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Analyzing Steven Stamkos' memorable return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs –



With 6:18 remaining in the first period, Steven Stamkos stepped into the Tampa Bay Lightning bench for what has to have been his final seconds of ice time in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. His first seconds came not long before, with 17:55 to play in the first period. What came in between those two timestamps was summed up by Lightning head coach Jon Cooper thusly:

“He only had five shifts, but probably an efficient five shifts as you’re ever going to see in a National Hockey League playoff game. It was pretty damn cool.”

It was! It was pretty damn cool. And so, given the limited likelihood of Stamkos getting any more ice time, I thought it’d be great to look at the time he did play in some detail for posterity. If the Lightning do win the Cup, the 2:47 he played — which I’ve distilled to about 2:16, because who has that kind of time — will go down in hockey lore. It was as close as hockey can get to giving us a Kirk Gibson moment, and it should be celebrated as such.

I’m expressing skepticism in his return only because of what you’ll see. At no point does he take any significant contact or get pulled in any overly awkward direction, yet he still had to tap out. If his body isn’t ready for the minutes he played — mostly low-stress minutes from a physical standpoint — I’m comfortable saying that’s going to be it, barring some miraculous Game 7 Undertaker moment.

In Game 3, Stamkos had the puck for seven seconds. He made each one of them count.


Stamkos starts his 2020 playoffs in dream form, hopping off the bench and getting to mob in on the forecheck. When the puck gets rimmed to the weak side (where he’s headed), Roope Hintz dips low to pick it up. Stamkos gets his ice time started with a nice solid body check, which he follows by backing out to stay above Hintz, falling into Tampa’s neutral zone forecheck.

He’s part of a structure tight enough that they get a turnover and put the puck back in deep on Dallas, where he becomes F2 in another forecheck. What you like here is that he’s doing the boring stuff correctly and not just manically chasing hits with his months-worth of pent-up drive, as evidenced by what comes next.

He curls off that forecheck and becomes the first forward back as Tampa gets the puck in the neutral zone yet again, and puts it quietly into Dallas’ end for a good line change.

He got in a good spot for an outlet, which is unremarkable but still, y’know, good.

Good start all over, wouldn’t you say? He got his feet under him, threw a hit, and his game sweat started.


This is clipped a little tight, but Stamkos has just hopped on the ice and immediately gets to a good defensive spot in the neutral zone and gets a takeaway. This is what Cooper partially means by “efficient” I’m sure — Stamkos has barely been on the rink and yet the puck has ended up going the right way every time.

He gets it in deep and forces Dallas to retreat, which allows Tampa to set up its forecheck against set breakouts. These are rare situations where teams run plays at 5-on-5. In the Tampa room, just like Dallas’, there would be a systems reminder sheet for guys to read over with a “SET BO FC.”

It’s actually unbelievably textbook. Watch Patrick Maroon (14) stay above the slasher through the middle, watch Cedric Paquette (13) force a play before the centre red, and of course, watch Stamkos stay above the speed (with “speed” being the guy who just flies up the wall in most set breakouts) in the wide lane. The D step up at the blue line and it’s Tampa’s puck again.

Stamkos heads in on the forecheck as F2 again, but is out of gas, and needs a change.


Shift 3. Three. I kinda want to say it like Monica says “seven” on that old episode of Friends, but maybe that’s weird. Pretend I didn’t say that.

To start the shift, Stamkos lines up on his off-side against the wall, so his stick’s to the middle and he can be the shooter on a won draw. They don’t win it though, and since Tampa likes to bring pressure from the middle winger on lost O-zone draws, he pulls back.

And we begin. Have a watch first.

Victor Hedman is getting a lot of love for the pass to Stamkos, but everyone deserves love here. It unfolds in a perfect way, but it unfolds that way because of how the Lightning play it, not by luck.

Hedman pulls back after Dallas wins the draw, but wouldn’t you know it, he has the foresight and confidence to pressure up before the Tampa Bay red, which creates a 50/50 puck instead of Dallas just getting it deep into Tampa’s end. (If he backed off, you’d have never been critical of him — these are things great players do.)

Because Paquette comes all the way back above his guy (the Dallas centre) in the middle of the rink, Jan Ruuta can come over and bat the puck back up the wall to Hedman. So, good on Hedman for the pinch up, good on Paquette for coming back, good on Ruuta for coming across.

If you’ve ever practiced 2-on-2 gap up drills for defencemen, you know how hard this next part is for Esa Lindell because Stamkos gets to come back to his own blue, swing, then attack with speed.

