The Playoff Buzzer: Blues maroon Stars; Binnington’s wins

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  • Monday’s only game seemed destined to go to overtime … until it wasn’t. Patrick Maroon instead scored a somewhat divisive clinching goal to push the Blues over the top.

Blues 4, Stars 3 (St. Louis leads 2-1; Game 4 airs on Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, stream here).

For most of Monday’s contest, it felt like every scoring chance would really count, because both teams weren’t giving an inch. Things really escalated in the third period, however, when the two teams combined for three goals in last than three minutes, and Dallas seemed like it just wouldn’t go away, negating three one-goal leads for the Blues. St. Louis showed resiliency of its own, however, and eventually allowed Maroon’s late 4-3 goal to stand as the game-winner, even after the Stars received a late power-play opportunity.

It sure seems like this will be a very close Round 2 series until the very end.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Three Stars

1. Jaden SchwartzThe Blues winger has scored at least one goal in four of his last five playoff games, collecting six goals and one assist during that span. Schwartz scored a deft deflection tally early in Game 3 to stun the Stars a little bit to earn a 1-0 lead, while he also managed a secondary assist during that third-period spree.

Schwartz’s health struggles have been frustrating to watch in recent years, so it’s heartening to see the sneaky-good winger get his due, and come up in clutch situations.

With Vladimir Tarasenko seeming to be feast-or-famine lately, players like Schwartz need to step up, and he often has.

2. Patrick Maroon: You could make an argument for Jay Bouwmeester and his two primary assists, but Bouwmeester was on the wrong end of the shot share ledger to a considerable degree, and also took two minor penalties.

Maroon didn’t get as many points, but his goal was the game-winner, and it was a brawny effort in overpowering Esa Lindell before muscling the puck past Ben Bishop. In a way, that goal was a reward for Maroon’s hard work, as he thrived where Bouwmeester failed, possession-stats wise.

After a tough 2018-19 regular season for Maroon, he’s providing useful support for St. Louis, and his grit has been appreciated so far in the postseason.

3. Jordan BinningtonBoth Binnington and Ben Bishop have had better nights stats-wise … and have enjoyed a ton of great nights in general, lately. You’re not going to win an argument that either goalie was at their absolute peak in Game 3. (Honestly, if Bishop is OK health-wise, that’s a win for Dallas.)

Despite allowing seven goals between them, each netminder had some fantastic moments, turning away breakaway opportunities and other high-danger scoring chances. For the most part, it was difficult to blame the netminders for that deluge of goals during the third period.

Binnington grabbed the win, stopping 28 out of 31 shots on goal. After a sensational regular season call-up that saved the Blues’ bacon, Binnington’s very much living up to the hype so far as the games matter the most, and he’s holding up quite well to facing Bishop, one of the hottest goalies in the NHL.

Not a bad way to celebrate that Calder Trophy nomination, eh?

Highlight of the Night: Enjoy all of the highlights from Game 3 in the video above this post’s headline, but let me direct your attention to the 3-3 goal, in particular. Miro Heiskanen sent an absolute luscious pass to Tyler Seguin, who punched it past Binnington as the Stars seemed relentless. They relented enough to lose, but it was one of those instances where the goofy “didn’t lose, just ran out of time” mantra actually felt fitting.

Heiskanen’s only strengthening the argument that he should have been a Calder finalist with his play lately, even though the playoffs don’t count in such assessments.

Factoids

Tuesday’s games
Game 3: Boston Bruins at Columbus Blue Jackets, 7 p.m. ET (Series tied 1-1) (NBCSN; Live stream)
Game 3:  San Jose Sharks at Colorado Avalanche, 10 p.m. ET (Series tied 1-1) ( NBCSN; live stream)

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.

NY governor says pro teams can resume training

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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo says teams in his state can return to their facilities for training after a pause of more than two months.

”Starting today, all the New York professional sports leagues will be able to begin training camps,” the Democratic governor said during a news conference Sunday.

The New York City area was one of the hardest-hit parts of the U.S. by the coronavirus pandemic, but COVID-19 deaths and new infections in the state have been trending downward.

Major League Baseball, the NBA and the NHL are discussing the resumption of their seasons with their players’ unions.

”I believe that sports that can come back without having people in the stadium, without having people in the arena – do it! Do it!” Cuomo said. ”Work out the economics, if you can. We want you up. We want people to be able to watch sports. To the extent people are still staying home, it gives people something to do. It’s a return to normalcy. So we are working and encouraging all sports teams to start their training camps as soon as possible. And we’ll work with them to make sure that can happen.”

WCHA’s Alabama-Huntsville cuts hockey program

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Alabama-Huntsville is dropping men’s hockey and men’s and women’s tennis as part of budget cuts in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

School officials said athletes in those sports who want to join another team’s roster will be released without penalty and free to transfer immediately. If they choose to stay, their current scholarships will be honored for the duration of their academic careers.

