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Goaltending, Lucic’s role among biggest questions facing Flames

Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Calgary Flames.

Let’s take a look at three big questions for the Calgary Flames for the 2019-20 season.

1. Who is going to stop the puck?

There is probably no question that will impact the Flames more than this one.

Goaltending has been a constant struggle for nearly a decade now as the team has not finished higher than 15th in save percentage since the 2011-12 season, and hasn’t finished higher than 20th since the 2013-14 season. That is simply not championship caliber goaltending, and it was probably the single biggest weakness the team had this past season.

David Rittich was a nice surprise, but he struggled down the stretch and is still a bit of an unknown entering this season. Challenging him for playing time will be Cam Talbot who was brought in on a one-year deal to replace Mike Smith.

The Flames have elite, high-end forwards and a strong defense that is carried by Norris Trophy winning blue-liner Mark Giordano.

That core at forward and defense is good enough to compete for a championship right now and maybe even win one if everything goes right. Goaltending, however, is going to be the biggest “make-or-break” aspect of this team and if things do not dramatically improve in net it is going to be an impossible obstacle to overcome.

[MORE: 2018-19 in review | Under Pressure: Treliving | Talbot the X-Factor]

2. What can they get out of Milan Lucic?

James Neal‘s brief tenure with the Flames did not go as anyone could have planned it, so it is not really a surprise they were willing to part ways with a 32-year-old winger coming off of a down year.

What is a surprise is that they traded him for Milan Lucic, a player that is regarded to have one of the worst contracts in hockey.

How badly has Lucic’s career deteriorated in recent years? He scored just 16 goals over the past two years and has looked like a player that is simply not built for the modern day, faster paced NHL.

If the Flames think they can rejuvenate his career or that his size and physical presence is going to dramatically alter the success they are likely setting themselves up for disappointment. They didn’t get upset in the first round by the Colorado Avalanche because they weren’t big enough or physical enough — they lost because they were outplayed by a faster team that is quickly emerging as a powerhouse in the Western Conference. Giving Lucic a significant role and assigning him to be the muscle to “protect” their stars as a deterrent is only going to hold them back.

If they play him in the bottom-six role he should be in they are committing $6 million in salary cap space to a player that isn’t going to give them that sort of a return on their investment.

Maybe they had to trade Neal, but trading him for a worse player with a worse (and buyout proof!) contract doesn’t seem to move the needle much in the right direction.

3. Will Johnny Gaudreau‘s playoff luck finally change?

Gaudreau has blossomed into a superstar for the Flames and is one of the league’s most dynamic offensive game-changers. He is the definition of an impact player and one that can take over a game on any given night, and he has consistently done that for the better part of the past three seasons.

The problem: It has not yet happened for him in the playoffs.

In his past two playoff appearances Gaudreau has scored zero goals in nine games while managing just three assists. Not great for a player that has been one of the best point producers in the league.

It’s easy (and lazy) to write that off as him “not being a playoff player” or being “too small.”  It is most likely a lot of bad luck. It is not as if Gaudreau has lacked chances in those playoff games. He still generated shots and he still created chances — he just hasn’t had the puck go in the net. That is not an uncommon development for any player. Pick out any superstar in the league and look at their postseason careers and you will find extended stretches over multiple postseasons where they did not consistently score goals.  Gaudreau is too good, too talented, and too productive to be shut down in the playoffs.

MORE:
ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

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

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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.

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