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Golden Knights have high expectations once again

LAS VEGAS — Expectations for the Vegas Golden Knights remain as high as ever two years after reaching the Stanley Cup Final.

With the potential for having its most talented roster yet, in the franchise’s third season, the team expects to challenge in the Western Conference once again.

”We know we got a good hockey team where if we play well we’ll have a chance to win a lot of hockey games,” Vegas coach Gerard Gallant said. ”I think our team gets better every year on paper, but you gotta do it on the ice. It’s one game at a time and go out and play the game and hope to stay injury free.”

One player eager to start the season is defenseman Nate Schmidt, who missed the first 20 games last year while serving a suspension for violating the NHL’s performance-enhancing drug policy. Schmidt has been all smiles this year and the liveliest player in the locker room.

”I told Turk (Gallant) I’ll play all seven (preseason) games if it could delete what happened last year in comparison, because it just feels good to be back,” Schmidt said. ”Preseason or not, it feels good to be back in the mix with the guys.”

The feeling is likely mutual as Vegas opened last season 8-11-1 without Schmidt then went on a 19-4-3 tear when he rejoined the team.

WHO’S HERE: Schmidt, G Marc-Andre Fleury, F William Karlsson, RW Mark Stone, LW Jonathan Marchessault.

WHO’S NOT: F Erik Haula, C Ryan Carpenter, C Pierre-Edouard Bellemare.

KEY PLAYERS: The Golden Knights closed their 2018 season on an 11-6-2 run after Mark Stone arrived via trade with Ottawa. He had five goals and six assists in the 18 games but he really came to life during the team’s seven-game series with San Jose, registering six goals and six assists. His 25 overall games with Vegas was a mere preview of what the team can expect with him in uniform the entire season.

”There’s no secret to how he plays, he’s just the smartest guy out there,” Jonathan Marchessault said. ”He makes everybody look better, and I think that’s probably the best quality to have as a hockey player.”

Stone, Marchessault, Reilly Smith, Karlsson, Max Pacioretty and Paul Stastny comprise the top six. Third-line forward Cody Eakin is coming off a career-best 22 goals and 41 points and should be motivated entering the final year of his contract. The 28-year-old downplayed the need for a second straight breakout season, but his performance could dictate where he lands next year.

”When you play the right way, team first, you get rewarded and that’s really what it’s all about when it comes to winning hockey games,” Eakin said.

On defense, Dylan Coghlan may have emerged as the dark horse during the preseason, as the hard-shooting prospect has shown offensive potential that would bolster a third pairing on the blue line.

OUTLOOK: The scoring is there for the Golden Knights, the defensive pairings are solid, and it could come down to the 34-year-old Fleury. Last year he started 34 of Vegas’ first 40 games, including 13 straight during one stretch.

”Common sense says you don’t want to play him as much as you played him in the past, but we’re gonna see how the schedule goes and see how he’s going and see how he’s playing and we’ll go from there,” Gallant said.

Gallant said he’ll confer with goaltender coach Dave Prior on who will be in net each game, and that Fleury has input on his playing time.

”We have a plan,” Fleury said. ”I try to manage my body throughout the season to rest maybe and recover better than I used to.”

PREDICTION: Everyone in the locker room has said it’s time to turn the page. The Golden Knights held a 3-1 series lead in the first round against San Jose last year and a commanding 3-0 lead in Game 7 before losing to the Sharks 5-4 in overtime. It still stings, and Vegas wants revenge. With a healthy lineup, among the best forward groups in the league and Fleury in net, another Western Conference Final is certainly possible.

Flyers win first seed in East; Lightning lose game and Hedman to injury

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Talk about getting hot at the right time(s). After slipping into the East’s top four, the Flyers surged all the way to the first seed in the conference, pushing the Lightning to the second spot with Philly’s 4-1 win. This completed a lousy day for the Lightning, who also saw key defenseman Victor Hedman leave the game in frustration with an injury.

With this result, the top-seed Flyers will face the Canadiens in a battle of teams who took advantage of this odd NHL Return to Play format. Meanwhile, the Lightning will face the winner of Game 5 between the Blue Jackets and Maple Leafs.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Flyers win first seed in East; Lightning more worried about Hedman than second spot

Here’s footage of what looked like an ankle (or at least a “lower-body”) injury for Hedman. You can see Hedman’s furious anger in leaving with whatever injury, too:

Seems ominous.

As you may remember, Hedman didn’t seem 100-percent when his Lightning got swept in the First Round by the Blue Jackets during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. With Steven Stamkos missing time (including this round-robin game against the Flyers), the Lightning face some health uncertainty heading into the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Again, for the Flyers, it was another promising game. They’ve carried over a hot finish to the 2019-20 regular season straight through the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers.

  • Nicolas Aube-Kubel began the Lightning – Flyers game on fire by scoring the first two goals. Aube-Kubel did his part in arguing for opportunities with the Flyers.
  • Speaking of trying to earn opportunities, Shayne Gostisbehere looked sharp in getting some game action. Could his offense justify the risks his defensive flaws sometimes present? That remains to be seen, but he did his part on Saturday.

