Losing ground: Avalanche looking to break out of recent funk

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By Pat Graham (AP Sports Writer)

DENVER (AP) — The Colorado Avalanche could point to obvious flaws for their prolonged plunge: Erratic goaltenders, floundering special teams, inconsistent scoring from players not on their top line .

Or just go with the more direct one.

”We just haven’t played good enough,” captain Gabriel Landeskog said.

The Avalanche were tied for the most points in the Western Conference after games on Dec. 7. Two months and a 5-15-6 record later, they’re trying to get on track and climb back into playoff contention. It’s been a perplexing freefall for an Avalanche team that hasn’t won since Jan. 19.

”Everybody’s kind of taking their individual games down a couple of notches,” said Landeskog, whose team hosts Toronto on Tuesday looking to break a seven-game slide (0-4-3). ”That adds up to the team not desperate enough, not hungry enough, not fast enough, not physical enough.”

The silver lining to this grisly stretch: Colorado (22-22-11, 55 points) still sat just four points out of a playoff spot entering Monday. Any other year, the deficit probably would be even greater.

”We’re lucky,” center Nathan MacKinnon said. ”We’re lucky the West is bad this year. If we were in the East, we’d be (eight) points out. So, we’re lucky everyone’s kind of lost separately. It’s been weird. We had a great start. We were first in our division and we’ve been just losing ever since, so we’re lucky. It feels like we’re 30 points out, but we’re only (four) and we need to remind ourselves of that.”

Colorado finished a three-game trip with three straight overtime losses . Those are a valuable three points earned in defeat, but the team desperately needs wins.

”It’s been two months we’ve been losing, so if we don’t get wins we’re not happy,” said MacKinnon, whose team dropped to 1-11 in OT games this season. ”We need wins. That’s all that really matters.”

General manager Joe Sakic recently gave the reeling team a vote of confidence. Playoffs are still firmly on his mind.

”I believe in the guys in that dressing room, that we can right the ship,” Sakic said. ”I know they believe it. Right now, the confidence is a little low.”

Colorado’s role at the trade deadline on Feb. 25 could be decided over the next few games. Once potential buyers – or comfortable making no moves – the team could become sellers. One thing Sakic won’t do is mortgage the future. He said the two first-round picks are off limits, along with some of their prized prospects.

”For us, it’s got to make sense going forward,” Sakic said of a deal.

The recent struggles in net have plagued Colorado. Semyon Varlamov is 13-13-8 with a 2.91 goals-against average. Backup Philipp Grubauer hasn’t been any more steady, going 9-7-3 with a 3.47 goals-against.

”Got to get them playing with a little more confidence,” Sakic said.

The power play of late has been problematic, too. Since Dec. 8, they’re last in the league in penalty kill percentage and 21st in converting power play chances.

Colorado also is looking for more secondary scoring to help out the top line of Landeskog, MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen, which has combined for 206 points.

”Obviously, everything is magnified when you lose,” MacKinnon said. ”When you win, those mistakes kind of get covered up and you don’t really see them in video or things like that. So, it’s been tough. Obviously, a lot of negativity, but we’ve played some decent games.”

Sakic remains firmly in the corner of coach Jared Bednar, who led the Avalanche back to the postseason a year ago – he was a coach of the year finalist – after going 22-56-4 in his first season.

”The problem is not coaching at all,” Sakic said. ”We have good systems.”

The skid hasn’t soured the locker room, MacKinnon said

”Some losing teams kind of turn on each other, but everyone has each other’s backs and we’re trying to win with each other,” MacKinnon said. ”We know (with) losing comes changes and we don’t want to change our team. So, the mood is still pretty good.

”I think that’s the only way to get out of it. If you hang your head and be negative, I think you’re just kind of doomed from there. So we’re still positive.”

AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno contributed to this report.

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

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 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

Lightning vs. Stars: 3 keys to Game 4 of Stanley Cup Final

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After winning Games 2 and 3 earlier this week, the Tampa Bay Lightning have an opportunity to grab full control of the Stanley Cup Final against the Dallas Stars on Friday night (8 p.m. ET, NBC; livestream).

