Yes, I’m aware the second round has already begun thanks to the very cooperative first round allowing for an accelerated schedule, but that’s not going to stop me from doing Round 2…previews? Okay, fine, we’ll call this “Round 2 analysis.”
We can’t pretend the games that have already happened haven’t, so they’ll be taken into consideration, but I’ll still list the predictions I filed before the round began. (So for example, I’m sticking with Tampa and the Avs despite uphill climbs.)
Let’s jump right in.
From the Stanley Cup Qualifiers to the Stanley Cup Final, livestream every game of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, blackout-free, on Sportsnet NOW.
Philadelphia vs. NY Islanders
What’s been such a challenge in doing analysis during this return-to-play hockey is knowing just how much weight to put on each team’s showings based on when they happened. How much does the regular season matter when big chunks of it were nine months ago? How much does the round-robin tournament matter when there was no threat of elimination? How much do play-in series matter given some of the teams were 20th in the league and worse during that regular season?
At the pause in March, Philly was on one of those nice runs good teams have over the course of the season, which I think led to some misperception about them (or perhaps I just follow too many Flyers fans on Twitter). I also think their play in the round-robin was over-valued after watching a team like Boston just flip the switch when the games counted. Along the same vein, Philadelphia’s struggles against the 24th overall Montreal Canadiens don’t prove they’re suddenly not very good, or that they can’t score. There’s a ton to like in that lineup.
I think we need to go big picture on the Flyers and say this: they have some great forwards (even some of the unheralded names like Nicolas Aube-Kubel are really effective), and some great young D (hat-tip to Ivan Provorov). Carter Hart is going to be a mainstay in an NHL crease for a decade-plus to come. They have quality depth. I don’t have them in the top-tier of the remaining eight teams (that to me looks like Boston, Tampa Bay, Colorado and Vegas), but again, I like them.
It’s no secret what the Islanders do, but that doesn’t make it easy to beat. They defend the middle and keep you outside, they forecheck you, and they have some players who can score by hanging around the crease (which can be deadly effective in playoffs). In a nutshell, a battle against the Islanders is the battle for the inside and they’re well built for that at both ends. They’re pretty content to patiently wait, and if you open up because it’s getting hard, they have just enough offence to find goals.
The Islanders only let three Washington forwards score against them over a full series. So while this matchup is more or less a coin toss in my opinion, it feels like it’s going to be harder for Philly to play their preferred style, and easier for the Isles to lean into theirs. And so, I’ll give them the nod here.
Prediction: Islanders in 7
Boston vs. Tampa Bay
In hockey we don’t always get the matchups we deserve. In a sport like MMA, the UFC literally looks at their fighters and says “here’s the fight we want to see,” and they make it happen. The NHL is at the mercy of its playoff format and luck, as evidenced by the Canadiens and Maple Leafs not meeting in the post-season since the ’70s.
This time, though, we got the fight we needed to see, even if it’s not in the conference final.
You know what these two teams are. Boston is pedigree, defensive tenacity and structure and they can play it anyway you want to go. Tampa is speed and skill that’s added grit and personality (the last part is their internal feeling according to Elliotte Friedman). Both teams have great goaltending, though it remains to be seen if Jaroslav Halak can continue his great form as ‘The Guy’ every night instead of just ‘The Sometimes Guy.’ All told this is two heavyweights slugging it out.
It’s also worth noting Steven Stamkos’ absence is felt in a big way here for Tampa. When will he come back, if at all? You need every ounce of ability to topple a giant like the Bruins.
Betting against a Presidents’ Trophy-winning Boston team that showed so well against a very good Carolina team, well, it’s all but foolish. Still, before Game 1 I picked Tampa Bay to win in seven, so I’ll leave that up for all to see. Were I picking now, knowing Boston is up one, I know which way I’d lean. But winning four of six isn’t impossible for a group like Tampa Bay even against the Bruins, so let’s not write them off yet.
Prediction: Tampa Bay in 7
Vegas vs. Vancouver
Lots of V’s, lotsa vvvrooom in this series. Unfortunately, more than any other series we’ll discuss, this one will be most biased by recent events given Vegas’s trouncing of the Canucks in Game 1.
Here’s the part where I’d love to come over the top with some brilliant analysis curveball like “despite the outcome of Game 1, I actually see some advantages for the Canucks here, here, and here.” Alas, I cannot write that article. This is a Vancouver team that unfortunately doesn’t match-up well with teams that have elite players and then follow them up with complete roster depth. Because if you threw every player from this series in a pile and started choosing them one by one in order of who you’d want for a game tomorrow, there’d be a pretty even split of Canucks and Golden Knights in the first 10, depending on who was picking. Picks 10-20, however, would be a landslide of Vegas players.
