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Stanley Cup Final Preview: Who has better coaching?

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Leading up to Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final (Monday, 8 p.m. ET, NBC), Pro Hockey Talk will be looking at every aspect of the matchup between the Washington Capitals and the Vegas Golden Knights. 

WASHINGTON CAPITALS

Barry Trotz doesn’t have a contract beyond the conclusion of this current season. He entered the year with no job security, no sense of what his future would hold and still steering his troops to the top of the heap in the Metropolitan Division, and now, the Stanley Cup Final.

Washington’s start to the season didn’t help and rumors of Trotz’s pending axing swirled. But the man who sits fifth all-time in coaching wins turned his team around.

Trotz has found another gear behind the bench and has guided the Caps with calmness during these playoffs. It’s paid off. The Capitals were able to exercise their demons against the Pittsburgh Penguins and then come back from being 3-2 down against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Oh, and he did this:

VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS

There isn’t a world where Gerard Gallant doesn’t win the Jack Adams this year for top bench boss in the NHL. He’s simply done the unthinkable with a team no one expected to be competing, never mind being one of two teams set to do battle for the Stanley Cup.

Look, Gallant was given a bunch of players from all over the league and a mandate to try and figure out how they all fit together, who plays on what line. Who pairs with who on defense. What the power play and penalty kill look like. It was a tall task to begin with, but Gallant has nailed it every step of the way.

There’s been lots of talk of how poorly the Panthers fared when they lost both Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith in the expansion draft. But one of Florida’s biggest losses was firing Gallant and leaving him on the side of the road.

That decision paved the way for Gallant to join the Golden Knights and smash nearly every record by an expansion team ever.

Gallant has given his players the controls. Mistakes don’t mean less ice time. Gallant has inspired his team and doesn’t have them playing scared. It’s a perfect approach and one that’s evidently paid off.

Advantage: Golden Knights

Trotz is a great coach, but there’s just something about the spirited way Gallant has Vegas playing that simply cannot be denied. We’ve seen it all season and all playoffs.

2018 STANLEY CUP FINAL PREVIEW:

• Who has the better forwards?
Who has better defense?
• Who has better special teams?

MORE:
• NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub
• Stanley Cup Final Schedule


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

Looking to make the leap: Lawson Crouse

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Hey, when you’re huge, you don’t need to make as much of a leap.

Florida Panthers GM Dale Tallon didn’t do the usual hemming and hawing you’d expect when talking up Lawson Crouse, the 11th overall pick of the 2015 NHL Draft. Instead, he threw down the gauntlet after signing the sizable young prospect to an entry-level contract in July.

“He was one of our best players in development camp and we are confident he can make an immediate impact on our roster, playing on one of our top lines,” Tallon said via a Panthers release.

It’s not just Tallon pumping him up, either, as head coach Gerard Galland said that Crouse “will be given every opportunity to earn a top-six forward position on our roster during training camp.”

That’s quite the accelerated outlook for a towering 18-year-old (listed at 6-foot-4, 215 lbs) whose offense seemingly came up short at times; Crouse managed just 51 points in 56 games at the OHL level in 2014-15.

Such modest production would leave the impression that the Panthers might be wise to allow Crouse to marinate at the junior level for at least a little while, yet it sounds like the organization thinks he’s on the right track. Florida might be growing a touch impatient with the slow-and-steady approach, and one can also imagine that they see an “NHL body” in Crouse.

Of course, it’s not as if the Panthers are committed to a decision yet. They can change their mind during training camp or even through a few regular season contests and decide to let him develop at a slower pace with no harm done.

All disclaimers aside, it sounds like he’ll get a real chance to make the roster right out of the draft.

Want to know more about Crouse? Check out this profile.

Panthers’ Trocheck: ‘I was in the cab at 6:57 and on the ice by 7:04’

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Vincent Trocheck thought he was a healthy scratch.

As a result, he was in no hurry to get to the Saddledome in Calgary Friday night where his Panthers’ teammates were getting set to play the Flames.

Panthers’ coach Gerard Gallant knew Dmitry Kulikov was going to miss the game with the flu; however, during the team’s pre-game skate, Aleksander Barkov also became ill.

The Panthers’ put out a call to Trocheck, who along with teammate Brandon Pirri, was still at the hotel.

“We left the hotel at 6:30, grabbed some dinner. Luckily I stayed light and got a salad,” Trocheck told George Richards of the Miami Herald. “There was a ton of traffic on the way here and we were going slow. Then they wouldn’t let us into the gate and we had to walk with all of our luggage.”

