Blue Jackets surge sets tone for unpredictable NHL playoffs

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The Tampa Bay Lightning, the NHL’s best team, lost their first two playoff games at home to the Columbus Blue Jackets and are vulnerable without their top scorer for Game 3.

Winnipeg lost its first two at home, leaving the Jets fighting for their postseason relevance as that series shifts to St. Louis.

The Pittsburgh Penguins are loaded with stars who have years of playoff experience. The Pens are down 2-0 to the New York Islanders as their series moves to the Steel City.

So much for home-ice advantage and conventional thinking in these NHL playoffs.

The Blue Jackets have been in this heady position before in the postseason, just before they fell on their faces.

Now they have the Tampa Bay on the ropes and are enticingly closer to winning the first playoff series in franchise history. The series shifts to Columbus on Sunday night (7 p.m., NBCSN). The Lightning will be without 128-point scorer Nikita Kucherov , who was suspended for a game for boarding the Markus Nutivaara on Friday night.

Last year the Blue Jackets went up 2-0 in the first round against Washington on the road before the Capitals won four straight and rolled on a Stanley Cup championship. In other words, there’s a lot of hockey left to the play in the series, and the Blue Jackets players know it all too well.

”I think we should still have a sour taste in our mouth from last year,” said wing Cam Atkinson, who scored the first goal for Columbus in the 5-1 rout of Tampa Bay on Friday . ”It’s a series for a reason. They’re obviously the best team in the league. We just can’t take our foot off the gas pedal.”

Columbus has risen to the occasion and hasn’t backed down from their opponents.

”We’re in a hole, we’re in a tough position, but we are not going to quit,” Lightning center Steven Stamkos said. ”We have to take a page out of their book and go on the road and win a hockey game. We just have to focus on Game 3. It’s tough, it just hasn’t gone our way right now.”

Or, as coach Jon Cooper put it: ”This is a five-alarm fire.”

Islanders at Penguins, New York leads series 2-0 (noon EDT, NBC).

During their current run of 13 consecutive playoff appearances, the Pittsburgh Penguins lost in the first round three times. They’ll need to turn things around quickly to avoid a fourth.

Pittsburgh took its first lead in the series in the second period of Game 2 before the Islanders tied it minutes later and then pulled away in the third period for a 3-1 win.

The Penguins will look to regroup as they head home for the next two games. They know it’s not an insurmountable deficit.

”It’s the first team to win four games, not two,” coach Mike Sullivan said when asked about his message to the team after Game 2. ”We got to go back home, we got to control what we can. We got to win one game, and then we’ll go from there.”

The Islanders have held Jake Guentzel, who led the Penguins with 40 goals during the season, and star center Sidney Crosby (35 goals, 65 assists) off the scoresheet in the first two games.

Pittsburgh, sixth in the NHL in scoring during the season, has scored four times on 76 shots against an Islanders team that allowed the fewest goals in the league. After finishing fifth on the power play at 24.6 percent, the Penguins are 1 for 5 so far.

Jets at Blues, St. Louis leads series 2-0 (7:30 p.m. EDT, CNBC)

The Jets’ confidence is not shaken after losing each of the first two games of the series by one goal.

”For the most part, we’ve played two pretty solid games,” Winnipeg center Adam Lowry said after the Jets fell 4-3 on Friday night . ”It comes down to a couple breaks. I feel like we’re right there. I don’t think we’re frustrated. I don’t think you can let that creep into this room.”

Oskar Sundqvist scored twice, and Ryan O'Reilly broke the tie early in the third period to give the Blues the edge as the series shifts to St. Louis.

”They are going to give us their best game, Game 3 at home,” Blues coach Craig Berube said. ”And there’s no reason to get too high. You’ve got to stay ready and you gotta play even better than we’ve played.”

Jordan Binnington made 26 saves for St. Louis, becoming the second goalie in franchise history to win his first two playoff games.

Sharks at Golden Knights, series tied 1-1 (10 p.m. EDT, NBCSN)

Taking penalties against San Jose usually isn’t the right recipe for success, especially with the Sharks’ two potent power-play units led by dynamic defensemen Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson and a talented group of forwards.

Vegas survived that in Game 2 and even came out ahead when the Sharks had the man advantage. The Golden Knights committed eight minor penalties that gave San Jose power plays, including one minute of five-on-three action in Game 2.

But Vegas got the better of the play in those situations, scoring two short-handed goals and allowing just one on the power play, which proved to be pivotal.

”It’s hard to win this time of year if you don’t win special teams,” Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said.

San Jose is just 2 for 13 on the power play this series, with two goals allowed, a far cry from a unit that ranked sixth in the league in the regular season at 23.7%.

”I just didn’t think we shot the puck enough – myself included,” forward Logan Couture said. ”Too many times, we’d pass. We’ve got to get back to shooting it.”

Associated Press Sports writers Josh Dubow in San Jose, California; Vinay Cherwoo in New York; and Mark Didtler in Tampa, Florida, contributed to this report.

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

Follow Mitch Stacy on Twitter at https://twitter.com/mitchstacy

Stars continue to succeed playing ‘underdog’ role

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No matter how hard teams have tried, the Dallas Stars just won’t go away.

