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WATCH LIVE: Bruins visit Penguins on NBCSN

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Sunday night’s matchup between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Bruins have won 15 of their last 17 games, including each of their last six. They have earned a point in an incredible 19 straight games (15-0-4), the second-longest streak in team history (23 straight games in 1940-41). Their last regulation loss came on January 19 against the New York Rangers. It is the second straight season in which the Bruins had a point streak of 18-plus games, going 18 games without a regulation loss from December-January last season. The Bruins now have the second-best record in the NHL behind Tampa Bay.

After the Bruins’ last regulation loss on January 19, they sat in third place in the Atlantic Division, one point behind second-place Toronto and just one point above the second Wild Card in the East, which was held by the Penguins at the time. They currently sit in second place in the Atlantic, four points above third-place Toronto and 14 points above the second Wild Card.

The Penguins are coming off an important home-and-home against Columbus, which they split. After winning 3-0 in Pittsburgh on Thursday, the Pens lost 4-1 at Columbus on Saturday. With the Hurricanes winning on Saturday, Pittsburgh now sits in the first Wild Card in the East.

Despite losing against Columbus on Saturday, the Penguins have won three of their last four, and have earned points in 10 of their last 13 games (8-3-2). This is coming off the back of a run from January-February in which Pittsburgh lost eight of 11 games.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: Boston Bruins at Pittsburgh Penguins
Where: PPG Paints Arena
When: Sunday, March 10, 6:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Bruins-Penguins stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

BRUINS
Brad MarchandPatrice BergeronDanton Heinen
Peter CehlarikDavid Krejci – Lee Stempniak
Sean KuralyCharlie CoyleDavid Backes
Joakim NordstromNoel AcciariChris Wagner

Zdeno CharaCharlie McAvoy
Torey KrugBrandon Carlo
John MooreMatt Grzelcyk

Starting goalie: Jaroslav Halak

PENGUINS
Jake GuentzelSidney CrosbyDominik Simon
Zach Aston-ReeseEvgeni MalkinPhil Kessel
Jared McCannNick BjugstadPatric Hornqvist
Teddy BluegerMatt CullenGarrett Wilson

Brian Dumoulin – Zach Trotman
Jack JohnsonJustin Schultz
Marcus PetterssonErik Gudbranson

Starting goalie: Matt Murray

Mike Tirico (play-by-play), Eddie Olczyk (analyst) and Emmy Award-winner Pierre McGuire (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, Pa. Pre-game coverage starts at 6:30 p.m. ET with NHL Live, hosted by Kathryn Tappen alongside Keith Jones and Patrick Sharp.

Nikita Kucherov’s postseason defined by redemption, consistency

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Like pretty much every other player on the Lightning roster, the 2018-19 playoffs ended up being a very forgettable experience for Nikita Kucherov.

During their four-game loss to the Blue Jackets, Kucherov managed just two points (both in their Game 4 loss), zero goals, and even missed a game due to a suspension for an ugly hit late in their Game 2 loss. It was a dreadfully disappointing end to a season where Kucherov had put together one of the finest regular season performances of the modern era for a record-setting team. He finished the season with 128 points (the most points the league had seen in 23 years) and took home the Hart Trophy (MVP) and Ted Lindsay Award (most outstanding player as voted by the players) on a team that won 62 regular season games.

But because of their inability to win even a single playoff against the No. 8 seed, it will mostly end up being a footnote to the season.

All of them — from Kucherov on down the roster — had to redeem themselves this postseason and flip the script on a team that was starting to become more known more for postseason shortcomings instead of for what it actually is — one of the league’s elite teams, driven by some of the best players in the world.

Entering Game 4 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final Friday night (8 p.m. ET, NBC; livestream), Kucherov and the Lightning are in the process of getting that redemption.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

They hold a 2-1 series lead and have looked like the far superior team these past two games.

Kucherov has been at the center of most of it.

His playmaking was on display in the Lightning’s Game 2 win by setting up a pair of power play goals to help power their fast start. In Game 3, he pounced on a Miro Heiskanen turnover in the neutral zone and buried a quick shot behind Anton Khudobin on a breakaway to help open the floodgates in a 5-2 win.

