Bubble Wrap

NHL Bubble Wrap: Varlamov saves Islanders in Game 5 vs. Lightning
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NHL Bubble Wrap: Varlamov saves Islanders in Game 5 vs. Lightning

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Game 5: Islanders 2, Lightning 1 [OT] (TBL leads series 3-2)

Late in the first period, Ryan Pulock scored a power-play goal to give the Islanders a 1-0 lead. It would end up being a long time until the Islanders scored their next goal in Game 5, but that wouldn’t end up being much solace for the Lightning.

During the middle frame, Victor Hedman collected his eighth goal of an increasingly impressive postseason run. It seemed like Tampa Bay went up 2-1, but that goal would be negated. It turns out that call (obvious as it was) ended up being pretty big, because both teams were stuck in a gridlock from then on.

Things were very tight during the third period, until a big opportunity opponents up. Not only was Mikhail Sergachev high-sticked; the Lightning defenseman ended up bloodied. With about 90 seconds remaining in regulation of a tied 1-1 game, the Lightning went on what could have been a series-clinching power play.

(After all, the Stars punched their 2020 Stanley Cup Final ticket by taking advantage of an overtime power-play goal.)

Despite that double-minor opportunity, the Lightning couldn’t score a second time against Semyon Varlamov. Game 5 ended up extending into double OT, and then the series moved to a Game 6. That happened after the Islanders took advantage of a whiff by Kevin Shattenkirk, with Anders Lee sending a great one-timer to Jordan Eberle for the overtime game-winner, and series-extender.

With Nikita Kucherov taking some hits, the Lightning continue to weather injuries, while the Islanders stay alive — ugly win or not. The other bigger winners are the Stars, as they rest up while these two duke it out for at least Game 6 (and maybe more).

No. 2 Tampa Bay Lightning vs. No. 6 New York Islanders (TB leads 3-2)

Lightning 8, Islanders 2. (recap)
Lightning 2, Islanders 1 (recap)
Islanders 5, Lightning 3 (recap)
Lightning 4, Islanders 1 (recap)
Islanders 2, Lightning 1 [OT].
Game 6: Thursday, Sept. 17, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
*Game 7:
Saturday, Sept. 19, 7:30 p.m. ET – NBC

*if necessary

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Three Stars

1. Semyon Varlamov, New York Islanders

Yes, the Islanders remain a bend-but-don’t-break team. The pace was tortoise-slow in Game 5, more or less like Barry Trotz likes it.

But Varlamov’s strong play explains why the Islanders didn’t break. Varlamov stopped 36 out of 37 shots on goal in Game 5, negating the Lightning’s advantages in areas like high-danger chances (12-6 at even-strength).

If the margin for error remains this slim, the Islanders might need more nights like these from Varlamov. It worked out in Game 5.

2. Jordan Eberle, Islanders

Was Eberle’s overall performance all that great? Meh, not especially. But sometimes you just have to reward a player for ending a double OT game that sometimes seemed like it would never end.

Through the ups and downs, Eberle remains a key clutch player for the Islanders:

3. Ryan Pulock, Islanders

It’s tempting to put Victor Hedman here, as he scored a big goal and created a lot of other chances for the Lightning. With Brayden Point injured and others banged-up, Hedman remains a go-to guy for the Lightning.

But Pulock had a strong Game 5 of his own, and his team won. Pulock’s power-play goal was an absolute bomb, and he ranked among the few Islanders who broke even — sometimes more, sometimes less, but generally even — from a possession standpoint.

Highlights of Islanders’ Game 5 win vs. Lightning

The Islanders would not go down without a fight, and were not eliminated by the Lightning in Game 5:

THURSDAY’S NHL PLAYOFF SCHEDULE

Game 6 of New York Islanders – Tampa Bay Lightning: Thursday, Sept. 17, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)

NHL Bubble Wrap: Khudobin, Stars eliminate Golden Knights in Game 5

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  • For the first time in 20 years, the Stars are headed to the Stanley Cup Final. Eliminating the Golden Knights in five games wasn’t easy, but Dallas just keeps rolling.
  • The NHL announced a seventh straight week without positive COVID-19 tests. Still mind-boggling, honestly.
  • The Flames removed the “interim” tag, making Geoff Ward their full-fledged head coach.

Game 5: Stars 3, Golden Knights 2 [OT] (DAL wins series 4-1)

During much of Game 5, it looked like the Golden Knights might grind out a win to avoid being eliminated.

To start, they managed another 1-0 lead, this time coming off of a nice breakaway move by Chandler Stephenson. Vegas piled on the volume during the second period, yet the score remained 1-0.

Once Reilly Smith made it 2-0 shortly after the third period began, things looked even brighter for Vegas. Then the wheels fell off.