The way through for Vancouver is that magic combination of hot goaltending and brilliant special teams, which are both reasonably possible outcomes given they have good goaltending and the stars to shine when on the man advantage. It’s also because of those things — and really just the Canucks having an elite core in general — that I see Vancouver finding a win or two.
But this analysis is about the Golden Knights more than it is about Vancouver. They too have great goaltending and they too have top-end skaters. Mark Stone seems built for the playoffs, and he’s in his prime. Stone is actually a great example of what I see in this series. He is here now and ready, while in Vancouver I see a team that’s going to go as far as Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes will take them and I’m skeptical that’s “all the way” right now. They’ll only be more able to shoulder that load in the years to come.
Prediction: Vegas in 6
Dallas vs. Colorado
The Stars are the exact type of team you can build in hockey where — and this isn’t that unlike the St. Louis Blues of last year — they’re extremely competent all over, they can hang with anyone, and if the bounces go their way, they’ll be tough to eliminate. They’re not some loaded firewagon, they’re just solid.
When more casual hockey fans think of the Stars, they likely think of Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, and maybe Alexander Radulov. What makes them so tough to put away, though, is that they defend extremely well, they have good goaltending, and their depth guys like Denis Gurianov, Radek Faksa, and Roope Hintz can actually move the needle. Their D depth isn’t a bunch of big names, but even beyond a fast-riser in the league like Miro Heiskanen, a guy like Esa Lindell is hugely underrated.
I write all that as a qualifier of sorts, though, as the Avalanche certainly seem like the protagonist in this story. They’re the group with the truly elite top line, including one of the best few players in the world today (you can argue I’m light on praise for Nathan MacKinnon there). MacKinnon is an all-caps FORCE right now. They’re the group that swung an off-season deal to add a big contributor in Nazem Kadri. They’re the group with a Calder candidate in Cale Makar who’s part of a team set to attack, attack, attack.
This series is a huge test for the Avs. Are they ready to start knocking off top-to-bottom solid teams? Nothing’s going to be given to them here, and as you know, they’re already one back in the series.
We learned little about the Avs in their matchup with Arizona, but Dallas is going to ask much harder questions. Colorado is down a game with an uphill climb, and the Stars defend well, but I still think the offensive engine MacKinnon seems to stoke every night should have enough fire to push them on through.
Prediction: Avalanche in 6
Lightning strike twice on PP, beat Stars to even Stanley Cup final – TSN
EDMONTON — The Tampa Bay Lightning rediscovered the zap in their power play, using it to burn the Dallas Stars 3-2 on Monday and even up the Stanley Cup final.
Brayden Point and Ondrej Palat had goals on the man advantage as the Lightning scored three times in the first 16 minutes of the game then hung on for the victory.
It ties the best-of-seven series at one game apiece, with Game 3 set for Wednesday at Rogers Place.
Tampa’s power play was ranked fifth in the NHL in the regular season at 23.1 per cent but in the playoffs, heading into Monday’s game, had been spluttering along at 16.9 per cent and mired in an 0 for 14 slump.
Point said the success was not a huge relief because they hadn’t been dwelling on the previous power-play power outages.
“We’re staying positive with (it),” said Point.
“Tonight I thought we stuck with it. We were crisp on our passes and we had (Nikita Kucherov) making some great plays.”
Kucherov, the leading point getter in the playoffs, and defenceman Victor Hedman had the assists on both power-play goals.
Midway through the first period, Kucherov was the middle man in a tic-tac-toe passing play, taking a pass from Hedman and redirecting the puck into the slot area to Point, who then wristed it through traffic and high glove side past Dallas goalie Anton Khudobin.
Three minutes later, on a second power play, Kucherov, at the right face-off circle, faked a one-timer shot off a Hedman pass, freezing Khudobin, and instead slap-passed it cross-seam to Palat, who had a wide open net and didn’t miss.
Less than a minute after that, Tampa defenceman Kevin Shattenkirk scored on a blue-line wrist shot through traffic that proved to be the game-winner.
It was a different story from Game 1, when Tampa got six minutes of power play time in the third period, blasted 22 shots on net but couldn’t score and lost 4-1.
Kucherov said they didn’t tinker with the power-play plan prior to Game 2.
“We had some good looks during the first game. We just couldn’t score,” said Kucherov.
“We just stuck to what we had to do: keep it simple, shoot the puck at the net and get those rebounds.”
Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 27-of-29 shots for his 15th victory of the playoffs, including the seeding round.
Joe Pavelski and Mattias Janmark, with his first of the playoffs, replied for Dallas. Khudobin turned aside 28 shots in the loss. His post-season record drops to 13-7.
