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Blues’ Stanley Cup run shows value of regular season

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When the Tampa Bay Lightning woke up on Jan. 3 atop the NHL standings, the St. Louis Blues were dead last.

Tampa had won 31 of its first 39 games, while St. Louis had won just 15 of its first 37. The Lightning staked themselves to 30-point lead on the Blues before the season’s halfway mark.

The rest is league history: The Lightning got swept out of the playoffs in the first round, and the Blues went from the basement to lifting the Stanley Cup in triumph. That the Blues struggled for so long and didn’t hit their stride until January could make much of the marathon regular season seem pointless, though players suggest it actually shows the importance of ups, downs and adversity during the 82-game grind as a way to prepare to win playoff games.

”You’ve got to understand in the bigger picture if you’re going to have a four, five, six-game losing streak at some point, it’s no reason to hit the panic button,” said Jonathan Toews, who won the Cup as Chicago Blackhawks captain in 2010, 2013 and 2015. ”You almost have to go through that so when playoffs do come around, you’re ready to turn that switch and you’ve got that energy and you’ve got that confidence that if you work, you’re going to get the results for it.”

Players who watched all four division champions bow out in the first round and the Blues grind to the first title in franchise history came away with some important lessons on how to approach the regular season. St. Louis showed a midseason coaching change can work, a goalie can come out of nowhere and have success, and momentum can snowball in a positive direction.

”It was good at understanding that it’s a roller coaster, and the more you can stay even keel and keep staying with things and keep pushing each other to think that sometimes things will change, you’ll get a bounce and things will start to go your way,” Blues playoff MVP Ryan O'Reilly said. ”It was very awful at the start. We couldn’t seem to string wins together. But guys kept working. Guys didn’t shut down. They kept working for each other and the next thing you know, things started to change. Once that belief happened, it kind of steamrolled.”

Tampa Bay wound up on the flip side having not lost more than two games in a row all season and lacking the struggles to draw from when things went poorly in the playoffs. They went four and out against Columbus.

”We were good in the regular season and probably thought we’ll be all right in the playoffs because we were good in the regular season,” Vezina Trophy winning Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy said. ”The regular season was great. We were on a good run. In the playoffs, I think our tank was empty because of that and we just went straight down because of that.”

The Lightning tied the NHL record with 62 victories and finished 21 points ahead of the next-closest team. They also became the 10th Presidents’ Trophy winners in 11 tries to fall short of winning the Stanley Cup.

All of which supports the believe that standings and seeding matters little in the playoffs, where matchups take precedence. It also apparently doesn’t matter where a team is at by Thanksgiving or New Year’s Day, which used to be important markers about who will make the postseason.

”We started well and we ended bad,” said Jack Eichel, whose Sabres went on a 10-game winning streak, were first in the league at Thanksgiving and missed the playoffs. ”You look at St. Louis and they did the complete opposite. It’s a long season, and a lot goes into it. Consistency is one of the most important things in this league.”

Is it, though? The Blues didn’t put together a winning streak longer than two until mid-January. They got a boost from rookie goalie Jordan Binnington, tied a franchise record with 11 consecutive victories and became the poster boys for coming together at the right time.

”It’s just something to rally behind,” Dallas Stars goaltender Ben Bishop said. ”Usually that’s kind of what it comes down to. Something happens, and usually a team rallies behind it.”

For Vegas in 2017-18, it was the hometown shooting that killed 58 people and bonded an expansion hockey team with its community. The Golden Knights shocked the league by winning eight of their first nine games of existence and reached the Cup Final before losing to Washington. For St. Louis, Laura Branigan’s ”Gloria” became a popular rallying cry and young fan Laila Anderson battling a rare auto-immune disease was a heartwarming touchstone for the players as they made their run under Craig Berube, who was an interim coach until the celebrations had begun.

Rallying points are impossible to predict, and there’s no way to control when and how a group comes together. Still, general managers, coaches and players are always searching for that recipe of how to peak at the right time.

”You want to keep climbing,” said goaltender Tuukka Rask, whose Boston Bruins pushed St. Louis to Game 7 of the Cup Final. ”I don’t think you want to peak early and then slowly decline from there. That’s what everybody’s looking for. But you’re just trying to make the playoffs, always. You’re just trying to make the playoffs on a good note and not feeling like, ‘Oh, we dodged a bullet here. We barely made it.’ And then you’re kind of starting the playoffs not knowing what your game’s going to look like. You want to be feeling great as a team entering the playoffs.”