Updated NHL Round-robin standings; Some matchups now set for 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs

EAST
Top seed: Flyers (3-0-0, 6 points) Philadelphia will face Canadiens in First Round
Second seed: Lightning (2-1-0, 4 points) Tampa Bay will face winner of Game 5 CBJ – TOR
Capitals (0-1-1, 1 point)
Bruins (0-2-0, 0 points)

WEST
Top Seed: Golden Knights (3-0-0, 6 points); Vegas faces Blackhawks in First Round
Second Seed: Avalanche (2-0-1, 5 points); Colorado faces Coyotes in First Round
Blues (0-2-0, 0 points)
Stars (0-2-0, 0 points)

SUNDAY‘S NHL PLAYOFF SCHEDULE

Round-robin: Bruins vs. Capitals, 12 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Round-robin: Stars vs. Blues, 3 p.m. ET – NBC
Game 5: Blue Jackets vs. Maple Leafs, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN

MORE:
• 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule

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.

NHL Return to Play: Round-robin standings, scenarios

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While the 16 teams in the qualifying round play for the right to move on, the No. 1 seeds in the Eastern Conference and Western Conference are still up for grabs in the round-robin format of the NHL’s return to play.

The round-robin schedule resumes on Saturday with a pair of games (Lightning vs. Flyers and Golden Knights vs. Avalanche) and here we take a look at the impact those games can have on the standings.

Below is a look at the current round-robin standings and everything at stake on Saturday.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Current standings (tiebreaker is regular-season points percentage)

Philadelphia Flyers (3-0-0, 6 points)

Tampa Bay Lightning (2-1-0, 4 points)
Washington Capitals (0-1-1, 1 point)
Boston Bruins (0-2-0, 0 points)

Sunday, Aug. 2: Flyers 4, Bruins 1 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 3
: Lightning 3, Capitals 2 (SO) (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Lightning 3, Bruins 2 (recap)
Thursday, Aug. 6: Flyers 3, Capitals 1 (recap)
Saturday, Aug. 8: Flyers 4, Lightning 1
Sunday, Aug. 9: Bruins vs. Capitals, 12 p.m. ET – NBCSN

• Philadelphia will play Montreal in the First Round.
• Winner of BOS/WSH will be #3 seed; the loser will be #4

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Standings (tiebreaker is regular-season points percentage)

Vegas Golden Knights (3-0-0, 6 points)
Colorado Avalanche (2-1-0, 4 points)
St. Louis Blues (0-2-0, 0 points)
Dallas Stars (0-2-0, 0 points)

Sunday, Aug. 2: Avalanche 2, Blues 1 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 3: Golden Knights 4, Stars 3 (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Avalanche 4, Stars 0
Thursday, Aug. 6: Golden Knights 6, Blues 4 (recap)
Saturday, Aug. 8: Golden Knights 4, Avalanche 3 (OT) (recap)
Sunday, Aug. 9: Stars vs. Blues, 3 p.m. ET – NBC

• Vegas will play Chicago, while Colorado will play Arizona in the First Round.
• Winner of STL/DAL will be #3 seed; the loser will be #4

MORE:
• 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers 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.

NHL schedule for 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers in league’s Return to Play

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It’s time to focus on the NHL games, including the 2020 NHL playoffs schedule. The 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers began on Saturday, Aug. 1 in the hub cities of Edmonton and Toronto.

The top four teams in both conference will play a three-game round robin for seeding in the First Round. The Stanley Cup Qualifiers will be best-of-5 series with the losing teams being entered into Phase 2 of the NHL Draft Lottery.

Below is a full 2020 NHL playoffs schedule of both the round-robin and the Stanley Cup Qualifiers.

EASTERN CONFERENCE (Scotiabank Arena)

Round-robin [Standings, scenarios]

Sunday, Aug. 2: Flyers 4, Bruins 1 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 3
:
Lightning 3, Capitals 2 (SO) (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 5:
Lightning 3, Bruins 2 (recap)
Thursday, Aug. 6:
Flyers 3, Capitals 1 (recap)
Saturday, Aug. 8:
Flyers 4, Lightning 1 (recap)
Sunday, Aug. 9:
Bruins vs. Capitals, 12 p.m. ET – NBCSN

(5) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (12) Montreal Canadiens (MTL won series 3-1)

Saturday, Aug. 1: Canadiens 3, Penguins 2 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 3: Penguins 3, Canadiens 1 (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Canadiens 4, Penguins 3 (recap)
Friday, Aug. 7: Canadiens 2, Penguins 0 (recap)

(6) Carolina Hurricanes vs. (11) New York Rangers (CAR won series 3-0)

Saturday, Aug. 1: Hurricanes 3, Rangers 2 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 3: Hurricanes 4, Rangers 1 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Hurricanes 4, Rangers 1 (recap)

