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Do Blues really have a shot at making the playoffs?

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Players are almost always going to be overly optimistic about their teams’ chances of digging out of a hole and earning a playoff spot, but when everyone gets together for All-Star game weekend, you’re likely to see even more glass-half-full talk.

So, yes, you can take Ryan O'Reilly‘s positive St. Louis Blues vibes with a grain of salt.

“We haven’t been perfect, but we are starting to get back into this fight and I am confident that we are going to play in the playoffs because of the way we work,” O’Reilly said on Thursday, via NHL.com’s Shawn P. Roarke.

Take a look at the crowded Western Conference bubble races and you can see some reasons for optimism, but also the considerable hurdles the Blues must clear.

That’s quite the motley group of contestants, right?

So, do the Blues really have a chance? Let’s consider some of the factors involved.

  • The projection models give them mixed results.

Interestingly, the Blues have better than 50-percent odds at Money Puck (52.93-percent) and Corsica (57.5), but are at just 24 percent according to projections from Dom Luszczyszyn of The Athletic (sub required). One would guess that some of the models are especially kind to the Blues for being a top-10 possession team in many of the major measures like Corsi For and Fenwick For, as you can see at Natural Stat Trick.

  • In a league (and wild-card races) with this much parity, the Blues split of remaining home/away games provides some concern.

The Blues have played in 27 home games already, the most of any NHL team, which leaves them with 14 remaining. Meanwhile, they’ve played on the road 22 times, so they’ll play 19 of their final 33 games on the road. So far in 2018-19, they’ve actually been more effective on the road (10-9-3) than at home (12-13-2), so maybe that won’t be such a bad thing?

(I’d still generally want five more home games than five on the road, though.)

Being at 49 games played means that they either have a game or two in hand on their rivals, or the same number of contests remaining, so that diffuses some of that home/road pessimism.

  • How will their goaltending shake out for the rest of this season?

Jordan Binnington has been fantastic so far, posting a .924 save percentage in nine games, but his track record is sparse. He had only played in one NHL game before this season. If it all goes back to Jake Allen, will he be able to break recent trends and come through for the Blues?

One area of comfort is that, while Binnington’s doesn’t have much of an NHL resume, he’s performed nicely in the AHL over the past few years. Obviously, you’ll face a different caliber of shooters at the highest level, but success in the AHL and ECHL sure beat getting lit up or just being average in those leagues.

  • There are some reasons to believe that the Blues will continue to play better than they were performing when Mike Yeo got fired.

The acquisition of ROR was exciting because it felt like it could bring the Blues to another level because they already had some nice talent. Unfortunately, that talent hasn’t always come through for St. Louis – because of injuries, inconsistent play, or both – leaving ROR to be one of the few bright spots during the darkest moments.

But, again, there’s some intriguing talent that at least allows the Blues to theoretically have more than just a strong first line.

Vladimir Tarasenko‘s getting back on track, and it seems like Jaden Schwartz might be healthy, rounding out the top line (or at least the high-end portion) of the team with ROR. David Perron and Brayden Schenn give some supporting cast pop, while things may also get better for Patrick Maroon and Alex Steen. Combine some nice assets at forward with some decent defensemen (particularly Colton Parayko and Alex Pietrangelo), and this team becomes increasingly formidable on paper.

  • Sell or stand pat?

In recent seasons, Blues GM Doug Armstrong has elected to punt during fork-in-the-road trade deadline moments. He gained assets for Kevin Shattenkirk, and did the same with Paul Stastny.

Armstrong will need to make similar, tough calls this time around. Pietrangelo’s been a frequent trade rumor magnet, and you’d think that contenders would give up considerable assets to land such a strong right-handed defenseman, particularly since he’s cost-controlled through 2019-20 at a $6.5 million cap hit. Schenn’s deal also extends through next season ($5.125M) so a would-be buyer would be getting a “rental” for two potential playoff runs.

Of course, the flip side is that Armstrong could survey his roster and determine that the smarter move is to go for it in both 2018-19, and maybe especially next season.

***

The West’s bubble races are sort of an Island of Misfit Toys. The Oilers are in crisis, the Coyotes are unpredictable, the Ducks are struggling, the Avs are fading, and the Stars are getting buried by their own management. For all we know, the Blues may simply end up standing simply by making fewer mistakes. They could also plummet to the depths of the West cellar. It’s tough to tell, and it’s not surprising that their projections are all over the place.

But, yeah, at least O’Reilly isn’t totally out of sync with reality when he says that the Blues have a shot at making the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

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.

Bubble crankiness ratchets up the nasty for Stars-Lightning

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EDMONTON, Alberta (AP) — Pat Maroon shot a puck into the Dallas bench, nailing an opponent in the face. Victor Hedman tripped Corey Perry before a faceoff. Perry put Tampa Bay’s Cedric Paquette into a headlock before getting flipped over.

The dislike is building quickly for the Stars and Lightning in this Stanley Cup Final, which is knotted at 1-1 going into Wednesday night’s game. While nastiness typically develops in a lot of series this deep in the playoffs, it’s happening even earlier in this one because players have grown cranky after eight weeks in the NHL bubble.

