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2020 NHL playoffs preview – Vegas Golden Knights vs. Vancouver Canucks matchup, series pick



The 2020 NHL playoffs roll on to the conference semifinals beginning on Aug. 22 with the Colorado Avalanche taking on the Dallas Stars.

The Golden Knights and Canucks played only twice in the regular season, splitting the contests both staged in December. That seems like decades ago in pandemic time, so this series will surely surprise us.

Note: Advanced stats are from Hockey Reference, Natural Stat Trick and Evolving Hockey.

What we learned in the first round: The Canucks went from potential contender to actual contender. Their qualification round win over the Minnesota Wild was proof of concept: That their talented offensive group could overcome a solid defensive team at 5-on-5, use the power play to put goals on the board and have goalie Jacob Markstrom do the rest. The formula was reapplied in their six-game series win over the St. Louis Blues. They weren’t always the best team in the series, but they certainly were the most animated. Their power play went 7-for-13 in their wins and 0-for-10 in their losses. Markstrom was the best goalie in the series. In summary, St. Louis: tired; Vancouver: wired.

The Golden Knights didn’t offer any surprises in the first round, and that’s fine: They rolled four lines, had strong two-way play and exhibited their goaltending depth in a five-game series win against Chicago. In eight playoff games, the Knights have a 62.11% expected goals percentage at 5-on-5, which is best in the league. This is a Vancouver team that excels at generating offense against a Vegas team that can match that output, while playing championship-level defense. And both teams can get a little nasty.

First line: The Canucks’ line of Elias Pettersson with Brock Boeser and J.T. Miller might win the prize for most creative of the postseason, thanks to Pettersson’s offensive invention. They didn’t dominate (49.48% expected goals percentage), but they’ve outscored their opponents 4-1 at even strength. Vegas has two lines that could be considered their best: Paul Stastny with Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith, along with William Karlsson with Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone. Based on ice time, we’ll go with the latter group as their top line. They can score, but more importantly they can defend, as Karlsson and Stone are among the league’s best two-way forwards. Advantage: Tie

Forward depth: It’s not the Marchessault line, but Vancouver’s second line of Bo Horvat, Loui Eriksson and Tanner Pearson has been strong. With the injured Tyler Toffoli nearing his return, it’ll be interesting to see on which line coach Travis Green slots him. Both teams have solid depth behind those featured lines. In Vancouver’s case, the play of their bottom six helped turn the series against St. Louis: Tyler Motte (four goals), Antoine Roussel (four points), Jake Virtanen and Jay Beagle, who scored the opening goal in Game 6. Brandon Sutter is also in the mix. The Knights’ third line is anchored by Alex Tuch (four goals), one of the true X factors in the postseason. He can be a physical force and a difference maker. He’s usually skating with Nick Cousins and Nicolas Roy. Ryan Reaves and William Carrier are as effective a fourth-line duo as you’ll find. Vegas’ ace in the hole? Chandler Stephenson, who can play up and down the lineup. (Frankly, the best version of their top line might be the one with Stephenson on it.) Advantage: Golden Knights

Defense: The Canucks’ third-leading scorer is a rookie defenseman. Calder Trophy finalist Quinn Hughes has 10 points in the postseason, skating with veteran Chris Tanev. Seven of those points have come on the power play, but Hughes is seeing more defensive assignments after being sheltered in the qualification round. Alexander Edler and Troy Stecher have chipped in offensively but have given up their share defensively (46.9% in expected goals percentage). The team hopes Tyler Myers is available this round after suffering a slightly separated shoulder. Jordie Benn and Oscar Fantenberg are also in the mix. For Vegas, trade deadline acquisitions Alec Martinez and Shea Theodore have created one of the playoffs’ better pairings. Brayden McNabb and Nate Schmidt continue to be a steady duo. Nick Holden and Zach Whitecloud — the Golden Knights’ own rookie defenseman — have also been effective. Deryk Engelland and Jon Merrill are waiting in the wings. Advantage: Tie

Goaltending: Robin Lehner had the crease in four of five games against the Blackhawks. He’s 5-1 in the playoffs but hasn’t quite been at his best yet (minus-2.26 goals saved above average). Marc-Andre Fleury calmed some fears about his game with a strong win over Chicago. But Markstrom has been incredible in this postseason with a plus-4.05 goals saved above average (fourth best in the playoffs). He’s 7-3 with a .929 save percentage. If Lehner gets the crease again, it’ll be a battle between two unrestricted free agents showing off in the spotlight. On paper, Vegas has the advantage here. But in the playoffs so far, Markstrom’s been the better goalie. Advantage: Canucks

