB leads 2-1)

    Stars 4, Lightning 1 (recap)
    Lightning 3, Stars 2 (recap)
    Lightning 5, Stars 2 (recap)
    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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    NBC’s coverage of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs continues with Friday’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.

    Boosted by the long-awaited and “inspirational” return of Steven Stamkos, the Tampa Bay Lightning got goals from all three of their first-line forwards, their top defenseman and their captain in a threee-goal win to move within two wins of the franchise’s second Stanley Cup. For the second straight game, Tampa jumped out to a multi-goal first-period lead before the Stars got on the board. The Dallas Stars cut the deficit to one entering the second period, but the middle frame was all Lightning, outscoring Dallas 3-0 in large part thanks to a 21-4 shot differential.

    After Game 2, Kevin Shattenkirk said, “when we play our best game it’s hard for teams to win.” In Game 3, Tampa played one of its best games this postseason, getting major contributions from its usual suspects in the top line trio and Hedman and also a quantifiable (one goal from Stamkos) and unquantifiable lift from the return of its captain.

    The top line of Palat, Point and Kucherov carried the day once again, combining for three goals and six points in Game 3, their second straight game with four-plus points. Point leads all players this postseason with 11 goals and with Palat and Hedman also reaching double-digit goals in Game 3, the trio make Tampa the first team in a decade to have three players with 10-plus goals in the same postseason.

    [NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

    Tyler Seguin has struggled mightily in the 2020 playoffs. The 28-year-old has now gone 12 consecutive games without a goal and has just one assist over that span (which was six games ago). His last goal came in Game 3 of the Second Round vs. Colorado

    Along with Seguin, some of Dallas’ other forwards have been quiet recently as well:

    Jamie Benn: Zero points this series after ending West Final on a three-game goal streak
    Denis Gurianov: Zero points, three shots this series (OT goal and assist in series-clincher vs. Vegas)
    Alex Radulov: Zero goals, three assists this series

    Tampa can become the first team in the NHL expansion era (1967-present) to win the Stanley Cup the season after being swept in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

    WHAT: Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars
    WHERE: Rogers Place – Edmonton
    WHEN: Friday, September 25, 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 3-1)

    Stars 4, Lightning 1 (recap)
    Lightning 3, Stars 2 (recap)
    Lightning 5, Stars 2 (recap)
    Lighting 5, Stars 4 [OT] (recap)
    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