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WATCH LIVE: Sabres host Lightning on NBCSN

NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Tuesday night’s matchup between the Tampa Bay Lightning at the Buffalo Sabres at 7:30 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports App by clicking here.

For years, the Tampa Bay Lightning have chased a second Stanley Cup (and first with Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman, and Nikita Kucherov as their main stars). Meanwhile, the Buffalo Sabres have mainly chased competency.

Both teams seem like they’re heading nicely toward their goals. The Lightning just saw a four-game winning streak end, and with a 12-4-1 record (25 points), they lead the Eastern Conference and rank second in the NHL.

The Sabres have won three of their last four games, placing them at 9-6-2 for 20 points. Entering Tuesday’s action, Buffalo currently holds the East’s second wild-card spot.

[WATCH LIVE – 7:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

While the Lightning combine Stamkos-Kucherov with Brayden Point‘s impressive second line, the Sabres have enjoyed great work from Jack Eichel. Almost as importantly, they’ve seen marked improvements in various areas of the game.

Eichel vs. Stamkos/Point should be fun, and fans can also get a look at Rasmus Dahlin, who’s made a smooth transition for Buffalo after becoming the No. 1 overall pick of the 2018 NHL Draft. This game should be an interesting barometer for the Sabres, as they face one of the league’s clearest powerhouses.

[Extended preview for Tuesday’s game]

What: Tampa Bay Lightning at Buffalo Sabres
Where: KeyBank Center
When: Tuesday, November 13th, 7:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Lightning-Sabres stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

LIGHTNING

J.T. Miller — Steven Stamkos — Nikita Kucherov

Yanni Gourde — Brayden Point — Tyler Johnson

Alex KillornAnthony CirelliMathieu Joseph

Danick Martel — Cedric PaquetteRyan Callahan

Victor Hedman — Dan Girardi

Ryan McDonagh — Erik Cernak

Braydon CoburnMikhail Sergachev

Starting goalie: Louis Domingue

Sabres

Jeff Skinner — Jack Eichel — Sam Reinhart

Vladimir SobotkaEvan RodriguesJason Pominville

Conor ShearyCasey MittelstadtKyle Okposo

Zemgus GirgensonsJohan LarssonTage Thompson

Jake McCabeRasmus Ristolainen

Marco ScandellaZach Bogosian

Nathan Beaulieu — Rasmus Dahlin

Starting goalie: Carter Hutton

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

PHT Power Rankings: Wild still stuck in wrong division

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Before the start of the season I had what was, admittedly, an overly harsh assessment of the Minnesota Wild (No. 5 on the list here) that talked about how they just kind of exist as a franchise, and how I don’t really have any overwhelmingly strong opinions, positively or negatively, about them as a team. Mostly because for as good as they tend to be, they just never really go anywhere.

Every year you know exactly what they will do, where they will finish in the standings, when they will exit the playoffs.

They have a lot of really good players, but they don’t really have any true superstars.

They are a consistently good team (sometimes really good!), but no matter how good they are, there always seems to be that one team they inevitably meet in the first round that is just always a little bit better than them.

The result is a team that consistently finishes with 100 points, is usually in the top-10 in the overall league standings (top-eight the past two years; top-three this season as of Monday), but can never make a serious postseason run. You know they are going to be there in the playoffs and probably near the top of the standings, but deep down you just know they have no legitimate shot of winning the Stanley Cup. At least that is the way it seems.

Look at it this way: During the five-year stretch between 2013-14 and 2017-18 the Wild were 10th in the NHL in games won. That is a pretty good team. You would think with that much regular season success, and that many trips to the playoffs (all five years), that something might have come together for at least one decent run deep in the playoffs.

For most teams, it does.

For most teams, it did.

For the Wild, it didn’t.

They were one of just two teams in the top-12 in total wins during that stretch that did not make at least one Conference Finals appearance (the Boston Bruins, sixth in wins during that stretch, were the other).

Eight of the teams in the top-12 made at least one Stanley Cup Final appearance (St. Louis, Boston, Anaheim, and Minnesota were the ones that did not).