Coaching: The strange journey of Peter DeBoer continues. He was fired by the Sharks and then hired by the Golden Knights to replace Gerard Gallant; in other words, taking over for the first coach in franchise history, as one of the franchise’s most notable villains during his time in San Jose. He has them playing well, has expertly juggled the lineup and has much more playoff experience than his counterpart. The days of calling Travis Green underrated are over. He has done a remarkable job managing this lineup, and in keeping a young team in line after the Blues looked like they might be taking over the series. Advantage: Golden Knights

Special teams: The Canucks are clicking at 26.2% on the power play in 10 games, while the Knights converted at 19.1%. But Vegas has the advantage on the penalty kill, converted at an 86.4% rate compared to a respectable 81.0% for the Canucks. Special teams are going to be an enormous factor here, and the Knights may have an advantage in their discipline: At 2.93 penalties per 60 minutes, Vegas is the second-least penalized team in the postseason. Vancouver has drawn more (5.51) than anyone still playing. So that’s a key development to watch. Advantage: Canucks

Prediction: Golden Knights in six. The Canucks are going to be a very tough out. GM Jim Benning has stealthily created a roster with the kind of balance — offense, defense and sandpaper — you want in a contender. They’ve upped their defensive game considerably. They were better than Minnesota. They caught the Blues flat-footed, undermanned and with an imploding goaltender. They get Vegas at time when the Knights looked composed, calculated and playing considerably well, with room for improvement. The series could come down to who wins the battle between the top two lines. We’ll take Vegas in that battle to advance, but the Canucks are primed for another upset.

Source:- ESPN

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How the Lightning built a dominant line at the trade deadline – NHL



After their shockingly disappointing playoff loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets a year ago, it would have been easy for the Tampa Bay Lightning to conclude that they needed to do something drastic to a team that kept falling short in the most frustrating ways come playoff time.

They could have made a major trade.

They could have fired coach Jon Cooper.

Pretty much anything that would have sent a jolt through the team.


It also would have been completely reckless, because that is not at all what the Lightning needed.

Even with their late-round collapses (and one early round collapse) this has still been one of the league’s most successful franchises for six seasons. It is a team that is — and has been — loaded with All-Star talent at every level of the roster.

They didn’t need a massive shake-up. They needed a couple of tweaks. General manager Julian Brisebois and his staff were all smart enough to realize that. Some of those tweaks started in the offseason when they signed Kevin Shattenkirk and Patrick Maroon to cheap, one-year contracts to add some depth.

But those were nothing compared to the two trade deadline moves (Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow) that helped Tampa Bay build not only one of its most effective lines this postseason, but one of the most effective lines in the entire NHL.

It is one of the biggest reasons they are three wins away from a championship.

The Trades

It all started on February 16 when they sent a first-round draft pick (previously acquired from Vancouver for J.T Miller) and 2019 first-round pick Nolan Foote to the New Jersey Devils for Coleman.

A week later they sent their own 2020 first-round pick, as well as Anthony Greco (who had just been acquired a couple of days earlier) to the San Jose Sharks for Barclay Goodrow and a 2020 third-round pick.

It’s a lot to give up, no question. When the dust settled they sent what amounted to three first-round picks for the two forwards, neither of which would be what anyone considers to be a top-line player.

Coleman was the most notable of the two given his status as a 20-goal scorer in each of the past two seasons. Add in his defensive ability and cap-friendly contract ($1.8 million salary cap hit this season and next season) and he carries a ton of value. So it’s not a shock he carried a steep price in trade.

[Lightning vs. Stars: 2020 Stanley Cup Final schedule]

The price for Goodrow, however, was probably a little more eye-opening because you don’t usually see teams trade a first-round pick for a 27-year-old forward with a career high of 27 points.

He is not bringing you offense. What he does bring you is defense. A lot of it. Over the past two seasons Goodrow was one of the Sharks’ most impactful defensive forwards when it came to suppressing shot attempts, scoring chances, expected goals and, yes, actual goals.

Also like Coleman he carries an extremely team-friendly salary cap number ($925,000 per season) through next season.

That means the Lightning added two outstanding defensive forwards, including one with 20-goal ability, for a combined salary cap hit of just $2.7 million through the end of next season.

Individually, those have proven to be two very solid moves.

When put together around Yanni Gourde they have produced a game-changing line.

The Results

The Lightning’s best line this postseason has obviously been its top trio of Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, and Ondrej Palat. They have dominated every phase of the game and two of them (Kucherov and Point) are contenders for the Conn Smythe Trophy.

