2020 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs: Conference Finals predictions

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The Conference Finals of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs have arrived and it is prediction time. Down to the final four teams, who will advance to the Stanley Cup Final? Let us know your NHL playoff predictions in the comments.

Will the Lightning or Islanders represent the East? Can the Stars continue their run and upset the Golden Knights?

No. 2 Tampa Bay Lightning vs. No. 6 New York Islanders

Sean Leahy, NHL writer: Lightning in 6. Tampa has been on a mission since their 2019 upset at the hands of the Blue Jackets. But their quest for the Cup will be tested in a big way against an Islanders team that has been buzzing. Through two rounds Barry Trotz’s troops have shut down the big guns on opposing teams. Will the Lightning’s top stars be kept quiet? What could aid Jon Cooper’s charges is their depth and how it’s already played a huge impact through two rounds. Factor in Andrei Vasilevskiy, who’s been having an outstanding postseason, and a possible Steven Stamkos return and they should find a way into the Cup Final.

Adam Gretz, NHL writer: Lightning in 7. I still think the Lightning are going to ultimately get it done and win the Stanley Cup with this core, and I still think it is going to happen this season. So am going to pick them here, but my confidence level in that pick is shaky simply because of the way the Islanders are playing right now. They have played three teams this postseason (including two very good teams!) and have made all three of them look completely helpless offensively. They have found a level that I did not know they had, and it is impressive. So I am going to consider the possibility that they can do it again, especially given the health concerns with Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos for Tampa Bay. Having said all of that, I still think the Lightning have just enough talent, just enough offense, and just enough to get through this series and win the Eastern Conference.

James O’Brien, NHL writer: Lightning in 7. It doesn’t feel great to wonder about the health of Kucherov, especially with Stamkos seemingly not getting healthy anytime soon. Even without those two, the Lightning still boast game-breakers in Hedman and Point. They’ve proven that they can win low-scoring series after prevailing against the Blue Jackets and Bruins. Also, they’re easily the most rested — though not the most healthy — team remaining in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Bank on the Bolts in this one.

[NHL Conference Finals schedule]

Michael Finewax, Rotoworld Senior Hockey Writer/Editor: Lightning in 6. The Islanders have been playing great playoff hockey but the talent of the Lightning will be too much for New York. The Lightning are so talented, they barely miss the contributions of Steven Stamkos. Tampa Bay has the best goalie, the best defenseman and the best forward in the series and should prevail.

The Islanders work so hard and play such a good defensive game, that I’ll give them a couple of games in the series but it will be the Lightning going to the Stanley Cup Final.

Jake Abrahams, Managing Editor, NHL content: Lightning in 5This has been my squad from the beginning, and I see no reason to deviate. Whatever caused Nikita Kucherov to leave Game 5 against Boston doesn’t appear to be serious, and it’s still possible that Steven Stamkos becomes available. At some point, I think fatigue will become a factor as well. The Islanders are the only remaining squad who came through the Qualifying Round, so they’ve played 16 games of true playoff hockey. On the other side, Tampa will have had a week off, and they only needed 10 games to get through the first two rounds.

As much as I would love to see the Islanders go up against their former goalie Robin Lehner in the Cup Final, this mountain is too steep for New York to climb. 

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No. 1 Vegas Golden Knights vs. No. 3 Dallas Stars

Sean Leahy, NHL writer: Golden Knights in 6. We didn’t get dreamy Avs-Golden Knights matchup, but with the way the Stars’ offense has woken up, this one should be real fun. Now that the goaltender controversy is out of the way — for now — it’s Robin Lehner’s net and he’s been a steady presence for Vegas since they acquired him. His performance in Game 7 against Vancouver showed he can rise to the occasion. That play will need to continue against a Dallas team that has been scoring the lights out. Seeing Mark Stone frustrate opponents with his elite defensive play is a treat and there’s no reason to think that will stop in this series.

Adam Gretz, NHL writer: Golden Knights in 6. Am a little surprised the Stars here at this point, and really surprised at how they got here (all of that offense the past two rounds!). Miro Heiskanen is worthy of all the hype, they have their offense starting to click on all cylinders, and they can keep teams off the scoreboard. The problem is they have to play a Golden Knights team that is healthy, really good in all areas, and playing at an elite level right now. The Golden Knights have assembled a superpower roster in the Western Conference and with Robin Lehner taking over the net and playing the way he has so far in these playoffs it is really difficult to find any sort of a weakness on this team. They get through this series and get to the Stanley Cup Final for the second time in their first three years in the NHL.

