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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. 

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.

Lightning vs. Stars: PHT’s Stanley Cup Final predictions

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It’s finally here! We’ve spent the last 49 days since the Qualifying Round began watching the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs and we’ve now arrived at the Cup Final. It’s the Tampa Bay Lightning vs. the Dallas Stars.

Four of us had the Lightning in the Cup Final, three of which have them winning. The Avalanche and the Golden Knights were a popular pick, but none of us had the Stars here. Heck, only Jake had Dallas beating the Flames in the First Round. But Rick Bowness’ team has had quite the run through three rounds and are now four wins away from their first title since 2000. Will they do it? Or will Jon Cooper and Tampa win their first championship since 2004?

Give us your Stanley Cup predictions in the comments. Here are ours:

James O’Brien, NHL writer: Lightning in 7 (Conn Smythe: Brayden Point). Much like Brayden Point’s body, my plan to stick with my preseason picks as far as they’ll go feels pretty battered and bruised right now. Then again, it was still easier — and a more interesting thought experiment — to stick with that through thick and thin than, say, actually having to choose between the Bolts or the Bruins. I’m extremely uncomfortable with this because a) the Stars are far more rested, b) they’re quite good, and c) Point is far from 100%, but the Lightning seem willing to push through everything to finally win a Stamkos-Kucherov-era Stanley Cup. Maybe they can just have big ice packs for seats during the team plane ride out of Edmonton? (Could keep the adult beverages cold.)

Sean Leahy, NHL writer: Lightning in 7 (Conn Smythe: Andrei Vasilevskiy). When Tampa got embarrassed last postseason, GM Julien BriseBois got aggressive and improved his roster over the following nine months. In came Pat Maroon, Blake Coleman, Barclay Goodrow, Kevin Shattenkirk, and Zach Bogosian. They weren’t eyebrow-raising moves, but additions that solidified areas that needed a boost. Each of those players has played a vital role in this run to the Cup Final and Jon Cooper is getting Conn Smythe worthy performances from Brayden Point and Andrei Vasilevskiy. Those are all huge with Steven Stamkos remaining out of the lineup. The question is which Stars team will we see? The high-scoring one earlier in the postseason or the shutdown dynamos we’ve seen recently? Solving Anton Khudobin will be the first thing for Tampa to handle and, unlike what we saw from Vegas, finishing their chances will be important.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Adam Gretz, NHL writerLightning in 6 (Conn Smythe: Brayden Point). I just think this is their year. The Capitals finally broke through and got their championship two years ago, the Blues did it last year, and the Lightning are going to do it this year. They have made it this far and been this dominant without their captain and one of their best players playing a single game in the playoffs, and that is just remarkable to me. This team is so deep, so talented, and has so many different people that can beat you that I just do not know if the Stars can match that. The Stars have absolutely earned their spot here, and I do not think this is going to be a lopsided series by any means, but I just think Tampa Bay has too much.

Michael Finewax, Rotoworld Senior Hockey Writer/Editor: Lightning in 7. (Conn Smythe: Andrei Vasilevskiy). I have picked against Dallas in the three previous rounds, and while I’m going against them once again, I think that it will be a close series with Game 7 possibly going into overtime. Tampa Bay is a stronger team all-around, even with Steven Stamkos on the sidelines. Victor Hedman has been outstanding in the playoffs while Brayden Point, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat have been a much better first line than whatever the Stars can throw at them. Anton Khudobin has stood on his head to get the Stars to this point and Dallas has the best young defenseman in the game in Miro Heiskanen. Dallas needs Tyler Seguin to start scoring if they are to send the Stanley Cup Final to its limit. It should be a great series as the Islanders really wore down the Lightning in the Eastern Conference Final. It should be a doozy of a Stanley Cup!

Jake Abrahams, Managing Editor, NHL content: Lightning in 6 (Conn Smythe: Andrei Vasilevskiy). When we published our Stanley Cup picks last month at the start of the 16-team playoff tournament, I had the Lightning as my champion in 6 games with Andrei Vasilevskiy as my Conn Smythe winner. While I got the West champion wrong (Vegas), I’m sticking with my original choice for Cup champ and playoff MVP. Tampa has cleared hurdle after hurdle in these playoffs, first by exorcising their Blue Jackets demons, then by toppling the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Bruins, and most recently by securing their spot in the final with a gritty win over the pesky Islanders. This Lightning group feels determined and ready to finally break through. And it all starts with Vasilevskiy, who has played every minute of every game this postseason.

2020 STANLEY CUP FINAL (Rogers Place – Edmonton)

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars

Game 1: Saturday, Sept. 19, 7:30 p.m. ET – NBC
Game 2: Monday, Sept. 21, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Game 3: Wednesday, Sept. 23, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Game 4: Friday, Sept. 25, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*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

Watch the Lightning-Stars stream on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.