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2020 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs: Second Round predictions

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The Second Round of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs is here and it’s time for some predictions. We’re now down to the final eight teams as the quest for the Cup is almost halfway home. Let us know your NHL playoff predictions in the comments.

We’ll have a new champion this season after the Canucks dispatched the Blues in the First Round. Which of these eight teams will lift the Stanley Cup next month?

[NHL Second Round playoff schedule]

Flyers vs. Islanders

Sean Leahy, NHL writer: Flyers in 7. If Carter Hart is going to continue his magical journey, the Islanders are going to make him work for it. New York scored the seventh-fewest even strength goals in the regular season but have found their scoring touch in the playoffs. Hart’s been good. Semyon Varlamov‘s been even better. What gives? New York’s offense dries up at the wrong time here.

Adam Gretz, NHL writer: Flyers in 6. The Flyers were not perfect in the First Round, and maybe a better team beats them (and they will certainly play one now), but I still like the position they are in here. Carter Hart is the goalie they needed, and I am confident that their top goal scorers are going to break through. They have to. When they do, that is going to be a lot for the Islanders to match up with and I am not sure they can. I know the Islanders just shut down the Capitals, but I like the way the Flyers have been playing a lot more than the Capitals were going into that matchup.

James O’Brien, NHL writer: Flyers in 7. Woof, this one is tough, especially since the Islanders looked downright demonstrative in dismantling an almost disinterested Capitals team. But the Flyers’ versatility gives them the ever-so-slight edge, including a power play that (while struggling) seems more likely to inch Philly just-so-slightly over the finish line in this one.

Michael Finewax, Rotoworld Senior Hockey Writer/EditorIslanders in 7. I agree with James that this will be the toughest series of the second round. I love the Flyers defensemen but I think the Islanders amazing work ethic will prevail overall. Look for Semyon Varlamov to have another great series and Mathew Barzal to give New York enough offensive punch to win the low-scoring series.

Jake Abrahams, Managing Editor, NHL content: Flyers in 6. We haven’t seen this matchup in the postseason since 1987, and I can’t wait. There’s intrigue abound with these two teams. The Islanders are an improved squad over last year’s version – particularly on offense – but these Flyers have earned the top seed and entered the Second Round with virtually no goal scoring from its top players. That’s bound to change. Provided Carter Hart keeps it up, I think Philly can outpace the Isles. 

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Lightning vs. Bruins

Sean Leahy, NHL writer: Lightning in 6. The Bruins are alive with Jaroslav Halak after sleeping through the Round-robin. Tampa, however, fought off a feisty Columbus team with timely scoring and superb play from Andrei Vasilevskiy. The possible return of Steven Stamkos as another weapon would pose another threat to Bruins.

Adam Gretz, NHL writerLightning in 7. Still think this is going to ultimately end up being the year Tampa does it, so I am sticking with them. This roster is just so loaded with talent — even if Steven Stamkos remains sidelined — and they still have every possible ingredient a winning team needs. With all due respect to Jaroslav Halak, the Lightning have the better goalie and I really like the way their Blake ColemanBarclay Goodrow line played against Columbus. That line just gives them another dimension and level they did not have a year ago.

James O’Brien, NHL writerLightning in 6. As mentioned before, I’m sticking as much to my preseason picks as possible, so the Lightning as champions and Brayden Point as Conn Smythe still live, while the Blues as the finalist? Erp. This hinges on the Lightning playing loose and confident after slaying that Tortorella dragon, even if the Bruins present a whole other beast. Get ready for the East’s best-on-best matchup, and maybe the NHL’s best matchup to boot.

Michael Finewax, Rotoworld Senior Hockey Writer/Editor: Lightning in 5. The Bruins looked good the last three games to beat Carolina but the Lightning are a different story. Boston lost a big piece when Tuukka Rask opted out last week, and while Jaroslav Halak played well in Round 1, he is no Rask. The Lightning have a ton of firepower and still have to get Steven Stamkos back in the lineup. Brayden Point was a star last series while the Bolts boast the best goalie in the NHL in Andrei Vasilevskiy and quite possibly the best blueliner in Victor Hedman.

Jake Abrahams, Managing Editor, NHL content: Lightning in 7. The Lightning were my Cup pick to start with, and I’m not changing now even though they’re going up against the defending East champion Bruins. Tampa exorcized its demons in defeating the Blue Jackets, and found different ways to win those four games. The absence of Tuukka Rask will make a bigger difference than that of Steven Stamkos. Ever so slight edge to the Lightning. 

