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Flames, Sharks meet as battle for Pacific heats up

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Thursday night’s game between the Calgary Flames and San Jose Sharks offers plenty of intrigue. They are the top two teams in the Pacific Division, and they are also the two highest scoring teams in the Western Conference. And after their most recent meeting on December 31 – an 8-5 Flames win – the scoreboard might not be the only place we see fireworks this evening.

In the final 41 seconds of that game, the two teams combined for 66 penalty minutes, including a match penalty for Sam Bennett after he concussed Sharks defenseman Radim Simek with a questionable hit. There was no supplemental discipline for the play, which the Sharks called “gutless” and “predatory” afterwards, so one wonders whether there will be any retribution sought by the Sharks on Bennett.

Close watch should also be kept on Evander Kane and Matthew Tkachuk, who each picked up 10-minute misconducts in a brawl just prior to the Bennett hit. There are fewer Kanes and Tkachuks in today’s NHL – both in terms of their style on the ice and their unfiltered remarks off the ice – which makes the build up to this game even more interesting. However, neither would fully take the bait when asked about things carrying over from December:

“I know what you’re asking, I know what you’re trying to get me to say. We’ll see,” Kane said via The Mercury News. “It’s something that, hopefully, everybody in this room remembers because it doesn’t matter who you are, whether you’re a skill guy, a big guy, a tough guy or a small guy, it’s on each and every person in this room to stick up for one another. We’ll see.”

Said Tkachuk: “I’m don’t think I’m going to be the guy who’s going to give you what you want on that quote. Those games are fun to play in. I love those games. Our whole team’s thriving in those games this year. We have guys that can play that style, too. (Kane) is a good player. They’re a really good team. It’s going to be a great game.”

Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer was much more definitive in downplaying the revenge factor, telling reporters yesterday, “We know where everybody is in the standings, so that’s first and foremost. This isn’t about settling scores. This is about trying to close the gap on these guys in the division. There’s going to be a lot of emotion. It’s going to be physical. That stuff takes care of itself.”

He is right about the importance of this game in the standings. Since that New Year’s Eve meeting, the Flames have not lost to a Western Conference opponent, and they now have an opportunity to create a six-point cushion over the Sharks. Considering these teams play only once more during the regular season – and not until March 31 – this may be San Jose’s best opportunity to chip away at that deficit.

It would be an even bigger boost for the Sharks considering they will be without Erik Karlsson (lower body) for a sixth straight game, however he could return on the team’s current road trip. It should be noted that in the middle of this absence, Karlsson did participate in the NHL All-Star Game.

Regardless of the outcome tonight though, it is safe to say these are two of the most complete teams in the conference. Bill Peters is a Jack Adams candidate in his first year behind the bench for the Flames, and fellow former Hurricane Elias Lindholm has joined with Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau to form one of the most potent lines in hockey. The Sharks are dangerous up and down their lineup, with a pair of Norris Trophy caliber defensemen, as well as five different forwards with 19+ goals – the most such players in the league.

San Jose and Calgary have not faced each other in the playoffs since 2008, but if they keep up their play from the first four months of the season, this could wind up being a high-scoring, hard-hitting, and headline-grabbing second round Stanley Cup playoff matchup.

Canucks-Wild stream: 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers

Canucks-Wild stream
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NBCSN’s coverage of the NHL’s Return to Play continues with Thursday’s Stanley Cup Qualifier matchup between the Canucks and Wild. Live look-in coverage begins at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Watch the Canucks-Wild Game 3 stream at 2:30 p.m. ET on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

After being shutout in Game 1, Vancouver responded with four goals from four of their playmakers — Tanner Pearson, J.T. Miller, Brock Boeser, and Bo Horvat) to even the series. The Canucks led 4-1 before Kevin Fiala scored twice in the final three minutes.

Minnesota’s power play was of no assistance in Game 2. The extra man unit went 0-for-6. Vancouver had similar issues scoring once on seven opportunities.