Janmark said the penalties and the power-play goals proved to be a bridge too far.
“That’s where we lost the game today,” said Janmark.
“Most of the first period we didn’t come out like we wanted. I think they were better, so I would say they earned (the power plays).
“At the same time, we gotta be better. We were a little bit undisciplined. We were turning pucks over and they were coming at us.”
Tampa Bay outshot Dallas 14-6 in the first period but was outshot 18-5 in the second frame as the Stars found renewed life.
The Stars hit the scoreboard late in the period when a fluttering John Klingberg point shot was redirected in by Pavelski while he battled with defender Ryan McDonagh in front of Vasilevskiy.
Pavelski, signed as a free agent a year ago after 13 seasons with San Jose, has a team-leading 10 playoff goals.
Less than six minutes into the third, the Stars made it 3-2 on a tic-tac-toe play of their own — Alexander Radulov to Klingberg to Janmark, who tapped the puck in despite Shattenkirk being draped all over him.
It was a rough game with big hits and numerous post-whistle scrums and takedowns.
Late in the second period, the Stars’ Corey Perry had Lightning forward Cedric Paquette in a post-whistle head lock. He released him at the direction of the refs only to see Paquette turn on him, throw him to the ice and start raining down punches.
Stars forward Blake Comeau was levelled by McDonagh on an open-ice hit in the second period and didn’t return.
Kucherov now has six goals and 22 assists for 28 points in the playoffs. Hedman has nine goals and eight assists.
Tampa has 15 wins and six losses in the post-season and has yet to lose two games in a row.
The Lightning are seeking the second Stanley Cup in franchise history, the last one coming in 2004. The Stars’ only Cup came in 1999.
All games are being held in a so-called isolation bubble at Rogers Place, with the players sequestered from the public to prevent contracting COVID-19.
The NHL reported that in eight weeks of testing there have been no positive COVID-19 cases.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 21, 2020.
Jays thump Yankees – Bluebird Banter
It is so much more fun playing the Yankees in Buffalo than playing them in Yankees Stadium. I’m going to love hearing them whine about the park.
Matt Shoemaker made his first start coming back from the IL and he was very good. Just 3 innings (they were going to keep him around 60 pitches, he finished with 54), 3 hits, 2 walks, 1 earned with 1 strikeout. He seemed to be thrown out of rhythm when a foul tip went into the mask of the plate umpire and there was a long delay.
My continuing complaint is that, the umpire clearly got rocked by that pitch, the trainer comes out, and they stand and talk and joke and leave him in the game. There should be a rule that takes the umpire out of the game, at least for an inning, so he can be evaluated properly.
At the end of the inning the umpire comes out of the game and a spare umpire, who for some reason was at the game, takes over (boy was he terrible at calling balls and strikes).
Shoemaker was getting his fastball up to 95-96 and looked healthy. He’ll get another start on the weekend and, all being well, should be our third starter for the playoffs.
T.J. Zeuch came in for the fourth and threw 3 perfect innings. He gave up a walk and a double in the seventh and came out of the game at 3.1 innings, 1 hit, 1 earned, 1 walk in 3.1 innings. He looked calm and kept the Yankees hitting the ball on the ground. He gets the win.
Patrick Murphy followed up. He got us out of the seventh and pitched the 8th, giving up 2 hits with a strikeout. He’s pretty impressive with a 97 MPH fastball and a very pretty 12 to 6 curve.
Wilmer Font started the ninth and was just awful, giving up a single and 2 walks to load the bases and then a double to unload them, while getting 2 outs. Font forced Charlie to get Shun Yamaguchi into the game, to get the last out, a strikeout.
Mike Wilner mentioned that Font only hit 89-91 on the fastball, maybe something is wrong.
Lots of guys had a big night, but Kirk was the most fun to watch, going 4 for 4, with the home run, a double and a long single off the right field wall that only needed to be about 2 feet higher to be home run. Kirk scored from second on a single, which may have been the most entertaining moment of the night. Amazing that he’s in the MLB without playing above A ball.
Vladimir Guerrero was 3 for 3 with a walk. He had a “triple” that Yankees’ center fielder Aaron Hicks lost in the night sky (that we didn’t score him was a sin), a double (on pitch he really shouldn’t have swung at but he managed to pull it down the left field line) and another double that was hard hit, well earned double. let’s hope that it is the start of a hot stretch.
- Cavan Biggio had 2 walks (should have been 3, did I mention the hastily dressed plate umpire had a rough night).
- Bo Bichette was 2 for 5, with 2 RBI.
- Teoscar Hernandez was 2 for 5, 2 RBI, 3 strikeouts.
- Randal was 2 for 4, with the homer, walk and 2 RBI.
