Capitals vs. Hurricanes: PHT 2019 Stanley Cup Playoff Preview

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As far as storylines go, Capitals vs. Hurricanes is up there for Round 1 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. At minimum, no two teams do the epilogue/final scene celebrating with ewoks better than these two teams.

First, you have Washington, the favorites. They didn’t just finally break their playoff curse last year; they also celebrated to the point that you basically need to fill in the blanks with “scene missing” screens.

The Hurricanes, meanwhile, basically had an on-ice party after every home win via the “Storm Surge,” to the point that broadcasts would linger in Carolina to find out what they’d cook up (or reel in) next. Eventually, the storm built to the point where they had to eventually shut it down, for some combination of wanting to looking serious and maybe they also ran out of ideas.

Can the hockey of the Capitals and Hurricanes top those things? Tall task, but it will be fun to watch them try.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

SCHEDULE
Thursday, April 11, 7:30 p.m.: Hurricanes @ Capitals | USA, SN360, TVA Sports
Saturday, April 13, 3 p.m.: Hurricanes @ Capitals | NBC, SN, TVA Sports
Monday, April 15, 7 p.m.: Capitals @ Hurricanes | CNBC, SN, TVA Sports
Thursday, April 18, 7 p.m.: Capitals @ Hurricanes | SN360, TVA Sports
*Saturday, April 20, TBD: Hurricanes @ Capitals | TBD
*Monday, April 22, TBD: Capitals @ Hurricanes | TBD
*Wednesday, April 24, TBD: Hurricanes @ Capitals | TBD

FORWARDS

CAPITALS: If you paid attention to last year’s run … or, really, hockey in general, you probably know most of the deal.

Alex Ovechkin is the headliner, and he didn’t disappoint in 2018-19, winning his eight Maurice Richard Trophy with 51 goals. He’s joined by two stellar centers in Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov, along with T.J. Oshie and professional disturber Tom Wilson. (Wilson, by the way, justified that fat extension with 22 goals and 40 points despite being limited to 63 games.)

The scary thing is that you can argue this is a deeper group. Jakub Vrana‘s had a nice year, scoring 24 goals and 47 points. Brett Connolly might be the bargain to target in free agency this summer, as he scored 22 goals and 46 points despite averaging just 13:20 TOI per game. Even frequent doghouse resident Andre Burakovsky cannot be disregarded as a former first-rounder (23rd overall in 2013).

As a team, the Capitals are a group that tends to shoot at high percentages, making middling possession stats easy to stomach — and this isn’t a fluke, they’ve been doing this for years. Which brings us to …

HURRICANES: A group that, from forwards to defense, always made “fancy stats” people swoon, yet could never break through to the playoffs. While the Capitals made the most of every shot to a near-extreme, the Hurricanes have been posterchildren for quantity over quality. At least, that’s how it seemed.

Things have really started to come together lately, though.

Nino Niederreiter seemed to tie the Hurricanes’ offense together like The Dude’s rug. In 36 games since being traded to Carolina, Niederreiter generated an impressive 30 points. The Hurricanes boast a mix of guys with numbers impressive enough that they shouldn’t sneak up on people any longer (Sebastian Aho‘s 83 points; Teuvo Teravainen getting 76) along with players whose value shines greatest when you consider their all-around games, such as Jordan Staal. Andrei Svechnikov‘s rise has been impressive as a rookie, too, and he should only become a bigger part of the mix as Rod Brind’Amour gains more trust in him.

Oh yeah, they also have “Mr. Game 7” and “Storm Surge” innovator Justin Williams.

ADVANTAGE: Capitals. The Hurricanes are more potent in this area than many might realize, but the Caps are in the upper tier.

DEFENSE

CAPITALS: John Carlson probably deserves more Norris buzz than he is receiving.

Last season brought some red flags, as he generated 68 points, with his 53 assists nearly matching a previous career-high of 55. Well, he topped all of that in 2018-19, scoring 13 goals and 70 points, the fourth-best total among NHL blueliners. Oh yeah, he also skyrocketed from a possession stats standpoint, so this was a great all-around year.

The rest of the group is less inspiring.

After being an important duo during that magical Stanley Cup run, Dmitry Orlov and Matt Niskanen have struggled this season, which is part of the reason the Capitals invested in Nick Jensen at the trade deadline.

All of this makes the loss of Michal Kempny tough to stomach. While the Capitals aren’t outright bad on defense, it could be an area of weakness.