For the playoffs, he is already up to 30 points (seven goals, 23 assists) in 22 games, which is currently tied for the fourth highest total in a single postseason over the past 20 years, trailing only Evgeni Malkin (36) and Sidney Crosby (31) in 2008-09, and Washington’s Evgeny Kuznetsov (32) in 2017-18.

It’s not just that he is generating points that stands out.

He is driving the most dominant line in the league this postseason alongside Brayden Point and Ondrej Palat. His underlying numbers are also off the charts. Of the 98 skaters that have logged at least 200 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey this postseason, Kucherov ranks second in total shot attempt share (63.6 percent), second in goals for percentage (76 percent), second in expected goals percentage (68 percent), fifth in scoring chance share, and second in high-danger scoring chances (67.9 percent). In most of those categories the only players that rank ahead of him are either Tampa defenseman Victor Hedman, or Palat, who is one of Kucherov’s current linemates.

Then we get to the consistency aspect of this, and just how steady his overall production has been.

There is no more overrated and overused word in hockey than “consistency,” at least as it relates to goal and point production. Every player in the league is inconsistent to a certain degree, and even the best players tend to score their goals and points in bunches. The season is a mountain range full of peaks and valleys. But Kucherov, for a few months now, has been residing on one of those mountains.

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

He has not gone more than two consecutive games without a point since the middle of January, and there was only one stretch of games this entire season where he went more than two games without finding the scoresheet — and even that was only a three-game stretch.

He also has eight multi-point games this postseason, and when you exclude the three Round-Robin games before the start of the playoffs that means he has recorded at least two points in more than 40 percent of his games this postseason.

That is a stunning level of production and dominance.

Just looking at recent Conn Smythe Trophy winners, Ryan O'Reilly had multiple points in only 20 percent of his postseason games for the Blues last season. Alex Ovechkin was at 33 percent in 2018. Sidney Crosby had multiple points in 33 percent (2016-17) and 20 percent (2015-16) in his most recent Conn Smythe seasons.

The Lightning have been one of the league’s best teams and Kucherov has been one of the best players for six years now. But because of the way their postseasons have ended there has always been that “yeah, but…” following them around, especially after last year’s dismal First Round showing.

They all needed to rewrite the story around themselves.

They are not exactly where they want to be just yet (they still have two more wins to get), but they have put themselves in a great position to finally accomplish their ultimate goal.

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)

Conn Smythe Watch: Victor Hedman makes his move

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Thanks to a couple of fast starts, a bounce-back from their power play unit, and a brief appearance from captain Steven Stamkos the Lightning have been able to win back-to-back games and take a 2-1 series lead in the 2020 Stanley Cup Final.

It has been the usual suspects leading that charge for them as forwards Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point, and top defenseman Victor Hedman, continue to pace their offense.

All three players find themselves at the top of our latest Conn Smythe Watch.

1. Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning. Truly a dominant postseason in every possible way. He has already scored 10 goals (with 10 assists) in 22 games and completely controls every game when he is on the ice. He has played more than 434 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey this postseason, and during that time the Lightning are outscoring their opponents by a 24-6 margin and controlling close to 60 percent of the total shot attempts and expected goals (via Natural Stat Trick). With all due respect to Kucherov, Point, and a healthy Stamkos, he is pobably the best player on this team.

2. Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning. He leads the league in assists and total points this postseason and has helped jumpstart Tampa’s power play in the Cup Final. His performance in Games 2 and 3 got the Lightning off to fast starts that helped them take the series lead.

