NHL goaltenders putting on puck-stopping clinic in playoffs

Nearly 20 years ago, Kevin Weekes and goaltending coach Sudarshan Maharaj rented some ice time at a Toronto arena with a Chinese food buffet above them and worked on the fundamentals of the position.

It took Weekes’ game to a new level and he was reminded of the extra work as he watches these unusual NHL playoffs. Goaltenders are putting on a clinic in the crease, combining for a .922 save percentage through 66 games, up from .910 in the regular season and .916 in the playoffs last year.

”It’s as if they’ve had the opportunity to go to goalie school right before playoffs start,” said Weekes, an NHL goalie for 11 seasons who is now an NHL Network analyst. ”I’ve heard several guys tell me that they feel like their focus is even sharper.”

The improvement can be traced to a combination of things: Goalies had time to recuperate after the season was called off in March. They were able to practice on fundamentals before the playoffs began. And they are playing in empty arenas without distractions, with all due respect to the lights and music from the NHL production staffs in Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta.

Little if any ability to sharpen specialized skills while quarantined threatened to put goalies at a disadvantage when the season resumed with 24 teams in the playoffs – and eight of them facing elimination right away. Suddenly, every save mattered after months of not being able to put on gear, let alone face live shots.

”It was really tough,” Dallas goaltender Anton Khudobin said. ”I was going to the gym and stuff like that. I was working off the ice. But I wasn’t able to find the ice in my city at that time because everything was on quarantine and was closed. Me and my coach back home, he found a way how we’re gonna work and I only skated on the ice just a little bit, only five times.”

Getting back on the ice for voluntary workouts and training camp allowed netminders to get back to the basics. There have been fewer bad goals allowed and more stellar performances from the likes of Montreal’s Carey Price, Columbus’ Joonas Korpisalo, Arizona’s Darcy Kuemper and Calgary’s Cam Talbot.

There have already been 12 shutouts through 66 games after just nine the entire 2019 playoffs (87 games).

”It’s amazing the goaltending that’s been played so far,” said Kirk Muller, who has taken over for Claude Julien coaching Price and the Canadiens 27 years after winning the Stanley Cup with goaltender Patrick Roy.

”If there’s one area that if someone said you could make a comparison of when we played and today’s game, I’d say the most improved obviously is goaltending: the teaching, these guys now, they’re in such great shape, they’re athletic, they’re competitive and they’re big,” Muller said. ”It’s difficult to score on these goalies today.”

Two coaches who have successfully rotated goalies in the playoffs have different theories on why that is.

Peter DeBoer, who coached New Jersey to the Cup Final in 2012 with Martin Brodeur and San Jose there in 2016 with Martin Jones, knows goalies have more energy than usual in this situation. That was on display when his Vegas Golden Knights put up 49 shots and lost because of Chicago’s Corey Crawford.

”A lot of these guys come playoff time have already got 50, 60 games under their belt of wear and tear, and you’ve got a bunch of healthy goalies out there right now that are ready to play,” DeBoer said. ”We’ve played enough games now they’ve got their timing down, so they’re getting better every day.”

Carolina’s Rod Brind’Amour thinks defense is outpacing offense after a long layoff and that playmakers are a little rusty. Still, he marvels at the play in net around the league and what the Hurricanes’ Petr Mrazek and James Reimer have done after committing to adjustments before training camp.

”I know our guys put in a lot of work,” Brind’Amour said. ”Especially in that pause, I think Reimer picked up his game where maybe a lot of guys would have not. He found a way to get better.”

No fans may help, too. The sight lines aren’t much different than normal, but the tarps put in place by the NHL over the empty seats in the lower bowls of the arenas allow for uniformity in vision and might even make it easier to see.

”Once the game starts, I haven’t really noticed there’s no crowd there,” Kuemper said. ”It’s only between the pauses and the anthem and things like that that you really notice the empty building.”

Cup-winning St. Louis goalie Jordan Binnington compared it to being inside a video game. Washington’s Braden Holtby enjoys that the lack of noise allows him to hear more. Philadelphia’s Carter Hart, who shut out Montreal on Sunday night, praised the NHL for transforming the arena with video screens and those tarps to make it feel more full.

Weekes said he loved to play in front of crowds from the time he was a kid to when he hung up his pads for good. Absent the energy of that, the goaltending fraternity has become ”more lasered in” without the risk of outside distractions.

”When the puck drops, you don’t even think about it,” Korpisalo said. ”There’s one thing and one thing only: I try to stop the puck.”

Stars continue to succeed playing ‘underdog’ role

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No matter how hard teams have tried, the Dallas Stars just won’t go away.

The Tampa Bay Lightning were 16:22 away from winning the Stanley Cup Saturday night. Mikhail Sergachev’s third-period goal broke the 1-1 deadlock and it was looking like there would be a big celebration on the Rogers Place ice. Joe Pavelski had other ideas, forcing overtime 10 minutes later.