Alabama-Huntsville was one of the only southern schools to have a men’s hockey varsity program. The Chargers won Division II national titles in 1996 and 1998 and were Division II runners-up in 1994 and 1997 before making the move to the Division I level for the 1998-99 season.

Men’s hockey had been the lone Division I sport for Alabama-Huntsville. It competes at the Division II level in all other sports.

Canada’s NHL teams offer options to season-ticket holders

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Canada’s NHL teams have offered season-ticket holders rebate or refund options in acknowledgment that no more 2019-20 regular-season games will be played in front of fans in their respective buildings.

In a four-day span May 13-16, all seven teams contacted their season-ticket bases with options and, in some cases, deadlines to make a decision, according to The Canadian Press.

“It has become increasingly apparent, that any possibility will not include any further games being played this season in front of fans at Bell MTS Place,” the Winnipeg Jets said in an email.

That admission may seem anticlimactic given leagues and teams around the world are either playing in empty stadiums, or trying to figure out a way to just resume play during the COVID-19 pandemic.

But season-ticket money is a key element of NHL business. Clubs are loathe to part with it.

Canadian teams are offering refunds, but also are pushing a number of incentives to let them keep the money.

Toronto Maple Leafs season-ticket holders had to declare they wanted their money back by Victoria Day or a credit would be applied to their accounts.

Their Montreal Canadiens counterparts had to make a decision by Friday, while the Vancouver Canucks’ deadline is June 3.

NHLPA board approves 24-team, return-to play-format

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We have our first step towards resuming the 2019-20 season with the approval of the return-to-play format by the NHLPA Executive Board.

The 31 NHL team representatives voted and a majority gave the thumbs up to the 24-team, conference-based proposal.

According to TVA’s Renaud Lavoie, the vote was 29-2 in favor.

Now the plan moves on to the Board of Governors for their approval.

From the NHLPA:

The Executive Board of the National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA) has authorized further negotiations with the NHL on a 24-team return to play format to determine the winner of the 2020 Stanley Cup. Several details remain to be negotiated and an agreement on the format would still be subject to the parties reaching agreement on all issues relevant to resuming play.

If the BOG green lights it, the next steps would include figuring out proper safety protocols for all involved and how the hub city plan would work, among numerous other details.

Based on points percentage at the time of the March 12 NHL pause, the top four teams in each conference (Boston, Tampa, Washington, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Colorado, Vegas, Dallas) will receive a first-round bye. Round 1 will feature eight play-in matchups in a best-of-five series.

As the play-in round takes place, the eight conference leaders could potentially take part in a mini tournament that will determine the seeding for Round 2. Reseeding after the play-in round is another topic likely to be discussed.

Here’s what it might end up looking like:

EASTERN CONFERENCE

ROUND 1 BYES
• Bruins
• Lightning
• Capitals
• Flyers

PLAY-IN ROUND
(5) Penguins
vs.                              — Winner plays No. 4 seed
(12) Canadiens

(6) Hurricanes
vs.                              — Winner plays No. 3 seed
(11) Rangers

(7) Islanders
vs.                              — Winner plays No. 2 seed
(10) Panthers

(8) Maple Leafs
vs.                              — Winner plays No. 1 seed
(9) Blue Jackets

WESTERN CONFERENCE

ROUND 1 BYES
• Blues
• Avalanche
• Golden Knights
• Stars

PLAY-IN ROUND
(5) Oilers
vs.                                — Winner plays No. 4 seed
(12) Blackhawks

(6) Predators
vs.                                — Winner plays No. 3 seed
(11) Coyotes

(7) Canucks
vs.                                — Winner plays No. 2 seed
(10) Wild

(8) Flames
vs.                                — Winner plays No. 1 seed
(9) Jets

Games would be played without fans with teams based in hub cities potentially located in both the U.S. and Canada. Columbus, Las Vegas, and Edmonton are a few of the cities that have shown interested in playing host to playoff games.

Since the 24-team format entered the rumor mill, it’s received a mixed reaction from players.

“Twenty-four teams sounds like a lot of teams to me,” Capitals defenseman John Carlson told Mike Tirico on Thursday. “You have to make sure there is some level playing field in terms of intensity…So while 24 teams sounds like a lot, maybe due to logistics, that makes the most sense.”

“I will say that when it comes to the format I think it is almost impossible to make everyone happy … the situation is what it is,” Lars Eller of the Capitals said via the Washington Post. “It is far from perfect. We are going to manage the best we can and I do think we will come together and find a solution regarding that. It is not going to be easy.”

Kris Letang told Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman that Penguins players voted “yes” on the proposal citing “greater good for everyone.”

“At the end of the day, nobody gets exactly what they want,” Letang said. “But, we all want what is best for hockey and to continue to grow the game.”

MORE:
Predators’ Duchene: ‘You don’t want to have a COVID Cup’
Our Line Starts podcast: Evaluating fairness of 24-team NHL playoff

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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.