2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs: PHT predicts First Round, Stanley Cup champion

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We’ve made our way through the Qualifying Round and Round-robin games. It’s time to begin the traditional four-round journey to the Stanley Cup.

The First Round begins Tuesday, and to get here we’ve seen some upsets, dramatic comebacks, and star performances. What will the next two months bring us? Probably some more craziness and memorable Stanley Cup playoff moments.  The PHT team have locked in our First Round and Stanley Cup predictions. The surprises that happened over the last 10 days will surely continue as we make our way to the Cup Final in late September.

Will the Blues repeat? Can the Lightning overcome those pesky Blue Jackets? What Bruins team will we see after a sluggish round-robin? Is this the year for Nathan MacKinnon and the Avalanche? Those questions and more will be answered.

[FULL SECOND ROUND NHL PLAYOFF SCHEDULE]

Here are our picks for the First Round, Stanley Cup champion, and Conn Smythe winner. Let us know in the comments who you think will take it all.

Conference Champions

Sean Leahy, NHL writer – Hurricanes/Avalanche: Why not those “jerks”? They’re fun, entertaining to watch, employ plenty of young talent. Plus, it’s a wild idea to think they could make a run through this Eastern Conference. They shut down the Rangers and showed off just how strong defensively they are, even without the services of Brett Pesce and Dougie Hamilton. What the Hurricanes can do this postseason could really shine a light on how much more love Andrei Svechnikov and Sebastian Aho really deserve.

It won’t be easy, but the Avs’ road to the Cup Final may have to end up going through the Golden Knights or the defending champion Blues. But Sakic bolstering his roster has set them up for this opportunity. The Nazem Kadri trade could be looked back upon as the GM adding that final piece to a championship puzzle.

James O’Brien, NHL writer – Lightning/Blues: With everything in turmoil, why not … go with the prediction you made (does math counting on fingers) 5,000 days ago in October? Yes, the Lightning meandered into the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and I’m worried about the health of Stamkos and Hedman. But let’s not forget that, before the Bolts were the team that got swept, they were a team that almost made a SCF with Stamkos almost entirely on the shelf. Maybe this loaded team will benefit from a little early turmoil? Look, the hockey has been good, but it’s also been unpredictable, so let’s roll with it.

The Blues are deep, they have a star player hungry to make those big bucks in Alex Pietrangelo, and Ryan O'Reilly & Co. showed they can win the toughest matchups. The defending champs boast basically every element you look for in a spirited push toward a repeat.

Adam Gretz, NHL writer – Lightning/Golden Knights: I will say up front that a lot of this pick depends on the availability of Steven Stamkos and/or Victor Hedman through the playoffs. But assuming they play and contribute, I am still very much a believer in this Lightning team. I know about the postseason failures. I know about how often their offense has wilted when they have been on the verge of doing something special. But I still believe in talent, and I am going to keep betting on talent. The Capitals eventually broke through. The Blues eventually broke through. I think the Lightning will eventually break through.

As much as I love the Avalanche roster and everything they can become in the future with this core, salary cap space, and young assets, I still think Vegas is the best team in the Western Conference this season … as long as the goaltending holds out, which was their biggest flaw early in the season when they stumbled out of the gate. Fortunately for them they addressed that at the trade deadline with the addition of Robin Lehner. It would not surprise me to see him get an opportunity in the playoffs and run with it.

Jake Abrahams, Managing Editor, NHL content: Lightning/Golden Knights: Am I fully confident in this pick? No. I don’t know if the Blue Jackets are Tampa’s kryptonite, or if the Lightning will unleash a Bruins-circa-2011-vs-Philly revenge sweep. But Tampa is stacked and once again, and it feels like they made all the necessary additions to what was already a Cup-contending roster.

After watching Vegas go 3-0 in the Round Robin, all without their regular season leading scorer Max Pacioretty, they seem like the class of the Western Conference. I see the Avalanche giving them all they can handle in an epic seven-game series, but the Golden Knights will advance to their second Cup Final in three years.

Michael Finewax, Rotoworld Senior Hockey Writer/Editor – Lightning/Avalanche: The Lightning win the East as they have the most talent, the best defenseman and best goaltender in the East. The only problem that could arise is if Victor Hedman and Steven Stamkos are injured to a greater degree than we know about and the duo miss a lot of time. If those are the circumstances, they could have more trouble with Columbus who are an extremely well-coached defensive team.

The Avalanche will win the West because of their tremendous talent, including Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog. The off-season addition of Nazem Kadri will do wonders for the Avs as long as he doesn’t get another post-season suspension that has been his tendency the last two years. I love Cale Makar and they get great goaltending from both Philipp Grubauer and Pavel Francouz.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Stanley Cup Champion/Conn Smythe Trophy winner

Sean Leahy, NHL writer – Avalanche over Hurricanes (Nathan MacKinnon): Joe Sakic should be up for the Jim Gregory Award when GM of the Year finalists are announced after the Second Round. He added depth and secondary scoring and it’s paid off. Colorado finished with the second-best points percentage in the Western Conference and have a roster full of skill. Plus, Jared Bednar just wins. He’s won an ECHL Kelly Cup and AHL Calder Cup. Now he just needs that shiny silver one the NHL hands out every year.