Tampa then just needed a single goal to capture the Cup. It didn’t come after the first overtime, and despite some high-danger chances, it never came. Instead, Corey Perry put home a loose puck 9:23 into the second overtime to keep the Stars’ season alive and force a Game 6 Monday night (8 p.m. ET, NBC).

It was Dallas’ ninth comeback win of the playoffs, tying the franchise record in a single postseason. The record was set in the spring of 1999 when they claimed their only Stanley Cup title.

It was another moment during an improbable run the Stars have been on this postseason. Not given a chance against either the Colorado Avalanche or Vegas Golden Knights in the previous two rounds, Dallas stuck together and embraced the challenge.

[3 Takeaways from Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final]

Dallas’ season could have come to an end in Game 5, but Perry handed them a lifeline. In order for the Stars to be crowned champions, Friday’s defeat will have to serve as their final loss of the 2019-20 NHL campaign. The Lightning have been the better team in the series, so many might believe this is just delaying the inevitable. But Dallas has shown time and time again that you cannot count them out.

“We enjoy being called underdogs,” said Tyler Seguin, who has five points in the last two games. “Every person this whole time we’ve been in the bubble seeming to choose the other team we’re playing, we relish that. We believe in each other, we’ve got a confident group, and we don’t want to leave the bubble. We’re having fun.”

That belief has been instilled into the DNA of the Stars from veterans like Pavelski and Perry, both have been this far in the postseason before. Perry was in his second NHL season when the Anaheim Ducks won the Cup in 2007. This is his 10th trip to the playoffs to win a second title.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

“I was a young kid coming into the league, 22 years old and I had the opportunity to win,” Perry said. “Here we are 13 years later and we’ve got a chance to do it with this group. In that dressing room we believe we can and that’s the biggest thing. It’s belief and resiliency throughout this whole season.”

The doubters have only fueled this Dallas run. Twenty-four teams entered the Edmonton and Toronto bubbles in late July. Only two remain and there are at most two games left in this season. 

Only one team has ever come back from a 3-1 series deficit in a best-of-seven Cup Final. You won’t be able to stop the Stars from thinking they’ll be the second team in that trivia question and they will be the ones celebrating after a Game 7 Wednesday night.

“We came here with 51 people and all those guys in that dressing room believe that we can go out there and get this done,” Perry said. “That’s all that really matters.”

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars (TB leads 3-2)

Stars 4, Lightning 1 (recap)
Lightning 3, Stars 2 (recap)
Lightning 5, Stars 2 (recap)
Lighting 5, Stars 4 [OT] (recap)
Stars 3, Lightning 2 [2OT] (recap)
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 (TB leads 3-2)

Stars 4, Lightning 1 (recap)
Lightning 3, Stars 2 (recap)
Lightning 5, Stars 2 (recap)
Lighting 5, Stars 4 [OT] (recap)
Stars 3, Lightning 2 [2OT] (recap)
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: Perry, Seguin help Stars avoid elimination in Stanley Cup Final

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If the Lightning’s overtime Game 4 win wasn’t enough for hockey fans on Friday, the Stars one-upped that effort a night later, staying alive with a 3-2 double-overtime Game 5 win on Saturday.

Beyond “the 2019-20 season not being over,” what did we learn from the Stars’ double-OT Game 5 win? Let’s consider three takeaways from a dizzying contest. Game 6 (Monday at 8 p.m. ET on NBC) isn’t that far away during a 2020 Stanley Cup Final already brimming with twists and turns.

1. Stars have something in pairing Tyler Seguin with Corey Perry

Not that long ago, there were worries about Tyler Seguin’s playoff production. Maybe he just needed a change of pace?

Whatever the explanation might be, the difference is stark.

  • Seguin previously suffered through a five-game pointless streak. More troublingly, he only had an assist in an 11-game stretch from Aug. 30 (midway through the Avalanche series) through Sept. 23 (Game 3 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final).
  • While the Stars lost Game 4, Seguin and Perry were factors. Seguin collected two assists in what would turn out to be a prelude.

Perry scored two huge goals (the Stars’ first and last of Game 5), while Seguin generated assists on all three Stars goals in Game 5.

Yes, it’s true that it would be tough to sustain this scoring pace. But it’s not all luck. Via Natural Stat Trick, Seguin, Perry, and Joel Kiviranta generated seven high-danger chances for and only allowed one against at even-strength in Game 5.

2. Putting the whistles away?

No doubt about it, officiating was a talking point from Game 4 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final. After some serious griping from the Stars regarding the Jamie Benn penalty that opened up an opportunity for the power-play game-winner by Kevin Shattenkirk, would there be a chilling effect on officiating?

