Roundtable: Stanley Cup Final X-factors, storylines

Who will be the biggest X-factors in the series for each team?

James O’Brien, NHL writerBrayden Point and Joe Pavelski. For real, if Point’s functional — even if it means skipping a Stanley Cup Final game, or perhaps two — then that’s series-shifting stuff.

It’s been a delight to see Pavelski thrive after struggling so much during the regular season. That said, Pavelski slogged through a sluggish series against Vegas. It’s one thing to finish with a goal and an assist, but I’m a touch concerned that he wasn’t firing the puck much; the veteran finished with just three SOG in those five games after having no fewer than two and as many as six in each contest vs. Colorado. Naturally, pace of play matters, but I’d wager the Stars will need offense beyond the Jamie BennTyler SeguinAlexander Radulov combo. Since Bowness seems reluctant to unleash Denis Gurianov and Roope Hintz, then it falls on players like Pavelski to pitch in.

Adam Gretz, NHL writerBlake Coleman and Anton Khudobin. I kind of want to say the entire Tampa third line, but if I have to narrow it down to one then I am going to pick Coleman. He has been such a big pickup, because he not only brings a shutdown defense element to their third line, but he can also chip in some offense and help give them another line that can beat you. They paid a steep price at the trade deadline to get Coleman and Goodrow (two first-round picks!) but it has proven to be worth it. This line has not only been their second best line in the playoffs, they are going to have it next year as well for an incredible price against the salary cap.

For the Stars, it kind of has to be Khudobin, doesn’t it? I expect that the Stars are probably going to give up a lot of shots, a decent number of scoring chances, and at times be on the defense against an incredibly deep Lightning team. The Stars, to their credit, have already gotten through two similarly built teams in Colorado and Vegas, and in the latter case it was largely due to Khudobin’s play. Tampa is better than each of those two teams, so it stands to reason that he is going to get tested again. If he plays well, the Stars are going to have a real shot. If he does not, well, that is a great Tampa team that can run away with it if it gets rolling. That potential swing in results based on the play of one player is pretty much the definition of an X-factor I would say.

Michael Finewax, Rotoworld Senior Hockey Writer/Editor: Brayden Point and Anton Khudobin. Point seems to be laboring over the last couple of games and missed two of the Lightning’s last four games with his undisclosed injury. If healthy, he and Nikita Kucherov are far better than any Dallas twosome up front.

Khudobin is going through a stretch of outstanding playing time that he has never done before in the NHL. He has carried the Stars on his back throughout the post season and if the Stars get a similar performance in the Stanley Cup Final, then Dallas has a chance to lift the Cup and bring it back to Texas.

Sean Leahy, NHL writer: Victor Hedman and Anton Khudobin. The Norris Trophy finalist has shown his offensive flair this postseason (nine goals, 15 points) and his value on the blue line this postseason. When he’s on the ice, the Lightning have outscored opponents 22-4 and own nearly 60% of the shot share at even strength. He’s the leader of the NHL’s best defense in these playoffs and will find a way to neutralize the Stars’ biggest weapons more often than not this series.

Khudobin’s play is the main reason why the Stars are four wins away from a title. Since taking over for Ben Bishop, “Dobby” has a .929 even strength save percentage and a .872 high-danger save percentage, which tops Vasilevskiy’s .836. Dallas needed him to be their best player in the conference final and he’ll need to continue that elite form.

Jake Abrahams, Managing Editor, NHL content: Steven Stamkos and Tyler Seguin. Tampa’s captain has been unfit to play this entire postseason, but we’re starting to see him more and more. He has been practicing in recent days, and he joined the team on the ice for the picture with the Prince of Wales Trophy. His ear-to-ear grin was such a welcome sight, and one can only imagine how amped up he would be to make his return in the Cup Final – especially given how much he struggled against Chicago in 2015 (0 goals, 1 assist in 6 games). An effective Stamkos could turn the Lightning into a significant favorite in this series.

When a proven scorer is on a 2-goals-in-20-games slump, that can either be cause for concern, or optimism. The Lightning will be Dallas’ toughest test, so if Seguin stays quiet, then the Stars could have a hard time outscoring the Bolts. Then again, given the Stars made it to this point without much production from Seguin, perhaps he’ll bring a welcome boost and make his team an even tougher out.

What is the biggest storyline for you entering this series?

James O’Brien, NHL writer: Perhaps I’m projecting here (let’s ruminate on a 12-month 2019-20 season, everyone), but fatigue. The hockey’s been so good for much of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs that we feel comfortable burying a player or team because of a bad couple of weeks. That would already be bad during normal circumstances — fear the playoff overreaction — yet it’s especially dangerous now. Sure, it’s understandable that the NHL wants to hand out the Stanley Cup as soon as possible (picture Gary Bettman walking away from an explosion like in an action movie). But you can really see the wear and tear building up. How much gas does Tampa Bay have left in the tank? Stars fans won’t love hearing about that if Dallas runs over the Lightning, yet it’s the elephant in the room, with bags under its eyes.

Adam Gretz, NHL writer: Honestly it has to just be the very fact that the Stars are even here. This team started the season 1-7 and looked awful while doing so, they went through a surprising mid-season coaching change, and then they beat two of the biggest favorites in the Western Conference while getting badly outshot and even outscored throughout the playoffs. As if that is not enough, they are doing it on the strength of an outstanding goaltending performance, but that performance is not coming from the goalie you would have expected it to come from at the start of the season (Ben Bishop). Everything about this team and its success is mesmerizing.

Michael Finewax, Rotoworld Senior Hockey Writer/Editor: The biggest story line has to be who is healthy and who is not. The NHL playoffs usually are at its best in the early rounds, while the Stanley Cup Final is usually a survival of the fittest. It always comes out after a team is eliminated that a bunch of players require surgery and it would not surprise me if the same thing happens in two weeks. There are definitely plenty of injuries that are undisclosed at this time(from blocking shots to absorbing big hits) with the guys just playing through them.

Sean Leahy, NHL writer: How much more of an impact can Tampa’s third line make? Barclay Goodrow, Yanni Gourde, and Blake Coleman have been a trio that’s turned into one of the best lines this postseason. We know what Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point can do, but that shutdown line has been incredibly effective. Via Natural Stat Trick, the line has a 57 expected goals rate and have outscored opponents 10-5 at even strength when they’re on the ice. They face a new challenge if they get matched up against Jamie Benn, who’s been in “beast mode” this summer.

Jake Abrahams, Managing Editor, NHL content: Can Anton Khudobin outplay Andrei Vasilevskiy? Vasilevskiy is the best goalie on the planet, and his play this postseason (14-5 record, 1.82 GAA, .931 SV%) gives Tampa the edge in goal … at least on paper. But Khudobin stole Dallas’ Conference Final series against Vegas, and he is having the performance of a lifetime in these playoffs. With Ben Bishop still unfit to play for the Stars, it will be up to Khudobin to continue his magical run and keep the high-flying Lightning at bay.

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.

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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

    Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
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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

    Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
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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.