James O’Brien, NHL writer – Lightning over Blues (Brayden Point): Again, sticking with the Lightning over the Blues in 7. These are two deep, talented teams, ones that can throw different looks at you if certain alignments don’t quite work. It doesn’t hurt that a big postseason run could fatten the bank accounts of the likes of Anthony Cirelli and Mikhail Sergachev. Cirelli could very well propel his name into more mainstream minds with a big run, not unlike fellow Selke-worthy center Ryan O’Reilly has done in recent years. Let’s pencil in the Lightning to parallel the 2018 Capitals and win it all a year after you think they had their best chance.

Once again, I’m rolling with my picks from before. Point probably still isn’t as well-known as he should be among casual NHL fans. With Stamkos possibly out for a bit early, and Point seemingly healthy now that he’s further removed from offseason surgery, this could be the sort of mainstream breakout that could make him closer to a hockey equivalent to a “household name.” (Yes, you already knew well about Point, but we’re talking about hockey-less-knowers. *Shares your disapproving look tsk tsk*)

Adam Gretz, NHL writer – Lightning over Golden Knights (Nikita Kucherov): Everything I said about the Lightning up above remains true here. As long as Stamkos and Hedman are there (still a big if at this point) I like their chances. A lot. This is their year.

Jake Abrahams, Managing Editor, NHL content – Lightning over Golden Knights (Andrei Vasilevskiy): Tampa is due. And recent history tells us this type of team is bound to break through. Just like Washington and St. Louis, who had been to the postseason year after year without winning it all, I predict a similar result for Tampa in 2020. They have been to the Eastern Conference Final four times in the last nine years, but have nothing to show for it…yet.

Michael Finewax, Rotoworld Senior Hockey Writer/Editor – Avalanche over Lightning (Nathan MacKinnon): The Avalanche will win the Stanley Cup for the reasons listed above. I think they are the best team in the NHL and the lack of travel for Western teams (which used to really hurt as they could be travelling across three time zones in the first three rounds) will help the team.

Nathan MacKinnon, the second best player from Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia (in case you don’t know, it’s the same hometown as Sidney Crosby) is a Hart Trophy finalist and he will add the Conn Smythe to his trophy case.

MORE:
Power Rankings: Best First Round matchups
Conn Smythe Watch: Korpisalo, Aho leading entering First Round
Rangers win 2020 NHL draft lottery, will pick No. 1 overall
Roundtable: NHL playoff surprises; vulnerable top seeds

Lightning-Stars stream: 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final

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

Tampa scored three goals in the first 15:16 minutes of the game, including two on the power play, and held off a late push by Dallas to win 3-2 and even the Stanley Cup Final at one game apiece. Brayden Point opened the scoring by netting his 10th of the postseason and Ondrej Palat and Kevin Shattenkirk each scored to give the Lightning a three-goal lead they would not relinquish.

Since the beginning of their First Round series against Columbus, the Lightning are a perfect 5-0 following a loss this postseason. Tampa last lost consecutive games on March 8th and 10th – its final two games before the pause. Andrei Vasilevskiy has not lost consecutive starts since dropping three straight from Feb. 20-25.

After going 0/14 on the power play in their previous four games, the Lightning scored twice on the man-advantage in Game 2, with both tallies coming in the first period. Point and Palat scored power-play goals 2:59 apart in the first period in the win. Dallas took three penalties in the first 14 minutes of play and the Lightning were able to take control by scoring twice.

Tyler Seguin, who is making his third appearance in the Stanley Cup Final, has struggled mightily in the 2020 playoffs. The 28- year-old has gone 11 consecutive games without a goal and has just one assist over that span. His last goal came in Game 3 of the Second Round vs. Colorado.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

WHAT: Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars
WHERE: Rogers Place – Edmonton
WHEN: Wednesday, September 23, 8 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
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 (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

How the Lightning built a dominant line at the trade deadline

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After their shockingly disappointing playoff loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets a year ago, it would have been easy for the Tampa Bay Lightning to conclude that they needed to do something drastic to a team that kept falling short in the most frustrating ways come playoff time.

They could have made a major trade.

They could have fired coach Jon Cooper.

Pretty much anything that would have sent a jolt through the team.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

It also would have been completely reckless, because that is not at all what the Lightning needed.

Even with their late-round collapses (and one early round collapse) this has still been one of the league’s most successful franchises for six seasons. It is a team that is — and has been — loaded with All-Star talent at every level of the roster.

They didn’t need a massive shake-up. They needed a couple of tweaks. General manager Julian Brisebois and his staff were all smart enough to realize that. Some of those tweaks started in the offseason when they signed Kevin Shattenkirk and Patrick Maroon to cheap, one-year contracts to add some depth.

But those were nothing compared to the two trade deadline moves (Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow) that helped Tampa Bay build not only one of its most effective lines this postseason, but one of the most effective lines in the entire NHL.