They are taking it out on the ice.

”That would probably play a big part of it,” Stars coach Rick Bowness said. ”The things that you normally do to relax between games, whether it’s going out for dinner with your wife or go for a drive or going to the driving range to hit golf balls – anything you can do to relax between games is not there, so everyone’s a little edgy.”

The championship will ultimately be decided by which team can dictate its game to the other in what has become a best three out of five series. Those extra pushes, shoves and facewashes are part of it – and they only ratchet up the intensity, even without fans to cheer or boo it all.

”It seems like in this setting with no fans, it’s even more competitive out there with just you and the other team,” Dallas forward Andrew Cogliano said. ”Both teams are going to fight for every inch. As the series goes on, it’s just going to get more competitive.”

It’s competitive and chippy after the teams split the first two games and combined for 50 penalty minutes. Fourteen of those belong to Maroon, who got a 10-minute misconduct for flipping a puck into the bench and two minutes for roughing it up with Jamie Oleksiak in Game 1, then another two in Game 2 for running Stars goaltender Anton Khudobin.

”You know what happened,” Maroon said when asked about the puck incident. Stars veteran Joe Pavelski wasn’t thrilled the puck hit rookie Joel Kiviranta in the face, but said the referees handled it.

”That’s all you can do,” Pavelski said. ”It doesn’t take us off our game.”

After Maroon ran into Khudobin and incited a skirmish that qualifies as modern hockey’s line brawl, it was clear he has not endeared himself to the Stars.

”Why’s Maroon still out there?” a Dallas player yelled, easily heard in the empty arena. ”Put him in the box already!”

By the time Maroon, Hedman and Paquette got to the box, it was so crowded all three couldn’t sit down. Each team wants to avoid unnecessary penalties like that, but players know what’s at stake and they are not surprised by all the post-whistle extracurriculars.

”You’re not trying to give anyone an inch out there,” Tampa Bay center Anthony Cirelli said. ”You’re trying to finish every check when you can, it’s going to be physical, the emotions are going to be high. I think that’s just what comes with the entire playoffs, and that’s what playoff hockey is all about.”

This is also playoff hockey in the most unnatural of circumstances. As Bowness pointed out, players and coaches usually would be able to clear their minds and blow off steam between games.

That’s not possible right now.

”You’re just finding other ways,” Bowness said. ”The grind, the Groundhog Day, that is tough, and the normal things you would do to help you relax are just not there, so you adapt.”

Most players started this postseason healthy, and of course the injuries built up, but the struggle the Stars and Lightning are enduring right now is as much mental as anything. And it’s different playing playoff games without the usual transition from an 82-game regular season.

”The teams are so good that what separates you sometimes is whoever wants it more,” Cogliano said. ”Physically and mentally, it’s hard, but that’s the point at this time of the year and that’s the point of playing in the playoffs. It’s supposed to be hard and you have to enjoy it and want to be out there.”

Dallas played this style of game throughout the first three rounds, ousting high-scoring Colorado and Vegas along the way. Tampa Bay, after adding Maroon in free agency and Barclay Goodrow and Blake Coleman in trades, isn’t just a skill team and is more than happy to mix it up.

”I think we have some skill, we have some speed and we also bring that physical aspect to the game,” Cirelli said. ”But we’re not trying to be goons out there. We’re trying to win hockey games.”

The Wraparound: Lightning look to build off Game 2 win vs. Stars

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The Wraparound is your daily look at the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. We’ll break down Wednesday’s Stanley Cup Final game with the all-important television and live streaming information included.

• A look at how the Lightning built one of the best lines in the playoffs.

• Bob Bougher has been named head coach of the Sharks. He held the interim role after Peter DeBoer’s dismissal in December.

WEDNESDAY’S STANLEY CUP FINAL GAME

Game 3: Stars vs. Lightning (Series tied 1-1) – 8 p.m. ET, NBCSN (livestream): 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 1 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.

Tampa’s power play was 0-for-14 in their previous four games and scored once in 18 opportunities before Point and Palat scored 2:59 apart in the first period. The Stars helped the Lightning power play wake up by taking three penalties in the opening 13 minutes of the game.

“That’s where we lost the game today,” Stars forward Mattias Janmark said after Game 1. “We don’t want to take penalties. We have taken way too many throughout the playoffs, but then I think when we get them, we’ve just got to go out and kill them, and we didn’t manage to do that today, and I think that’s where they won the game, so we’ve got to do a better job there.”

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

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. the Avalanche. He went 17 straight games during the regular season without scoring from Dec. 29 – Feb. 11.

“Feel like I’m playing a lot better as of late,” he said. “Definitely looking for that one bounce, but good things are happening when you’re getting chances and that’s the way you look at it.”

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

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
*Game 6: Monday, Sept. 28, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*Game 7: Wednesday, Sept. 30, 8 p.m. ET – NBC

*if necessary

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)

***

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)