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Golden Knights vs. Canucks

Sean Leahy, NHL writer: Golden Knights in 6. Vegas is dominating even strength like no other team so far this postseason. Some time off before the Second Round will help, even as they go up against a Canucks team that will be playing pressure-free hockey. Robin Lehner vs. Jacob Markstrom will be a fun watch.

Adam Gretz, NHL writer: Golden Knights in 6. Think this has the potential to be a really fun series. Vegas is the better, deeper team on paper, but Vancouver has some of the most exciting young talent in the league and is playing with a ton of confidence right now. Did not expect the Canucks to be at this point right now. The Golden Knights, though, are a force and if they can get quality goaltending from Robin Lehner and/or Marc-Andre Fleury they are going to be a tough out for any opponent.

James O’Brien, NHL writerGolden Knights in 6. Wow, the Canucks looked great, but the Golden Knights are a buzzsaw. Once again, I feel like versatility matters. Vegas boasts a ferocious forecheck that can cause most teams problems. Beyond that, they have not just a skilled top line, but the pieces of what was once a very good top line to back them up. I’d be absolutely stunned if this isn’t the most purely entertaining series of the Second Round.

Michael Finewax, Rotoworld Senior Hockey Writer/Editor: Golden Knights in 6. This could be an upset if it ever gets to a Game 7. The Canucks were my upset pick at the start of the post-season as I thought they could be one of the top-four seeds in the West. That they did when they knocked off the Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues in Round 1, but the Golden Knights seem to be just a little bit stronger than the Canucks. The Golden Knights could be suspect in net as Marc-Andre Fleury has been replaced by Robin Lehner,  but the core of the Canucks is young and may not be able to pierce the Vegas defense. Vancouver may be a year away so I ‘m going with Vegas.

Jake Abrahams, Managing Editor, NHL content: Golden Knights in 6. The Canucks will bring major mojo into this series having knocked off the defending champs, scoring 22 goals in the process. The biggest difference I see between the Blues and this Vegas squad is between the pipes: I just can’t see the rockstar Robin Lehner-Marc-Andre Fleury tandem being as porous as Jordan Binnington (for three starts) and Jake Allen (for one start) were for St. Louis. Despite Vancouver’s momentum, I give Vegas the edge on paper.

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Avalanche vs. Stars

Sean Leahy, NHL writer: Avalanche in 5. Nathan MacKinnon will continue being out of this world, and the Stars will have to contend with one of the deepest teams up front in the NHL. Rantanen, Landeskog, Kadri, Donskoi, Burakovsky, Compher. Dallas may not have enough answers for what Colorado will send their way.

Adam Gretz, NHL writer: Avalanche in 6. The Stars offense came through in a way I did not anticipate in the First Round against the Calgary Flames, and they are probably going to find an even higher level against the Colorado Avalanche. They have the superstars at the top of the lineup and with Nazem Kadri, Andre Burakovsky, and all of their other additions from the past year now in the mix they have the secondary scoring to complement them. The forwards are as dominant as any other team in the NHL, the defense has an emerging superstar in Cale Makar and some solid pieces around him, and the goaltending is better than it gets credit for. This team is loaded. Not sure anyone in the West will beat them this season. The Stars will need a herculean effort from Miro Heiskanen and their goalies to stop this Avalanche team.

James O’Brien, NHL writerAvalanche in 6. The Avalanche have done a great job of making their team more than just “Nathan MacKinnon’s line doing amazing things,” and Nathan MacKinnon’s line is still doing amazing things. This will be a fascinating test for the rising Avs, though, because the Stars have the makeup of a team that could give them major headaches. Then again, the Stars will need to adjust to an Avalanche team that can bend and break a defense in the way that the fumbling Flames rarely could. I’ll go with the team that’s impressed me more often, even though Dallas showed me something in the First Round.

Michael Finewax, Rotoworld Senior Hockey Writer/Editor: Avalanche in 4. My Stanley Cup pick, the Avs looked strong against Arizona, led by Nathan MacKinnon as well as Nazem Kadri who gives Colorado scoring and feistiness, two important ingredients in playoff hockey. The Stars have looked just okay, as they beat Calgary, but will have too tough a time with Colorado, unless Ben Bishop returns in net and stands on his head.

Jake Abrahams, Managing Editor, NHL content: Avalanche in 6. The Avs steamrolled the Coyotes. They look like the complete package. But the Stars, even without Ben Bishop, are still a threat. Heck, they’ve gotten to this point without a single goal from Tyler Seguin. In the end though, I think the team with Nathan MacKinnon prevails in this series. He’s just that good.