Toews pointed out a hot start never hurts. Points banked in October, November and December count just the same.

But St. Louis is perfect evidence that games lost early don’t spell the end. That’s how Jaccob Slavin sees the regular season now that he and the Carolina Hurricanes are trying to back up a surprise trip to the Eastern Conference final and every other team is looking to find the Blues’ rhythm and win it all.

”Until you’re out of it, don’t give up,” Slavin said. ”If you get on a roll at the right time, anything can happen.”

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 vs. Bruins, 4 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Thursday, Aug. 6:
Capitals vs. Flyers, 4 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Saturday, Aug. 8:
Flyers vs. Lightning, TBD
Sunday, Aug. 9:
Bruins vs. Capitals, TBD

(5) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (12) Montreal Canadiens (Series tied 1-1)

Saturday, Aug. 1: Canadiens 3, Penguins 2 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 3: Penguins 3, Canadiens 1 (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Penguins vs. Canadiens, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Friday, Aug. 7: Penguins vs. Canadiens, TBD
Saturday, Aug. 8: Canadiens vs. Penguins*

(6) Carolina Hurricanes vs. (11) New York Rangers (CAR wins 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 lead series 2-1)

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 vs. Panthers, TBD
Sunday, Aug. 9: Panthers vs. Islanders*

(8) Toronto Maple Leafs vs. (9) Columbus Blue Jackets (Series tied 1-1)

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

[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 vs. Stars, 6:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Thursday, Aug. 6: Golden Knights vs. Blues, 6:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Saturday, Aug. 8: Golden Knights vs. Avalanche, TBD
Sunday, Aug. 9: Stars vs. Blues, TBD

(5) Edmonton Oilers vs. (12) Chicago Blackhawks (Series tied 1-1)

Saturday, Aug. 1: Blackhawks 6, Oilers 4 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 3: Oilers 6, Blackhawks 3 (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Oilers vs. Blackhawks, 10:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Friday, Aug. 7: Oilers vs. Blackhawks, TBD
Saturday, Aug. 8: Blackhawks vs. Oilers*, TBD

(6) Nashville Predators vs. (11) Arizona Coyotes (Series tied 1-1)

Sunday, Aug. 2: Coyotes 4, Predators 3 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Predators 4, Coyotes 2 (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Predators vs. Coyotes, 2:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Friday, Aug. 7: Predators vs. Coyotes TBD
Sunday, Aug. 9: Coyotes vs. Predators*, TBD

(7) Vancouver Canucks vs. (10) Minnesota Wild (Series tied 1-1)

Sunday, Aug. 2: Wild 3, Canucks 0 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Canucks 4, Wild 3 (recap)
Thursday, Aug. 6: Canucks vs. Wild, 2:30 p.m. ET (live look-in coverage on NBCSN)
Friday, Aug. 7: Canucks vs. Wild, TBD
Sunday, Aug. 9: Wild vs. Canucks*, TBD

(8) Calgary Flames vs. (9) Winnipeg Jets (CGY leads series 2-1)

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 vs. Jets, 10:30 p.m. ET – CNBC
Saturday, Aug. 8: Jets vs. Flames*, TBD

* – if necessary

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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.

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

Lightning-Bruins stream
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NBCSN’s coverage of the NHL’s Return to Play continues with Wednesday’s round-robin matchup between the Lightning and Bruins. Coverage begins at 4 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Watch the Lightning-Bruins stream on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

This Round Robin game features several compelling matchups, pitting the league’s best offense (TB: 3.47 g/gm) against the best defense (BOS: 2.39 ga/gm), and two Vezina Trophy candidates (Andrei Vasilevskiy; Tuukka Rask) in a tilt between the last two Presidents’ Trophy Winners. Steven Stamkos is once again not expected to play for the Lightning.

The last time these teams met (TB 5-3 win on March 7) they combined for 26 penalties and 94 penalty minutes.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Current standings

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

Scenarios based on Wednesday’s result

Boston wins in regulation
• All teams can still earn the No. 1 seed.

Tampa wins in regulation
• Boston can finish no better than third.
• The other three teams can still earn the No. 1 seed, but Tampa Bay controls its own outcome and would earn the No. 1 Seed by beating Philadelphia.

