Ranking the best possible Stanley Cup Final matchups

We’ve now seen Game 1 of each conference final (the Stars tightly shutting out the Golden Knights, and the Lightning blowing out the Islanders). Before that, PHT also rolled out predictions. While it’s far too early to tell which two teams will reach the 2020 Stanley Cup Final, it’s never too early to daydream about the possibilities.

Also, it’s never too early to aggravate fans who are already smarting about their teams being called boring. That’s just good Internet!

Let’s rank the four possible 2020 Stanley Cup Final matchups involving two of the Dallas Stars, Vegas Golden Knights, New York Islanders, and Tampa Bay Lightning. Surely no one will object to these subjective rankings, right?


Ranking each possible 2020 Stanley Cup Final series

1. Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Vegas Golden Knights

<—- Starts drooling disgustingly like Homer Simpson.

Plenty of people would draw up Lightning vs. Golden Knights as a best-on-best matchup, and few would question such claims.

To start, each team boasts serious firepower. Can Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty show they’re in the same league as Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov? Would the Golden Knights’ “other” top line be the real difference-maker? Does Shea Theodore deserve all of that dark horse Norris talk when he’s stacked against an actual Norris-winner in Victor Hedman?

Delightfully, this wouldn’t just be a series where it’s only fun to watch when the biggest names are on the ice. Each team rolls out some of the best depth you can ask for in a salary cap age.

Oh yeah, there’s also potential for some tea-spilling drama to seep in.

Maybe Peter DeBoer or Jon Cooper would drop a barb or two at each other. Ryan Reaves might stir things up, perhaps with Cedric Paquette. And all you need is a rogue agent to make things messy for Robin Lehner and/or Marc-Andre Fleury.

After seeing a Golden Knights – Avalanche series fall through the cracks, fans of the sport as a whole must be crossing their fingers for Golden Knights – Lightning in the 2020 Stanley Cup Final.

(As always, fans of specific teams want their team.)

2. Lightning vs. Dallas Stars

Consider this a distant second. As we saw from the Stars’ Game 1 win against the Golden Knights, Dallas probably defaults to a defensive shell.

But, as we saw from the Second Round, a team can also force the Stars into some run-and-gun. Perhaps that’s why the Stars can be frustrating for observers who aren’t fans or foes. This Stars roster has the makings of an attacking team, only they moved away from that since the latter part of the Lindy Ruff era.

Could the Lightning coax out more of an attacking style? That would go a long way in boosting this hypothetical championship round, although one couldn’t blame the Stars if they wanted to try to slow things down and limit the likes of Point and Kucherov.

Maybe we can dub this the Ben Bishop Bowl…if he’s even playing.

3. Golden Knights vs. New York Islanders

Really, second or third place would probably come down to coaching. If Cooper and Rick Bowness chose passive approaches, they wouldn’t have the most thrilling Stanley Cup Final.

We’ll get a better idea of whether or not the Golden Knights can force the pace they seek as their Western Conference Final progresses against the Stars. While the Golden Knights can be nasty and aggressive, they also thrive under frenetic circumstances. You’d assume that both the Stars and Islanders would want to keep things slow and low-energy, then. Through Game 1, it worked for the Stars — and as the postseason goes along, gathering that “locomotive on the loose” energy only becomes tougher.

That said, this series could be a lot of fun if Vegas was able to force the Isles out of their comfort zone every now and then. The physical nature could also come to play, as both teams love to hit. (Again, there’s a perfectly sound argument that this series would be second-best. It’s close.)

You might tear a tendon reaching for “Barry Trotz vs. the Golden Knights team he coached against in winning a Stanley Cup” narrative, but … hey, it’s better than nothing.

Then there’s also the fun subplot of Robin Lehner against his old team.

4. Stars vs. Islanders

Uh oh, this almost seems like a trap to make Islanders and Stars fans really angry. Sorry!

Actually, this is 2020. For all we know, the two teams could put together an all-time classic to defy those of us who are pre-cringing at what we’d expect to be hockey’s answer to a staring contest. Or a modern reboot of that unspeakably bad 2003 Wild – Ducks series where Minnesota scored a single goal.

Ultimately, there’s room for these two teams to entertain aplenty if they choose to.

Miro Heiskanen and John Klingberg give the Stars the sort of puck-moving ability to transition into white-knuckle scoring chances. Watching Mathew Barzal play hockey ranks among one of the most mesmerizing spectacles in the sport; you could probably meditate to his best shifts.

And, if nothing else, Jamie Benn will probably get really mad at Islanders heavy-hitters such as Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck.

In other words, even the “worst” potential 2020 Stanley Cup Final series could still be a lot of fun.

Just maybe not as fun as Golden Knights – Lightning. Then again, that series would probably be tough to top (if the coaches stay out of the way).

Stanley Cup Playoffs Conference Final schedule

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.

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    Coyotes minority owner suspended by NHL following arrest

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    NEW YORK — Arizona Coyotes minority owner Andrew Barroway was suspended indefinitely by the NHL on Friday following his arrest for domestic violence in Colorado.

    Online court records show Barroway was arrested on Thursday on suspicion of second-degree assault strangulation, a felony, and third-degree assault, a misdemeanor. He appeared in court Friday to be advised of the possible charges he is facing and is scheduled to back in court on April 3.

    Barroway spent Thursday night in Pitkin County Jail after police arrested him at an Aspen hotel, according to a police report obtained by the Aspen Daily News.

    “The National Hockey League is aware of the arrest of Arizona Coyotes’ minority owner Andrew Barroway,” the NHL said in a statement. “Pending further information, he has been suspended indefinitely.”

    The 57-year-old Barroway was arrested after a verbal altercation with his wife turned physical, according to the police report. He is prohibited from having contact with his wife, except when it involves their children, and can’t consume alcohol under a court order.

    A prominent hedge fund manager, Barroway owns 5% of the Coyotes.

    “We are aware of the allegation regarding Mr. Barroway and we are working with the League to gather more information,” the Coyotes said in a statement. “When we have enough information, we will have an appropriate response. Until the investigation is complete, we will have no further comment.”

    Blue Jackets’ Patrik Laine out 2-4 weeks with triceps injury

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    COLUMBUS, Ohio — Columbus Blue Jackets forward Patrik Laine is out 2-4 weeks after straining a triceps muscle in practice, yet another blow to the last-place team in the NHL that has been hampered by injuries all season.

    The Blue Jackets announced Laine’s absence before their home game against the New York Islanders.

    They already have 454 man-games lost to injury, one of the highest numbers in the league, and have a record of 22-41-7.

    Laine missed two separate stints with elbow and ankle injuries in the fall. The 24-year-old Finn is the team’s second-leading scorer with 52 points in 55 games.

    Columbus has been top defenseman Zach Werenski since November because of a torn labrum and separated shoulder. Forward Sean Kuraly recently went on injured reserve with a strained left oblique muscle but is set to return Friday.

    Tortorella earns 700th career win, Flyers top Wild 5-4

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    PHILADELPHIA — John Tortorella needed one word to sum up if 700 career wins meant anything to the Flyers coach.


    OK, then. Good thing the brusque Stanley Cup winner isn’t paid by the word.

    James van Riemsdyk scored the only goal in a shootout, and Philadelphia beat the Minnesota Wild 5-4 on Thursday night for Tortorella’s 700th victory.

    Tortorella is 700-573-181 in 1,454 games as an NHL head coach. His 700 wins rank 12th in NHL history and his career games rank ninth in NHL history. He led Tampa Bay to the Stanley Cup in 2004. In his first season coaching the Flyers, Tortorella joined Peter Laviolette as the second American-born coach to win 700 games.

    “I think the culture’s kind of changed around here,” Flyers forward Joel Farabee said. “I think he’s done a really good job of keeping the group together.”

    Farabee, Scott Laughton, Rasmus Ristolainen and Tyson Foerster scored for Philadelphia. The Flyers have two straight games for the first time since Jan. 9-14 when they won three straight. Yeah, it’s been that kind of season.

    “Farabee’s starting to pop, he’s looking real good. Tyson is looking real good,” Flyers defenseman Tony DeAngelo said. “This is all about laying the foundation for next year but we get a lot of money to do this job. It’s something we love, so we’re gonna go out and give it our best every night.”

    Matt Boldy had two goals for the Wild, and Oskar Sundqvist and Marcus Foligno also scored.

    “We weren’t very good. They were good,” Wild coach Dean Evason said. “We knew they were playing well, they played well tonight. We were loose. We were not firm, turnovers, it didn’t look like our hockey club.”

    The Flyers and Wild were tied 1-all at the end of the first period, 3-3 at the end of the second and 4-4 headed into OT.

    The rebuilding Flyers have been plucky of late. They had won two of three coming into the game, with the lone loss in overtime. They showed some of that grit in the final two periods, scoring late tying goals.

    “It’s a credit to their group, to their coaching staff, that they’ve got them playing the right way,” Evason said.

    Boldy poked a backhander past Carter Hart with 6:28 left for a 4-3 lead. The Flyers, playing more for the No. 1 pick and for pride, tied the game on Foerster’s second goal of the season.

    Farabee tipped in Cam York’s shot early in the second for a 2-1 lead.

    The Wild got going when Boldy ripped one top shelf past Hart for his 24th goal of the season that tied the game 2-all. Foligno scored his seventh goal for the 3-2 lead.

    Ristolainen buried a hard slapper from the blue line on the power play for the tying goal with 23 seconds left in the second.

    “I think it’s good to try to lay this foundation, kind of get ready for next year. You see guys getting confidence,” DeAngelo said.

    The Flyers only played ahead in the first period.

    Laughton scored off the rush for his 17th goal of the season and a 1-0 lead. Sundqvist celebrated his birthday with a deflection for the tying goal with 3:24 left in the period.

    The Flyers had been one of the lowest-scoring teams in the NHL until the start of this seven-game homestand (3-2 so far). They have scored at least three goals in every game and at least four in the last four.

    “We have definitely gotten to the net better,” Tortorella said. “We have spent a lot of time on the ice and with tape as far as getting to that area.”


    Wild: Host Chicago on Saturday.

    Flyers: Host Detroit on Saturday.

    Crosby reaches 30-goal mark, Penguins knock off Avalanche 5-2

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    DENVER – Sidney Crosby wasn’t even aware of reaching yet another milestone. He’s simply locked in on helping the Pittsburgh Penguins make a 17th straight postseason appearance.

    Jeff Carter had a pair of goals, Crosby scored on a nifty backhand shot in the second period to reach the 30-goal mark for an 11th season and the Penguins beat the Colorado Avalanche 5-2.

    Crosby moved into a tie with Hall-of-Fame center Mario Lemieux for the most 30-goal seasons in Penguins history. Another milestone reached – it came as news to him.

    “I think the most important thing for me is just try to be consistent and if that reflects that great,” said Crosby, who turns 36 in August.

    Even more, Crosby’s the first player in league history to post a 30-goal campaign at 18 years old and again when he was 35-plus, according to NHL Stats.

    “It means I’ve been in the league for a while,” Crosby cracked. “That’s been the thing that’s driven me since since I got into the league – in your first year, you want to prove that you belong. Even at 35, I still think you want to prove you belong, because it is a younger league.”

    Jake Guentzel also scored and Bryan Rust added an empty-net goal for the Penguins, who snapped a four-game slide and moved back into a wild-card spot in the East.

    “It’s definitely a big one for us, for sure,” Guentzel said. “Defending champs, coming to their building, you know how good they are. Top to bottom, we defended hard and that’s what we have to do at this time of the year.”

    Pittsburgh goaltender Tristan Jarry stopped 28 shots in improving to 11-4 this season against teams from the Western Conference.

    J.T. Compher and Devon Toews had goals for the Avalanche, whose six-game winning streak was halted. Nathan MacKinnon had an assist to extend his home points streak to 18 games.

    It was a missed opportunity for Colorado, which could’ve pulled into a three-way tie with Dallas and Minnesota in the Central Division with a victory.

    “We knew they were going to play with urgency,” Colorado coach Jared Bednar said. “But I didn’t feel like there was any reason why we couldn’t, either. … We didn’t get it done. Hopefully we get another one.”

    Alexandar Georgiev made 40 saves, including several critical ones in a second period controlled by the Penguins, who outshot the Avalanche by a 21-9 margin. It could’ve been more than a 3-1 deficit heading into the third period.

    Toews’ power-play goal made it 3-2 with 9:32 remaining. But Carter wrapped up the win with his first multigoal game in the regular season since Jan. 11, 2022.

    “I’m thrilled for him. We’re all thrilled,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said of Carter. “He cares about the Penguins. He wants to win, and he wants to contribute in helping us win so we couldn’t be happier for him.”


    Bednar was appreciative of the three-year extension he signed Tuesday that goes through the 2026-27 season. In his seventh season, he’s the third-longest tenured coach in the NHL behind Tampa Bay’s Jon Cooper (March 2013) and Sullivan (December 2015).

    “It’s not a forgiving league or sport, for the most part, but obviously that’s part of the reason why I’m so grateful and thankful,” Bednar said. “Because there were times over my tenure that got a little hairy and management could have made another decision. But obviously they didn’t.”


    Avalanche D Cale Makar missed a second straight game with a lower body injury. “I still have him as day-to-day,” Bednar said. … F Darren Helm returned after missing 64 of 69 games this season with a lower-body injury. … Penguins D Jeff Petry (upper body) skated in the morning but sat out his third straight game. … The Penguins are 11-1 against the Central Division this season. … Penguins standout Evgeni Malkin assisted on Guentzel’s goal to reach the 50-assist mark for a seventh time in his career.


    Penguins: At Dallas on Thursday night.

    Avalanche: Host Arizona on Friday night.