First, Jamie Benn muscled home a rebound to make it 2-1. Following a bad penalty from Alex Tuch, Joel Kiviranta managed some more playoff magic with a power-play goal. Just like that, all of the Golden Knights’ hard work evaporated into a 2-2 score heading into overtime.

Then, Zach Whitecloud will be haunted by a delay of game penalty, as Denis Gurianov powered home the overtime series-clincher. The Stars keep finding ways to scratch and claw their way to victories, and it’s brought them all the way to the 2020 Stanley Cup Final.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Three Stars

1. Anton Khudobin, Dallas Stars

Sorry if this sounds like a broken record, but Khudobin keeps banging out the hits.

Sure, people are correct in stating that the Golden Knights could stand to take greater advantage of rebounds, or create more of them. The phrase “netfront presence” is appropriate to chuck around.

Yet sometimes such talk also boils down to nitpicking otherwise head-scratching results. Often in the postseason, you simply run into a hot goalie, or even goalies. And it’s pretty tough to describe Anton Khudobin as anything but red-hot.

In Game 5, Khudobin made 34 out of 36 saves to nab this win. He shut down plenty of high-end opportunities, most memorably turning away a golden Max Pacioretty semi-breakaway when the game was 2-0. If the Stars want to continue with their bend-but-don’t-break strategy, than they need Khudobin to continue to be goaltending Gumby.

2. Denis Gurianov, Stars

Goodness, was that overtime game-winner ever a rocket of a shot by Gurianov.

The young winger ended Game 5 with two points, as he combined that overtime game-winner with an assist on the tally that sent the contest to OT. While his offense has been sporadic, Gurianov now has 17 points during 21 playoff games.

There are times when it still seems like he’s a few mistakes away from the doghouse, but when you see production like this, you wonder if the Stars should let him unleash that shot more often? Opponents are saying: “Um, actually, please don’t?”

3. John Klingberg, Stars

It’s easy to see why Miro Heiskanen receives so much hype, but don’t sleep on the other big-time Stars defenseman. Klingberg earned two primary assists, collecting his points on the game-tying and winning tallies. Klingberg ended the night with impressive possession stats to boot, giving him an edge over other worthy considerations, such as Jamie Benn.

Highlight of Stars’ Game 5 win vs. Golden Knights

Quite a rally from down 2-0. Check out that Gurianov rocket (with more highlights in the video above this post’s headline):

Factoids

  • This postseason’s run makes things funky. Still, Sportsnet Stats provided an interesting note that the Stars are the first time since the 1968 Blues to enter the Stanley Cup Final with a negative goal differential during the playoffs.
  • Count this as the fifth Stanley Cup Final trip in Stars’ franchise history (not just Stars, but also North Stars). [via NHL PR]
  • The Stars managed their eighth comeback win of this playoff run. That’s the most in NHL history before a Stanley Cup Final, according to ESPN Stats & Info.

TUESDAY’S NHL PLAYOFF SCHEDULE

Game 5: Islanders vs. Lightning (TB leads 3-1) – 8 p.m. ET, NBCSN (livestream)

NHL Bubble Wrap: Khudobin bounces back in big way for Stars in Game 3

NHL Bubble Wrap: Khudobin bounces back in big way for Stars in Game 3
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Game 3: Stars 3, Golden Knights 2 [OT] (DAL leads 2-1)

Game 1 was very much a Stars-style win, while the Golden Knights exerted control over Game 2. In the case of Game 3, it was more of a mix.

Things began as a tight, grinding affair, with the first goal only coming in the dying moments of the second period. On paper, that favored the Stars.

That heightened urgency might have prompted the Golden Knights to up the temp during the third period. Vegas tied it up early in that frame, only to see Jamie Benn score by beating Robin Lehner five-hole. From there, the Golden Knights tied things up on a controversial 2-2 goal that withstood a goalie interference review.

During the ensuing penalty, Anton Khudobin made some very difficult saves to keep Game 3 tied. At a couple points, Khudobin seemed hurt — or at least exhausted. Robin Lehner also ended up looking a little shaken up after making last second saves against Benn to end regulation. To state the obvious, both goalie situations are worth watching as the 2020 Western Conference Final goes forward.

Did some issues hinder Lehner on Alexander Radulov‘s pretty overtime-winning goal? Tough to say, but it’s easy to argue that Radulov scored a beauty. With that, the Stars lead this series once again, this time 2-1.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Three Stars

1. Anton Khudobin, Dallas Stars

It’s pretty tough to knock Khudobin for either of the goals he allowed in Game 3. Heck, you can engage in a lengthy debate about whether or not the second goal should have counted.

