Flyers turn to winner Vigneault to snap championship drought

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VOORHEES, N.J. (AP) — The Tampa Bay Lightning team that just flamed out in the first round of the playoffs is dotted with former New York Rangers who played in the 2014 Stanley Cup Final:

Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi, Anton Stralman, J.T. Miller all helped the Rangers to get within three wins of their first championship since 1994. Five years later, a new team and a stunning elimination. They were used to deeper runs in New York with Alain Vigneault running the show. He led the Rangers to the Cup Final in his first season and bumped the win total by eight in his second.

After a year out of coaching, Vigneault takes over a fallen Philadelphia Flyers franchise. He seems to expect a similar quick fix.

”I was looking for was an opportunity to win; an opportunity in the short term to win a Stanley Cup,” Vigneault said Thursday.

Vigneault also led the Vancouver Canucks to the Stanley Cup Final, is a former NHL coach of the year and will spend the summer as the head coach for Team Canada at the world championships.

”It’s unusual and difficult to find coaches like Alain,” Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher said.

Indeed, Vigneault has done it all on the bench except win the Stanley Cup and he joins a franchise mired in one of the longest championship droughts in the league. The Flyers haven’t won it all since 1975 or even played for the Stanley Cup since 2010. Even worse, they missed the playoffs this season and haven’t made it past the second round since 2012.

And he thinks the Flyers can win in the short term?

Maybe, because the talent is there: Claude Giroux, Jake Voracek, James van Riemsdyk and Sean Couturier all have some heavy miles on their skates but are still productive veterans. There’s still untapped potential in a group of promising 20-somethings that include Travis Sanheim, Oskar Lindblom, Shayne Gostisbehere and Nolan Patrick. All have shown flashes of stardom along with infuriating inconsistency.

”I can get them to be more consistent. The way that I prepare a team for games I believe permits a player to understand what he needs to do against that team to be successful,” Vigneault said.

Couturier will get an early peek at Vigneault’s system at next month’s world championships in Slovakia. So will Carter Hart, the 20-year-old rookie goalie who nearly carried the Flyers into the playoffs after his December call up. He won eight straight games and pushed the Flyers (37-37-8 for 82 points) to the verge of a wild card spot until they collapsed over the final two weeks.

The Flyers used a record eight goalies this season. Vigneault knows a true No. 1 should be enough to carry the load in a championship chase. Vigneault rode Henrik Lundqvist in New York to within three wins of a championship and Roberto Luongo had four playoff shutouts when the Canucks reached the Final in 2011.

”I was very fortunate to have maybe two Hall of Fame goaltenders,” Vigneault said. ”Maybe we have a young goaltender that’s got a tremendous amount of potential and might become one of the top goalies in the league.”

One thing Vigneault won’t do is ask former Flyers coach Dave Hakstol (fired in December) and former GM Ron Hextall (fired in November) for a scouting report on the team. Both men are part of his staff at worlds. Giroux, the Flyers captain, is the only player Vigneault has called.

Vigneault, who turns 58 in May, has coached 16 NHL seasons for the Montreal Canadiens, Canucks and Rangers. His teams made the playoffs 11 times and he was named NHL coach of the year in 2006-2007 with Vancouver.

”Players look for direction. If you give a player and a team a path and you do this, you do it this way, you put in the time, you’re going to have success,” Vigneault said. ”You do the same thing with your team, they’re going to follow you.”

History suggests players will follow Vigneault. He took two teams in major hockey markets to the Final and did it in large part because of a hot goalie and an overachieving roster. The Rangers wore down because almost every series went the distance (four Game 7s) and Vigneault took them way behind their talent level.

Vigneault has an offensive superstar in Giroux (82 points) but Patrick (a former No. 2 pick) and van Riemsdyk have more name value than skill. No matter, the coach always pays the price in Philly: Vigneault is the fifth coach since the start of the 2013 season, and he’d like this commitment to last.

”You know what we have to do? We have to win,” he said.

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WATCH LIVE: Capitals host Lightning on Wednesday Night Hockey

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Washington Capitals. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Lightning head to the nation’s capital to take on the defending champion Capitals in Tampa Bay’s first game since clinching the franchise’s first Presidents’ Trophy. A reminder, the Capitals beat the Lightning in seven games in last year’s Eastern Conference Final on their way to the franchise’s first Stanley Cup title.