This season, the Wild are once again a good team. A really good team. A really good team with a great coach in Bruce Boudreau that is doing what he has done for every team he has coached — win. They dominate five-on-five goal-scoring. They dominate five-on-five scoring chances. They have a great penalty kill and an outstanding goalie.

If you are a Wild fan there should be every reason to look at this team and think “maybe we have a chance!”

For everyone outside of Minnesota, you can’t help but look at the situation and the division and the potential path through the playoffs and simply say, “there is no way they are beating both Nashville and Winnipeg in the first two rounds. It just doesn’t seem probable.”

This is the story of the Minnesota Wild in a nutshell. In any given year there may only be two or three teams in their conference that are better than them, and those teams will almost always — always! — be in their division, and be their likely first-or second-round opponents.

The same is true this season.

For years that team was always the Chicago Blackhawks during their mini-dynasty run.

This year — just like last year — it is Nashville and Winnipeg. The two teams they will almost certainly have to go through to go on a run and get out of the Central Division bracket.

It takes a lot of luck and good fortune to win a Stanley Cup. That luck can be anything and everything from getting the right bounce in the right moment, to having all of your key players healthy at the same time, to getting the right matchups along the way.

When it comes to the Wild, they almost never seem to get the latter. Every year it is a brutally tough draw in their division. That does not seem to be changing.

The Elites

1. Nashville Predators — Just an incredibly deep team that is dominating everybody. They have only allowed seven goals on their current five-game winning streak. In four of those games they allowed either one goal or zero goals.

2. Tampa Bay Lightning — Ryan McDonagh seems to have found the fountain of youth in Tampa Bay, and as if they weren’t already good enough, Victor Hedman is now back in the lineup. The Atlantic Division should be theirs for the taking once again.

3. Minnesota Wild — Once again stuck in the wrong division.

They are who we thought they were 

4. Boston Bruins — Jaroslav Halak has been a huge surprise this season. What has not been a surprise has been the domination of their top line. It is almost like a cheat code when they are on the ice. I don’t mean to exaggerate here, but splitting that trio up should be a fireable offense.

5. Winnipeg Jets — After recording a pair of points in their 5-2 win over the New Jersey Devils on Sunday night, Blake Wheeler is now on a 10-game point streak. He has 19 points during that streak.

[Related: It is time to stop labeling Blake Wheeler as underrated]

6. Toronto Maple Leafs — They are still picking up wins even without Auston Matthews and William Nylander, but their loss over the weekend to Boston should concern them from a big picture outlook. They still have no answer for the Bergeron-Marchand-Pastrnak line and if the Maple Leafs are going to be anything other than a team that loses in the first-round they are probably going to have to get through Boston this season. Are you convinced they can do that?

Exceeding expectations, but the jury should still be out

7. Vancouver Canucks — This team still strikes me as a house of cards (that defense and goaltending … woof!), but Elias Petterson is a legit top-line talent and one of the league’s must-see players right now. I give them credit for winning early, because that matters, but I am still not ready to buy this team, this season. Yet.

8. Montreal Canadiens — Just about everything Marc Bergevin touched this offseason seems to be turning to gold. At least for now. How long that good fortune lasts will determine the success or failure of this year’s team.

9. Buffalo Sabres — Whether it is from Buffalo or somebody else, Jeff Skinner is putting himself in a position to collect a lot of money at some point over the next few months. He is still only 26 years old and it seems like he has been around forever.

They are who we thought they were, part 2

10. Columbus Blue Jackets — They enter the week in first place in the Metropolitan Division despite the fact their goalies, for the most part, have completely stunk this season. They need Sergei Bobrovsky to be Sergei Bobrovsky again.

11. Philadelphia Flyers — How does anyone that follows this team have a healthy blood pressure? They either look great or horrible and they seem to spend equal time on both sides of that spectrum. Lately, the great version has been here (at least offensively). Give it time, though, because the horrible version is probably lurking around the corner just waiting to appear again.

