Conn Smythe Watch: Victor Hedman makes his move

Thanks to a couple of fast starts, a bounce-back from their power play unit, and a brief appearance from captain Steven Stamkos the Lightning have been able to win back-to-back games and take a 2-1 series lead in the 2020 Stanley Cup Final.

It has been the usual suspects leading that charge for them as forwards Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point, and top defenseman Victor Hedman, continue to pace their offense.

All three players find themselves at the top of our latest Conn Smythe Watch.

1. Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning. Truly a dominant postseason in every possible way. He has already scored 10 goals (with 10 assists) in 22 games and completely controls every game when he is on the ice. He has played more than 434 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey this postseason, and during that time the Lightning are outscoring their opponents by a 24-6 margin and controlling close to 60 percent of the total shot attempts and expected goals (via Natural Stat Trick). With all due respect to Kucherov, Point, and a healthy Stamkos, he is pobably the best player on this team.

2. Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning. He leads the league in assists and total points this postseason and has helped jumpstart Tampa’s power play in the Cup Final. His performance in Games 2 and 3 got the Lightning off to fast starts that helped them take the series lead.

3. Brayden Point, Tampa Bay Lightning. Point had been emerging as the top Conn Smythe favorite for Tampa. His drop to the third spot is simply a testament to how good the other two guys currently ahead of him have been. Point and Kucherov have been unstoppable at times this postseason offensively and it is starting to get to the point where it is difficult to separate one from the other. They are great individually. Together they are a nightmare for the Stars. And every other team that has tried to slow down the Lightning.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

4. Miro Heiskanen, Dallas Stars. His first period turnover that led to Kucherov’s goal in Game 3 was the low-point of his postseason, and one of the few mistakes he has made this entire postseason. He has been the Stars’ best and most consistent player from the start of the playoffs and if they are able to win three of the next four games and win the Stanley Cup he will be one of the biggest reasons why. He is averaging a point-per-game offensively as a defenseman, is playing a shutdown role defensively, and still has not taken a single penalty in the playoffs even though he spends 20-plus minutes per night playing against the top players in the world. A stunning player.

5. Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars. He has proved this postseason that he still has a lot left in the tank and can be a top-line offensive producer. He has been one of the Stars’ most productive forwards and come through in some huge moments for them.

6. Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning. He has not only played every minute for Tampa in the Toronto and Edmonton bubbles, he has done so at an incredibly high level. He enters Game 4 of the Cup Final on Friday (8 p.m. ET, NBC; livestream) with a .928 save percentage. On most other teams that sort of goaltending performance would be at the top of this list. But the rest of Tampa’s roster is so good, and so dominant that it kind of gets overlooked.

[Lightning vs. Stars: 2020 Stanley Cup Final schedule]

7. Anton Khudobin, Dallas Stars. It would be unfair to say that he has been bad in the Cup Final, because he hasn’t been. He has also had some rotten puck luck work against him. But he also has not been as good as he was in the Western Conference Final. Dallas is going to need him to be.

8. Denis Gurianov, Dallas Stars. The most underrated player on this Stars team. Whenever he is on the ice, something good seems to happen for the Stars. He is one of their most productive and impactful players despite still only getting about 13 minutes of ice-time per game. He is averaging more than two points per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 ice-time. Play him more, Dallas!

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.

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    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

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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.

    Toronto’s Morgan Rielly placed on long-term injured reserve

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    TORONTO — The Toronto Maple Leafs placed defenseman Morgan Rielly on long-term injured reserve with a knee injury.

    Rielly was hurt in a collision with with New York forward Kyle Palmieri early in the third period of Toronto’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Islanders at home.

    Rielly has no goals and 16 assists in 20 games this season and is averaging 23 minutes of ice time.

    Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said following practice that the 28-year-old Rielly doesn’t need surgery, adding there’s no firm timeline for his return beyond the minimum 24 days and 10 games required for going on long-term injured reserve.

    Toronto’s defense is also missing Jake Muzzin with a neck injury and T.J. Brodie with an injured oblique.