Last night, Washington won at New Jersey, 4-1, for its ninth win in the last 11 games (9-2-0). With the victory and the loss by the Islanders, the Caps overtook New York for the top spot in the Metro Division. Tied 1-1 after the first, Washington outscored New Jersey 3-0 in the second period. Four different players scored for the Capitals – Andre Burakovsky, Brett Connolly, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Tom Wilson – while Alex Ovechkin added one assist to extend his point streak to four games (2G-3A). Ovi now has 1,204 career points. Pheonix Copley stopped 20 of 21 shots for Washington in his sixth straight win. Nicklas Backstrom had one assist to total 50 for the season – his sixth straight 50-assist campaign – no other player has an active streak longer than three.

The Lightning secured the NHL’s best regular-season record in their 73rd game, the second-fewest games to clinch the Presidents’ Trophy since it was introduced in 1985-86. The 1995-96 Red Wings accomplished the feat in 71 games. Tampa Bay also clinched the Presidents’ Trophy before any other team in the Eastern Conference clinched a playoff spot.

Clinching the Presidents’ Trophy wasn’t the only thing that was accomplished Monday. Steven Stamkos scored his 36th goal of the season, bringing his career total to 384 goals. With that goal, Stamkos passed Vincent Lecavalier for most goals in franchise history.

This is the second of three meetings between these two teams this season. The Lightning topped the Caps 6-3 last Saturday in Tampa in a game that saw Alex Killorn record his first career hat trick. They’ll play their third and final meeting on March 30 in Tampa, their third matchup in 15 days.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

WHAT: Tampa Bay Lightning at Washington Capitals
WHERE: Capital One Arena
WHEN: Wednesday, March 20, 6:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Lightning-Capitals stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

LIGHTNING
Ondrej Palat – Steven Stamkos – J.T. Miller
Tyler JohnsonBrayden PointNikita Kucherov
Alex Killorn – Anthony Cirelli – Mathieu Joseph
Yanni GourdeCedric PaquetteAdam Erne

Victor HedmanMikhail Sergachev
Ryan McDonaghErik Cernak
Braydon CoburnJan Rutta

Starting goalie: Andrei Vasilevskiy

CAPITALS
Alex Ovechkin – Evgeny Kuznetsov – Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana – Nicklas Backstrom – T.J. Oshie
Carl HagelinLars Eller – Brett Connolly
Andre Burakovsky – Nic DowdChandler Stephenson

Michal KempnyJohn Carlson
Dmitry OrlovMatt Niskanen
Brooks OrpikNick Jensen

Starting goalie: Braden Holtby

MORE: Nikita Kucherov is a master of deception

John Forslund (play-by-play), U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame member Eddie Olczyk (analyst), and Emmy Award-winner Pierre McGuire (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C. Pre-game coverage starts at 6:30 p.m. ET with NHL Live, hosted by Kathryn Tappen alongside Mike Milbury, Keith Jones and Bob McKenzie.

————

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.

Lightning set franchise mark with 10th straight win

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Make it 10 in a row.

The Tampa Bay Lightning just refuse to lose and their 10th straight victory on Wednesday, 4-3 in overtime against the New York Rangers, established a new franchise record for a team that seems to be setting new ones every time they touch the ice.

And like their ninth straight win on Monday night, the Lightning were once again made to work for it by a team all-but-mathematically eliminated form the playoffs, this time by a plucky Rangers team that was gutted at the trade deadline.

It took a Victor Hedman overtime winner (and a questionable pick play that went uncalled) for the Lightning to unseat the Rangers on NBSCN.

The Lightning jumped out to an early 2-0 lead, scoring goals seven minutes apart through Tyler Johnson and J.T. Miller in the first period. Like most nights, it seemed like the Lightning were destined for an easy rout.

But Mike Zibanejad injected some life into the Rangers just 56 seconds into the second period, taking a cross-ice feed from Jimmy Vesey and slotting it home on his backhand to pull the game to 2-1.

The Rangers’ high-flying, high-scoring top line was broken up when the team traded Mats Zuccarello to the Dallas Stars last week, but Vesey’s promotion seemed to keep the good times rolling.

After Dan Girardi scored on a one-timer to regain the two-goal lead, Vesey added a goal to his earlier assist. Boo Nieves then capped off New York’s three-goal second period to tie the game 3-3. The Rangers put up 17 shots in the frame after giving up 14 in the first period, and then limited the Lightning to six shots in the third to earn themselves a point.

The Rangers were also without forward Kevin Hayes, who was dealt to Winnipeg, and defenseman Adam McQuaid, who was shipped out to Columbus Blue Jackets. Brendan Lemieux, who made his debut with the Rangers after coming over in the Hayes deal, played 15:24 on the third line and seeing time on the team’s second power-play unit.

The Lightning came into Wednesday’s game having not lost in regulation in their past 13 games. That, of course, turned over to 14 as their remarkable run continues.

