Predators, Stars gearing up for Texas-sized Winter Classic

DALLAS (AP) — Welcome to a Texas-sized NHL Winter Classic.

The annual showcase is going to be one big outdoor game when the Dallas Stars host the Nashville Predators at the historic Cotton Bowl Stadium on Wednesday – even without ”Big Tex” booming out the customary ”Howdy, folks!” that visitors to the State Fair of Texas hear each fall.

More than 84,000 fans are expected for the NHL’s 12th New Year’s Day game, this one at the stadium where the boots belonging to the fair’s iconic 55-foot talking cowboy will be near the rink with an oversized, ranch-style entry arch. It is expected to be the second-largest crowd ever for an NHL game.

Part of the fair’s midway just outside the historic stadium, including a 212-foot high Ferris wheel and other carnival rides, will be open for those with tickets before and after the NHL’s southernmost outdoor game.

”It started as a bit of a pipe dream,” said Stars CEO Jim Lites, whose team hosted its first NHL draft in 2018 at its arena only a few miles from the Cotton Bowl.

Now an NHL game is being played inside the stadium that is home to the annual Red River college football rivalry game between Texas and Oklahoma that has been played during the State Fair for 90 years. The Cotton Bowl game was played there each New Year’s Day until a decade ago, and the Dallas Cowboys called it home for their first 12 seasons, from 1960-71.

”It’ll be a nice venue, have a good feel, and everybody in Texas and this area, they know about the Cotton Bowl,” Stars center Joe Pavelski said. ”I think that’s a big draw as well, come see something different there.”

Pavelski signed with Dallas as a free agent last summer after his first 13 NHL seasons with the San Jose Sharks, who hosted the Los Angeles Kings in a Stadium Series game at the home stadium of the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers in 2015.

When the State Fair of Texas was open during its 3 1/2-week run last fall, Pavelski and his family walked around, played games and ”spent a lot of money” to win a big teddy bear.

The ultimate prize Wednesday will be two points for the winner between the two teams that met in a first-round playoff series last April that the Stars won in six games. Both are coming off distinctly different back-to-back games.

Nashville had 5-2 and 6-4 losses to Pittsburgh, with goalie Pekka Rinne pulled from the first game and Juuse Saros yanked from the second. The Predators, after adding free agent forward Matt Duchene last offseason, are 11th in the Western Conference standings.

”It’s a big game just because of the standings, it’s a big game because of playing them in the playoff last year, the first game we lost this year,” Predators defenseman Roman Josi said. ”Big two points, but obviously very special to play in the Winter Classic.”

The Stars won 4-1 on Dec. 14 in Nashville, their only meeting so far this season.

”Just based on the recent history that we’ve had with Dallas, it makes really a game that I think the guys are looking at that we’ve got some work to do,” said Nashville coach Peter Laviolette, though he wanted his team to enjoy the experience Tuesday, which included a family skate for both teams.

Dallas, hitting the halfway point of its regular season that began with a horrendous 1-7-1 start, is third in the conference after consecutive comeback wins (over Colorado and Arizona).

”It shows great character of our team that we are able to come back. This is a tough league and it’s not going to happen every night that you can come back in the third period,” Stars interim head coach Rick Bowness said. ”We do not want to do this again on Jan. 1. If we have to, we know we can.”

The Stars are 5-3-1 since second-year head coach Jim Montgomery was fired Dec. 10 for unspecified unprofessional conduct.

With the calendar turning to 2020, Bowness moves into his fifth decade as an NHL coach. It will be the first outdoor NHL game for the 64-year-old Canadian, and it brings back memories of his dad building a rink in the backyard for winter games. He did the same for his kids – all grown and in attendance this week – when he landed his first head coaching job with Winnipeg.

”We didn’t have a lot of rinks back then. So if you wanted to play hockey, you skated outside,” Bowness said. ”This is something that my dad would absolutely love.”

The largest crowd to see an NHL game was 105,491 at Michigan Stadium six years ago when Toronto beat Detroit in a shootout at the Winter Classic. A crowd of 76,126 was at Notre Dame Stadium last New Year’s Day when Boston beat Chicago, 4-2.

NHL officials said about 20,000 tickets have been purchased by fans for the visiting Predators, whose jerseys were inspired by the 1960s and 1970s jerseys of the Dixie Flyers, the first minor league hockey team in Nashville.

The Stars will wear green and white jerseys with elements of the 1993-94 Stars, the first season in Dallas, and the 1945-46 USHA Dallas Texans, the first minor league team in Dallas.

Weekend rain and temperatures near 70 created quite a puddle at the Cotton Bowl, forcing crews to redo logos and lines. It has cooled off since then and it could be near freezing overnight into New Year’s Day. Conditions at game time were forecast to be cloudy with temperatures in the low 50s – about average for a January day in North Texas.

Lightning ‘stick with it’ as power play thrives in Game 2

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The Lightning power play woke up in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final, with plenty of help from the Stars.

Tampa’s power play unit had failed to capitalize on their last 14 chances entering Monday, and had only scored once in their last 18 times with the man advantage. But with Dallas taking three penalties in the opening 13 minutes of the game, opportunity was knocking.

Brayden Point and Ondrej Palat helped Tampa to a 3-2 win to even the series at one. Both power play goals were the result of two key factors that were missing for Tampa. The first was movement. The Lightning were in constant motion, changing angles and opening up space between the Dallas penalty killers. The second was crisp passing, which was highlighted by Nikita Kucherov finding seams to record the primary assists on each tally.

The first goal saw Point set up in the bumper spot and no one positioned in front of Anton Khudobin. Tampa moved the puck from the left side to the Victor Hedman at the point to Kucherov on the right side. The pass to Kucherov forced Blake Comeau to scramble, and he chose to defend the lane back to Hedman at the point. That left more than enough space to connect with Point for his 10th of the playoffs.

“He makes plays like that all the time,” Point said of Kucherov’s pass. “He puts the puck in such good spots for guys to be able to score and be able to succeed.”

[MORE: 3 Takeaways: Lightning top Stars in Game 2]

The passing clinic continued on the next power play. First, Hedman got Andrew Cogliano and Mattias Janmark to bite on his one-timer fake. Kucherov had a fake of his own on Hedman’s pass, forcing too much puck-watching by the Stars. That left Palat unmarked and a cross-ice passing lane available.

“Our PK has had to do a job every game,” said Stars forward Jason Dickinson. “We take a lot of penalties in the playoffs.”

He’s right. Dallas leads the postseason with 106 penalties taken, just ahead of Tampa’s 102. Lightning head coach Jon Cooper and his staff got a first-hand look at the Stars’ shorthanded unit in Game 1, which killed off three power plays. That learning experience paid off in Game 2.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

“I think we’re just trying to stick with it,” Point said. “I think scoring that first goal today, that’s all we’re thinking about. We’re staying positive with the power play. We were crisp on our passes. … I don’t know if it’s a sense of relief, just happy to get a goal.”

Employing personnel who can score on any shift breeds confidence, no matter how much failure is biting you. Frustration wasn’t going to win out in the end, however, and it was only a matter of time before skill would force a Lightning power play breakthrough. And it came at a time when it was needed most.

“This time of year you can’t really get frustrated, you’ve just got to stick with it, wait for your next opportunity,” said defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk. We obviously have the guys on this team who can make you pay at any moment.”

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars (Series tied 1-1)

Stars 4, Lightning 1 (recap)
Lightning 3, Stars 2 (recap)
Game 3: Wednesday, Sept. 23, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
Game 4: Friday, Sept. 25, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
Game 5: Saturday, Sept. 26, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*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 (Series tied 1-1)

Game 1: Stars 4, Lightning 1 (recap)
Game 2: Lightning 3, Stars 2 (recap)
Game 3: Wednesday, Sept. 23, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
Game 4: Friday, Sept. 25, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
Game 5: Saturday, Sept. 26, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*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: Lightning top Stars in Game 2 of 2020 Stanley Cup Final

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The Stars nearly erased a 3-0 deficit in Game 2 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final, but the Lightning held on for a 3-2 win to tie the series 1-1. Let’s mull over three takeaways from the Lightning’s narrow Game 2 win vs. the Stars.

The Stars and Lightning face off in Game 3 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final on Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN (livestream).

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

1. Injuries, fatigue haven’t totally blunted the Lightning attack.

More than once early in Game 2 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final, it sure seemed like Nikita Kucherov was hurting. Some of us might have felt an impulse to suggest resting the seemingly banged-up winger after Kucherov suffered through this collision with Jamie Oleksiak:

(And that wasn’t even the only scare for Kucherov, although it was the biggest one from Game 2.)

Despite accruing more bumps and bruises, the Lightning showed that their skill can take over against the Stars during the 2020 Stanley Cup Final. Promisingly, Brayden Point rifled home a key 1-0 power-play goal. Being that Point missed significant chunks of the 2020 Eastern Conference Final, seeing Point score was a welcome sight even beyond the scoreboard.

But Kucherov was especially impressive. He made a nice play to set up that Point goal, and the real treat was Kucherov’s tremendous slap-pass to set the stage for Ondrej Palat. Palat almost seemed handcuffed by that great Kucherov feed:

With both Kucherov and Point banged up, and Steven Stamkos still not in the lineup, it doesn’t always look like the Lightning are at full-strength. Apparently they’re pretty dangerous even when they’re not at 100 percent.

2. The Stars are better off in a Game 1-type situation than Game 2.

On one hand, the Stars showed that they’ll fight hard in Game 2. No, it wasn’t enough to erase that 3-0 deficit, but that was a strong push.

And a nasty style? That’s probably in the Stars’ more rugged wheelhouse.

Still, Game 2 served as a reminder that if the Stars had the chance to choose between control or chaos, they’re better off coloring inside the lines.

Recall that, through the first two periods of Game 1, the Stars largely bottled the Lightning. Dallas actually won the SOG fight 18-14 over the opening 40 minutes, then saw the Lightning bombard a keyed-in Anton Khudobin during the third period.

In Game 2, both teams kept streaming to the box, and that burned the Stars like the Texas sun during summer time. It made for wilder, more compelling hockey, but Dallas is better off avoiding the dangerous game of trading chances with Tampa Bay.

To some extent, that problem might sort itself out quite a bit since officials are notorious for avoiding calling just about any subjective penalty as a series goes on. That said, there were unforced errors in Game 2, such as Blake Comeau taking a foolish interference penalty during the second period.

Ultimately, the Stars need to find the right balance between taking away the Lightning’s time and space, while also not having that physical edge push them into the penalty box. That rhythm was off – for Dallas – in Game 2.

3. Andrei Vasilevskiy deserves some attention, too.

It’s only natural for Anton Khudobin to draw a ton of attention. Beyond playing exceptional hockey, his journeyman story just begs for headlines, and probably glossy video features.

Don’t forget about the guy in the other end, though. Even if he’s a prototypically sized goalie who bucked the larger trend and was selected as a first-round pick.

We’re through Game 2 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final, and Vasilevskiy hasn’t suffered consecutive losses during this Lightning run.

Tampa Bay needed Vasilevskiy to have a stellar second period, and he didn’t disappoint. Only a Joe Pavelski tip ended up in the Lightning net despite the Stars generating an 18-5 shots on goal advantage in the middle frame. Overall, Vasilevskiy stopped 27 out of 29 shots in Game 2.

It’s not as sexy of a story as Khudobin beating the odds, yet Vasilevskiy living up to huge expectations isn’t exactly chopped liver in narrative form, either.

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars (Series tied 1-1)

Game 1: Stars 4, Lightning 1. (recap)
Game 2: Lightning 3, Stars 2. (recap)
Game 3: Wednesday, Sept. 23, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
Game 4: Friday, Sept. 25, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
Game 5: Saturday, Sept. 26, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
*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.

Lightning ride hot start in Game 2 to tie 2020 Stanley Cup Final vs. Stars

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The Lightning almost watched a 3-0 lead evaporate before their eyes, but they did enough to beat the Stars 3-2 in Game 3, tying the 2020 Stanley Cup Final 1-1.

From here, the two teams approach Game 3 (Wednesday, Sept. 23, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN – livestream) with the 2020 Stanley Cup Final series looking like a coin flip.

Lightning win Game 2 of 2020 Stanley Cup Final thanks to strong start vs. Stars

Back in Game 1, the Lightning failed to score during a busy third period, but they put a lot of pressure on Anton Khudobin.

This time around, the Lightning broke through. Tampa Bay received three consecutive power-play opportunities to begin Game 2, and chasing in with PPG played a big role in taking that crucial 3-0 first-period lead.

Nikita Kucherov sent tremendous passes to Brayden Point (1-0 PPG) and Ondrej Palat (2-0 PPG) to set up those first two goals. Considering the bumps and bruises Kucherov already was dealing with, it’s impressive that he managed that after painful falls like these:

We’re not that deep into the 2020 Stanley Cup Final, yet the Stars and Lightning are already building up some serious bad feelings. Things boiled over more than once in Game 2, including after Ryan McDonagh ended Blake Comeau‘s night early with a bone-rattling hit.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Chalk it up to sitting on a lead or the Stars unleashing the hounds, but either way, Dallas made a serious push to get back into this one. The Stars managed an 18-5 shots on goal advantage during the second period, a frame where there stream of penalties turned into a geyser. Joe Pavelski‘s nice tip for a PPG gave the Stars a shot, and then Mattias Janmark cut the Lightning lead to 3-2 early in the third thanks to a tremendous feed by John Klingberg.

Anton Khudobin’s been getting a lot of attention, yet Andrei Vasilevskiy has been strong during these 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. He was sharp when he needed to be on Monday.

Once the Lightning’s lead diminished to 3-2, it seemed like they rose to the task. The Lightning actually managed a significant third-period SOG advantage (12-5), even though the Stars was trying to get back into Game 2.

Mikhail Sergachev seemed to score a 4-2 insurance goal, but a successful offside review pushed it back to 3-2.

That didn’t end up being a turning point in Game 2, as the Lightning shut the door against the Stars, tying the 2020 Stanley Cup Final 1-1.

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars (Series tied 1-1)

Game 1: Stars 4, Lightning 1. (recap)
Game 2: Lightning 3, Stars 2.
Game 3: Wednesday, Sept. 23, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
Game 4: Friday, Sept. 25, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
Game 5: Saturday, Sept. 26, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
*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.