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NHL on NBCSN: ‘Measuring stick’ game for Bruins, Lightning

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Tuesday’s matchup between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Boston Bruins. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

A game between two of the best teams in the NHL is always worth noting, whether the Lightning (87 points) really have a chance to catch the Bruins (94), or not. When you consider that the two teams are expected to be on a collision course for a possible second-round playoff matchup (despite, again, easily ranking among the NHL’s best), it only makes each matchup more interesting.

With Tuesday’s meeting in Tampa Bay on NBCSN and Saturday’s bout in Boston, the Lightning and Bruins get two chances to see how they measure up against each other. Which … again, also translates to how they measure up among the best of the best.

“I look at it more as ‘We haven’t seen them in a long time’ and Tampa has been a really strong team since I’ve been here,” Bruce Cassidy said, via NBC Sports Boston’s Joe Haggerty. “For us, it’s a measuring stick maybe. Here’s one of the best teams in our division — and I’d put us in that category as well — and let’s see what they’ve got. It’s less about that if we win this, we can start counting down [to a divisional title].”

Torey Krug believes the games will have a “playoff-type feel” to them. Fittingly enough, there are also reasons why the Lightning and Bruins will be going through a “feeling-out process,” including Tuesday on NBCSN.

[COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6:30 P.M. ET ON NBCSN]

Lightning, Bruins continue to deal with trade deadline transitions

Want an idea of how hectic it can be when you’re traded? Consider that life doesn’t just hit the pause button for someone like Blake Coleman, whose baby girl arrived just around the time he went from the Devils to the Lightning.

These games provide a chance for the Bruins and Lightning to see how new additions and alignments might work in strength vs. strength situations. Actually, they also get the chance to see if other things work, like sending a more defensive-minded unit after one of those “strengths.”

Coleman and Barclay Goodrow are charged with finding their footing with the Lightning, not exactly an easy roster to crack. Ondrej Kase and Nick Ritchie face similar challenges easing in with the Bruins.

Now, there’s some relief in that all four forwards weren’t expected to be team-altering players. No doubt, Kase could really tie the room together, and the Bolts paid big enough for Coleman and Goodrow to expect strong play. But these aren’t the sort of additions teams expect to revolutionize an offense or patch up a shaky defense.

Instead, the goal is for the rich to get richer, and these rosters are about as talent-rich as you’re going to see in the salary cap era.

[Push for the Playoffs]

Can Kucherov stay hot without Stamkos?

Of course, the Lightning are poorer with Stamkos out for the rest of the regular season, and probably a chunk of the playoffs.

It’s far from ideal timing, although Tampa Bay at least gets time to tune up without him. (It probably would’ve been nice to know about this loss before the trade deadline, though, mind you.)

While the Lightning boast other stars like Brayden Point and Victor Hedman, many eyes will be on reigning Art and Hart winner Nikita Kucherov. Lightning fans should be soothed to know that Kucherov can flourish without Stamkos, even if it’s only natural for there to be some drop-off.

The Lightning possess a 57-32-13 record in 112 games played with Kucherov but without Stamkos. So there’s experience there, even if they don’t want to perpetuate such experiences.

It will be fascinating to see if Kucherov can stay hot, because he’s on a torrid run. Kucherov is currently on a personal 19-game point streak with 14 goals and 31 points during that span. Overall, Kucherov has generated 80 points in 63 games.

Bruins begin tough stretch with Tuesday’s NBCSN game vs. Lightning

Two matches against the Lightning in one week already sounds like a tall order for Boston. The challenges go further than that:

If the Lightning took both of this week’s games in regulation, and also took advantage of their game in hand against Boston, then you can see how the Bruins’ buffer could shrink in no time. Virtually every team on this schedule faces even greater urgency than the B’s, so this will be a gut-check stretch.

A … measuring stick, if you will. It should be a good one between the Bruins and Lightning on NBCSN Tuesday.

NBC Sports will take fans inside the sounds and passion of hockey with a one-hour special – “Wired: Stadium Series – Kings vs. Avalanche” – this Wednesday at 12 a.m. ET on NBCSN, immediately following coverage of Ducks-Avalanche on Wednesday Night Hockey.

Following Wednesday’s premiere, the show will be available on demand on the NBC Sports app. The special will also encore on NBCSN on Thursday, March 5, at 10:30 p.m. ET following NHL Overtime, and on Wednesday, March 11, at 6 p.m. ET.