Wild netminder Alex failed to follow up his Game 1 shutout with another strong performance. He allowed four goals on 28 during the Game 2 defeat.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

WHAT: Vancouver Canucks vs. Minnesota Wild
WHERE: Rogers Place – Edmonton
WHEN: Thursday, August 6, 2:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN (live look-in)
ON THE CALL: Chris Cuthbert, Louie DeBrusk
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Canucks-Wild stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

(7) Vancouver Canucks vs. (10) Minnesota Wild (Series tied 1-1)

Sunday, Aug. 2: Wild 3, Canucks 0 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Canucks 4, Wild 3 (recap)
Thursday, Aug. 6: Canucks vs. Wild, 2:30 p.m. ET (live look-in coverage on NBCSN)
Friday, Aug. 7: Canucks vs. Wild, 10:45 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Sunday, Aug. 9: Wild vs. Canucks*, TBD

MORE:
2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule

Fan-free playoff hockey still proving plenty intense

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Staging games in empty arenas after a virus-forced hiatus of more than four months, the NHL skated into this unprecedented postseason with plenty of questions about just how intense the action on the ice would be.

Four days into a most unusual Stanley Cup tournament, this much is clear: Playoff hockey is still playoff hockey, even without the roar of the crowd. The Minnesota Wild and Vancouver Canucks, their qualifying round series even at one win apiece, have proven as much.

Both contests at Rogers Place in Edmonton have been testy, with the two teams jawing at each other at the end of Game 2.

”The guys play the exact same way. I spoke to several people before this, and they said, ‘Do you think it’s going to be playoff hockey?”’ Wild coach Dean Evason said. ”These guys, they’re kids, and even if they’re older guys, they’re kids. They’re playing the game for the right reasons. They’re the best in the world for a reason, because they absolutely love to play and they love to compete, and when that puck’s dropped in a playoff atmosphere, we’re all battling to win the Stanley Cup, which they’ve thought about their entire lives. There’s going to be that excitement level and there’s going to be that battle level that we’ve seen already.”

Even more strange with this postseason has been the bubble-city setup that has stationed both of these teams at the Sutton Place Hotel. The Wild routinely walk by the Canucks on their way to eat.

”It’s definitely different. You’re in an absolute war with a team, and then you ride the elevator with them,” Canucks defenseman Tyler Myers said on Wednesday.

Game 3 is on Thursday (2:30 p.m. EDT, NHL Network). The Canucks are banged up, with four forwards iffy. Tyler Toffoli and Adam Gaudette were hurt in Game 1 and held out of Game 2. Michael Ferland and Antoine Roussel left Game 2 with injuries.

The Canucks will likely go as far as their talented top-six group of forwards will take them, with the ”Lotto Line” of J.T. Miller, Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser making a significant impact so far.

Pettersson has impressed the Canucks with his tenacity, too, the frequent target of not-so-friendly hits from the Wild.

”I’m always impressed with his skill level, and I’ve been anxiously waiting to see how he does with this type of hockey, and it’s been impressive so far,” Canucks coach Travis Green said.

The Wraparound: Jets want to make Flames ‘scratch and claw for everything’

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The Wraparound is your daily look at the 2020 NHL Return to Play. We’ll break down the NHL playoff games today with the all-important television and live streaming information included.

• The NHL Bubble Wrap has your nightly roundup of all the postseason action.

• The Canadiens make a comeback and push the Penguins to the brink of elimination. 

Here are the updated round-robin standings and scenarios as of Thursday.

The Jets are staring down elimination Thursday night in Game 4 against the Flames (10:30 p.m. ET, CNBC; livestream). After a gutsy win to even the series on Monday, they laid an egg Tuesday, putting themselves one foot out of the bubble.

Calgary had answers to everything Winnipeg did, even scoring 18 and 159 seconds after the Jets recorded both of their goals in Game 3. Still without Mark Scheifele and Patrik Laine, the Jets couldn’t avoid mistakes.

One Jet who is up for the challenge of winning the next two games is Connor Hellebuyck. The Vezina Trophy finalist has not played well through three games. His .852 even strength save percentage is 15th among all goalies who have played at least twice.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Hellebuyck has not looked himself in the series. A miscommunication handling the puck behind the net with defenseman Neal Pionk led to the Flames’ second goal. If the Jets are to have any shot, he’ll have to carry them on his back, much like he did during the regular season.