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 2-1)

Stars 4, Lightning 1 (recap)
Lightning 3, Stars 2 (recap)
Lightning 5, Stars 2 (recap)
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

[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)

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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)

Nikita Kucherov’s postseason defined by redemption, consistency

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Like pretty much every other player on the Lightning roster, the 2018-19 playoffs ended up being a very forgettable experience for Nikita Kucherov.

During their four-game loss to the Blue Jackets, Kucherov managed just two points (both in their Game 4 loss), zero goals, and even missed a game due to a suspension for an ugly hit late in their Game 2 loss. It was a dreadfully disappointing end to a season where Kucherov had put together one of the finest regular season performances of the modern era for a record-setting team. He finished the season with 128 points (the most points the league had seen in 23 years) and took home the Hart Trophy (MVP) and Ted Lindsay Award (most outstanding player as voted by the players) on a team that won 62 regular season games.

But because of their inability to win even a single playoff against the No. 8 seed, it will mostly end up being a footnote to the season.

All of them — from Kucherov on down the roster — had to redeem themselves this postseason and flip the script on a team that was starting to become more known more for postseason shortcomings instead of for what it actually is — one of the league’s elite teams, driven by some of the best players in the world.

Entering Game 4 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final Friday night (8 p.m. ET, NBC; livestream), Kucherov and the Lightning are in the process of getting that redemption.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

They hold a 2-1 series lead and have looked like the far superior team these past two games.

Kucherov has been at the center of most of it.

His playmaking was on display in the Lightning’s Game 2 win by setting up a pair of power play goals to help power their fast start. In Game 3, he pounced on a Miro Heiskanen turnover in the neutral zone and buried a quick shot behind Anton Khudobin on a breakaway to help open the floodgates in a 5-2 win.

For the playoffs, he is already up to 30 points (seven goals, 23 assists) in 22 games, which is currently tied for the fourth highest total in a single postseason over the past 20 years, trailing only Evgeni Malkin (36) and Sidney Crosby (31) in 2008-09, and Washington’s Evgeny Kuznetsov (32) in 2017-18.

It’s not just that he is generating points that stands out.

He is driving the most dominant line in the league this postseason alongside Brayden Point and Ondrej Palat. His underlying numbers are also off the charts. Of the 98 skaters that have logged at least 200 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey this postseason, Kucherov ranks second in total shot attempt share (63.6 percent), second in goals for percentage (76 percent), second in expected goals percentage (68 percent), fifth in scoring chance share, and second in high-danger scoring chances (67.9 percent). In most of those categories the only players that rank ahead of him are either Tampa defenseman Victor Hedman, or Palat, who is one of Kucherov’s current linemates.

Then we get to the consistency aspect of this, and just how steady his overall production has been.

There is no more overrated and overused word in hockey than “consistency,” at least as it relates to goal and point production. Every player in the league is inconsistent to a certain degree, and even the best players tend to score their goals and points in bunches. The season is a mountain range full of peaks and valleys. But Kucherov, for a few months now, has been residing on one of those mountains.

[Lightning vs. Stars: 2020 Stanley Cup Final schedule]

He has not gone more than two consecutive games without a point since the middle of January, and there was only one stretch of games this entire season where he went more than two games without finding the scoresheet — and even that was only a three-game stretch.

He also has eight multi-point games this postseason, and when you exclude the three Round-Robin games before the start of the playoffs that means he has recorded at least two points in more than 40 percent of his games this postseason.

That is a stunning level of production and dominance.

Just looking at recent Conn Smythe Trophy winners, Ryan O'Reilly had multiple points in only 20 percent of his postseason games for the Blues last season. Alex Ovechkin was at 33 percent in 2018. Sidney Crosby had multiple points in 33 percent (2016-17) and 20 percent (2015-16) in his most recent Conn Smythe seasons.

The Lightning have been one of the league’s best teams and Kucherov has been one of the best players for six years now. But because of the way their postseasons have ended there has always been that “yeah, but…” following them around, especially after last year’s dismal First Round showing.

They all needed to rewrite the story around themselves.

They are not exactly where they want to be just yet (they still have two more wins to get), but they have put themselves in a great position to finally accomplish their ultimate goal.

MORE: Conn Smythe Watch: Victor Hedman makes his move

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.

Trade: Penguins send Hornqvist to Panthers for Matheson, Sceviour

Trade Penguins Panthers Hornqvist Matheson
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After more than 24 hours of waiting, the Pittsburgh Penguins and Florida Panthers finally completed the rumored swap of forward Patric Hornqvist and defenseman Mike Matheson.

The trade breaks down as follows:

Penguins get: Matheson and forward Colton Sceviour

Panthers get: Hornqvist.