3. Brayden Point, Tampa Bay Lightning. Point had been emerging as the top Conn Smythe favorite for Tampa. His drop to the third spot is simply a testament to how good the other two guys currently ahead of him have been. Point and Kucherov have been unstoppable at times this postseason offensively and it is starting to get to the point where it is difficult to separate one from the other. They are great individually. Together they are a nightmare for the Stars. And every other team that has tried to slow down the Lightning.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

4. Miro Heiskanen, Dallas Stars. His first period turnover that led to Kucherov’s goal in Game 3 was the low-point of his postseason, and one of the few mistakes he has made this entire postseason. He has been the Stars’ best and most consistent player from the start of the playoffs and if they are able to win three of the next four games and win the Stanley Cup he will be one of the biggest reasons why. He is averaging a point-per-game offensively as a defenseman, is playing a shutdown role defensively, and still has not taken a single penalty in the playoffs even though he spends 20-plus minutes per night playing against the top players in the world. A stunning player.

5. Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars. He has proved this postseason that he still has a lot left in the tank and can be a top-line offensive producer. He has been one of the Stars’ most productive forwards and come through in some huge moments for them.

6. Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning. He has not only played every minute for Tampa in the Toronto and Edmonton bubbles, he has done so at an incredibly high level. He enters Game 4 of the Cup Final on Friday (8 p.m. ET, NBC; livestream) with a .928 save percentage. On most other teams that sort of goaltending performance would be at the top of this list. But the rest of Tampa’s roster is so good, and so dominant that it kind of gets overlooked.

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

7. Anton Khudobin, Dallas Stars. It would be unfair to say that he has been bad in the Cup Final, because he hasn’t been. He has also had some rotten puck luck work against him. But he also has not been as good as he was in the Western Conference Final. Dallas is going to need him to be.

8. Denis Gurianov, Dallas Stars. The most underrated player on this Stars team. Whenever he is on the ice, something good seems to happen for the Stars. He is one of their most productive and impactful players despite still only getting about 13 minutes of ice-time per game. He is averaging more than two points per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 ice-time. Play him more, Dallas!

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.

Another slow start undermines Stars in loss to Lightning

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EDMONTON, Alberta (AP) — Another slow start doomed the Dallas Stars.

Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final slipped away from the Western Conference champions in a hurry Wednesday night, with a suddenly vulnerable Anton Khudobin allowing two early goals and the Tampa Bay Lightning once again showing how difficult it is play catchup against them in a 5-2 victory.

Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos scored in the first seven minutes for Tampa Bay, which was just was getting started. A trio of goals in the second period built the lead to 5-1, ending an ugly night for Khudobin.

”They made two good shots early,” Stars captain Jamie Benn said. ”They capitalized on their chances and we didn’t.”

The Stars also started slowly in Game 2, yielding three first-period goals – two of them on the power play – on the way to a 3-2 loss.

Now, they’re facing a 2-1 deficit in the best-of-seven series. Game 4 is Friday night.

”We’ve got to regroup,” said Stars forward Jason Dickinson, who had a short-handed goal in the opening period.

”It’s 2-1. They’re up one,” defenseman John Klingberg said. ”We’re going to even the series on Friday.”

While Khudobin is one of the biggest reasons Dallas is back in the Final for the first time in 20 years, he hasn’t been at this best since winning Game 1.

He stopped just 24 of 29 shots in two periods Wednesday night. Over the last two games, he’s yielded eight goals in 60 shots.

With the Stars trailing by four goals and the teams set to play the next two games of the series on consecutive nights, coach Rick Bowness pulled Khodobin after the second period. Jake Oettinger finished up, stopping the only three shots he faced.

”The kid has battled so hard the whole playoffs, so I just gave him a breather. Back to back coming up, give (Oettinger) some more experience, but more just to give Dobie a break,” Bowness said of the move.

”Listen, he’s been a rock for us back there. We don’t get here without him,” the coach added. ”No one gets to the Final without great goaltending.”

Khodobin wasn’t alone in having an off night.

Defenseman Miro Heiskanen made an uncharacteristic mistake, turning the puck over in his own zone on Tampa Bay’s first goal. Bad penalties were a problem, too, with one of them leading to Victor Hedman‘s powerplay goal that put the Lightning up 3-1 less than a minute into the second period.

It was all Tampa Bay after that.

”We lost our team play, we lost our intensity and we lost our focus,” Bowness said. ”When you do that, a team like that is going to make you look real bad, which they did.”