James O’Brien, NHL writer: Golden Knights in 6. Amusingly enough, for all of the Golden Knights’ goalie drama, their netminding situation is actually pretty reassuring. The Avalanche showed that you can exert some offensive pressure on the Stars, but Colorado’s goaltending collapsed. Vegas has the depth and firepower to create similar problems, and with healthy goalies, would make a run-and-gun series dangerous for Dallas. Luckily for the Golden Knights, they have the sort of rugged players to handle a less open setup, too.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Michael Finewax, Rotoworld Senior Hockey Writer/Editor: Golden Knights in 5. I can’t seem to get Dallas right at all in the playoffs as I had both Calgary and Colorado beating them. Their offense was tied for the third-worst in the NHL during the regular season and that continued in the round-robin with only five goals in three games but they have gone crazy in the first two rounds, scoring 48 goals in 13 games. But that should end here.

The Golden Knights dominated Vancouver even though the series went to seven games. If it wasn’t for the outstanding play of backup goalie Thatcher Demko, who stopped 123-of-125 shots in the last three games, the series would have ended in five. Vegas is much the better team than the Stars and not even the heroics of Joel Kiviranta can prevent the Golden Knights from going into their second Stanley Cup Final in three years.

Jake Abrahams, Managing Editor, NHL content: Golden Knights in 6. Again, I had Golden Knights coming out of the West from the beginning, so I’m sticking with them. I wasn’t sure that going back to Robin Lehner for Game 7 was the right call, but he proved the doubters wrong. Sure, he didn’t see a ton of rubber (14 shots), but that near-impossible save on Brock Boeser to keep the game scoreless in the second period bought Vegas the time they needed to finally break through Thatcher Demko and eliminate Vancouver. On paper, the Stars pose a greater challenge than the Canucks, and Dallas’ Miro Heiskanen has to be the Conn Smythe favorite at the moment, so I do see this being competitive series…but still one that Vegas will win. 

Hughes has first NHL hat trick, Devils beat Capitals 5-1

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NEWARK, N.J. – Jack Hughes had his first career NHL hat trick, Vitek Vanecek made 38 saves against his former team and the New Jersey Devils beat the Washington Capitals 5-1 on Saturday for coach Lindy Ruff’s 800th victory.

“It’s exciting,” Hughes said. “Couple of two-goal games in my career, so nice to cap it off with the third one tonight.”

Ruff became the fifth NHL coach to reach the 800-victory mark. The former Buffalo player won 571 games with the Sabres from 1997-2011. He had 165 wins in five seasons with Dallas and has 64 in two-plus seasons with New Jersey.

“It means I’ve been around a long time,” Ruff cracked. “Great to win the game. Again, you got to do a lot of right things, have good teams, and the way our team is playing I have to give them a lot of credit for getting me there.”

The Atlantic Division-leading Devils have won two in a row after seeing their franchise-record 13-game winning streak snapped by Toronto.

Devils captain Nico Hischier and Fabian Zetterlund also scored.

John Carlson scored for Washington and Charlie Lindgren made 24 saves.

“Not scoring goals, not capitalizing on our chances,” Carlson said. “We’ve had our chances, especially today, but we only walked away with one goal. We could have had five or six. It’s just not going in right now.”

Vanecek, meanwhile, was hoping for the shutout against a familiar foe.

“That would have been nice, but that’s hockey,” Vanecek said, “For sure you’re trying, but not every time; the win is more important.”

Hischier opened up the scoring with his 10th goal of the season midway through the first period on a power play after Alexander Ovechkin was called for slashing.

Hughes wrapped the puck around goalie Lindgren’s right leg and the goal post to put the Devils up 2-0 5:59 into the second period. Hughes appeared to have lost his angle on the goal when he ripped a shot off Lindgren’s face mask and into the net midway through the period for his 10th goal of the season to give New Jersey a 3-0 lead.

The 2019 No. 1 overall draft pick added his third midway through the third period as hats rained down on the ice with New Jersey up 4-0.

“You want to continue to play the right way, but if an opportunity comes you want to definitely put it in the back of the net with authority,” Hughes said. “So tonight, I was able to cap it off and it was nice.”

Fabian Zetterlund capped the scoring for New Jersey late in the third period.

NOTES: The Devils improved to 16-0-0 this season when Hischier has a point. New Jersey’s Nathan Bastain (upper body) did not return after the first period. . Ovechkin is still nine goals away from 800 and 11 from passing Gordie Howe for second place on the NHL goals list.

UP NEXT

Capitals: At Vancouver.

Devils: At the New York Rangers.

Bruins set NHL record with 12 straight home wins to start season

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BOSTON — The Boston Bruins set the NHL record for most home victories to start a season with their 12th straight, topping the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2 in overtime with a power-play goal from David Pastrnak.

The Bruins broke the mark of 11 that was set by the 1963-64 Chicago Blackhawks and equaled by the Florida Panthers last season.