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.

Bettman: Next NHL season could start in December or January

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EDMONTON, Alberta (AP) — Commissioner Gary Bettman said Saturday he wouldn’t be surprised if the next NHL season begins after the tentatively planned Dec. 1 start date.

In his annual pre-Stanley Cup Final news conference, Bettman said Saturday there is still too much uncertainty to know what that season will look like. He wouldn’t address speculation about an all-Canadian division given the U.S.-Canada border closure to nonessential travel.

Deputy commissioner Bill Daly said the focus would remain on the safety for players, coaches, staff and fans.

”If there’s an option to consider, believe me, we’re considering it,” Bettman said.

The league has repeatedly said opening training camps Nov. 17 and beginning the season Dec. 1 were tentative targets. Bettman raised the possibility of the season starting later in December or in January.

Asked about potentially not playing until the fall of 2021, Bettman anticipates a full, 82-game season and playoffs.

”How and when we do that is something that we don’t all have enough information to make any decisions,” Bettman said.

The U.S.-Canada border is a significant issue and has more of an effect on the NHL than other pro sports leagues because it has seven teams in Canada and 24 in the U.S. until Seattle is set to become the 32nd franchise in 2021. Canada did not allow Major League Baseball’s Blue Jays to play in Toronto this season because of cross-border travel.

Daly said the league can wait a certain amount of time until fans might be allowed in arenas. Bettman added, ”How we start doesn’t necessarily relate to how we’re going to finish” and raised the possibility of starting without fans and evolving from there.

The league has held its entire, expanded 24-team playoffs in quarantined bubbles without fans in Toronto and Edmonton. Bettman said more than 30,000 COVID-19 tests have been done in that time with zero positive coronavirus test results.

Lightning-Stars stream: 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final

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NBC’s coverage of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs continues with Saturday’s Stanley Cup Final matchup between the Lightning and Stars. Coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBC. Watch the Lightning-Stars stream on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Lightning have been one of the most successful teams in the NHL in recent years, but have been unable to win the ultimate prize. Over the past six seasons, Tampa has made at least the Conference Final in four of them, with this being their second Stanley Cup Final appearance in that span. On each previous occasion, the Bolts lost to the eventual champions.

Given the manner in which Tampa has lost in prior years, this 2020 squad has been clearing hurdles at every stage. In the First Round, the Lightning avenged last year’s sweep by beating Columbus in five games. In the Second Round, they got past the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Bruins. And in the Conference Final, after multiple years of failing to close out East Final opponents, the Lightning outlasted the Islanders with a gritty series win.

Rick Bowness was named interim head coach on Dec. 10 after Dallas relieved Jim Montgomery of his duties for “unprofessional conduct.” Bowness, 65, was drafted by the Atlanta Flames in 1975 and has played or coached in the NHL almost every year since – including a stint working for Jon Cooper in Tampa. Bowness is the oldest head coach in the NHL, and has never been part of a Cup-winning team.

According to the NHL Coaches Association, this is the first Cup Final in history where the head coach on one team had previously served as the assistant of the other.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

WHAT: Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars
WHERE: Rogers Place – Edmonton
WHEN: Saturday, September 19, 7:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBC
ON THE CALL: Mike Emrick, Eddie Olczyk, Brian Boucher
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Lightning-Stars stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars

Game 1: Saturday, Sept. 19, 7:30 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
Game 2: Monday, Sept. 21, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
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

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

Game 1: Saturday, Sept. 19, 7:30 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
Game 2: Monday, Sept. 21, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
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)

Lightning vs. Stars: 2020 Stanley Cup Final preview

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There is a strong argument to be made that the Tampa Bay Lightning have been the NHL’s best team for six years now.

Since the start of the 2014-15 season they have more regular season and playoff wins than any team in the league, scored more goals scored than any team in the league, have reached the Conference Finals four times, and are now in their second Stanley Cup Final since then.

The only thing they are missing to help cement their status as the league’s most dominant team? Actually winning the Stanley Cup with this core and this roster.

They have a chance to accomplish that starting on Saturday night when they play the Dallas Stars in Game 1 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final (7:30 p.m. ET, NBC; livestream).

Given all of their success in recent years it is probably not a huge surprise to see them on this stage.