My child drew these lines, I swear.

The thing is, in practice defencemen know what they’re dealing with — a regroup with an oncoming rush — and they know to gap up accordingly. They know what they’re practicing. Here, it’s not yet clear what’s going to happen with the loose puck in the neutral zone, so Lindell is hesitant to run too far up-ice, meaning Stamkos is able to do what’s so hard to do in those practices (and all games): get clear separation from the D.

Here’s the picture of the goal being scored:

I mean not literally, but this is where the goal is scored. If Lindell is gapped up one foot closer to Stamkos it doesn’t happen. (If he’s backed off by another foot it may not either, not that you’d want your D playing that way.)

Stamkos has had time to wind it up, he’s got a head of steam, and he’s one of the … I don’t know, call it five best shooters in the NHL? I think that’s fair.

Everything about this play was built to showcase Stamkos’ strengths as a player, and given the opportunity, man, did those strengths shine.


Shift four starts with Stamkos taking the draw because it’s a 4-on-4 situation, but I still don’t love it. Faceoffs require some pulling and activating of the core, and if he was operating this close to the functional/non-functional line, you’d think he’d steer clear of voluntarily entering into those scenarios. I guess hindsight is 20/20, and if a guy says he’s good to go, you use him like he’s good to go.

He loses the draw, but does a good job staying above the Dallas centre (four-on-four is more man-on-man). The push he gives Jamie Benn at the bottom of the Dallas circle there is called a “sting,” which aims to sap the momentum out of a player’s legs before they head up ice. It’s easier to stop momentum from building than it is to slow it once it’s built.

From there not a whole lot happens. Stamkos stays in the right places positionally while his teammates do some good things (get the puck back) and some bad things (turn the puck over), none of which he has any chance to affect. That’s the life of a winger in general. Some nights you’re minus-three doing the same defensive things you did the night you went plus-three.


On his fifth and final shift, Stamkos is dealt a tough hand. He comes on the ice as the play is moving back towards the Tampa end, and eventually, the play deals him the winger’s toughest task: a rim stuck along the boards under pressure. It’s here, for the first time, I think he looks hesitant.

He makes the right decision in just trying to keep it against the wall and wait for help, but the whole battle looks a little off. He tries to get his body into one of the Dallas players to keep them on the outside of the puck at one point, but it’s got to be here where something starts to feel off for him.

He does eventually get a meaningful touch on the puck, where he tries to tap a little slip to the middle, which ends up being really his only misstep over his 2:47 of ice time. From there, the puck stays in the zone, and he does a fine job keeping the play outside, never getting sucked too far out of position while providing a layer Dallas would have to get through to get to the net.

He’s still skating fine enough as he gets to the bench, but obviously he knows. He gave them all he had to give, provided a big moment and some solid play, and with that, he hangs up his metaphorical skates for the night, and likely the year.

What’s so admirable about what Stamkos did was he demonstrated his commitment to the cause. Not by playing injured, but by putting in the work to get healthy enough to play. It was everything preceding this that gives it its weight. There was no guarantee Tampa would be playing this late in September, but he put in months in the bubble when he didn’t have to. Surely the team would’ve been understanding if he opted out, or if he said “We’ll see if you guys are in it in a month and maybe I’ll join then.”

Stamkos put in tons of rehab hours. He led a team as captain as best he could without being able to play, and when there was a chance he’d be able to, he was willing to take risk walking back that progress for his teammates, for the staff, for the Tampa fans, and for the Stanley Cup. It’s all right here for them now.

I’m willing to bet he’ll forever deem the sacrifices worth it, calling it a “dream come true” in the post-game presser. The time he played may have totalled under three minutes, but that’s three minutes fans of the Lightning may remember for the rest of their lives.

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2021 Draft: Power among Central Scouting's players to watch –



Owen Power, a candidate to be chosen among the top 10 in the 2021 NHL Draft, was one of three players from the University of Michigan to earn an A rating on NHL Central Scouting’s preliminary players to watch list released Tuesday.

The list is a compilation of top prospects from all the major development leagues throughout North America and Europe. It will be updated throughout the season as scouts evaluate the players.

“At this point in the evaluation process and considering the lack of a summer scouting season, it’s much too early to identify a strength for the 2021 draft class other than to state that there are a number of good prospects at every position,” director of NHL Central Scouting Dan Marr said. “There is no Alexis Lafreniere-type prospect with a clear lead as a consensus No. 1.”