12. Dallas Stars — Middle of the pack seems to be the perfect way to describe the Stars. In any year and every year. Losing John Klingberg for a month is going to hurt, though. He is one of the game’s best blue-liners and should be in the Norris discussion once again.

13. Calgary Flames — The Flames are off to a pretty good start and one of the biggest contributors has been … David Rittich? The backup goalie is 5-1-0 with a .935 save percentage in six starts. Now if they could just get something out of James Neal

Hey, wake up, you are better than this

14. San Jose Sharks — Erik Karlsson has been better than his box score numbers would indicate, but zero goals in 18 games to start the season is not what anybody expected.

15. Washington Capitals — The defending Stanley Cup champions have won back-to-back games once this season. They have yet to win more than two in a row. They have also yet to lose more than two in a row.

16. Pittsburgh Penguins — The general manager was right to call out his team. But he also is the one that built the team, so he has to look in the mirror a little bit, too.

[Related: Obviously unhappy GM rips Penguins’ slow start]

17. St. Louis Blues — Three of their top-five scorers right now (Ryan O'Reilly, David Perron, Tyler Bozak) were acquired over the offseason in an effort to boost one of the league’s worst offensive teams. They fixed the offense just in time for the goaltending to abandon them.

Making their move … but is it already too late?

18. Florida Panthers — Entering the week they are 5-2-0 in their past seven games, but another slow start to the season may have been enough to bury them.

19. Arizona Coyotes — The Coyotes did not win their eighth game of the 2017-18 season until December 22, so they are more than a month ahead of last year’s pace. There is a lot to like about this team, especially the way they play defensively and on the penalty kill. They are not an easy two points for anyone.

20. New York Rangers — Honestly, not sure I expected this team to put together a six-game point streak at any time this season, but that is exactly what they have done over the past two weeks as part of a 5-0-1 run. Only two of those five wins came in regulation (the other three were shootout wins) so it’s probably not something that is going to sustain itself, but you can’t fault the effort.

21. Detroit Red Wings –– Same story as the Rangers. The effort is there, and it’s resulted in a nice little hot streak here recently (for the Red Wings, it is wins in six out of the past seven games, including three in a row where they have had to overcome a two-goal deficit) but even bad teams get hot at some point during an 82-game season.

The mystery teams

22. Colorado Avalanche — Two of the top-three scorers in the league, a top-three offense overall, top-10 in goals against per game … and they are, at the moment, a fringe playoff team that has lost six out of eight games.

23. New York Islanders — The argument in favor of the Islanders is that they are balanced, and getting contributions from everyone, and they are the definition of a team with a good system and a good coach in place. The reality is they are 21st in the league in goals per game, 30th in shots on goal per game, and are one of the worst teams in the league when it comes to possession and scoring chance differential. Unsustainable goaltending has masked all of those flaws for now.

24. Vegas Golden Knights — I still think this team is capable of putting together a run here if they get their goalies straightened out. But maybe they’re just not going to get the goaltending this season? Marc-Andre Fleury isn’t young anymore and the jury is still out Malcolm Subban.

25. Carolina Hurricanes — Such a promising start, too.

26. Edmonton Oilers — No forward depth. Bad defense. Cam Talbot is not playing well in goal. Everyone in charge of this team should remain on the hot seat.

27. Ottawa Senators — Young players like Thomas Chabot and Brady Tkachuk have been great this season. That is the important thing for this team.

28. New Jersey Devils — After starting the season with a four-game winning streak the Devils are just 2-8-1 since then.

[Related: Struggling Devils]

29. Anaheim Ducks — Their strong start was always a mirage given the way they were actually playing. They have just one regulation win in their past 11 games. This has all the makings of another team destined for an in-season coaching change.

You probably fired the wrong person

30. Chicago Blackhawks — Whenever you think it is time to fire your head coach it is probably time to also look at the people that built the roster. This roster is not particularly good.