“It’s going to be everything for me,” Hellebuyck said. “I’ve got to use this, and I plan on using this. This was an upset for me [in Game 3]. I don’t see it being easy for them at all for the rest of the series, so they better scratch and claw for everything that they get.”

He could use a little help, of course. While Nikolaj Ehlers has been one of the early breakout players of the Qualifying Round, Kyle Connor and Blake Wheeler, who combined for 60 goals during the regular season, have yet to light the lamp.

Everything has clicked for Calgary. Time is running out for the Jets.

NHL GAMES TODAY

Game 3: Canucks vs. Wild, 2:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN; live look-in stream – (Series tied 1-1): How special have special teams been for the Wild? Through two games they have six goals. Zero have come at 5-on-5. Killing penalties hindered their offense in Game 2, which allowed the Canucks to even the series. For Vancouver, they’ll be without Micheal Ferland as he has headed home with suspected concussion issues. Tyler Toffoli may also miss a second straight game.

Round-robin: Capitals vs. Flyers, 4 p.m. ET, NBCSN; livestreamBrian Elliott is expected to start in net for the Flyers after Hart played against Boston. Elliott went 2-0-0 vs. the Caps this season, allowing just two goals in each of his wins (.926 SV%) – although Hart allowed just three combined goals in his two starts against Washington this season. Lars Eller has left the bubble to be with his wife for the birth of their second child.

Round-robin: Golden Knights vs. Blues, 6:45 p.m. ET, NBCSN; live look-in streamThe Blues have yet to score at even strength through two games (exhibition and round-robin). St. Louis will be without Ivan Barbashev after he left the bubble to go home for the birth of his first child.

Game 3: Maple Leafs vs. Blue Jackets, 8 p.m. ET, NBCSN; livestream: – (Series tied 1-1): Only four playoff series have ever started with three straight shutouts, the last being the 2004 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals between the Lightning and Islanders (four straight shutouts to start series). According to the Maple Leafs, Jake Muzzin will miss the rest of the series and remain in quarantine until he’s ready to return following an awkward collision in Game 2.

FRIDAY‘S NHL PLAYOFF SCHEDULE

Game 4: Panthers vs. Islanders, 12 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Game 4: Coyotes vs. Predators, 2:30 p.m. ET – live look-in NBCSN
Game 4: Canadiens vs. Penguins, 4 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Game 4: Blackhawks vs. Oilers, 6:45 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Game 4: Blue Jackets vs. Maple Leafs, 8 p.m. ET – live look-in NBCSN
Game 4: Wild vs. Canucks, 10:45 p.m. ET – NBCSN

Round-robin standings (ties broken by regular-season points percentage)

EAST
Lightning (2-0-0, 4 points)
Flyers (1-0-0, 2 points)
Capitals (0-0-1, 1 point)
Bruins (0-2-0, 0 points)

WEST
Avalanche (2-0-0, 4 points)
Golden Knights (1-0-0, 2 points)
Blues (0-1-0, 0 points)
Stars (0-2-0, 0 points)

PHT’s 2020 Stanley Cup playoff previews
Eastern Conference top seed round-robin preview
Penguins vs. Canadiens
Islanders vs. Panthers
Maple Leafs vs. Blue Jackets

Western Conference top seed round-robin preview
Jets vs. Flames
Oilers vs. Blackhawks
Predators vs. Coyotes
Wild vs. Canucks

NHL schedule for 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers in league’s Return to Play

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It’s time to focus on the NHL games, including the 2020 NHL playoffs schedule. The 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers began on Saturday, Aug. 1 in the hub cities of Edmonton and Toronto.

The top four teams in both conference will play a three-game round robin for seeding in the First Round. The Stanley Cup Qualifiers will be best-of-5 series with the losing teams being entered into Phase 2 of the NHL Draft Lottery.

Below is a full 2020 NHL playoffs schedule of both the round-robin and the Stanley Cup Qualifiers.