Lafreniere was selected by the New York Rangers with the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft and signed his three-year, entry-level contract Oct. 12. The forward was the projected top choice from start to finish last season while playing for Rimouski of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

[PDF: NHL Central Scouting 2020-21 Preliminary Players to Watch list]

“There are a number of prospects with a head start to compete for the top prospect based on past performance, but until we can get viewings to evaluate the entire draft class, the projection for No. 1 consideration is an open field,” Marr said.

The 31 players on the preliminary list with A ratings are considered potential first-round picks. Players with B ratings are considered possible second- or third-round choices, and those with C ratings are potential fourth-, fifth- or sixth-round selections.

Power (6-foot-6, 214 pounds), a defenseman who turns 18 on Nov. 22, became the second player for Chicago to win United States Hockey League Defenseman of the Year last season. The Mississauga, Ontario, native led USHL defensemen with 40 points (12 goals, 28 assists) in 45 games and tied for first with five power-play goals. 

“He can put up points, and is very mobile for how big he is,” NHL Central Scouting senior manager David Gregory said. “He runs the power play, has elite hockey sense and is going to be a highly sought-after player.”

Power entered the USHL as a 15-year-old in 2018-19 and set a league record by scoring 11 goals as a 16-year-old defenseman.

Forwards Matthew Beniers (6-1, 174) and Kent Johnson (6-0, 166), who each will join Power at Michigan in the Big Ten this season, also received an A rating. A 24-game conference schedule is tentatively set to begin Nov. 13.

Beniers scored 41 points (18 goals, 23 assists) in 44 games for the USA Hockey National Team Development Program under-18 team last season. 

“He’s a kid that’s been on the radar for a couple of years now with the program,” Marr said. “He has the skills and the smarts, but it’s his intangibles with his compete and how he gets things done and makes things happen that make him so appealing.”

Johnson, 18, scored 101 points (41 goals, 60 assists) in 52 games for Trail of the British Columbia Hockey League last season. He scored 147 points (61 goals, 86 assists) and averaged 1.31 points per game in 112 BCHL games.

“He’s an elite point producer,” Gregory said. “When you see a 17-year-old put up 100 points, that’s something special. He plays with pace and skill, is crafty with the puck and can snipe it as well. He’s going to score a lot of goals.”

Among the A-rated skaters considered likely to be selected in the first round are forwards Xavier Bourgault (6-0, 172) of Shawinigan and Zachary Bolduc (6-1, 175) of Rimouski in the QMJHL, and Dylan Guenther (6-0, 166) of Edmonton in the Western Hockey League; and defensemen Luke Hughes (6-2, 176) of the NTDP under-18 team, Brandt Clarke (6-1, 180) of Barrie (OHL) and Daniil Chayka (6-3, 187) of Guelph (OHL).

Hughes, the youngest of the three Hughes siblings (Vancouver Canucks defenseman Quinn Hughes and New Jersey Devils center Jack Hughes) scored 28 points (seven goals, 21 assists) and three power-play goals in 48 games for the NTDP under-17 team last season. He has four assists in seven games for the under-18 team this season.

“Luke does things so quickly,” Gregory said. “You wouldn’t see him skate it up as much as Quinn, but he can do it and does. He can snap a pass, stretch a pass. He’s got this veteran’s poise as a young guy. It’s very tough to compare [Luke and Quinn Hughes] but you see some similarities like you did with Jack and Quinn. They have that quickness, that escape ability, that all three of them have.”

Bourgault has scored five points (three goals, two assists) in four games and Bolduc two goals in four games.

“He’s one of these dynamic offensive players that just come at you every game; he just pops,” Marr said of Bourgault. “Every time he’s on the ice, he’s a scoring threat when the puck is on his stick.”

The A-rated players to watch on the International side include center Aatu Raty (6-1, 177) of Karpat in Liiga and goalie Jesper Wallstedt (6-2, 214) of Lulea in the Swedish Hockey League.

Raty has no points and two shots on goal in 9:34 of ice time this season. Wallstedt is 1-1-2 with a 1.92 goals-against average and .929 save percentage in four games.

“[Wallstedt] was always a difference-maker,” Marr said. “He’s got the skills and attributes with his athleticism, reflexes, and mental toughness. Just like Iaroslav Askarov (chosen No. 11 by the Nashville Predators in the 2020 draft) had his following prior to the 2020 draft, Wallstedt does as well this season.”

Photos courtesy of Chicago Steel / USHL and Daryl Marshke / USA Hockey’s NTDP

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Players, fans rip Rays for Blake Snell’s quick hook in Game 6 –



Heading into the sixth inning, Blake Snell was holding the Los Angeles Dodgers offence in check.