The Tampa Bay Lightning were 16:22 away from winning the Stanley Cup Saturday night. Mikhail Sergachev’s third-period goal broke the 1-1 deadlock and it was looking like there would be a big celebration on the Rogers Place ice. Joe Pavelski had other ideas, forcing overtime 10 minutes later.

Tampa then just needed a single goal to capture the Cup. It didn’t come after the first overtime, and despite some high-danger chances, it never came. Instead, Corey Perry put home a loose puck 9:23 into the second overtime to keep the Stars’ season alive and force a Game 6 Monday night (8 p.m. ET, NBC).

It was Dallas’ ninth comeback win of the playoffs, tying the franchise record in a single postseason. The record was set in the spring of 1999 when they claimed their only Stanley Cup title.

It was another moment during an improbable run the Stars have been on this postseason. Not given a chance against either the Colorado Avalanche or Vegas Golden Knights in the previous two rounds, Dallas stuck together and embraced the challenge.

[3 Takeaways from Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final]

Dallas’ season could have come to an end in Game 5, but Perry handed them a lifeline. In order for the Stars to be crowned champions, Friday’s defeat will have to serve as their final loss of the 2019-20 NHL campaign. The Lightning have been the better team in the series, so many might believe this is just delaying the inevitable. But Dallas has shown time and time again that you cannot count them out.

“We enjoy being called underdogs,” said Tyler Seguin, who has five points in the last two games. “Every person this whole time we’ve been in the bubble seeming to choose the other team we’re playing, we relish that. We believe in each other, we’ve got a confident group, and we don’t want to leave the bubble. We’re having fun.”

That belief has been instilled into the DNA of the Stars from veterans like Pavelski and Perry, both have been this far in the postseason before. Perry was in his second NHL season when the Anaheim Ducks won the Cup in 2007. This is his 10th trip to the playoffs to win a second title.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

“I was a young kid coming into the league, 22 years old and I had the opportunity to win,” Perry said. “Here we are 13 years later and we’ve got a chance to do it with this group. In that dressing room we believe we can and that’s the biggest thing. It’s belief and resiliency throughout this whole season.”

The doubters have only fueled this Dallas run. Twenty-four teams entered the Edmonton and Toronto bubbles in late July. Only two remain and there are at most two games left in this season. 

Only one team has ever come back from a 3-1 series deficit in a best-of-seven Cup Final. You won’t be able to stop the Stars from thinking they’ll be the second team in that trivia question and they will be the ones celebrating after a Game 7 Wednesday night.

“We came here with 51 people and all those guys in that dressing room believe that we can go out there and get this done,” Perry said. “That’s all that really matters.”

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars (TB leads 3-2)

Stars 4, Lightning 1 (recap)
Lightning 3, Stars 2 (recap)
Lightning 5, Stars 2 (recap)
Lighting 5, Stars 4 [OT] (recap)
Stars 3, Lightning 2 [2OT] (recap)
Game 6: Monday, Sept. 28, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*Game 7: Wednesday, Sept. 30, 8 p.m. ET – NBC

*if necessary

————

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.

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 3-2)

Stars 4, Lightning 1 (recap)
Lightning 3, Stars 2 (recap)
Lightning 5, Stars 2 (recap)
Lighting 5, Stars 4 [OT] (recap)
Stars 3, Lightning 2 [2OT] (recap)
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)

3 Takeaways: Perry, Seguin help Stars avoid elimination in Stanley Cup Final

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If the Lightning’s overtime Game 4 win wasn’t enough for hockey fans on Friday, the Stars one-upped that effort a night later, staying alive with a 3-2 double-overtime Game 5 win on Saturday.

Beyond “the 2019-20 season not being over,” what did we learn from the Stars’ double-OT Game 5 win? Let’s consider three takeaways from a dizzying contest. Game 6 (Monday at 8 p.m. ET on NBC) isn’t that far away during a 2020 Stanley Cup Final already brimming with twists and turns.

1. Stars have something in pairing Tyler Seguin with Corey Perry

Not that long ago, there were worries about Tyler Seguin’s playoff production. Maybe he just needed a change of pace?

Whatever the explanation might be, the difference is stark.

  • Seguin previously suffered through a five-game pointless streak. More troublingly, he only had an assist in an 11-game stretch from Aug. 30 (midway through the Avalanche series) through Sept. 23 (Game 3 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final).
  • While the Stars lost Game 4, Seguin and Perry were factors. Seguin collected two assists in what would turn out to be a prelude.

Perry scored two huge goals (the Stars’ first and last of Game 5), while Seguin generated assists on all three Stars goals in Game 5.

Yes, it’s true that it would be tough to sustain this scoring pace. But it’s not all luck. Via Natural Stat Trick, Seguin, Perry, and Joel Kiviranta generated seven high-danger chances for and only allowed one against at even-strength in Game 5.

2. Putting the whistles away?

No doubt about it, officiating was a talking point from Game 4 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final. After some serious griping from the Stars regarding the Jamie Benn penalty that opened up an opportunity for the power-play game-winner by Kevin Shattenkirk, would there be a chilling effect on officiating?