The 21-year-old made it to the Panthers’ bench just as the anthems were concluding.

He finished a plus-1 with two penalty minutes and 12:56 in ice time as the Panthers edged the Flames 6-5.

“I literally ran through the halls,” Trocheck said. “I was in the cab at 6:57 and on the ice by 7:04.”

Under Pressure: Dale Tallon

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There’s no question Florida Panthers’ general manager Dale Tallon went out and added some significant pieces to help his budding stars this offseason.

But his time to get this struggling franchise to become a regular playoff contender is quickly running out.

The team’s attendance is at the bottom of the league and the debt is piling up. Tallon is under pressure to turn the ship around in Florida.

Since taking over in May 2010, Tallon has got his club to the playoffs just once, during the 2011-12 season, where they lost in seven games of the first round to the New Jersey Devils.

Tallon is also on his third coach in Florida.

He hired Kevin Dineen prior to the 2011-12 season. Then in November 2013, Tallon replaced Dineen, who led the Panthers to a record 56-62-28 with Peter Horachek. Horachek lasted just 66 games as the team’s interim coach.

On June 21, Tallon appointed his latest bench boss, Gerard Gallant. Gallant’s only other head coaching experience in the NHL was parts of three seasons with the Columbus Blue Jackets from 2003-06 where he failed to reach the postseason.

Gallant’s track record, though brief, doesn’t really give you confidence if you’re a Panthers fan does it?

Tallon may not be doing much more hiring behind the bench, I mean how many swings and misses does a guy get?

This summer, Tallon signed Shawn Thornton, Dave Bolland and Willie Mitchell – all who have Stanley Cup experience in addition to Jussi Jokinen and Al Montoya. Tallon has to hope the vets mixed with the youngsters proves to be the right chemistry because if his job isn’t on the line at the moment, it certainly will be soon.

Florida finished with just 66 points last season well back of the 93 points Detroit needed to qualify for the second wild card spot. The Panthers play in the Atlantic Division with Boston, Montreal, Tampa Bay and Detroit – it’ll be a tall task for Tallon and Co. to avoid missing the playoffs for a third consecutive year.

Related: Panthers’ power play can only improve next season

Jokinen, Barkov looking forward to reunion in Florida

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Jussi Jokinen and Aleksander Barkov got to know one another while helping Finland capture bronze at the 2014 Olympics.

Now the duo hope to bring their chemistry formed in Russia to Florida.

Jokinen signed a four-year, $16 million contract with the Panthers on July 1 after spending last season with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

“He will really help Barkov,” general manager Dale Tallon told the Panthers’ website last month. “He’s got a lot of class. He’s a real pro, good skills, can score. He’s got great hockey sense and he really will help Barkov on and off the ice.”

According to Tallon, he didn’t have to do much selling to lure Jokinen, 31, to the Sunshine State.

“He wanted to play here because of Barkov and all the younger players that we have in our system,” said Tallon. “He did his homework. He knew our team inside and out. Was excited to get an opportunity to play with Barkov.

“Getting to know him at the Olympics this year was a big plus.”

Barkov, the Panthers’ first round selection in 2013, was limited to just 54 games last season after suffering a knee injury during the Olympics. Barkov, who turns 19 next month,  scored eight goals and 24 points in his rookie season.

Adding Jokinen will certainly help Barkov take another step in his second year.

“Everyone saw last season how great player Barkov is and will be,” Jokinen told the Panthers’ site last week. “I sat next to him at the Winter Olympics and got to know him little better. I played last year a lot with (Evgeni) Malkin and I see lots of similarities with Barkov and Malkin. Hopefully we have chance to play together and produce.”

Jokinen isn’t the only one who is excited. Barkov told the Panthers last week that Florida’s addition of Jokinen was a “dream come true”.

Despite ownership’s concern over the team’s future in Florida, Jokinen is confident.

“I have lots of faith in the new ownership group, Dale Tallon and the coaching staff,” Jokinen said. “I am confident that this team is going to right direction. To have young guys like Barkov, (Jonathan) Huberdeau, (Aaron) Ekblad, (Erik) Gudbranson, (Nick) Bjugstad and others was a big factor too. They have huge potential to be star players in this league.”

Tallon wouldn’t confirm that Jokinen and Barkov would play on the same line saying line combinations were in coach Gerard Gallant’s hands, but given their history, one would have to believe the pair will reunite at some point this season.

Related: Looking to make the leap: Aaron Ekblad