It is one of the biggest reasons they are three wins away from a championship.

The Trades

It all started on February 16 when they sent a first-round draft pick (previously acquired from Vancouver for J.T Miller) and 2019 first-round pick Nolan Foote to the New Jersey Devils for Coleman.

A week later they sent their own 2020 first-round pick, as well as Anthony Greco (who had just been acquired a couple of days earlier) to the San Jose Sharks for Barclay Goodrow and a 2020 third-round pick.

It’s a lot to give up, no question. When the dust settled they sent what amounted to three first-round picks for the two forwards, neither of which would be what anyone considers to be a top-line player.

Coleman was the most notable of the two given his status as a 20-goal scorer in each of the past two seasons. Add in his defensive ability and cap-friendly contract ($1.8 million salary cap hit this season and next season) and he carries a ton of value. So it’s not a shock he carried a steep price in trade.

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

The price for Goodrow, however, was probably a little more eye-opening because you don’t usually see teams trade a first-round pick for a 27-year-old forward with a career high of 27 points.

He is not bringing you offense. What he does bring you is defense. A lot of it. Over the past two seasons Goodrow was one of the Sharks’ most impactful defensive forwards when it came to suppressing shot attempts, scoring chances, expected goals and, yes, actual goals.

Also like Coleman he carries an extremely team-friendly salary cap number ($925,000 per season) through next season.

That means the Lightning added two outstanding defensive forwards, including one with 20-goal ability, for a combined salary cap hit of just $2.7 million through the end of next season.

Individually, those have proven to be two very solid moves.

When put together around Yanni Gourde they have produced a game-changing line.

The Results

The Lightning’s best line this postseason has obviously been its top trio of Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, and Ondrej Palat. They have dominated every phase of the game and two of them (Kucherov and Point) are contenders for the Conn Smythe Trophy.

But the Coleman-Goude-Goodrow line is not far behind them in terms of overall effectiveness, as the table below outlines.

All data via Natural Stat Trick.

(CF% = shot attempt percentage; xGF = expected goals for percentage; CA/60 = total shot attempts against per 60 minutes; xGA/60 = expected goals against per 60 minutes; GA/60 = goals against per 60 minutes).

The top line is dominating across the board, which is exactly what you expect with two All-Stars (including the reigning league MVP) playing next to each other.

But look at the second line. There is a decent gap in terms of possession (shot attempts) and scoring chances (expected goals), but they are shutting teams down at an elite level and have scored goals at a rate similar to the All-Star top line. Keep in mind, this is only 5-on-5 data and Kucherov-Point line has a ton of power play points together to drive the offense. But it is still impressive at how close they are in terms of overall effectiveness at even-strength.

As good as that top line is, it takes more than one great line to compete for a championship and ultimately win one.

Thanks to some shrewd moves at the deadline, as well as the scouting and player development system that produced Gourde as an undrafted free agent several years ago, the Lightning have given themselves a second great line to help drive their team.

It is all still in place for next season as well, and when Gourde’s contract is added in it still only costs them $7.8 million against the cap. Tough to beat that value, especially if it helps produce a championship.

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.

Sharks name Bob Boughner head coach, finalize coaching staff

Sharks coach
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The San Jose Sharks finalized their coaching staff on Tuesday by announcing that Bob Boughner has officially been named the team’s head coach, removing the interim tag that he had in the second half of last season.

Boughner replaced Peter DeBoer as the team’s head coach in mid-December.

With Boughner behind the bench the Sharks finished the season with a 14-20-3 record.

They had been 15-16-2 with DeBoer.

Along with the official hiring of Boughner, the team also announced that it has added former AHL Chicago Wolves head coach Rocky Thompson as an associate head coach and long-term NHL forward John Madden as an assistant coach.

“Bob did a tremendous job last season, getting our group back to playing with an identity and structure that we need in order to be successful,” said general manager Doug Wilson in a statement released by the team. “We saw a marked improvement in our play in several key areas during the second half of the season, before losing some key players to injury.

“We’re also very pleased to add Rocky and John to our staff. Both come with a wealth of experience, both in playing the game and as teachers and leaders. With a healthy and motivated group of players, we are confident that this staff will do a terrific job leading our group in the coming years.”

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

The Sharks were one of the most disappointing teams in the league during the 2019-20 season, going from the Western Conference Final a year ago to the bottom of the NHL standings.

Making matters worse, they did not even have a lottery pick having traded it to the Ottawa Senators two years earlier for defenseman Erik Karlsson.

Injuries certainly played a role in their decline, but they also struggled to replace forwards Joe Pavelski and Joonas Donskoi after they left in free agency, while also doing nothing to fix their goaltending issue.

There is still a lot of talent on the roster, but some of their core pieces are getting older. They also still have to address the goalie situation.

This is Bougher’s second head coaching job in the NHL. He was also the head coach of the Florida Panthers for two seasons.

He joined the Sharks as an assistant prior to the 2019-20 season.

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.

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)