31. Los Angeles Kings —  Whenever you think it is time to fire your head coach it is probably time to also look at the people that built the roster. This roster stinks.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

The Buzzer: Lundqvist dominates, Fowler’s trick ends Ducks’ losing streak

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Three Stars

1. Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers. He may be 36 years old, he may not be the player he was a few years ago, but Henrik Lundqvist can still take over and steal a game. He did that on Sunday night in the Rangers’ 3-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres by turning aside 39 of the 40 shots he faced to help lead them to their third consecutive win. The win for Lundqvist is the 435th of his career and he is now just two wins behind Jacques Plante for seventh on the all-time list (via NHL PR).

2. Ryan McDonagh, Tampa Bay Lightning. With Victor Hedman sidelined the Tampa Bay Lightning need some other players on their blue line to step up. Ryan McDonagh has done that and more over the past week. He played an incredible game on Sunday, recording three assists in the Lightning’s wild come-from-behind win and forced the turnover on the game-tying goal in the closing seconds. This is his second three-point game in his past four games.

3. Cam Fowler, Anaheim Ducks. Over the first month of the season Anaheim Ducks games have mostly been the John Gibson show. Even though he was really good again on Sunday night, it was defenseman Cam Fowler that ended up stealing the show as he literally provided all of the offense in the Ducks’ 3-2 overtime win. Fowler scored all three goals in the win, including the game-winner in overtime, to record his first career hat trick. He is just the 12th different defender over the past 10 years to record a hat trick, and the first since Justin Faulk on Feb. 13, 2018. He is the third Ducks defender over the past 10 years to score three goals in a game, joining Hampus Lindholm and Lubomir Visnovsky. This win snapped what had been a seven-game losing streak for the Ducks and came on the same night they lost Ryan Getzlaf to another injury, this time an upper-body injury. To say they needed this one would be quite the understatement.

Highlights of the Night

The Tampa Bay Lightning were 30 seconds away from losing in Ottawa. Then Ryan McDonagh started this play to tie the game.

Here is Cam Fowler completing his first career hat trick.

Factoids of the Night

The New York Rangers scored a pair of goals in the first minute of the second period on Sunday night. That is something they have not done in quite some time.

More on Cam Fowler’s big night for the Anaheim Ducks.

 

Scores

New York Rangers 3, Buffalo Sabres 1

Tampa Bay Lightning 4, Ottawa Senators 3 (OT)

Anaheim Ducks 3, Columbus Blue Jackets 2 (OT)

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Lightning keep signing rising stars to killer deals

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While mere mortal franchises struggle to convince their William Nylanders and Jacob Troubas to stick around, the Tampa Bay Lightning find ways to sign homegrown talent to what are almost always absolute bargain deals. They keep doing it, over and over again.

Apparently they’re continuing to do so now that Julien BriseBois is in charge as GM instead of Steve Yzerman.

The Lightning announced that rising star forward Yanni Gourde agreed to a six-year extension that carries a modest $5.166 million cap hit (so just under $31M overall).

“We are very pleased to have Yanni as a part of the Lightning organization for the foreseeable future,” BriseBois said. “Yanni personifies our team’s identity with his speed and relentlessness on the ice and his strong character off of it. He is proof of how far hard work and dedication can take you, and we look forward to him continuing his career in Tampa Bay.”

BriseBois didn’t say it, but Gourde also fits the profile of many of the prospects of the Yzerman/BriseBois era by a) being a player just about any team could have had, as he went undrafted and b) likely being passed over because of his lack of size.

The Lightning have been feasting on that scouting prejudice/deficiency for years now, and while they haven’t won a Stanley Cup in the Steven Stamkos era, they’re very much in the mix for the present and at least the near future.

Another bargain extension

Locking up talent like Gourde to relatively cheap deals – often showing foresight in doing so while their resumes are small – ranks as a big reason why the Lightning boast depth that other teams can only dream and drool about.

Gourde, 26, covers a lot of the bases you’d hope for.

He’s flourishing in the most exceedingly obvious ways, with 12 points in as many games so far this season. Gourde broke through in 2017-18, generating 25 goals and 64 points in 82 games. It says a lot about his overall polish that Gourde also has positive possession numbers, even relative to his teammates.