HURRICANES: Carolina lost a similar understatedly-effective defenseman in Calvin de Haan to injury issues, but the difference is that they’re deep enough that they can handle the loss more gracefully.

Despite rarely getting the chance to be a top power play unit’s QB, Dougie Hamilton just keeps scoring, particularly goals. He generated 18 this season, and his 48 goals over the last three seasons ranks second to Brent Burns‘ 57 during that span.

Hamilton tends to be a strong play-driver, too, and he’s far from alone on Carolina’s stacked blueline. Hamilton and Jaccob Slavin can often dominate possession, and the duo of Justin FaulkBrett Pesce was effective this season, too. This group can move the puck up the ice, generally prospers in their own end, and can chip in offensively, too.

ADVANTAGE: Hurricanes. This could be a “coming out party” for one of the league’s better defensive groups. Carlson may be the best single blueliner among both teams, though.

GOALTENDING

CAPITALS: For the second straight season, Braden Holtby‘s stats have been modest — in the regular season.

That concludes about all the negative things I can muster about Holtby, and even his .911 save percentage is passable on a team that scores so proficiently, and doesn’t always win the possession battle. As you hopefully remember, Holtby was fantastic during the Capitals’ Stanley Cup run, and he deserved credit for being a postseason beast before that, as his career playoff save percentage of .929 is just bonkers, and 82 high-pressure games count as a healthy sample size, too.

There’s some concern if Holtby gets hurt or melts down, and not just because Pheonix Copley‘s name is spelled Pheonix, but Holtby’s as close to a sure thing as you can get in the unpredictable realm of hockey goaltending.

HURRICANES: Curtis McElhinney‘s quietly built up a resume as a very very good backup over the years, making an argument to rise to the level of a platoon guy.

That’s exactly what’s happened lately, as Petr Mrazek went from a guy whose career was continuing to spiral out of relevance the first few months of this season (.894 save percentage in 23 games before the All-Star Break) to someone who generated a .938 save percentage in his last 17 games.

This unlikely duo has finally shown what Carolina can accomplish with good (or at least competent) goaltending: finally make the playoffs.

At the same time, McElhinney’s been a journeyman and Mrazek was trending in that direction, and a 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs matchup against a team full of sharpshooting scorers could really expose both of them.

ADVANTAGE: Capitals, by a healthy margin.

ONE BIG QUESTION FOR EACH TEAM

Can the Capitals’ defense hold up?

Carolina’s defense and two-way forwards makes them a potentially tough matchup, and they’ve also been a strong penalty kill team. If these games end up being tight, low-scoring affairs, will Washington’s perceived weaknesses on defense get exposed?

Will Carolina’s goalies fall apart?

It’s fair to wonder if shabby netminding may dry out the “Storm Surge” before the thunder really gets cracking. There just aren’t a lot/any hockey humans who can shoot the puck like Ovechkin can, and the Capitals have other players who can make goalies look bad. Carolina’s goalies are as uncertain as Holtby is seasoned when it comes to postseason play (and playing the role of a No. 1 in general, really).

PREDICTION

Carolina in 6. Look, I know this is an aberrant pick, and most of the details above give me second, third, and 651st thoughts. But the Hurricanes’ playoff-friendly, two-way play make me feel better about going with my gut. Kinda.

MORE PREVIEWS:
• Bruins vs. Maple Leafs
• Lightning vs. Blue Jackets
 Sharks vs. Golden Knights
Flames vs. Avalanche
• Predators vs. Stars
Jets vs. Blues
Islanders vs. Penguins

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.

Canucks’ Troy Stecher honors late dad after Game 1 goal

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As he skated around the Blues’ net after firing home the Canucks’ third goal, Troy Stecher pointed to the sky and yelled, “Let’s go!”

The goal was meaningful for two reasons: It gave Vancouver the lead for good in their Game 1 win over St. Louis. But it was also Stecher’s first goal since his father, Peter, died on Father’s Day from complications of diabetes. He was 65 years old.

The Canucks defenseman opened up about the loss of his dad to Sportsnet’s Iain MacIntyre last month. Peter Stecher was his son’s first hockey coach and wrote Troy a letter during his rookie season that was never sent. Troy found the letter, which was about how proud his dad was that his hard work led to the NHL, while cleaning out Peter’s apartment.