Either way, consider this a massive rebound after Khudobin was given the hook in Game 2. Granted, few would’ve put that Stars loss on Khudobin, but Dallas must be thrilled to see the veteran goalie shake off any hint of a setback.

The Golden Knights generated a 40-23 shots on goal advantage versus Dallas, but the Stars won Game 3 in large part because of how sharp Khudobin was. While Vegas scored twice during the third period, they could have run away with the game considering the pressure they managed.

Frankly, the Golden Knights might need to channel more of that third-period energy over a full 60 minutes, as Khudobin isn’t making it easy for them to score.

2. Jamie Benn, Stars

Frankly, Benn deserved Three Stars consideration for the face he made after Lehner stopped him during the last seconds of regulation.

Beyond being that close to ending Game 3 with even more last-minute flair than Nikita Kucherov did for the Lightning, Benn was a dominating presence in this one.

Along with being a physical force, Benn scored a big 2-1 goal against Lehner, and was credited with an assist on Radulov’s OT GWG. Benn ended the night with six SOG, a +2 rating, five hits, and those two points.

3. Alex Radulov, Stars

One cannot help but wonder if the Stars might be wiser to lean more heavily on top players, rather than a seemingly balanced approach. After all, Benn only played 15:22 in Game 3, while Radulov was limited to 15:02, both receiving less ice time than Mattias Janmark (15:51) and Blake Comeau (17:36). All due respect to Janmark and Comeau, but you’d think those numbers would be switched. Then again, if ain’t broke?

Anyway, Radulov scored a beautiful overtime game-winner, and has been quite the X-factor for the Stars. At least when he can get on the ice.

Stars – Golden Knights Game 3 highlights:

A tight Game 3 got really wild once the Golden Knights needed to score. The Stars showed once again they can deal with that sort of thing, as they did often vs. the Avs:

Stars – Golden Knights Game 3 Factoids

  • Robin Lehner set a new Golden Knights playoff shutout streak record, as Jamie Oleksiak‘s 1-0 goal broke it at 171:27. This is a big bump from Marc-Andre Fleury‘s previous mark of 144:04.
  • Miro Heiskanen leads the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs — not just playoff defensemen — with 17 assists. Heiskanen ranks third in Stars franchise history in assists for any skater, trailing only Brian Bellows (19) and Mike Modano (18). [via NHL PR]
  • Radulov sits tied third all-time in Stars franchise history with four game-winning goals during a single postseason. Joe Nieuwendyk holds the record with six from 1999. [Sportsnet Stats]

FRIDAY’S NHL PLAYOFF SCHEDULE

Game 3: Islanders vs. Lightning (TB leads 2-0) – 8 p.m. ET, NBCSN (livestream)

MORE STANLEY CUP COVERAGE:
• Stanley Cup Playoffs Conference Final 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.

NHL Bubble Wrap: Lehner shuts out Stars, stays hot for Golden Knights

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  • Game 2 put the Golden Knights we expected on display, and that resulted in a tied 2020 Western Conference Final with the Stars.
  • Robin Lehner stayed hot for the Golden Knights, earning his fourth shutout of the postseason.
  • Check out some Stunning NHL Numbers from the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Game 2: Golden Knights 3, Stars 0 (Series tied 1-1)

Now, this looked more like it — more like the Golden Knights.

Following an improved effort in the first period, the Vegas Golden Knights took over the second period of Game 2, scoring three times against the Stars. Vegas fired 19 shots on goal during that middle frame alone. Vegas looked dangerous at every level, including on the power play. It seemed like the Dallas Stars might get a lifeline when a would-be 3-0 goal was called back on goalie interference. Instead, the Golden Knights scored a prettier 3-0 tally to make up that edge.

From there, the Stars never really tested Robin Lehner. So far, the 2020 Western Conference Final has been the story of two very different games, with a contest apiece working to the Stars’ and Golden Knights’ advantage.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Three Stars

1. Robin Lehner, Vegas Golden Knights

Look, Lehner didn’t need to work that hard. That was especially true when the Golden Knights were surging during the second period.

When the smoke cleared and the flamingos fell, Lehner ended up with a 24-save shutout. He was already coming off of an even lighter shutout (14 saves) to close out the Canucks in a Game 7, making it harder and harder to manufacture any drama with Marc-Andre Fleury.

This puts Lehner at four shutouts during the Golden Knights run in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Whether something interesting works out to keep Lehner with Vegas or he hits the free agent market, it’s hard to imagine Lehner failing to gain the long-term security he craves in free agency.

2. Paul Stastny, Golden Knights

Even when they were scoring against Demko, Shea Theodore was doing most of the damage. So, the great news is that the Golden Knights’ offense exploding, and multiple forwards were involved. That does make it tougher to pick out specific standouts for the three stars, though. It was very much a team effort.