EASTERN CONFERENCE (Scotiabank Arena)

Round-robin [Standings, scenarios]

Sunday, Aug. 2: Flyers 4, Bruins 1 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 3
:
Lightning 3, Capitals 2 (SO) (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 5:
Lightning 3, Bruins 2 (recap)
Thursday, Aug. 6:
Capitals vs. Flyers, 4 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Saturday, Aug. 8:
Flyers vs. Lightning, TBD
Sunday, Aug. 9:
Bruins vs. Capitals, TBD

(5) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (12) Montreal Canadiens (MTL leads series 2-1)

Saturday, Aug. 1: Canadiens 3, Penguins 2 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 3: Penguins 3, Canadiens 1 (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Canadiens 4, Penguins 3 (recap)
Friday, Aug. 7: Penguins vs. Canadiens, 4 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Saturday, Aug. 8: Canadiens vs. Penguins*

(6) Carolina Hurricanes vs. (11) New York Rangers (CAR wins series 3-0)

Saturday, Aug. 1: Hurricanes 3, Rangers 2 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 3: Hurricanes 4, Rangers 1 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Hurricanes 4, Rangers 1 (recap)

(7) New York Islanders vs. (10) Florida Panthers (NYI lead series 2-1)

Saturday, Aug. 1: Islanders 2, Panthers 1 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Islanders 4, Panthers 2 (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Panthers 3, Islanders 2 (recap)
Friday, Aug. 7: Islanders vs. Panthers, 12 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Sunday, Aug. 9: Panthers vs. Islanders*

(8) Toronto Maple Leafs vs. (9) Columbus Blue Jackets (Series tied 1-1)

Sunday, Aug. 2: Blue Jackets 2, Maple Leafs 0 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Maple Leafs 3, Blue Jackets 0 (recap)
Thursday, Aug. 6: Maple Leafs vs. Blue Jackets, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Friday, Aug. 7: Maple Leafs vs. Blue Jackets, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Sunday, Aug. 9: Blue Jackets vs. Maple Leafs*, TBD

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

WESTERN CONFERENCE (Rogers Place)

Round-robin [Standings, scenarios]

Sunday, Aug. 2: Avalanche 2, Blues 1 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 3: Golden Knights 4, Stars 3 (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Avalanche 4, Stars 0
Thursday, Aug. 6: Golden Knights vs. Blues, 6:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Saturday, Aug. 8: Golden Knights vs. Avalanche, TBD
Sunday, Aug. 9: Stars vs. Blues, TBD

(5) Edmonton Oilers vs. (12) Chicago Blackhawks (CHI leads series 2-1)

Saturday, Aug. 1: Blackhawks 6, Oilers 4 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 3: Oilers 6, Blackhawks 3 (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Blackhawks 4, Oilers 3 (recap)
Friday, Aug. 7: Oilers vs. Blackhawks, 6:45 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Saturday, Aug. 8: Blackhawks vs. Oilers*, TBD

(6) Nashville Predators vs. (11) Arizona Coyotes (ARZ leads series 2-1)

Sunday, Aug. 2: Coyotes 4, Predators 3 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Predators 4, Coyotes 2 (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Coyotes 4, Predators 1 (recap)
Friday, Aug. 7: Predators vs. Coyotes, 2:30 p.m. ET – (live look-in coverage on NBCSN)
Sunday, Aug. 9: Coyotes vs. Predators*, TBD

(7) Vancouver Canucks vs. (10) Minnesota Wild (Series tied 1-1)

Sunday, Aug. 2: Wild 3, Canucks 0 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Canucks 4, Wild 3 (recap)
Thursday, Aug. 6: Canucks vs. Wild, 2:30 p.m. ET (live look-in coverage on NBCSN)
Friday, Aug. 7: Canucks vs. Wild, 10:45 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Sunday, Aug. 9: Wild vs. Canucks*, TBD

(8) Calgary Flames vs. (9) Winnipeg Jets (CGY leads series 2-1)

Saturday, Aug. 1: Flames 4, Jets 1 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 3: Jets 3, Flames 2 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Flames 6, Jets 2 (recap)
Thursday, Aug. 6: Flames vs. Jets, 10:30 p.m. ET – CNBC
Saturday, Aug. 8: Jets vs. Flames*, TBD

* – if necessary

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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.