This deal reminds me a lot of the Nashville Predators getting an absolute bargain for Viktor Arvidsson. Both players are productive forwards who probably could have commanded more money, yet their teams were able to retain their services thanks to some combination of being a part of a talented roster, earning long-term security over maximum dollars, tax breaks in Florida/Nashville, and possible internal ceilings.* Arvidsson continues to assert that he’s a legitimate top-line winger, and Gourde sure seems slated for a similar designation.

Shrinking to-do list

Extending Gourde to what could be an extremely team-friendly extension crosses a big name off of the Lightning’s to-do list, and it provides another bullet point in case things get dicey with Brayden Point, the other splendid young Bolts forward who’s currently approaching RFA status in a contract year.

With all due respect to Anton Stralman, Braydon Coburn, and Dan Girardi, the biggest situations to settle outside of Point’s future come with contracts that will expire after 2019-20. Mikhail Sergachev will see his rookie deal end then, while Andrei Vasilevskiy‘s bargain $3.5M cap hit will evaporate, too.

Some painful decisions may come soon, yet the Lightning continue to solve tough riddles earlier than most of the league.

Smart gambles, but gambles nonetheless

Even so, there really are a lot of investments in Tampa Bay. Take a look at the players signed to significant deals (at least three years remaining):

Stamkos, 28: $8.5M through 2023-24
Kucherov, 25: $4.767M this year, $9.5M through 2026-27
Hedman, 27: $7.875M through 2024-25
Ryan McDonagh, 29: $4.7M this season, $6.75M through 2025-26
Ondrej Palat, 27: $5.3M through 2021-22
J.T. Miller, 25: $5.25M through 2022-23
Gourde, 26: $1M this season, $5.16M from 2019-20 to 2024-25
Tyler Johnson, 28: $5M through 2023-24
Alex Killorn, 29: $4.45M through 2022-23

Phew. That’s a lot, right? Cap Geek estimates that the Lightning will have $72.425M in cap space devoted to just 14 players in 2019-20, and that’s without whatever significant dough Point will command.

Now, sure, the Lightning will see some troublesome deals expire. Again, Girardi’s is up this season, and Callahan’s problem contract ends in two seasons.

It’s also true that there are some contracts that could be moved out; Tyler Johnson’s name has cropped up already, and will probably boil to the surface even more as time goes on and the cap crunch really starts to add some bite.

So, there are some worries, yet almost every other team in the NHL would pull a hammy running over to trade situations with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Signing Gourde for what’s likely to be a fantastic bargain only cements that notion.

The nature of the salary cap beast is that, even with a situation that seems generally well-managed (sometimes to the level of potential witchcraft), the Lightning are making some gambles. This Gourde one just happens to be a wise one.

And not just because his first name inspires jokes about a widely mocked musician, while his last name is perfect for the fall season of gourds, not to mention other cheesy puns.

Gourde really might be a steal in that area alone, to be frank.

* – One would think that it’s easier to limit a player’s asking power when Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, and Victor Hedman are signed to fairly thrifty contracts.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Hedman expected to miss at least a week after crushing hit

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The reigning Norris Trophy winner is expected to be sidelined at least a week after getting drilled by Vegas Golden Knights forward Ryan Reaves on Friday.

The Tampa Bay Lightning said Saturday that Victor Hedman will be re-evaluated in a weeks’ time after getting catapulted awkwardly into the boards after Reaves laid the open ice hit.

Here’s the clip of the hit:

Lightning coach Jon Cooper said the hit wasn’t being treated as a concussion after the game. It appears that Hedman’s shoulder took the brunt of the impact, but his head did hit the boards. Hedman didn’t have any issue getting up, it seemed, but he has had a history of concussions.

Hedman is averaging nearly 21 minutes a night, third among defenseman on the Lightning. He has two goals and four points in nine games played and has contributed to the Lightning giving up the second-fewest number of goals (20) so far this season heading into Saturday’s action.

The Lightning are off to a hot start with a 7-1-1 record, including three straight wins. They face the lowly Arizona Coyotes on Saturday in the second half of a back to back.


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