“I miss my dad every day. It was a big goal at a crucial time,” Stecher said afterward. “We’ve talked about trying to get the win in Game 1 and obviously that gave us the lead, and the boys hunkered down.”

The Canucks knew the magnitude of that goal, not just for the game, but also for their teammate.

“What he went through in the summer was just devastating and I just wanted to go and hug him,” said Elias Pettersson.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Zack MacEwan and Jacob Markstrom also lost their fathers this season. Both were there for Stecher in his time of need.

“Very emotional for him,” Markstrom said. “I know what he’s going through and it’s not easy. For him to show that kind of emotion, I was just so happy he got it. I got emotional as well just thinking about it. I gave him a big hug after the game and to get rewarded with a goal in a big game with everything he has been going through that’s huge.”

It’s not been easy for the 26-year-old defenseman this summer. But getting back to his teammates when summer training camp opened helped him while he grieved.

“It’s been tough at certain moments throughout this process,” Stecher said. “I’m thankful to be surrounded by my teammates and I had a couple of seconds there to reflect on my dad. And the biggest thing was everybody showed their support on the bench instantly and just motivated me to keep me going.”

No. 4 St. Louis Blues vs. No. 5 Vancouver Canucks (VAN leads series 1-0)

Wednesday, Aug. 12: Vancouver 5, St. Louis 2
Friday, Aug. 14: Vancouver at St. Louis, 6:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Sunday, Aug. 16: St. Louis at Vancouver, 10:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Monday, Aug. 17: St. Louis at Vancouver, 10:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
*Wednesday, Aug. 19: Vancouver at St. Louis – TBD
*Friday, Aug. 21: St. Louis at Vancouver – TBD
*Sunday, Aug. 23: Vancouver at St. Louis – TBD

*if necessary

MORE:
• Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round schedule

————

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.

The Wraparound: Blue Jackets try to bounce back from tough Game 1 loss

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

• Check out NHL Bubble Wrap to look back at all of Wednesday’s action.

• They only needed two overtimes to decide Game 1 of Bruins-Hurricanes thanks to Patrice Bergeron.

• Rod Brind’Amour was fined $25,000 for calling out referees.

After playing 150 minutes of hockey only to lose in a fifth overtime, the Blue Jackets canceled their Tuesday practice. Wanting to get some rest, John Tortorella had his players meet in the afternoon to watch tape and have the Blue Jackets’ medical team tend to any ailments ahead of Game 2 (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN; livestream).

It was only Game 1, but to play that much hockey and not come out as winners? That’s difficult to swallow. Tortorella would only say his players are “fine” in the aftermath of Tampa’s victory. The messaging from players was similar.

“We’re just going to keep going,” said Columbus forward Oliver Bjorkstrand. “Now we just have to be ready for the next game, and I know we will be ready. So we’ve just got to keep going.”

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

It was valiant effort considering it was their fourth game in six days — three of which needed overtime. Columbus played in the final game of the Stanley Cup Qualifying Round and the opening game of the First Round. The Blue Jackets did all they could to take Game 1. Joonas Korpisalo was unreal stopping 85 shots. Seth Jones and Zach Werenski were horses playing 65 and 61 minutes, respectively.

The efforts by Jones and Werenski did not go unnoticed by their teammates and had an affect on those around them.

“Just how easy they make it look even at those minutes, that’s the incredible part,” said Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno. “It just looks like Seth and [Werenski] can just skate forever. We’re lucky to have those guys in our back end. When you look over and you see how they’re not laboring, I think it actually helps your group. I think out of everyone, if they’re not tired, then you’re sure as hell not going to be tired as well. So I think morale-wise it was really good for us. Just unfortunately we didn’t come out on the right side of it.”

NHL GAMES TODAY

Game 2: Blackhawks vs. Golden Knights (VGK leads 1-0) – 5:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN; livestream: Robin Lehner stopped 19 of 20 shots and Reilly Smith scored twice in the third period to give Vegas a 4-1 win in Game 1. The Golden Knights have outscored their four opponents this postseason 10-1 in the third period, by far the best differential of any team in these playoffs. Their defense has also been stout at the on-set – letting in just one goal in the first period.

Game 2: Hurricanes vs. Bruins (BOS leads 1-0) – 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN; livestream: In a game that was delayed 15 hours due to the length of Game 1 between Columbus and Tampa Bay, just two overtimes were needed to decide Game 1 in the Canes-Bruins series. Patrice Bergeron scored just over a minute into the second extra period to give Boston its first win this postseason and hand Carolina its first loss of these playoffs. For comments made following a failed challenge, Rod Brind’Amour was fined by the league $25,000. He was also assessed a conditional fine of $25K “in the event of similar inappropriate behavior through Aug. 12, 2021,” according to a league statement.