Being the Jays, we couldn’t make it through the game without an error. Biggio had an easy grounder hit to him at third but threw wide of first. Vlad got over to make the catch but couldn’t put a tag on the runner. Next batter hit another ground ball to third, this time Cavan threw a strike.
That brings our Magic Number to 3, with the Mariners still playing.
Jays of the Day: Vlad (.161 WPA), Bo (.110) and Hernandez (.102) all had the number. And, of course, I’m giving one to Kirk. And let’s give one to Zeuch for throwing the 3.1 innings, saving us from using more pitchers.
No Suckage Jays. Gurriel had the low mark at -.071. On the other hand, lets give one to Font for an awful ninth.
We had 898 comments in the GameThread. I led us to the win. I tell you, I have a beer, the team wins. I’m willing to keep it up.
Stars surrender control to Lightning in Game 2 as tug-of-war for Cup begins – Sportsnet.ca
EDMONTON — So, how are we going to play this?
In Game 1 the Dallas Stars called the tune, winning the first 40 minutes with their heavy, win-the-net-fronts game that made the Tampa Bay Lightning look slow and pushed their skill to the outskirts of the rink.
But by taking three minor penalties in the opening period of Game 2, the Stars surrendered control, allowing a power-play exhibition to erupt — which is right up the Lightning’s alley.
What resulted was a 3-2 Tampa win, a series tied at one game apiece, and the beginning of that annual tug-of-war over which team is going to impose its style on this Stanley Cup Final.
“For sure,” agreed veteran Dallas centreman Joe Pavelski, who scored his 10th playoff goal on a dandy deflection. “There’s a couple of good teams that have somewhat of a foundation to win games, how you play. We were definitely closer to ours in Game 1, and we got away from it early in this game and it cost us. But there was no quit, and we started to find our game. It came back, and we need to stay at that level moving forward.”
From the Stanley Cup Qualifiers to the Stanley Cup Final, livestream every game of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, blackout-free, on Sportsnet NOW.
And isn’t that always where the discussion goes? We start with how Tampa was able to wrest away the style of play from Dallas, and then we argue over exactly how long it lasted, until the Stars looked up at a 3-0 scoreboard in the second period and decided to make a game of it.
“It’s two very good teams battling it out. Who controls the puck the most comes back to faceoffs, and special teams were obviously the difference tonight,” said Stars head coach Rick Bowness, whose team has made a habit of over-utilizing the penalty box throughout this COVID Cup. “This is going to be a tough series. They’re an elite team. They’ve been here before. We’ve got a lot of guys who have never been here before. Hopefully we’re just going to keep getting better.”
Dallas had killed of five-straight Tampa power plays in this Final and had the Bolts top producers right where they wanted ‘em: Squeezing the sticks and feeling the pressure of a Cup Final that began with the Lightning leaders firing blanks.
Then, on the first power play of the game, Nikita Kucherov was a turnover machine, handling the puck more like a ham-and-egger than the player whose Hart Trophy reign had ended just before the game, when Edmonton Oilers star Leon Draisaitl was named the 2019-20 winner.
It looked like Tampa may have been stuck in Game 1 gear. So what did the Stars do?
They took another penalty. And another.
The cardinal sin when the opponent’s skill guys are rusty is to give them power-play touches. To allow them to start to feel good with the puck on their sticks again.
“When we stay out of the box we’ve seen … we’re a good team,” Pavelski said. “When you feed their top guys that kind of confidence, they play with the puck, they get a little momentum… We can kill one, two, three [penalties] a night. We don’t need to be killing three, four a period.”
Before the first period was out, Kucherov had set up Brayden Point and Ondrej Palat for power-play snipes, and when Kevin Shattenkirk’s long-range seeing eye shot found twine the Stars were down 3-0 at the first intermission.
“That’s where we lost the game today,” said Mattias Janmark. “We don’t want to take penalties. We have taken way too many throughout the playoffs.”
But don’t just blame the Stars. This is how a skilled team like Tampa turns the game back their way: They find a way to get on the power play, then they bury you with the man advantage.
Then you get tentative about taking penalties, and the extra half-second or six inches of ice that creates is what they use to beat you on the next shift.
“It’s easy to explain,” argued Bowness. “We lost faceoffs, we were turning the puck over and we were taking penalties. It was an even game up until we started taking penalties. Their power play connected.
“Faceoffs, turnovers and penalties. Things you can’t afford to do against a team like that.”
Here we go folks.
It’s now a best-of-five, and we’re looking forward to when it becomes a best-of-three.
Because whoever seizes controls of how this Final gets played, don’t worry. The other team will steal it back.
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Lightning strike twice on PP, beat Stars to even Stanley Cup final – TSN
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