But the Coleman-Goude-Goodrow line is not far behind them in terms of overall effectiveness, as the table below outlines.

All data via Natural Stat Trick.

(CF% = shot attempt percentage; xGF = expected goals for percentage; CA/60 = total shot attempts against per 60 minutes; xGA/60 = expected goals against per 60 minutes; GA/60 = goals against per 60 minutes).

The top line is dominating across the board, which is exactly what you expect with two All-Stars (including the reigning league MVP) playing next to each other.

But look at the second line. There is a decent gap in terms of possession (shot attempts) and scoring chances (expected goals), but they are shutting teams down at an elite level and have scored goals at a rate similar to the All-Star top line. Keep in mind, this is only 5-on-5 data and Kucherov-Point line has a ton of power play points together to drive the offense. But it is still impressive at how close they are in terms of overall effectiveness at even-strength.

As good as that top line is, it takes more than one great line to compete for a championship and ultimately win one.

Thanks to some shrewd moves at the deadline, as well as the scouting and player development system that produced Gourde as an undrafted free agent several years ago, the Lightning have given themselves a second great line to help drive their team.

It is all still in place for next season as well, and when Gourde’s contract is added in it still only costs them $7.8 million against the cap. Tough to beat that value, especially if it helps produce a championship.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

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Cup Final bubble downtime takes focus off hockey for Lightning, Stars –



He explained there was a guy named Jimmy with NHL Studios who had been following him around. Jimmy had been in a band called Monster Magnet, which had a song at the end of the movie “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.”

“The running joke was, you’ve got to wear a T-shirt at a press conference if you make the Stanley Cup Final,” Cooper said. “And so we made the Stanley Cup Final, and I’m owning up to Jimmy.”

The Lightning and the Dallas Stars are even in the best-of-7 series entering Game 3 at Rogers Place in Edmonton, the hub city for the Cup Final, on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS).

The story of the T-shirt isn’t really about the T-shirt. It’s a window into Cooper and his personality, and more importantly, it’s a window into the bubble and the bond between everyone in it: players, coaches, staff, everyone.

Jimmy — aka Jimmy Bags — is Jim Baglino, a sound technician who is working on “Quest for the Stanley Cup,” the six-part, all-access series with new episodes at 6 p.m. ET each Wednesday on ESPN+ in the United States and YouTube in Canada.

Baglino has worked the Cup Final so many times he can’t remember — 14 or 15, he thinks. This Cup Final is unlike any other.

“This is by far the most bizarre,” Baglino said. “I don’t know if bizarre is the right word.”

After the NHL season was paused March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus, the League returned with an unprecedented 24-team tournament in bubbles and no fans in the stands.

The Lightning started in Toronto on July 26 and traveled to Edmonton when they made the Eastern Conference Final. The Stars started in Edmonton on July 26 and have been there ever since.

The members of each team have been going through the same experience as everyone working alongside them: COVID-19 testing, strict safety protocols, hotel life, restaurant meals, isolation from family and friends and the rest of the outside world.

“Everybody’s in it together,” Baglino said. “You see Dallas sitting over here. They’re having lunch. The Tampa guys are over here. I’m walking across the yard the other day. I run into [Cooper] coming from the food truck. I go get a coffee, and I see [Dallas coach Rick Bowness] having a coffee. It’s a unique experience.”

Everyone has a job to do as a professional, but everyone is a person with a life outside of work too.

“Players, coaches, everybody’s focused,” Baglino said. “We’re focused on what we’re doing. But there is that downtime where normally you go home, but you’re here. You have that downtime together a lot, and that’s when you start talking about non-hockey-related stuff.”

Baglino gets to know the players, coaches and officials well, because he helps mic them for sound. He has worked a lot with Cooper in the past. He followed Dallas and Tampa Bay in the conference finals and is following Tampa Bay in the Cup Final.

He likes to talk about music. He toured with Monster Magnet in the 1990s as a tech, and when the bass player left in the early 2000s, he became the bassist. He retired from touring about four years ago.

Turns out, Cooper likes to talk about music too.

One day recently, Cooper was talking about bands he knew, and Baglino mentioned he had been in Monster Magnet.

“He’s a thorough guy when it comes to hockey or when it comes to other things,” Baglino said. “So he kind of looked into it, and I think he kind of dug it a little bit.”

Long story short, the Lightning ordered a Monster Magnet T-shirt and had it shipped to the bubble. Cooper told Baglino that if Tampa Bay made the Cup Final, he would wear it. Baglino said he’d hold him to it.