Speaking of notable runs, Nikita Kucherov added three more assists to his incredible point tally this season. Kucherov came into the game with an eight-point lead on Chicago’s Patrick Kane in the Art Ross race. He now leads the Blackhawks superstar by 11, with Kane in action later on Wednesday on NBSCN.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Lightning outlast Kings, win ninth straight in shootout

Few contenders heading into Monday’s deadline required little to no tinkering. Well, just one really.

The Tampa Bay Lightning took the ‘if-it-ain’t-broke’ mentality into the day and decided not to mess with their really good thing. The top team in the National Hockey League then went out on Monday night and once again did what it has done pretty much all year: win.

A 4-3 shootout triumph over the Los Angeles Kings was Tampa’s ninth straight, matched a team consecutive win record set in 2016 and helped them become just the fourth team in league history to reach 100 points in 63 games or fewer.

Win No. 48 wasn’t that easy, however.

The Bolts led 2-0 thanks to first-period strikes from Brayden Point — his 36th — and Anthony Cirelli and were cruising until they hit a speed bump in the third period.

Perhaps lulled to sleep by the Kings, Los Angeles scored three unanswered in just under six minutes to take an unexpected 3-2.

Alex Iafallo scored off his shin pad, Jonny Brodzinski tied the game on a one-timer off a turnover from Andrei Vasilevskiy 5:10 later and Austin Wagner scored 46 seconds after that to take a 3-2 lead.

The goal burst came after the Kings owned the possession at a 60/40 split in the period. after being dominated throughout the first two periods.

J.T. Miller tied the game not long after Wagner gave the Kings the lead, scoring off an ugly turnover.

Drew Doughty said earlier in the day that the Kings need to play with pride down the stretch. Los Angeles came into the game riding a seven-game losing streak (0-5-2) and sat in last place in the Western Conference with 52 points.

Their lot in life didn’t change much with Monday’s loss, but taking a point from the Lightning was a good step in the right direction when it comes to closing out the season with their best foot forward.

Vasilevskiy stopped 30 of 33 saves in the game, and perhaps none bigger than the one above late in the third period on Dustin Brown.

Jack Campbell was solid at the other end for the Kings, stopping 31 of 34.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

WATCH LIVE: Lightning host Kings on NBCSN

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Monday’s matchup between the Los Angeles Kings and Tampa Bay Lightning. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Tampa leads the NHL with 47 wins and 98 points this season. Nikita Kucherov leads the NHL with 100 points (T-career high, set last year) and a career-high 70 assists. Both the Lightning and Kucherov are on historic paces this season

TB is the first team in NHL history to win at least 47 of its first 62 games of a season. They are looking to win their first-ever Presidents’ Trophy this season. The last team to win the Presidents’ Trophy and win the Stanley Cup was the Blackhawks in 2013, and before that was the Detroit Red Wings in 2008

Kucherov is on pace to hit 92 assists and 132 points this season. The last player with 90-plus assists was Joe Thornton in 2006-07 (92). Kucherov would become the first player with 130+ points since 1995-96, when Mario Lemieux (161 points) and Jaromir Jagr (149 points) both did so. 

The Kings are on a seven-game losing streak (0-5-2) and sit in last place in the Western Conference with 52 points. They are having problems in all areas of the game right now – offense defense, the power play and penalty kill

Simply put, the Kings have struggled to score this year. They rank 30th in the NHL averaging 2.34 goals/game. In a season where around half the league is scoring three or more goals per game, it’s no shock that the Kings sit in the basement of the Western Conference.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: Los Angeles Kings at Tampa Bay Lightning
Where: Amalie Arena
When: Monday, Feb. 25, 6:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Kings-Lightning stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

KINGS
Alex IafalloAnze KopitarDustin Brown
Ilya KovalchukJeff CarterTyler Toffoli
Brendan LeipsicAdrian Kempe – Jonny Brodzinski
Kyle CliffordTrevor LewisAustin Wagner

Derek ForbortDrew Doughty
Dion PhaneufMatt Roy
Paul LaDueSean Walker

Starting goalie: Jack Campbell

LIGHTNING
Ondrej PalatSteven StamkosJ.T. Miller
Tyler JohnsonBrayden Point – Nikita Kucherov
Alex KillornAnthony CirelliYanni Gourde
Adam ErneCedric Paquette – Mathieu Joseph

Victor HedmanDan Girardi
Ryan McDonaghErik Cernak
Braydon CoburnAnton Stralman

Starting goalie: Andrei Vasilevskiy

Rick Peckham (play-by-play) and Jim Fox (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from Amalie Arena in Tampa, Fla. Pre-game coverage starts at 6:30 p.m. ET with NHL Live, hosted by Kathryn Tappen alongside Jeremy Roenick and Keith Jones.