Captain Steven Stamkos will miss his third game of the series, but the Lightning still have their top-line and a roster full of All-Stars to help make up for his absence.

The Stars, meanwhile, have to hope that their top line can rediscover its scoring touch before the series starts to slip away from them.

Now let’s get you ready for Game 4 by taking a look at three keys to the game.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

1. Stars have to stay disciplined

One of the biggest issues the Stars have had so far in this series is they have not only allowed themselves to get into some early penalty trouble over the past two games, but they have also allowed the Lightning’s power play to start clicking again.

With all of that talent they have on the ice you had to know it was only a matter of time until they broke out of that slump, and they have in a big way in Games 2 and 3 with three power play goals.

The power play unit helped jumpstart the Lightning’s Game 2 win early in the first period, and then took away any momentum the Stars had began to build in Game 3 when Jason Dickinson cut two-goal deficit in half.

Now that the Lightning power play is starting to find its game again there is really only one surefire way to shut it down.

Keep it off the ice entirely.

2. Two top lines going in two different directions

On one side you have the Lightning top line of Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, and Ondrej Palat continuing to dominate.

The trio has already combined for five goals in the first three games of the series, while Kucherov and Point have been separating themselves as Conn Smythe contenders all postseason. It is not just the goal-scoring that sticks out about them, either. The line is just an offensive steamroller that crushing everything that dares to get in its way.

Kucherov has been especially dominant this postseason with an unmatched consistency that is helping him redeem himself after a forgettable 2019 postseason.

On the other side, Dallas’ top line of Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, and Alexander Radulov has yet to score a single goal in this series, and it sounds like coach Rick Bowness is at least considering the idea of maybe splitting them up in Game 4 on Friday. Whether he splits them up or keeps them together, the Stars have to figure out a way to get their big-three going to at least try and match up with Tampa Bay’s top line.

3. The Stars getting the Western Conference Final version of Anton Khudobin

I am not going to blame Khudobin for the past two games. It would be unfair, it would be insane, it would be wrong. The Stars have taken penalties, they have given up chances, they have had breakdowns in front of him, and there have been a couple of fluke goals that have been able to sneak behind him.

But, those same things happened in the Western Conference Final against the Vegas Golden Knights and the biggest reason the Stars were able to overcome them was the fact that Khudobin played at an incredibly high level for those five games. He matched that level in Game 1 against Tampa Bay as well.

Goaltending was always going to be the X-factor in this series, and Dallas’ best chance was going to sit with Khudobin playing the way he did in the previous round. So far, it has not happened. Nothing would get this series going back in Dallas’ favor faster than that.

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

MORE: Conn Smythe Watch: Victor Hedman makes his move

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 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

[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)

Canadiens re-sign Jeff Petry to 4-year, $25 million extension

Jeff Petry extension
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The Montreal Canadiens are making sure one of their most important defenders is going to be sticking around.

The team announced on Friday that it has re-signed Jeff Petry to a four-year, $25 million contract extension that will run through the end of the 2024-25 season.

That comes out to an annual salary cap hit of $6.25 million. Petry is currently entering the final year of a contract that pays him $5.5 million per season. He would have been eligible for unrestricted free agency after next season without a new contract.

He has been with the Canadiens since the middle of the 2014-15 season when he was acquired for two draft picks and become one of their best all-around players. It has turned out to be a wildly one-sided traded in the Canadiens’ favor. He is a possession-driving defenseman that can play a solid defensive game and also make a significant contribution offensively. He has scored at least 10 goals and 40 points in each of the past three seasons.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

It makes sense that the Canadiens would want to keep him around.

Just about the only risk here is age. Petry turns this December and will be 34 when the new contract actually kicks in. Right now Petry is without a question a $6.25 million dollar per year player, and he has not really shown any signs of an immediate decline. But will he still be that good of a player between the ages of 34 and 37?

Starting with the 2021-22 season the Canadiens will have $24.5 million in cap space going to the trio of Petry, Shea Weber, and Carey Price, all of whom will be over the age of 33. And that does not include the $4.6 million that then-33 Karl Alzner‘s contract has (assuming he is still on the team). That is a lot of money and a significant chunk of your salary cap space going to players that are closer to the end of their careers than their primes.

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.