“That felt awesome,” Bruins first-year coach Jim Montgomery said. “We talked about it after the second (period) going into the third. There’s been a lot of great teams in this league and you’re able to set a precedent, break a record. It’s pretty special and it doesn’t happen if those guys don’t believe in themselves like they do.”

Boston, which trailed 2-0 late in the second period, tied it with 9:33 left in regulation when David Krejci scored his second of the game on a shot from the right point.

“It’s never fun being down going into the third, you’re sitting in here (in the locker room) trying to figure it out,” Krejci said. “You want to come out and do the job, something special on the line. It’s hard to win in this league. To get 12 in a row at home is pretty special.”

In overtime, Carolina was playing shorthanded after being called for too many men on the ice when Pastrnak one-timed a pass from Brad Marchand inside the far post from above the left circle.

“It was a big win for us, obviously, coming from behind,” Pastrnak said.

Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Stefan Noesen each scored a power-play goal for Carolina, and Pyotr Kochetkov made 38 saves. The Hurricanes lost their fifth straight.

In a rematch of last spring’s opening-round playoff series that the Hurricanes won in seven games, Carolina shutout the NHL’s highest scoring team for nearly two periods and jumped ahead a pair of power-play goals in the opening period.

“We took too many penalties. That’s hurting us right now,” Kotaniemi said. “I think 5-on-5 we’re doing a really good job. We started good tonight and couldn’t keep that up.”

Boston’s tying goal was originally disallowed because of goaltender interference on Nick Foligno but overturned on a coach’s challenge after it was ruled that he was nudged into the crease by Carolina defenseman Brett Pesce.

Boston starting goaltender Linus Ullmark made 28 saves but had to leave with 13:03 left in the third period with an undisclosed upper-body injury. Teammate Connor Clifton had jumped on him to block a shot during a scramble. Jeremy Swayman made six stops in relief.

Carolina’s Noesen scored at 6:34 in to make it 1-0. And with five minutes left in the period, Kotkaniemi collected the puck near the side of the net after Seth Jarvis‘ shot bounced off the back glass and slipped it inside the post at 15:05.

Krejci scored for Boston with 31 seconds left in the second.

Boston came in with a league-high 82 goals in 20 games (4.10 per game), but it was held to relatively few chances despite getting a 5-on-3 power-play advantage early on.

TAKE NOTE

The Bruins honored captain Patrice Bergeron, who recorded his 1,000th career point when the team was on the road against Tampa Bay, with a message on the Jumbotron. The crowd gave him a standing ovation.

Bergeron became just the fourth Bruin to reach the mark, joining Hall of Famers Ray Bourque (1,506), Johnny Bucyk (1,339) and Phil Esposito (1,012).

UP NEXT

Hurricanes: Host the Calgary Flames.

Bruins: Host the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Predators postpone 2 games due to Nashville water main break

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. —  The Nashville Predators postponed two home games because of a water main break that soaked their downtown arena.

Hours after the Predators decided they couldn’t play against the Colorado Avalanche, the team announced it also postponed the game against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Makeup dates for the two games will be announced later.

The NHL said the water main break that occurred “significantly impacted the event level” of Bridgestone Arena. Team locker rooms and the ice surface are on the event level.

Predators President and CEO Sean Henry told reporters that the water in the event level ranged from 3 inches to 3 feet.

“We’re assessing it right now. We’re remediating it,” Henry said. “The good thing is, the water got shut off, the city responded in a pretty fast manner. I don’t think anyone is ready for things like this the Friday after Thanksgiving.”

Video posted by a WTVF-TV reporter shows the water puddled up on the main floor’s concourse area and the team store. The team was forced to close the store until further notice, pointing shoppers online for Black Friday specials.

The Predators’ next home game is now scheduled for Tuesday against the Anaheim Ducks.

The water issue also resulted in a switch to a different venue for a college hockey game between Northeastern and Western Michigan. They also had been scheduled to play at Bridgestone Arena, a game that was moved to Ford Ice Center Bellevue.

Rangers trade Ryan Reaves to Wild for 5th-round pick in 2025

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ST. PAUL, Minn. — The New York Rangers traded enforcer Ryan Reaves to the Minnesota Wild for a 2025 fifth-round pick.

Reaves had been a healthy scratch for eight of the past 12 games for the Rangers. He gives struggling Minnesota some extra muscle and a veteran presence.

The 35-year-old is signed through only the rest of this season at a $1.75 million salary cap hit. He has no points and 12 penalty minutes in 12 games of his second season with New York.

Reaves has played in 869 NHL regular-season and playoff games for the St. Louis Blues, Pittsburgh Penguins, Vegas Golden Knights and Rangers. He was with the Golden Knights during their inaugural season in 2017-18 when the reached the Stanley Cup Final.