[Full NHL First Round schedule]

Game 2: Flames vs. Stars (CGY leads 1-0) – 10:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN; livestream: Calgary won Game 1 behind a pair of goals from Dillon Dube and a game-winner from Rasmus Andersson. Dube scored twice in the first period to put Calgary up 2-0 before Denis Gurianov and Jamie Benn scored twice in a span of nine seconds to tie things up in the second. Andersson scored the game- winner with just under four minutes to play in the second period. The Flames have won four of their five playoff games since entering the bubble. Dallas, who ended the regular season on a six-game losing streak, has now lost three of their four playoff games since entering the bubble.

FRIDAY’S NHL PLAYOFF SCHEDULE

Game 2: Coyotes vs. Avalanche (COL leads 1-0) – 2 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Game 2: Canadiens vs. Flyers (PHI leads 1-0) – 3 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Game 2: Canucks vs. Blues (VAN leads 1-0) – 6:30 p.m ET – NBCSN
Game 2: Islanders vs. Capitals (NYI leads 1-0) – 8 p.m ET – NBCSN
Game 3: Stars vs. Flames (CGY leads 1-0) – 10:30 p.m ET – NBCSN

PHT’s 2020 Stanley Cup playoff previews
Flyers vs. Canadiens

Lightning vs. Blue Jackets
Capitals vs. Islanders
Bruins vs. Hurricanes

Golden Knights vs. Blackhawks
Avalanche vs. Coyotes

Blues vs. Canucks
Stars vs. Flames

First Round predictions
Power Rankings: Best First Round matchups
Conn Smythe Watch: Korpisalo, Aho leading entering First Round
Roundtable: NHL playoff surprises; vulnerable top seeds

NHL schedule for First Round of 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs

2020 nhl playoff schedule
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The Stanley Cup Playoffs continue on Tuesday, Aug. 11 in the hub cities of Edmonton and Toronto. The league has released the 2020 NHL playoff schedule for the First Round.

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. The losing teams from the Qualifying Round have been entered into Phase 2 of the NHL Draft Lottery.

Below is the 2020 NHL playoff schedule.

Note: Teams are re-seeded after each round.

EASTERN CONFERENCE (Scotiabank Arena)

No. 1 Philadelphia Flyers vs. No. 8 Montreal Canadiens (PHI leads 1-0)

Wednesday, Aug. 12: Philadelphia 2, Montreal 1 (recap)
Friday, Aug. 14: Montreal at Philadelphia, 3 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Sunday, Aug. 16: Philadelphia at Montreal, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
Tuesday, Aug. 18: Philadelphia at Montreal, 3 p.m. ET – NBCSN
*Wednesday, Aug. 19: Montreal at Philadelphia – TBD
*Friday, Aug. 21: Philadelphia at Montreal – TBD
*Sunday, Aug. 23: Montreal at Philadelphia – TBD

No. 2 Tampa Bay Lightning vs. No. 7 Columbus Blue Jackets (TB leads 1-0)

Tuesday, Aug. 11: Lightning 3, Blue Jackets 2 (5OT) (recap)
Thursday, Aug. 13: Columbus at Tampa Bay, 3 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Saturday, Aug. 15: Tampa Bay at Columbus, 7:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Monday, Aug. 17: Tampa Bay at Columbus, 3 p.m. ET – NBCSN
*Wednesday, Aug. 19: Columbus at Tampa Bay – TBD
*Friday, Aug. 21: Tampa Bay at Columbus – TBD
*Saturday, Aug. 22: Columbus at Tampa Bay – TBD

No. 3 Washington Capitals vs. No. 6 New York Islanders (NYI lead 1-0)

Wednesday, Aug. 12: Islanders 4, Capitals 2 (recap)
Friday, Aug. 14: NY Islanders at Washington, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Sunday, Aug. 16: Washington at NY Islanders, 12 p.m. ET – USA Network
Tuesday, Aug. 18: Washington at NY Islanders, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
*Thursday, Aug. 20: NY Islanders at Washington – TBD
*Saturday, Aug. 22: Washington at NY Islanders – TBD
*Sunday, Aug. 23: NY Islanders at Washington – TBD