Stastny stands out as having the best night. Thanks to a great pass by Max Pacioretty, Stastny scored the game-winner. In addition to the GWG, Stastny assisted on the 2-0 power-play goal.

3. Zach Whitecloud, Golden Knights

Honestly, you could give Nicolas Roy, Chandler Stephenson, and Tomas Nosek a collective star for that beautiful 3-0 goal. But they didn’t have the strongest overall games, generally speaking.

You know whose numbers pop out when you look at underlying stats at Natural Stat Trick, though? Whitecloud. His possession numbers were bonkers (including 12 shots for and just one shot against at even-strength), and Whitecloud played a role in keeping Tyler Seguin and Denis Gurianov quiet in Game 2.

There’s some evidence that Whitecloud is another sneaky-good Golden Knights defenseman, by the way. Also, if you’re bored, refer to him as “White Claw” for a cheap chuckle.

Golden Knights – Stars Game 2 highlights:

No doubt, these highlights are heavy on the second period:

Golden Knights – Stars Game 2 factoids

  • According to “Stats by STATS,” the Golden Knights are the first team in NHL history to alternate shutouts for four consecutive games. In addition to that, the NHL notes that it’s the first time during the modern era (since 1943-44) that a Conference Final or semifinal round began with each team earning a shutout during the first two games.
  • Also via NHL.com: Robin Lehner’s personal shutout streak reached 131:44. Currently, the Golden Knights’ franchise record stands at 144:04 (set by Marc-Andre Fleury in 2018).
  • Joining Dan Vladar of the Bruins, Jake Oettinger of the Stars made his NHL debut during the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. According to Sportsnet Stats, this is the first time two different goalies made their NHL debuts during the same postseason since 1937.

WEDNESDAY’S NHL PLAYOFF SCHEDULE

Game 2: Islanders vs. Lightning (TB leads 1-0) – 8 p.m. ET, NBCSN (livestream)

 

MORE STANLEY CUP COVERAGE:
• Stanley Cup Playoffs Conference Final 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.

NHL Bubble Wrap: Islanders could not stop Point, Lightning in Game 1

NHL Bubble Wrap: Islanders could not stop Point, Lightning in Game 1
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Game 1: Lightning 8, Islanders 2 (TBL leads series 1-0)

Just 1:14 into Game 1, Brayden Point burned the Islanders defense to give the Lightning a 1-0 lead. Really the only major sign of pushback came when Jordan Eberle tied things up 1-1 with a power-play goal. After two goals by Lightning defensemen, it already looked like an uphill battle for the Isles to fight from down 3-1. They never really mustered much of a battle. If fatigue was the main reason for this defeat, the Islanders have to hope that the grind really slows down the Bolts as this series goes along. Or it could be another relatively short series in the Lightning’s favor.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Three Stars of Lightning – Islanders Game 1

1. Brayden Point, Tampa Bay Lightning

For the first time in his playoff career, Point managed a five-point game. The small-but-stupendous forward collected two goals and three assists, pushing his postseason total to 18 points in just 13 games.

Heading into the 2020 Eastern Conference Final, Point already set a career-high for points by reaching 18. Now he’s second in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs with 23, trailing only eliminated Avalanche superstar Nathan MacKinnon. He was not necessarily the Conn Smythe frontrunner before, but Game 1 vaulted Point into the meat of that conversation.

2. Nikita Kucherov, Lightning

If Kucherov isn’t truly healthy, then take mercy on opponents once he is. He worked in tandem with Point to embarrass the Islanders in Game 1. You know your team’s having a big night when this is true, but Kucherov had the “less impressive” five-point night.

With some nifty transition work and a nice setup by Point, Kucherov scored one goal. He also generated four assists as the Lightning ran away with that one. As solid as the Islanders’ opponents have been, have they really dealt with anything close to the Kucherov – Point duo during these 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs?

3. Victor Hedman, Lightning

Boy, is Hedman ever red-hot from a shooting standpoint? By scoring the second Lightning goal, Hedman won’t get credit for the game-winner, but that 2-1 tally was important in starting an onslaught. Overall, Hedman finished with a goal and two assists in Game 1, all on a domineering TB power play.

Remember when it looked like Hedman might deal with injury issues for another postseason? It sure looks like he’s healthy. Or at least healthy enough to be a star the Lightning can lean on.

Lightning – Islanders Game 1 highlights:

Bulldoze, indeed.

Factoids

TUESDAY’S NHL PLAYOFF SCHEDULE

Game 2: Golden Knights vs. Stars (DAL leads 1-0) – 8 p.m. ET, NBCSN (livestream)

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.