Stars give Rick Bowness another chance at Stanley Cup glory

As Ryan Callahan made his way back into the Tampa Bay Lightning locker room after the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, he caught a glimpse inside the Tampa coaches room. There his eyes were drawn to assistant coach Rick Bowness, and it was clear how much the series loss to Chicago was hurting.

Four years earlier, Bowness was an associate coach with Vancouver when they fell in seven games to the Boston in the Cup Final. The image of a crestfallen NHL lifer missing out on another opportunity at a championship is one that has stayed with Callahan.

“I wanted to win it for him because I knew he’s been in the league for so long and how much he wanted it,” said Callahan, who is now an NHL Network analyst.

Callahan’s experience playing for Bowness is similar to that of many others. The coach is genuine person who cares deeply for his players. He always keeps an open line of communication. Criticisms come from a good place.

“You kind of scratch your head and wonder why he wasn’t a head coach in this league,” Callahan said. “You felt like he had so much to give and he was so passionate about the game and about the players.”

Bowness gets his third shot at winning a Cup beginning Saturday night against his old team, the Lightning. He arrived in Dallas as an assistant coach and was put into the interim role after Jim Montgomery’s surprise dismissal in December.

It’s been a long journey for the 65-year-old Bowness, and no one has more experience with over 2,500 NHL games coached. It’s been a career of ups and downs. But there’s a large fan club of current and former players who are rooting for him to finally hoist the Cup.

The start in Winnipeg

The relationship between Bowness and Stars general manager Jim Nill goes back to the early 1980s. The Winnipeg Jets were vying for a Smythe Division crown and the 29-year-old Bowness was in his first season as an assistant. On the wing, albeit for 20 games in 1984-85, was Nill, then a 26-year-old winger who came over from Boston in a midseason trade.

The two would spend the next few seasons together in the organization before linking up as few years later in Ottawa. Bowness had been hired as the expansion franchise’s first-ever head coach and Nill working as a pro scout.

Bowness would last four seasons as the Senators got off to a rough start, while Nill left for a long run with Red Wings following the 1993-94 season.

Nearly three decades later they would reunite, but under unique circumstances. When Nill fired Montgomery as Stars head coach due to “unprofessional conduct,” he turned to Bowness, who had spent the last two seasons as an assistant. 

From playing for him and seeing how players reacted to his approach, Nill knew that given the Stars’ situation Bowness’ personality would be a fit. The match was there, and the comfort level between the players and their new coach was perfect.

“Hey, listen: He’s the main reason I came to Dallas [from Tampa] in the first place two summers ago,” Bowness said of Nill. “His character, his honesty — you know where you stand. He’s an honest, hardworking man committed to winning.”

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

The young assistant

What’s changed in Bowness 36 years after coaching the Jets? There are a few more grays, sure, but not a whole lot, according to Nill. How he deals with players remains an attribute that’s played a role into his staying power as an NHL coach.

“He’s the same person back then as he is now,” Nill said. “He’s a great person, on and off the ice. It’s all about respect. And with respect sometimes there’s tough conversations. Sometimes you have to have conversations with players and say you’re either not playing good enough or maybe you need more time and need to get send down and play in the minors or you’ve got to get your game better or you’re not going to be in the lineup. Those decisions aren’t easy, but Rick has always been very upfront and truthful about it. That’s what getting him success so far.”

When Bowness took the Ottawa job, the hockey wasn’t great. The expansion Senators won just 39 times in his 235 games in charges. Despite the lack of success, Nill saw the work ethic of a coach who was doing everything he could to improve the franchise’s fortunes.

“That’s not a great situation for a coach,” Nill said. “But he came to work every day, was the same guy every day, tried to make guys better, tried to make the team better, and was about the team first. Sometimes to judge guys in those situations isn’t totally fair.”

If Bowness thought his time in Ottawa was bad, he could not have been prepared for what was to come next.

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Finding his niche

Mike Milbury brought Bowness in as an associate coach with the New York Islanders ahead of the 1996-97 season. He only held that title for 45 games before Milbury resigned and Bowness took over head coaching duties.

A struggling team and a continued lack of success after his four seasons in Ottawa brought plenty of frustration. Bowness was unable to turn the Islanders around in his season and a half, no matter how hard he tried. Milbury then decided to take on the head coach role again 63 games into the 1997-98 season.

“When ‘Bones’ would get behind the bench he’d so fired up, he’s screaming and yelling at everything he could,” said Bryan Berard, who played two seasons for Bowness with the Islanders. “Whether it was the refs, whether it was us, whether it was the opposing team, you could just tell he was pumped to be behind the bench.”

Aside from a 20-game stint as interim head coach in Phoenix, Bowness’ resume since the Islanders job has been filled with assistant or associate coaching gigs. From Berard’s experience, that role is where Bowness excels.

[2020 Stanley Cup Final schedule]

“For me, ‘Bones’ kind of found that niche, and I think he liked being an assistant coach because he likes being in the locker room and around the players,” he said.

Dallas is the latest example of a team in need turning to Bowness in the middle of a season.

“The general managers, when they have to fire a head coach, they know that guys like Rick,” Berard added. “They know they’ll play for him. I think this is pretty obvious with the way [Dallas] rallied around him and each other and are having a lot of success.”

As Berard has watched the Stars this postseason, it’s clear to him why there’s been a turnaround. Bowness took over an older team, one that was created to be a contender now. Gone are the days where he’s yelling at everything in sight all the time. Now, he’s letting his players play and it’s working.

“For ‘Bones’ to stick around it just shows that he loves being in the locker room and he’s a true hockey guy,” Berard said.

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Getting the chance again

The Stars players were familiar with Bowness when he assumed the interim role. He knew them well and they knew his approach. The relationships may have slightly changed given his new responsibilities, but he was still the same old “Bones.”

“He’s a coach you just want to do everything for, lay your body on the line for,” said Stars captain Jamie Benn. “It’s been a crazy year for all of us, and especially for him. To come in halfway through the year, jump into a head-coaching role, can’t be easy.”

That kind of endorsement reverberates inside a dressing room. The Stars had no choice but to respond when Bowness took over. Given the abrupt change of leadership, they had to rally for one another and rally around the coach.

[How Dallas Stars built their Stanley Cup-contending roster]

One of Bowness’ biggest strengths — honed by his many years as an assistant — is communication. He likes to keep the atmosphere positive and light and his players know he’s available to talk any time. It’s a two-way street of of course, and he’s upfront if criticism is warranted. That kind of honesty and openness stays with players and helps them buy into what he wants to do.

The level of respect for Bowness isn’t just contained to the Stars’ dressing room. While colleagues and former players will sing his praises, opponents want to see him finally reach his Cup dreams.

After the Stars eliminated the Avalanche in the Second Round, Bowness met with Nathan MacKinnon in the handshake line. The Hart Trophy finalist had a simple message for his fellow Martimer.

“Go get it. Go get it,” MacKinnon told Bowness. “We’re all cheering for you back home now, eh?”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

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

    Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports
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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 on Tuesday night.

    Devils: At the New York Rangers on Monday night.

    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.