Then Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash decided to take the ball from his ace after he gave up his second hit of the game. Unfortunately, that pitching change provided the spark the Dodgers needed as they would score two runs including one off a wild pitch to take the lead in Game 6.

Many took to social media to question Cash’s decision to pull Snell after just 73 pitches.

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Dodgers can win elusive World Series title if Roberts pulls right strings –



After suffering a heartbreaking defeat in the most bizarre fashion imaginable in Game 4, the Los Angeles Dodgers rebounded in Game 5 to take a 3-2 lead over the Tampa Bay Rays in the World Series.

Now the Dodgers are just one victory away from slaying their past playoff demons and finally capturing that elusive title.

But the Rays aren’t just going to roll over and hand them the crown. Tampa Bay has its ace on the mound in Blake Snell and manager Kevin Cash hinted at some lineup changes to help spark the offence.

Will the Dodgers close it out or will the Rays force a Game 7? Tune in to Sportsnet or SN Now at 8 p.m. ET to find out. In the meantime, here’s what to watch for prior to first pitch.

Watch every game of the 2020 World Series between the Tampa Bay Rays and Los Angeles Dodgers on Sportsnet and SN Now.

Roberts gets another chance to pull the right strings

The last time Tony Gonsolin started in this series, he lasted just 1.1 innings in what ended up as a bullpen day for the Dodgers in Game 2.

Manager Dave Roberts claims things will be different in Game 6, declaring Gonsolin a “starter” as opposed to an “opener.” Roberts did couch it a little, though.

“I’m going to watch him pitch and then we’ll see what we do after that,” Roberts told reporters Monday. “… I want to go as long as he possibly can, that’d be great.”

Considering Roberts pulled Clayton Kershaw after 85 pitches in Game 5 when he appeared to be cruising, it’s hard to imagine the 25-year-old Gonsolin having a long leash. The bullpen is fully rested after Monday’s off day, giving Roberts his full complement of weapons.

Game 2 didn’t go so well for Roberts as he watched a number of decisions backfire en route to a 6-4 Rays victory. Now the ever-unconventional manager has another chance to flex his strategic muscles and deliver the franchise’s first title since 1988.

Snell must be sharp from the jump

Los Angeles was aggressive from the opening pitch over the weekend, striking for at least one first-inning run in each of the past three games. It will be crucial for Snell to come out of the gate and put a zero on the board to prevent his opponents from building any quick momentum.

Snell was able to limit the Dodgers to two runs over 4.2 innings in Game 2 while striking out nine, but those numbers don’t tell the full story. The left-hander walked four batters and gave up plenty of hard contact. Five of the seven balls put in play against him came off Dodger bats at 95 m.p.h. or harder.

The 2018 Cy Young winner will need to be extra careful this time around, as it’ll be the Dodgers’ second look at him in six days.

MVP Watch

If the Dodgers do indeed take care of business in Game 6, three players stand out for World Series MVP honours, each with a different storyline attached.

The rejuvenated young star: Corey Seager

It wasn’t too long ago that Seager was considered one of the game’s rising superstars. His 2018 season was limited to just 26 games due to Tommy John surgery but his 2020 campaign has put him back in the mix with baseball’s elite.

His regular season was phenomenal — he posted a .943 OPS — and he’s been even better in the playoffs. After winning NLCS MVP, he’s still raking in the World Series with a .471/.609/.842 slash line. If not for the bizarre Rays win in Game 4, Seager would likely have already earned his second MVP trophy of the post-season. The race is Seager’s to lose at this point.

The franchise icon: Justin Turner

Turner has set a number of franchise records during this playoff run and stands as the Dodgers’ post-season leader in games played, hits, walks, RBIs and home runs. He’s been a hit machine during this World Series, as evidenced by his .364/.391/.818 batting line.

An 0-for-4 Game 6 from Seager and another big performance from Turner could easily tip the scales in the third baseman’s favour. He’s a free agent at the end of the year and winning World Series MVP in what could be his final game in a Dodger uniform would be extremely poetic.

The late-bloomer who became a hero: Max Muncy

Muncy was released by the Oakland Athletics at the end of spring training in 2017, prompting the Dodgers to sign him as a minor-league free agent. He’s become a star at the MLB level since his promotion in 2018 and finds himself entrenched in the heart of one of baseball’s best lineups.

Like Seager and Turner, Muncy has been on fire during the World Series, slashing .389/.522/.611. If he provides a clutch hit or two in Game 6 to clinch the title, it would be easy to make the case he deserves MVP.

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