Video: Bowness, Cooper deliver pregame speeches for SCF Gm1

After the Lightning defeated the Stars 3-2 in Game 2 on Monday, eventually the camera and the microphone turned off.

“I was like, ‘Where’s the Monster Magnet shirt, man?'” Baglino said. “I was kind of razzing him a little bit about it. He’s like, ‘Don’t worry, I’m going to wear it.’ I’m like, ‘I’m holding you to it.'”

Cooper was good on his word. He wore the shirt to the press conference. Of course, it was a magnet for the media, and a reporter asked about it a couple minutes in. Cooper said he would circle back.

He was good on his word then too. At the end of the press conference, he volunteered the story, thinking Baglino was there to see it. The only problem was, for once, Baglino wasn’t there.

“I think it’s his first press conference that I missed, and it was the one that he wore that,” Baglino said with a laugh. “I may have to get him to wear it again.”

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Oilers, Maple Leafs could learn from how current Lightning roster is built –



EDMONTON — In Edmonton’s fantasy world, the Art Ross, the Hart and the Norris trophies are all followed sequentially by the Stanley Cup.

In Toronto’s master plan, the spreadsheet spits out a cheat code that magically produces an offensive high-wire act, fabulously concluding with a parade down Bay Street.

That’s how the Tampa Bay Lightning used to approach things too.

“We used to be a team that wasn’t good enough to beat you 3-0. We had to beat you 9-0,” began Jon Cooper, the head coach who for the past seven-plus seasons has stewarded this vessel through the rocky waters of the Eastern Conference. “You’re right about how we used to play in the past. We have an ability to score some pretty flashy goals, there’s no question about that.”

The problem was, the Bolts kept putting together 50-win regular seasons, even reaching a Stanley Cup Final and three Conference Finals — but they could never close the deal. Then, last spring, a Columbus team that had not won a single playoff round in franchise history swept the Lightning out of Round 1.

It was as big a slap in the face as any the National Hockey League has witnessed in decades.

From the Stanley Cup Qualifiers to the Stanley Cup Final, livestream every game of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, blackout-free, on Sportsnet NOW.

With zero rings and a loooong spring to contemplate, Cooper recalled, “we had to change that attitude.”

It’s that attitude change — and the accumulation of players like Blake Coleman, Barclay Goodrow, Pat Maroon and Zach Bogosian — that corrected the roster and priorities of a Lightning team that has gone from first-round fodder to being three wins away from being crowned Stanley Cup champions.

“What do they say the definition of insanity is? Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result?” Cooper asked. “We couldn’t do that. You need to have an attitude adjustment, and guys have to buy in. And it starts with your stars. The guys who are used to putting pucks in the net.”

Tampa was, to some degree, just a more mature and well-rounded team than the run ’n’ gun outfits in Toronto and Edmonton, two teams that had their share of regular season success this season before being blasted out in the Qualifying Round. Even with vastly better goaltending in Andrei “Vezina” Vasilevskiy and annual Norris Trophy candidate Victor Hedman on their blue line, Tampa couldn’t win — which tells you how far away the Maple Leafs and Oilers truly are.

“If you play that way — especially when you get to this time of year — bad things are usually going to happen,” Cooper said of the old Bolts. “Experience and being humbled can help right a ship. I truly believe last year’s experience… We’re seeing the fruits of that awful setback last spring.”

It’s obvious to look at the roster adjustments that general manager Julien BriseBois made, adding depth forwards that have made the Lightning grittier, and “slotted everybody into the right spots — including themselves,” according to Cooper.

But remember what the head coach said: “It starts with your stars.”

Whether it’s Connor McDavid, Mitch Marner or Nikita Kucherov, the leaders have to lead in the right direction. Towards the Stanley Cup, not just the Art Ross.

“Look no further than Nikita Kucherov’s (Game 2), and how he was getting beat up in ways that for anybody it’s hard to come back. All he did was come back and run a powerplay that scored two goals, and be a big part of why we won,” said Cooper. “When guys understand that it’s about what you keep out of your net, and not what you put into (their) net, good things will happen. That’s what’s gone on so far.”

Eventually, for every skilled team, there is going to be a Dallas on the horizon. A big, deep, grinding roster that doesn’t have nearly the same top-end skill of all the aforementioned clubs, but wins games using all the elements that those teams lack.

Tampa has learned through experience that you can’t simply surf along on top of those waters. You have dive in and swim with the sharks eventually.

It’s a movie the Leafs and Oilers should watch.

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