The Stars, though? They are a bit more unexpected, even though they were a Game 7 double overtime loss away from reaching the Western Conference Final a year ago. They started the season with a 1-7-1 record, went through an in-season coaching change, struggled to score goals, and were always overshadowed in the Western Conference by the likes of St. Louis, Colorado, and Vegas. Then they went and beat two of those three in the playoffs and punched their ticket to their first Stanley Cup Final in 20 years.

How do the two teams compare?

Let us take a look.

2020 STANLEY CUP FINAL (Rogers Place – Edmonton)

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars

Game 1: Saturday, Sept. 19, 7:30 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
Game 2: Monday, Sept. 21, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
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]

Offense

These two teams could not be more different in terms of playing style and offensive potential.

While the Stars briefly found an offensive surge in the First and Second Rounds against Calgary and Colorado, it is still a team that relies on defense and goaltending to win games. They showed they are capable of adapting and filling the net more often to win games, but that is not where their strength is. It’s not that they don’t have talent on the roster (they do), it’s just that they don’t really have many game-breakers at forward.

This is a team that has not ranked higher than 17th in goals scored since the 2015-16 season, while they have finished 28th and 29th the past two seasons.

Tampa Bay, meanwhile, is absolutely loaded up front, even if Steven Stamkos is not available.

Nikita Kucherov is as good as it gets offensively, while Brayden Point has emerged as a top-line center. Add in complementary pieces like Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson, Alex Killorn, Yanni Gourde, and the trade deadline acquisitions of Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow and there are not really many weaknesses up front.

The Lightning have been the top goal-scoring team in the league in four of the past six seasons, including each of the past three seasons.

Advantage: Lightning

Defense

Their star power up front really overshadows the fact that the Lightning also have an outstanding blue line. Victor Hedman is a beast and arguably the most impactful player on the roster, while Mikhail Sergachev, Ryan McDonagh, and Kevin Shattenkirk round out an extremely formidable top-four on defense.

The Lightning are not only one of the highest scoring teams in the league, they are also one of the best defensive teams.

Dallas, on the other hand, has quite literally been the toughest teams to score against for two years now.

Since the start of the 2018-19 season the Stars are allowing just 2.48 goals per game, which is the absolute lowest mark in the entire NHL, just narrowly ahead of the Boston Bruins (2.49) and New York Islanders (2.54). Those are the only three teams in the league that have allowed fewer than 2.65 goals per game over that stretch.

Is it a lot of that due to what has been an outstanding goalie duo? You bet it has been. But the fact the Stars also have two elite defenseman in Klingberg and Heiskanen plays a significant role in that as well.

Advantage: Stars

Goaltending

Andrei Vasilevskiiy has been a Vezina Trophy finalist three years in a row now and is clearly one of the league’s elite goalies.

Adding that to a team that has the best offense in the NHL and a stellar defense is almost unfair. But here we are.

On the Dallas side, Anton Khudobin has become one of the biggest stories of the playoffs for the way he stood on his head against the Vegas Golden Knights in the Western Conference Final. That performance has put him in the Conn Smythe discussion, and a repeat of that against Tampa Bay in the Final might even make him a favorite.

The duo of Khudobin and Ben Bishop has been a massive part of the Stars’ goal prevention the past two years as they have formed one of the best tandems in the league. But Bishop’s health and status for the Stanley Cup Final is a bit of a mystery at this point, so the Lightning should still have the edge here.

Advantage: Lightning

Special Teams

There is actually not a lot separating these two units. The Lightning had the superior power play unit during the regular season, but Dallas still had a solid unit and it has excelled so far in the playoffs. That power play success was a big part of their goal-scoring surge earlier this postseason.

The two penalty killing units have been virtually identical in terms of their success rate during the regular season and playoffs, and that really should not be a huge surprise. Both teams have excellent defenses, good defensive forwards, and great goaltending. That is a pretty good combination to have.

Advantage: Push

Prediction

Lightning in six: I am not going to dismiss the Stars in this series. They have a goalie that is playing out of his mind, two No. 1 defensemen, a great top line, and improved forward depth from what we saw with them a year ago. They also just beat two of the best teams in the NHL (Colorado and Vegas) in back-to-back series by winning eight out of 12 games against them. They could absolutely do it again here. But Tampa Bay is going to be the best team they have faced and they have impact players at every level of the roster. They have been so close for so many years, this is going to be the year they win it all. Tampa Bay Lightning in six games is the pick here.

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.