There is no salary retained in the trade, meaning the Penguins are actually taking on about $700,000 in salary for this season.

Hornqvist’s contract pays him $5.3 million per season through the end of the 2022-23 season.

Matheson, meanwhile, is under contract for six more seasons at a salary cap hit of $4.875 million. Sceviour’s deal has one more year remaining at a salary cap hit of $1.2 million.

The hold-up on the trade on Wednesday reportedly revolved around insurance on Hornqvist’s contract, as well as needing his approval for the deal due to his no-trade clause.

Breaking it all down

For the Penguins, it’s a pretty massive shakeup to the roster as Hornqvist had been one of their most fiery leaders and was a major contributor to two Stanley Cup winning teams. He was their most tireless worke, their most consistent high-energy guy, and as good of a net-front presence as there is in hockey. But he is also going to be 34 years old next season, and given his physically demanding style of play there comes a risk of him starting to decline and breakdown a bit. Given his salary cap number and the Penguins’ tight cap situation it is not a surprise that he was a candidate to be moved. Especially given the team’s desire to apparently shake things up after a second straight disappointing postseason exit.

This move does not save them any money, but it does help them achieve one of their stated offseason goals of getting younger and faster, two things that Matheson definitely brings to the table.

But he also creates a bit of a log-jam on defense where the Penguins already have a ton of money committed to the likes of Kris Letang, Brian Dumoulin, Marcus Pettersson, and Jack Johnson. John Marino will also be due a raise after next season.

It seems likely that another move is coming at some point this offseason. This is already their third trade of the offseason.

The question for Florida is how much quality hockey Hornqvist still has remaining. He is the type of player that a perpetually disappointing team would look to acquire to change the culture of their roster. He will certainly bring effort and energy to the team, but it will still come down to what he can deliver on the ice.

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.

 

Marc-Andre Fleury wants to stay in Vegas, isn’t asking for trade

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The biggest question for the Vegas Golden Knights this offseason is going to be how they handle their suddenly complex goaltending situation.

Marc-Andre Fleury, the face of the franchise, remains under contract for two more seasons, while the team seems determined to try and re-sign Robin Lehner, who had taken over the starting job during the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs after he was acquired at the NHL trade deadline.

While keeping both players would seem to be an ideal set-up (having two goalies capable of being a high level starter is a good thing!) the financial and logistical circumstances around it would seem to be incredible difficult.

Not only would it require a substantial salary cap commitment to a position where only one player can play at a time, there is also the delicate balance of playing time. Both goalies are starters, both will want to start, and both have earned the right to start. That has resulted in speculation that the Golden Knights could trade, or perhaps even buy out, Fleury this offseason.

There was also the school of thought that Fleury might ask for an exit given the way the goaltending situation unfolded this postseason.

That does not seem to be the case.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Fleury told The Athletic’s Jesse Granger this week that while he realizes the potential of a trade, he has no intention of asking the team for one this offseason and that he is still committed to finishing his career in Vegas.

Even if it means potentially sharing the net.

Via the Athletic (subscription required):

“I want to stay in Vegas,” he told The Athletic Wednesday afternoon. “I don’t know what the future holds, but I’ve loved every moment since I got here.”

Fleury emphasized that he is not seeking a trade, and if it were up to him he would finish his career in Vegas.

“This team means a lot to me, and the city has been so good to me,” Fleury said. “The fans, and (owner Bill Foley) have been so awesome. It’s a great team, and I thought when I came here that maybe I could retire here. I wanted to end my career here.”

Fleury added that he gets along great with Lehner, and that while his goal is to not be just a backup, he said he intends to “practice hard, try to play well, and hopefully get some games.”

The problem here is if Vegas is successful in re-signing Lehner it would probably carry a price tag similar to Fleury’s. That would mean Vegas would have somewhere in the neighborhood of $14-15 million tied up in net. The only team in the league this season that is slated to spend that much on goaltending is Montreal with the newly formed Carey PriceJake Allen duo.

Montreal has the salary cap space to make that sort of a commitment to the goalie position.  Vegas, on the other hand, may not. Not unless it makes a drastic cut somewhere else on the roster.

Even though the Golden Knights do not have any other significant free agents to deal with, they still have a handful of RFA’s to re-sign and are already crunched against the cap. Even if were to shed salary elsewhere to keep both goalies it would still probably prohibit the team from making any other outside addition via trade or free agency. It is a very good team, one of the very best in the league, but they are still going to want to make some improvements to the roster. That may be difficult, if not impossible, with both goalies on the roster.

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.