No. 4 Boston Bruins vs. No. 5 Carolina Hurricanes (BOS leads 1-0)

Wednesday, Aug. 12: Bruins 4, Hurricanes 3 (2OT) (recap)
Thursday, Aug. 13: Carolina at Boston, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Saturday, Aug. 15: Boston at Carolina, 12 p.m ET – NBC
Monday, Aug. 17: Boston at Carolina, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
*Wednesday, Aug. 19: Carolina at Boston – TBD
*Thursday, Aug. 20: Boston at Carolina – TBD
*Sunday, Aug. 23: Carolina at Boston – TBD

*if necessary

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

WESTERN CONFERENCE (Rogers Place)

No. 1 Vegas Golden Knights vs. No. 8 Chicago Blackhawks (VGK leads 1-0)

Tuesday, Aug. 11: Golden Knights 4, Blackhawks 1 (recap)
Thursday, Aug. 13: Chicago at Vegas, 5:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Saturday, Aug. 15: Vegas at Chicago, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
Sunday, Aug. 16: Vegas at Chicago, 6:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
*Tuesday, Aug. 18: Chicago at Vegas – TBD
*Thursday, Aug. 20: Vegas at Chicago – TBD
*Saturday, Aug. 22: Chicago at Vegas – TBD

No. 2 Colorado Avalanche vs. No. 7 Arizona Coyotes (COL leads 1-0)

Wednesday, Aug. 12: Colorado 3, Arizona 0 (recap)
Friday, Aug. 14: Arizona at Colorado, 2 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Saturday, Aug. 15: Colorado at Arizona, 3 p.m. ET – CNBC
Monday, Aug. 17: Colorado at Arizona, 5:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
*Wednesday, Aug. 19: Arizona at Colorado – TBD
*Friday, Aug. 21: Colorado at Arizona – TBD
*Sunday, Aug. 23: Arizona at Colorado – TBD

No. 3 Dallas Stars vs. No. 6 Calgary Flames (CGY leads 1-0)

Tuesday, Aug. 11: Flames 3, Stars 2 (recap)
Thursday, Aug. 13: Calgary at Dallas, 10:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Friday, Aug. 14: Dallas at Calgary, 10:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Sunday, Aug. 16: Dallas at Calgary, 2 p.m. ET – CNBC
*Tuesday, Aug. 18: Calgary at Dallas – TBD
*Thursday, Aug. 20: Dallas at Calgary – TBD
*Saturday, Aug. 22: Dallas at Calgary – TBD

No. 4 St. Louis Blues vs. No. 5 Vancouver Canucks (VAN leads 1-0)

Wednesday, Aug. 12: Vancouver 5, Blues 2 (recap)
Friday, Aug. 14: Vancouver at St. Louis, 6:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Sunday, Aug. 16: St. Louis at Vancouver, 10:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Monday, Aug. 17: St. Louis at Vancouver, 10:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
*Wednesday, Aug. 19: Vancouver at St. Louis – TBD
*Friday, Aug. 21: St. Louis at Vancouver – TBD
*Sunday, Aug. 23: Vancouver at St. Louis – TBD

*if necessary

2020 nhl playoff schedule

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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.

Hockey Culture: Ryan Reaves on race, social justice in NHL

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NBC Sports has launched Hockey Culture, a multi-platform content offering dedicated to bringing equality and inclusion to the sport of hockey. Led by NBC Sports NHL analyst Anson Carter, Hockey Culture will address contemporary topics within the sport, aim to promote diversity around the game and on the ice, and increase community engagement with hockey.

In this episode of “Hockey Culture,” Vegas Golden Knights forward Ryan Reaves joins Anson Carter to talk about positive change inside the hockey community and his role in the NHL’s fight against racism.

Carter and Reaves also discuss the Golden Knights forward’s role on the ice, his family’s history working in law enforcement, and his newest off-ice endeavor: owning a craft brewery

Upcoming episodes will feature J.T. Brown(Minnesota native, current Wild forward, and a leading activist for racial equality), Eustace King (a prominent Black NHL player agent), Kelsey Koelzer (the first Black female head coach in NCAA hockey history), Harnarayan Singh (Hockey Night in Canada: Punjabibroadcaster), and much more.

Subscribe to NBC Sports on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/nbcsports

MORE: Introducing ‘Hockey Culture,’ an NBC Sports multi-platform content series