(7) New York Islanders vs. (10) Florida Panthers (NYI won series 3-1)

Saturday, Aug. 1: Islanders 2, Panthers 1 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Islanders 4, Panthers 2 (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Panthers 3, Islanders 2 (recap)
Friday, Aug. 7: Islanders 5, Panthers 1 (recap)

(8) Toronto Maple Leafs vs. (9) Columbus Blue Jackets (Series tied 2-2)

Sunday, Aug. 2: Blue Jackets 2, Maple Leafs 0 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Maple Leafs 3, Blue Jackets 0 (recap)
Thursday, Aug. 6: Blue Jackets 4, Maple Leafs 3 (OT) (recap)
Friday, Aug. 7: Maple Leafs 4, Blue Jackets 3 (OT) (recap)
Sunday, Aug. 9: Blue Jackets vs. Maple Leafs, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

WESTERN CONFERENCE (Rogers Place)

Round-robin [Standings, scenarios]

Sunday, Aug. 2: Avalanche 2, Blues 1 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 3: Golden Knights 4, Stars 3 (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Avalanche 4, Stars 0
Thursday, Aug. 6: Golden Knights 6, Blues 4 (recap)
Saturday, Aug. 8: Golden Knights 4, Avalanche 3 (OT) (recap)
Sunday, Aug. 9: Stars vs. Blues, 3 p.m. ET – NBC

(5) Edmonton Oilers vs. (12) Chicago Blackhawks (CHI won series 3-1)

Saturday, Aug. 1: Blackhawks 6, Oilers 4 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 3: Oilers 6, Blackhawks 3 (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Blackhawks 4, Oilers 3 (recap)
Friday, Aug. 7: Blackhawks 3, Oilers 2 (recap)

(6) Nashville Predators vs. (11) Arizona Coyotes (ARZ won series 3-1)

Sunday, Aug. 2: Coyotes 4, Predators 3 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Predators 4, Coyotes 2 (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Coyotes 4, Predators 1 (recap)
Friday, Aug. 7: Coyotes 4, Predators 3 (OT) (recap)

(7) Vancouver Canucks vs. (10) Minnesota Wild (VAN won series 3-1)

Sunday, Aug. 2: Wild 3, Canucks 0 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Canucks 4, Wild 3 (recap)
Thursday, Aug. 6: Canucks 3, Wild 0 (recap)
Friday, Aug. 7: Canucks 5, Wild 4 (OT) (recap)

(8) Calgary Flames vs. (9) Winnipeg Jets (CGY won series 3-1)

Saturday, Aug. 1: Flames 4, Jets 1 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 3: Jets 3, Flames 2 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Flames 6, Jets 2 (recap)
Thursday, Aug. 6: Flames 4, Jets 0 (recap)

————

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.

Flyers-Lightning stream: NHL Return to Play round-robin game

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NBC’s coverage of the NHL’s Return to Play continues with Saturday’s round-robin matchup between the Flyers and Lightning. Coverage begins at 8 p.m. ET on NBC. Watch the Flyers-Lightning stream on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

A year after becoming the first Presidents’ Trophy winner to be swept in the opening round of the playoffs, Tampa has an opportunity to earn the top seed in the East. The winner of this game will become the #1 seed in the East; the loser will be the second seed.

Teams will be re-seeded after each round of the playoffs, so the #1 seed will play whichever remaining team had the lowest points percentage from the regular season: either Montreal or the winner of the Maple Leafs-Blue Jackets series. The #2 seed will play either the Maple Leafs/Blue Jackets or Islanders.

The Lightning finished second in the Eastern Conference, their third straight season finishing in the top-two in the East. Philadelphia earned the fourth seed after winning nine of their final 10 regular season games before the pause.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

WHAT: Philadelphia Flyers vs. Tampa Bay Lightning
WHERE: Scotiabank Arena – Toronto
WHEN: Saturday, August 8, 8 p.m. ET
TV: NBC
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Flyers-Lightning stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

Current standings (tiebreaker is regular-season points percentage)

Tampa Bay Lightning (2-0-0, 4 points)
Philadelphia Flyers (2-0-0, 4 points)
Washington Capitals (0-1-1, 1 point)
Boston Bruins (0-2-0, 0 points)

Sunday, Aug. 2: Flyers 4, Bruins 1 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 3
:
Lightning 3, Capitals 2 (SO) (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 5:
Lightning 3, Bruins 2 (recap)
Thursday, Aug. 6:
Flyers 3, Capitals 1 (recap)
Saturday, Aug. 8:
Flyers vs. Lightning, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
Sunday, Aug. 9:
Bruins vs. Capitals, 12 p.m. ET – NBCSN

• Winner of TB/PHI will be #1 seed; the loser will be #2
• Winner of BOS/WSH will be #3 seed; the loser will be #4

• Carolina will face either Boston or Washington in First Round.

MORE:
2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule