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Simmonds relishes opportunity to help Sabres’ playoff push

BUFFALO, N.Y. — It took Wayne Simmonds no more than five minutes into his first Sabres practice to show how much he appreciated being in Buffalo.

Upon skating a few laps and taking a couple of shots, Simmonds found himself next to coach Ralph Krueger when the two shared a laugh.

Given how he and the talent-laden New Jersey Devils failed to come close to meeting expectations through the first five months of the season, the 31-year-old Simmonds felt good to be back in the playoff hunt – however slim the Sabres’ chances might appear.

”Obviously things didn’t go the way I planned and as the Devils planned,” Simmonds said Tuesday, a day after being acquired by Buffalo.

”I don’t regret signing there one bit,” he added, referring to the one-year, $5 million contract he signed with the Devils last summer. ”But at the same time, I wanted an opportunity to be in the hunt for the playoffs, to play those competitive games. And this was a perfect opportunity for me.”

Perfect might not be the operative word for a Buffalo team that began the day six points out of contention with 20 games remaining. And yet it’s a better spot than New Jersey, where the Devils dropped out of the race and shed high-priced veterans to build for the future.

For whatever reasons, Simmonds’ leadership and physical play failed to make a difference in New Jersey, and the Sabres hope those qualities can provide a boost in their young team’s bid to remain competitive down the stretch.

The Sabres have gone 7-3-1 in their past 11 games before a difficult four-game trip, which opens at Colorado on Wednesday.

Buffalo’s surge led to general manager Jason Botterill adding talent to a team showing modest signs of growth rather than simply dumping players with expiring contracts.

Aside from landing Simmonds for a conditional fifth-round draft pick, the Sabres acquired 24-year-old forward Dom Kahun in a three-player trade with Pittsburgh.

Simmonds addresses Buffalo’s immediate needs, while Kahun has long-term potential on a team seeking to upgrade its top-six depth at forward.

Acknowledging the Sabres aren’t ”a finished product,” Botterill discussed his reasoning behind the trades by saying: ”We’ve talked a lot about playing meaningful games in March, and I think with some of the moves that we made, we’re hopefully setting our team up to better accept that challenge.”

Though Simmonds’ best years might be behind him, the 6-foot-2, 185-pound player is a prototypical power forward, who has scored 20 goals in six of his 12 NHL seasons. He also has developed a reputation of being a respected leader and drew praise from his former Devils teammates upon being traded.

With eight goals and 24 points in 61 games this year, Simmonds has a presence that is considered an upgrade on a team in need of secondary scoring. And his seven years of playoff experience are invaluable to a Sabres team in an eight-year postseason drought – the NHL’s longest active streak.

”He’s got an excellent spirit, brings good experience with him, loves to do things that we need more of with net pressure,” Krueger said. ”But above all, also the voice in the room he’ll be. He was already engaged today as if he’s been here a long time.”

Captain Jack Eichel welcomed the reinforcements as a sign of management’s faith in the team.

”I think the two additions sends a message to the room they believe in us as a group now,” Eichel said. ”I think it sends a message to the room we’re trying to go for this right now.”

Simmonds is now on his fourth team in a calendar year, after Philadelphia dealt him to Nashville at the trade deadline last season. He was so eager to come to Buffalo, which is closer to his family’s offseason home in Toronto, that Simmonds waived his no-trade clause to allow the deal to go through.

”It’s all in pursuit of the Cup. That’s my goal. I want to come here and I want to be a good piece of the team,” he said. ”I think they’re going in the right direction.”

The trade also presents Simmonds a chance to prove he’s worthy of being signed to a contract this summer, be it in Buffalo or elsewhere.

”Obviously, I’m not going to be the savior or anything here, but just another piece to help the boys out. That’s something I relish,” Simmonds said. ”I’ve always been a competitor my whole career. And this kind of stuff brings the best out of me.”

NOTES: Kahun will join the Sabres once they arrive in Colorado. … He’s listed as day to day after missing the Penguins’ past two games with a lower-body injury. . Kahun played with Krueger’s son, Justin, on Germany’s national team. He also played under Sabres assistant coach Don Granato when the two were in Chicago last season.

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

Wednesday, Aug. 12: Montreal at Philadelphia, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
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

Tuesday, Aug. 11: Columbus at Tampa Bay, 3 p.m. ET – NBCSN
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

Wednesday, Aug. 12: NY Islanders at Washington, 3 p.m. ET – NBCSN
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

Tuesday, Aug. 11: Carolina at Boston, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
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

Tuesday, Aug. 11: Chicago at Vegas, 10:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
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

Wednesday, Aug. 12: Arizona at Colorado, 5:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
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

Tuesday, Aug. 11: Calgary at Dallas, 5:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
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

Wednesday, Aug. 12: Vancouver at St. Louis, 10:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
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.

Jets’ Mark Scheifele on injury: ‘I’ll be back better than ever’

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The injury Mark Scheifele suffered in Game 1 of Winnipeg’s Qualifying Round series against Calgary is fortunately not as bad as it appeared.

Scheifele left 5:29 into the opening game after a collision with Matthew Tkachuk along the boards. It initially looked like he had suffered a serious knee injury, or even worse, was cut by Tkachuk’s skate. He didn’t reveal the exact nature of the injury, but did say he expects to be 100% very soon.

“Initially I thought I tore my Achilles and I was done for six months,” the Jets forward said on a video call with reporters Tuesday.

Tkachuk called the play an “accident.” Jets head coach Paul Maurice went off on the Flames forward in the postgame, describing the play “a filthy, dirty kick to the back of the leg.”

Scheifele doesn’t believe what Tkachuk did was intentional and the two have spoken since Game 1.

“If someone is on the ice trying to cut someone with their skate, I don’t think Matt was trying to do that,” he said.

In their conversational Tkachuk did admit he was out of control and skating too fast before the collision.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

“The way I look at it, at the last second, I turned up and it was kind of like a knee-on-knee scenario,” Scheifele said. “The one thing I know — and he talked about being out of control and skating too fast. He took ownership of that. I know for me as a hockey player, I work every single day at being in control, at being in control of where I’m at on the ice and the space around me. That’s what I work on every single day.

“It’s one of those things that’s a learning curve for everyone. You try to be in control all the time. I look at it as a knee-on-knee scenario. That’s just the way the game works. It’s a fast-moving game, but I’m thankful it wasn’t as serious as it could have been. I had a lot of bad thoughts go through my mind that I was going to be out for six months and that my career could be over. That was tough on me, and the worst part was the anticipation of getting some answers. All I could do was thank God that I am on the mend, I didn’t need surgery and I’ll be back better than ever.”

Despite playing only three shifts and now spending his off-season recovering, Scheifele isn’t one to hold a grudge.

“The way my parents raised me you forgive everyone, and that’s all you can do. You wish the best on every person,” he said. “Matt’s a great hockey player and has a ton of work ethic. I have no hard feelings. Obviously, I wish it never happened and I played in the rest of that series, but there is nothing you can do about that now.

“All you can do is wish everyone the best and hope that everyone stays safe and healthy. That’s kind of the only thoughts on my mind. In my mind, I’m just trying to get better, trying to get my body back to 100% and that’s all I can worry about.”

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.

Blue Jackets-Lightning stream: 2020 NHL Stanley Cup First Round

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs continues with Tuesday’s First Round matchup between the Blue Jackets and Lightning. Coverage begins at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Watch the Blue Jackets-Lightning stream at 2:30 p.m. ET on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

For the second straight season the Blue Jackets and Lightning will face off in the First Round of the postseason after Columbus became the first team in NHL history to sweep a Presidents’ Trophy winner in the opening round a season ago when they defeated Tampa in four games. That victory was the Blue Jackets’ first ever playoff series win after 18 seasons in the league and now a year later these clubs meet again following Columbus’ winner-take-all victory over Toronto on Sunday night.

The Blue Jackets advanced through the Qualifying Round by defeating the host city team, Toronto, in its own building. Columbus bookended the series with Joonas Korpisalo shutouts, sending the Maple Leafs home for the offseason on Sunday night after a 3-0 win.

The Lightning went 2-1-0 in its first three games this postseason, defeating Washington (3-2 SO) and Boston (3-2) before falling to Philadelphia (4-1) on Saturday in a game that determined the No. 1 seed. A victory over the Flyers would have matched Tampa against Montreal in this round instead of this rematch.

WHAT: Columbus Blue Jackets vs. Tampa Bay Lightning
WHERE: Scotiabank Arena – Toronto
WHEN: Tuesday, August 11, 2:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
ON THE CALL: Gord Miller, Mike Milbury, Brian Boucher
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Blue Jackets-Lightning stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

No. 2 Tampa Bay Lightning vs. No. 7 Columbus Blue Jackets

Tuesday, Aug. 11: Columbus at Tampa Bay, 3 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
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

*if necessary

MORE:
• Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round schedule

‘Heavy lifting:’ West is big, tough, deep and wide open

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The top of the Western Conference features the defending Stanley Cup champion, a 2018 finalist with even more talent and an MVP front-runner.

Good luck picking a favorite.

The Vegas Golden Knights earned the top seed in the West by winning all three of their games in a round-robin tournament against the Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars and St. Louis Blues. But the Avalanche still have Nathan MacKinnon and are healthier and deeper than before, and there’s no sleeping on the Blues after they muscled their way to the Cup.

”It’s deep,” Vegas coach Peter DeBoer said. ”There are no easy paths. … We’re happy to be a part of it, we’re happy we have the No. 1 seed, but we know there’s a lot of heavy lifting here left to do.”

Heavy is the name of the game out West, where size is as big an element of success as scoring. St. Louis is the standard, but the Calgary Flames bruised their way into the first round by beating up Winnipeg and present an obstacle for the third-seeded Stars.

”The West, there’s a lot of heavy, hard teams that play a pretty simple game and the Blues are obviously the best at it being the champs,” Dallas captain Jamie Benn said. ”I think Calgary’s pretty similar. They got some pretty rugged forwards that play the game hard, so we have to be prepared for that.”

Reigning playoff MVP Ryan O'Reilly said the Blues are aware of the difficult road back to the final but are only preparing for their first-round opponent: the faster and smaller Vancouver Canucks. He and Canucks coach Travis Green mirrored each other minutes apart Monday by each saying his team must play its best hockey to win.

The same goes for the eighth-seeded Chicago Blackhawks going up against Vegas, and the seventh-seeded Arizona Coyotes against Colorado. Hart Trophy finalist Nathan MacKinnon is among the best players in the world and has a strong supporting cast with captain Gabriel Landeskog, winger Mikko Rantanen and rookie defenseman Cale Makar.

”They’re built to win right now,” Arizona coach Rick Tocchet said. ”They’re highly skilled, they’re hard on the puck. … They got arguably one of the best players if not the best player in the league. Just a well-rounded team.”

MacKinnon showed his value in the regular season by carrying the banged-up Avalanche to second in the West. Now he’s ready to try to push them toward the Cup.

”Every year you play in the NHL, you realize you don’t have many chances,” MacKinnon said. ”For me, this feels like my first real chance to win, which really excites me and I think it excites everyone.”

INJURY CONCERNS

There are injury questions surrounding three Western teams’ leading scorers, including Vegas winger Max Pacioretty‘s anticipated playoff debut for Game 1 against Chicago. Pacioretty hadn’t entered the Edmonton bubble until last week, though general manager Kelly McCrimmon said the 31-year-old cleared quarantine in time to skate four days in a row and practice Monday.

Pacioretty being ready to go makes the Golden Knights even scarier.

”It gives us more depth,” DeBoer said. ”It adds our leading scorer back into our lineup. It helps our power play. He helps us in a lot of different areas.”

Dallas Stars coach Rick Bowness said ”everyone’s healthy,” which seems to be good news for 50-point producer Tyler Seguin and starting goaltender Ben Bishop, who each missed the round-robin finale Sunday.

Tocchet said forward Nick Schmaltz had gotten a full practice under his belt and was feeling better. He might not be ready for Game 1 against Colorado on Wednesday, but Schmaltz is ”definitely getting close.”

GOALIE CAROUSEL

The top three teams in the East could all employ something of a goaltending tandem in the first round. That’s not common among the NHL’s best, but this is an uncommon format that includes one set of back-to-back games in every series.

”We’ve got two starters – a great luxury to have,” DeBoer said of the Golden Knights’ Marc-Andre Fleury and Robin Lehner. ”How we’re going to roll them out is to be determined.”

Colorado has Philipp Grubauer and Pavel Francouz to roll out however coach Jared Bednar sees fit. He has chosen his Game 1 starter but won’t say. The same goes for the Stars between Bishop and Khudobin, who split time in the round-robin.

OH, CANADA

With the (empty arena) hosts Edmonton Oilers and Toronto Maple Leafs out and with all due respect to the East’s eighth-seeded Montreal Canadiens, the best hopes of ending Canada’s 27-year Cup drought are the Flames and Canucks.

Vancouver faces the tall first task of needing to knock off the reigning champs, and Calgary is considered an underdog as the No. 6 seed against No. 3 Dallas. The Winnipeg series made the Flames look ready for playoff hockey.

”What probably people mean when they talk about being an underdog and being in a position to upset, I think really they’re really they’re probably referring to how hard the team plays and how good they are away from the puck,” Flames coach Geoff Ward said. ”If you get those two attributes in your game, you’re always going to find that you’re in a game and you’re going to be a difficult team to beat.”