Boston wins in OT/SO
• All teams can still earn the No. 1 seed.
• Boston would need Washington to beat Philadelphia in regulation on Thursday to make that outcome possible for them.

Tampa wins in OT/SO
• Boston could finish no higher than second.
• The other three teams could still earn the No. 1 seed, but Tampa Bay controls its own outcome and would earn the No. 1 seed by beating Philadelphia

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

WHAT: Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Boston Bruins
WHERE: Scotiabank Arena – Toronto
WHEN: Wednesday, August 5, 4 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
ON THE CALL: Mike Emrick, Mike Milbury, Brian Boucher
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Lightning-Bruins stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

Eastern Conference round-robin schedule

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

MORE:
2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule

Strong third period start helps Panthers stave off elimination

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Mike Hoffman and Brian Boyle scored in the opening three minutes of the third period to lift the Panthers to a 3-2, Game 3 win over the Islanders.

New York leads the series 2-1 with Game 4 Friday.

The Islanders gave Florida five power plays Wednesday and the Panthers’ special teams unit made sure to take advantage.

Erik Haula started the scoring with his first of the postseason following an Islanders’ too many men penalty. Hoffman’s shot from the point was blocked by Semyon Varlamov, but the rebound popped out to Evgenii Dadonov. The Panthers forward drew the attention of Adam Pelech and Scott Mayfield, opening up space to feed a pass to Haula.

Given the opportunity to end the series, the Islanders kept pushing for an equalizer. It finally came with 3:34 to go in the second as Jean-Gabriel Pageau netted goal No. 2 of the series. But any momentum New York took into the intermission was gone after Varlamov played the puck outside of the trapezoid and was whistled for delay of game seven seconds into the third.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Hoffman fired home a shot 34 seconds later and Brian Boyle doubled the lead shortly after.

“I made a mistake on that play, very simple,” Varlamov said afterward. “I should have handled the puck better.”

New York would cut the lead to one when Brock Nelson scored with 1:27 to go, but it wasn’t enough. Sergei Bobrovsky finished with 20 saves.

This is Florida’s first postseason win since April 20, 2016 — a span of 1,568 days — when they beat the Islanders in their First Round series.

The Islanders will get a second chance to close out the series in Game 4 on Friday (NBCSN).

(7) New York Islanders vs. (10) Florida Panthers (NYI leads series 2-1)

Saturday, Aug. 1: Islanders 2, Panthers 1 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Islanders 4, Panthers 2 (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Panthers 3, Islanders 2
Friday, Aug. 7: Islanders vs. Panthers, TBD
Sunday, Aug. 9: Panthers vs. Islanders*

MORE:
2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers 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.

Coyotes-Predators stream: 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers

Coyotes-Predators stream
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NBCSN’s coverage of the NHL’s Return to Play continues with Wednesday’s Stanley Cup Qualifier matchup between the Coyotes and Predators. Live look-in coverage begins at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Watch the Coyotes-Predators Game 2 stream at 2:30 p.m. ET on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Coyotes don’t have long to dwell on Tuesday’s loss. Back at it Wednesday for Game 3 and a series tied 1-1, Coyotes head coach Rick Tocchet is telling his players to have a short memory.

“We’ll tweak a couple of things, but you have to get a good meal in and get a good night’s rest,” he said. “You win, everything’s great, you lose, everything stinks. That’s the way the playoffs are. The teams that are even-keel are the teams that are successful. We’ll move past this in two minutes and get ready for tomorrow.”

Darcy Kuemper may have a new backup Wednesday as Antti Raanta left Game 2 midway through the second period. The team says he is “unfit to play,” opening the door for Adin Hill to don the baseball cap on the bench.

WHAT: Arizona Coyotes vs. Nashville Predators
WHERE: Rogers Place – Edmonton
WHEN: Wednesday, August 5, 2:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN (live look-in)
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Coyotes-Predators live look-in stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

(6) Nashville Predators vs. (11) Arizona Coyotes (Series tied 1-1)

Sunday, Aug. 2: Coyotes 4, Predators 3 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Predators 4, Coyotes 2 (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Predators vs. Coyotes, 2:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN (live look-in stream)
Friday, Aug. 7: Predators vs. Coyotes TBD
Sunday, Aug. 9: Coyotes vs. Predators*, TBD

MORE:
2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule