Stanley Cup Final Roundtable: Series standouts, surprises

What’s the biggest thing that’s stood out to you through three games?

Sean Leahy, NHL writer: The flip in special teams execution for both teams. From the start of the First Round through the conference finals, the Dallas Stars‘ power play was dominant (26.5%) and their penalty kill was strong (83.3%). Meanwhile, Tampa’s extra man unit was down 6% from the regular season to 17.9%.

The Lighting’s power play issues were well-documented heading into the Stanley Cup Final, but that unit was woken up since Game 2 and is at 27.3% in the series with three goals in two games. Dallas has only one goal in 11 opportunities. Tampa holds a PK advantage of 90.9% to 72.7%.

Special teams can decide a series, and right now, through three games, they’ve made a huge difference for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

James O’Brien, NHL writer: The Lightning’s physicality, particularly though a grinding playoff run, has been unexpected. I truly expected fatigue to be a bigger factor for Tampa Bay. Combined with the Stars’ mix of speed, size, and stinginess, I thought the Bolts would be forced to the outside a lot more. This Lightning team isn’t just skill, and all of the talk about depth additions isn’t out of line. Consider that Tyler Johnson (!) was credited with nine hits during Game 3 alone.

Adam Gretz, NHL writer: I want to see that Andrei Vasiilevskiy might actually be underrated. Crazy to say about a goalie that has been a Vezina Finalist in each of the past three seasons, but there are so many other stars on this team (Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, Victor Hedman, Steven Stamkos when he is in the lineup) that we kind of overlook the goalie that is also one of the best players in the world at his position. He has literally played every minute for the Lightning in the Return To Play and he has been great while doing so. In any other year on any other team he would be a runaway Conn Smythe favorite, and on this team in this postseason he is just sort of like an afterthought.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Michael Finewax, Rotoworld Senior Hockey Writer/EditorThe thing that has stood out to me has been how the Lightning have been dominating the play. The Stars got off to a quick start in Game 1 but the Lightning came back to outshoot them 22-2 in the third period and with the exception of the middle frame of Game 2 when Tampa Bay took four minor penalties, the Stars have looked rather ordinary. It is obvious to me that Tampa Bay is the best team in the NHL and Dallas needs Anton Khudobin to stand on his head and that could be difficult as he must be tired, playing more games in the last seven weeks (23 games) than he has at any other time in his career.

Jake Abrahams, Managing Editor, NHL content: The level of play from each team’s top line. For the Lightning, they continue to receive significant contributions from Ondrej Palat, Brayden Point, and Nikita Kucherov. That trio has combined for 10 points in the team’s two victories. On the Dallas side, it’s been radio silence from Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin: zero points through three games for each. Benn was instrumental in the Vegas series, but that production has slowed. Meanwhile, Seguin is mired in a massive slump, with just one point (an assist) over his last 12 games.

Getty Images

Which player has surprised you (good or bad) so far?

Sean Leahy, NHL writer: They’re good, we’ve known that, but Tampa’s top line has been unbelievable to watch. Kucherov is in beast mode. Point is making a Conn Smythe case. Every goal Palat scores seems to be a big one. Via Natural Stat Trick, through three games of the Cup Final, the Lightning have outshot the Stars 23-5 at 5-on-5 when the trio is on the ice. They’ve combined for three goals to one against in over 34 minutes of even strength time together.

James O’Brien, NHL writer: Besides Stamkos showing how much he could accomplish in a few minutes (reflects for a moment on how long it often takes me to do the dishes), this series has served as a helpful reminder of how good Ondrej Palat is. During the last two games, Palat scored two goals and one assist, pushing him to 10 goals and 16 points in 22 playoff games. While I don’t use plus/minus to condemn a player (or really use it much at all), it can quickly give you an idea of if a player is going through happy or bummer-y times (sorry for the scientific jargon). Palat is a +13 during these playoffs after enjoying a +25 rating during the regular season. Palat doesn’t deserve Kucherov or Point-type attention, yet he’s an all-too-easily forgotten contributor who can fit right in with top linemates.

Adam Gretz, NHL writer: Can I say Steven Stamkos? Because I definitely want to say Steven Stamkos. Here is a guy that did not play a game in more than six months, was clearly not 100 percent, then showed up in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final, played two minutes, and scored a huge goal to help set the tone for a win. He not only scored a goal, it was an absolutely beautiful play to dodge a check at the blue line and then pick the corner off the rush against an NHL goalie. It was starting to get to the point where I did not expect to see him play at all, and I still don’t think we will see him play again in this series, and he just showed up for five shifts and did that like it was nothing.

Michael Finewax, Rotoworld Senior Hockey Writer/Editor: I have been surprised by the lack of scoring from Tyler Seguin. He must be injured and playing through it as he has only two goals and six assists in 23 games. That is tied for eighth best on the Stats with Radek Faksa who has not seen the ice since September 10. Seguin is averaging .35 points per game in the post-season, which is better than only his rookie season in the NHL where he averaged .30 points per game as an 18-year-old. The only logical explanation is an injury but his lack of scoring is hurting the Stars a lot as they attempt to win their second Stanley Cup.

Jake Abrahams, Managing Editor, NHL content: Anton Khudobin has come back to Earth. To pin the losses in Games 2 and 3 solely on Khudobin would be unfair, but clearly the level of play he displayed in the Western Conference Final (and even Game 1 of the Cup Final) has dipped a bit. Perhaps the Lightning exposed a weakness, as all five goals in Game 3 were scored on Khudobin’s blocker side. With the back-to-back coming up this weekend, all eyes will be on the Dallas netminder to see if he can bounce back.

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars (TB leads 2-1)

Stars 4, Lightning 1 (recap)
Lightning 3, Stars 2 (recap)
Lightning 5, Stars 2 (recap)
Game 4: Friday, Sept. 25, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
Game 5: Saturday, Sept. 26, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
*Game 6: Monday, Sept. 28, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*Game 7: Wednesday, Sept. 30, 8 p.m. ET – NBC

*if necessary

Scroll Down For:

    Thompson nets 4 in 1st, 5 overall, as Buffalo tops Columbus

    buffalo sabres
    Russell LaBounty/USA TODAY Sports
    1 Comment

    COLUMBUS, Ohio — Tage Thompson matched an NHL record by scoring four times in the first period and finished with five goals and an assist as the Buffalo Sabres won their third straight road game, 9-4 over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Wednesday night.

    Thompson is the second U.S.-born player to score five goals in a game. He is the fourth player in NHL history to record four goals in the first period of a regular-season game, joining Peter Bondra (1994), Grant Mulvey (1982) and Joe Malone (1921). He is also the fourth active player to score five goals in a game, joining Timo Meier (Jan. 17, 2022), Mika Zibanejad (March 5, 2020) and Patrik Laine (Nov. 24, 2018).

    “It’s definitely a rewarding feeling,” Thompson said. “You’ve spent a lot of years working to get to this point and to be rewarded for it is a pretty good feeling and it just leaves you hungrier.”

    Thompson’s outburst helped Buffalo score six times in the first 16:40.

    “That was an amazing performance by Tage, and really, the whole group set the table,” Sabres coach Don Granato said. “I thought the energy, the collective effort, the focus to start was really good and enabled that to happen.”

    Alex Tuch had a goal and three assists, Dylan Cozens added a power-play goal and two assists and Rasmus Dahlin finished with a goal and two assists. Peyton Krebs also scored. Jeff Skinner picked up four assists and Jacob Bryson had two. Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen stopped 20 shots.

    Patrik Laine and Gustav Nyquist each scored twice for Columbus.

    Joonas Korpisalo stopped two shots before being pulled in the first in favor of Elvis Merzlikins, who stopped 15 shots through the second period. Korpisalo returned in the third and finished with six saves.

    Columbus has lost six straight home games and five of its last six overall.

    “We didn’t have an answer for that one line,” Blue Jackets coach Brad Larsen said. “Tage Thompson just tore us up tonight.”

    Buffalo dominated from the puck drop, scoring four goals on its first six shots.

    Cozens put the Sabres on the board at 3:21 of the first, 53 seconds into a Blue Jackets penalty, and Thompson made it 2-0 just 2:09 later. Dahlin scored Buffalo’s third goal at 7:28 of the first, driving Korpisalo from the net in favor of Merzlikins, who gave up Buffalo goal No. 4 to Thompson 32 seconds later.

    Thompson’s third career hat trick and second of the season came on a power-play goal at 12:22 of the first. He followed with his fourth goal, also on the power play, at 16:40.

    Columbus scored two goals in just over a minute, with Laine at 10:49 and Nyquist at 12:04, before Buffalo reeled off three straight in just over three minutes to end the period, including Thompson’s fifth, and goals by Krebs and Tuch.

    Laine and Nyquist scored in the third period for Columbus.

    STREAKING

    Cozens has 12 points in his last five games and is riding a career-best, five-game point streak. Thompson has eight goals and five assists in his last five games and 10 multi-point games. Dahlin has a five-game point and assist streak, and Gaudreau stretched his points streak to six games.

    NOTES: The Sabres joined the Kraken as the second team this season to score nine goals in a game. … Thompson is the second player in Buffalo history to have five goals in a game, joining Dave Andreychuk, who had five goals and an assist on Feb. 6, 1986.

    UP NEXT

    Buffalo: Hosts Pittsburgh on Friday.

    Columbus: Hosts Calgary on Friday.

    Ovechkin, Strome lead Capitals past struggling Flyers 4-1

    washington capitals
    Eric Hartline/USA TODAY Sports
    0 Comments

    PHILADELPHIA — Alex Ovechkin scored two empty-net goals, Dylan Strome had a goal and an assist and the Washington Capitals defeated the Philadelphia Flyers 4-1 on Wednesday night.

    T.J. Oshie also scored for the Capitals, who finished 3-3 on a six-game trip. Charlie Lindgren made 29 saves.

    Kevin Hayes scored for Philadelphia, which has lost 13 of 15 games. Carter Hart made 23 stops.

    Strome broke a 1-all tie with 10:41 remaining when he deflected John Carlson‘s shot from long range past Hart.

    Hayes had a golden opportunity to tie it on a Philadelphia power play, but Lindgren made a great right pad save on a try from close range with 8:20 remaining.

    Ovechkin iced it, scoring into an empty net with 1:35 left and adding another empty-netter with 8.2 seconds left for his 15th of the season. Ovechkin has 795 career goals, good for third all-time. He is six goals away from tying Gordie Howe for second place. Wayne Gretzky, with 894 goals, tops the list.

    Hayes scored his ninth goal of the season for his team-leading 28th point with 4:14 left in the first period to give the Flyers a 1-0 lead. Hayes rushed to the bench after breaking his stick on a slap shot attempt, and scored on a wrist shot from the high slot with his new stick.

    The Flyers had a power-play goal for the third straight game and have four overall in that stretch. Philadelphia, which began play ranked 30th in the NHL in scoring on the man advantage, now has converted 16.7% (14 of 84) of its chances.

    Oshie tied it 3:51 into the second on the Capitals’ fourth power play as the Flyers continued to take sloppy penalties. This time, James van Riemsdyk committed Philadelphia’s third tripping minor of the game. Oshie made them pay with his fifth goal of the season when he finished a nifty passing sequence with Strome and Evgeny Kuznetsov with a perfectly placed one-timer over Hart’s left shoulder.

    NOTES: Van Riemsdyk returned after missing the last 20 games due to a broken right index finger. . Flyers forward Tanner Laczynski was placed on injured reserve after departing midway through the third period of Monday’s 5-3 win over Colorado with what looked like an injury to his left leg. . Washington was without several injured players, including starting goalie Darcy Kuemper (upper body). Kuemper was with the team, but missed his second in a row. . Carlson had two assists. . Philadelphia’s Cam Atkinson, out all season with an upper body injury, has been practicing and is close to returning.

    UP NEXT

    Capitals: Host Seattle on Friday night.

    Flyers: Open four-game trip at Vegas on Friday night.

    Penguins prospect Sam Poulin taking leave of absence

    pittsburgh penguins
    Jeanine Leech/Getty Images
    0 Comments

    PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Penguins forward prospect Sam Poulin is taking a leave of absence from the club’s American Hockey League affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

    Penguins general manager Ron Hextall announced on Wednesday that the 21-year-old Poulin, Pittsburgh’s first-round pick in the 2019 draft, is stepping away due to “personal reasons.”

    “The Penguins support Sam’s decision to take time away from hockey to focus on himself,” Hextall said in a release. “As with all of our players, our priority is them as individuals first. We look forward to having him back with the team when he is ready.”

    Hextall said Poulin will return home to Quebec and continue to work out on his own.

    Poulin made his NHL debut in October and had one assist in three games before heading back to the AHL. Poulin had four goals in 13 games for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton at the time of his decision.

    Nathan MacKinnon sidelined about a month with upper-body injury

    Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports
    0 Comments

    DENVER — The injury-riddled Colorado Avalanche will be without leading scorer Nathan MacKinnon for about a month after he suffered an upper-body injury in a loss to Philadelphia.

    The team announced the news on social media.

    MacKinnon has eight goals and 26 assists for a team-best 34 points this season for the defending Stanley Cup champions. He joins a long list of banged-up players, including Valeri Nichushkin, Evan Rodrigues, Bowen Byram, Kurtis MacDermid, Josh Manson, Darren Helm and captain Gabriel Landeskog. Forward Artturi Lehkonen also missed the game in Philadelphia.

    The 27-year-old MacKinnon signed an eight-year extension in August. He was coming off a postseason in which he tied for the league lead with 13 goals, helping the Avalanche raise their third Stanley Cup in franchise history.