Well, that can be a chicken-and-the-egg argument.

Frankly, officials tend to put away their whistles more often as a series goes along. Especially when a team is facing elimination. Maybe it’s not as bad as the Dead Puck Era, but it’s still something.

Whether it was inevitable or a reaction to complaints, the lack of calls sometimes got a little comical.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

To be clear, both the Stars and Lightning had reason to complain about non-calls. You could probably argue that Dallas actually experienced some of the most prominent flubs.

Big-picture, though? If I were Rick Bowness, I’d be grinning ear-to-ear that there were only three power plays in Game 5 (one for the Lightning, two for the Stars). Tampa Bay’s power play was red-hot, and for all the adjustments you can make in the film room, you know what’s the best way to stop it? Not let them go on the man advantage at all.

Again, the Stars will almost certainly gripe about individual calls, but a low-penalty style behooves them.

3. The Lightning’s top line remains terrifying

By certain underlying metrics, the Stars controlled the Ondrej PalatBrayden PointNikita Kucherov line about as well as one can expect in Game 5.

But, frankly, there were enough close calls that it would be foolish to think the Stars really found a lasting answer.

Ondrej Palat scored a significant 1-1 goal with a great move. Brayden Point assisted on both Lightning goals, including an impressive entry on Mikhail Sergachev‘s 2-1 tally.

Both Point and Nikita Kucherov found space for near-goals during the overtime period(s), too. They didn’t land the knockout blow in Game 5 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final, but Anton Khudobin and Stars defenders still have their work cut out for them.

(Especially if the Lightning get more than one power play in Game 6 (Monday at 8 p.m. ET on NBC).

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars (TB leads 3-2)

Stars 4, Lightning 1. (recap)
Lightning 3, Stars 2. (recap)
Lightning 5, Stars 2. (recap)
Lightning 5, Stars 4 [OT]. (recap)
Stars 3, Lightning 2 [double OT].
Game 6: Monday, Sept. 28, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*Game 7: Wednesday, Sept. 30, 8 p.m. ET – NBC

*if necessary

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.

Perry’s double OT Game 5 goal keeps Stars alive vs. Lightning in Stanley Cup Final

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When Mikhail Sergachev gave the Lightning a third-period lead, elimination looked likely for the Stars in Game 5 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final. This Stars team just keeps fighting, though, staying alive by beating the Lightning 3-2 in double OT in Game 5.

Corey Perry scored the game-winner in double overtime to keep the Stars alive.

The Stars and Lightning will try to rest up for Game 6 (Monday at 8 p.m. ET on NBC) after closing off these two tight back-to-back Stanley Cup Final contests. The Lightning’s series lead shrinks to 3-2 after this double-overtime loss.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Stars avoid elimination, beat Lightning in Game 5 of 2020 Stanley Cup Final

Tyler Seguin continues to seem invigorated by Stars line changes. Once again, Seguin set the table for a great Corey Perry goal, putting Dallas up 1-0. (Seguin would create at least one other great chance for Perry, who’s been a factor in this series.)

The Lightning once again showed that they can shake off deficits. The top line of Brayden Point, Ondrej Palat, and Nikita Kucherov looked dangerous early and often in Game 5.

While Kucherov couldn’t score again on a breakaway vs. Anton Khudobin, Ondrej Palat broke through with a great power move during the second period.

After a great entry by Brayden Point, Mikhail Sergachev scored his third goal of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Maybe a weaker-willed team would have wilted, but the Stars would not go down without a fight. Late in a third-period power-play opportunity, Joe Pavelski scored a pretty goal off of a rebound opportunity to make it 2-2. In doing so, Pavelski scored his 61st career playoff goal, setting a new record for U.S.-born skaters. Pavelski passed Joe Mullen and former Stars icon Mike Modano.

Double overtime for Stars and Lightning

Through the first half of the opening overtime period, the Lightning created some near-misses. Nikita Kucherov looked primed to score the clincher, but Joel Hanley got a stick on it. Desperation plays and goalie saves kept Dallas in Game 5.

While the Stars struggled to register a shot on goal (7-1 SOG advantage for Tampa Bay) during the first OT period, they had some close calls themselves.

And, once again, there were questionable calls. Prominently, Alexander Radulov was taken down by Victor Hedman on a semi-breakaway without a penalty. A puck appeared to go off Andrei Vasilevskiy‘s pad, but that was missed, and the Stars were called for icing. Maybe the toll of back-to-backs affected everyone?

After Corey Perry and Tyler Seguin narrowly avoided an offside, Perry cashed in for his second goal of Game 5, and the double-OT-winner. The Stars live to see another day in large part thanks to veterans like Perry and Pavelski.

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars (TB leads 3-2)

Stars 4, Lightning 1. (recap)
Lightning 3, Stars 2. (recap)
Lightning 5, Stars 2. (recap)
Lightning 5, Stars 4 [OT]. (recap)
Stars 3, Lightning 2 [double OT].
Game 6: Monday, Sept. 28, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*Game 7: Wednesday, Sept. 30, 8 p.m. ET – NBC

*if necessary

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.