Well, that can be a chicken-and-the-egg argument.

Frankly, officials tend to put away their whistles more often as a series goes along. Especially when a team is facing elimination. Maybe it’s not as bad as the Dead Puck Era, but it’s still something.

Whether it was inevitable or a reaction to complaints, the lack of calls sometimes got a little comical.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

To be clear, both the Stars and Lightning had reason to complain about non-calls. You could probably argue that Dallas actually experienced some of the most prominent flubs.

Big-picture, though? If I were Rick Bowness, I’d be grinning ear-to-ear that there were only three power plays in Game 5 (one for the Lightning, two for the Stars). Tampa Bay’s power play was red-hot, and for all the adjustments you can make in the film room, you know what’s the best way to stop it? Not let them go on the man advantage at all.

Again, the Stars will almost certainly gripe about individual calls, but a low-penalty style behooves them.

3. The Lightning’s top line remains terrifying

By certain underlying metrics, the Stars controlled the Ondrej PalatBrayden PointNikita Kucherov line about as well as one can expect in Game 5.

But, frankly, there were enough close calls that it would be foolish to think the Stars really found a lasting answer.

Ondrej Palat scored a significant 1-1 goal with a great move. Brayden Point assisted on both Lightning goals, including an impressive entry on Mikhail Sergachev‘s 2-1 tally.

Both Point and Nikita Kucherov found space for near-goals during the overtime period(s), too. They didn’t land the knockout blow in Game 5 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final, but Anton Khudobin and Stars defenders still have their work cut out for them.

(Especially if the Lightning get more than one power play in Game 6 (Monday at 8 p.m. ET on NBC).

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars (TB leads 3-2)

Stars 4, Lightning 1. (recap)
Lightning 3, Stars 2. (recap)
Lightning 5, Stars 2. (recap)
Lightning 5, Stars 4 [OT]. (recap)
Stars 3, Lightning 2 [double OT].
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.

Perry’s double OT Game 5 goal keeps Stars alive vs. Lightning in Stanley Cup Final

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When Mikhail Sergachev gave the Lightning a third-period lead, elimination looked likely for the Stars in Game 5 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final. This Stars team just keeps fighting, though, staying alive by beating the Lightning 3-2 in double OT in Game 5.

Corey Perry scored the game-winner in double overtime to keep the Stars alive.

The Stars and Lightning will try to rest up for Game 6 (Monday at 8 p.m. ET on NBC) after closing off these two tight back-to-back Stanley Cup Final contests. The Lightning’s series lead shrinks to 3-2 after this double-overtime loss.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Stars avoid elimination, beat Lightning in Game 5 of 2020 Stanley Cup Final

Tyler Seguin continues to seem invigorated by Stars line changes. Once again, Seguin set the table for a great Corey Perry goal, putting Dallas up 1-0. (Seguin would create at least one other great chance for Perry, who’s been a factor in this series.)

The Lightning once again showed that they can shake off deficits. The top line of Brayden Point, Ondrej Palat, and Nikita Kucherov looked dangerous early and often in Game 5.

While Kucherov couldn’t score again on a breakaway vs. Anton Khudobin, Ondrej Palat broke through with a great power move during the second period.

After a great entry by Brayden Point, Mikhail Sergachev scored his third goal of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Maybe a weaker-willed team would have wilted, but the Stars would not go down without a fight. Late in a third-period power-play opportunity, Joe Pavelski scored a pretty goal off of a rebound opportunity to make it 2-2. In doing so, Pavelski scored his 61st career playoff goal, setting a new record for U.S.-born skaters. Pavelski passed Joe Mullen and former Stars icon Mike Modano.

Double overtime for Stars and Lightning

Through the first half of the opening overtime period, the Lightning created some near-misses. Nikita Kucherov looked primed to score the clincher, but Joel Hanley got a stick on it. Desperation plays and goalie saves kept Dallas in Game 5.

While the Stars struggled to register a shot on goal (7-1 SOG advantage for Tampa Bay) during the first OT period, they had some close calls themselves.

And, once again, there were questionable calls. Prominently, Alexander Radulov was taken down by Victor Hedman on a semi-breakaway without a penalty. A puck appeared to go off Andrei Vasilevskiy‘s pad, but that was missed, and the Stars were called for icing. Maybe the toll of back-to-backs affected everyone?

After Corey Perry and Tyler Seguin narrowly avoided an offside, Perry cashed in for his second goal of Game 5, and the double-OT-winner. The Stars live to see another day in large part thanks to veterans like Perry and Pavelski.

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars (TB leads 3-2)

Stars 4, Lightning 1. (recap)
Lightning 3, Stars 2. (recap)
Lightning 5, Stars 2. (recap)
Lightning 5, Stars 4 [OT]. (recap)
Stars 3, Lightning 2 [double OT].
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.