The Vegas flu used to be considered one of the keys to the success of the Vegas Golden Knights. The theory was that teams visiting Las Vegas, where T-Mobile Arena sits on The Strip, would, uh, not feel well for some reason.
Well, here we are in the time of COVID-19, when teams are living in Secure Zones and playing in arenas without fans in the stands in Edmonton and Toronto and look who has the best record in the bubbles: the Golden Knights.
Vegas, playing all its games at Rogers Place in Edmonton, the hub city for the Western Conference, is 8-1-0 this postseason. The Golden Knights, the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, went 3-0-0 in the round-robin portion of the Stanley Cup Qualifiers and defeated the Chicago Blackhawks 4-1 in the Western Conference First Round, and now they have taken a 1-0 lead against the No. 5-seeded Vancouver Canucks in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
How do you explain that? Simple.
“I mean, this team is really good,” veteran analyst Pierre McGuire said with a laugh after listing some of Vegas’ strengths — physicality, defense, structure, depth — during the NBCSN broadcast of Game 1 on Sunday. And that was when the score was 1-0 in the first period. The final score was 5-0.
Game 2 of the best-of-7 series is Tuesday (9:45 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVAS).
In theory, no team should be at more of a disadvantage under the circumstances than the Golden Knights, because they have had a huge home-ice advantage.
The Golden Knights have gone 75-33-11 in the regular season at home, fifth in the NHL in points percentage (.676) since they entered the NHL as an expansion team in 2017-18.
They went 7-3 at home in the 2018 playoffs, when they went to the Stanley Cup Final and lost in five games to the Washington Capitals. They went 2-1 at home in the 2019 playoffs, when they lost in seven games in the first round to the San Jose Sharks.
Their .692 winning percentage at home in the 2018 and 2019 playoffs combined was the best among teams that played at least eight games.
No place in the NHL is like T-Mobile Arena on game day — or at, as the Vegas calls it, “Knight Time.” The bass booms so hard that it thumps your chest and rattles your drink. Showgirls dance against the glass at the visitors’ end during warmup. A pregame show entertains the fans, some of whom come dressed in glittery gold outfits.
It is a spectacle all its own, and the place is loud. Reporters often ask players after a big win how much the atmosphere contributed to it.
The NHL paused the season March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus, then created an unprecedented 24-team tournament in the Return to Play Plan — 12 Western Conference teams in Edmonton, 12 Eastern Conference teams in Toronto, no fans in the stands.
It hasn’t been the same, even though the NHL has used recorded crowd noise and music from each NHL arena. But that’s OK. After the game Sunday, this time a reporter asked about the Golden Knights creating their own energy.
“Obviously sometimes without fans it’s a little dead,” forward Jonathan Marchessault said. “So we’re just trying to stay alive on the bench, try to talk to each other between linemates. When somebody [makes] a good hit or a good play, we try to be extra positive. Yeah, we’re a team that likes to be alive on the bench for sure.”
Most important, the Golden Knights have given themselves lots of opportunities to be positive, because management has built such a strong team.
President of hockey operations George McPhee and general manager Kelly McCrimmon did a masterful job in the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft, when McPhee was GM and McCrimmon was assistant GM, not only assembling the initial roster, but stockpiling assets for future moves.
In their inaugural season, they recognized they were better than expected and went for it. They almost won the Cup. Still, they didn’t stand pat. They have made lots of changes and been unafraid to make difficult, controversial decisions.
They replaced coach Gerard Gallant with Peter DeBoer — the former Sharks coach who had eliminated them in the playoffs — Jan. 15 even though they were in a playoff spot. They acquired goalie Robin Lehner from the Chicago Blackhawks on Feb. 24, and now Lehner has taken the No. 1 job from Marc-Andre Fleury, the face of the franchise and a fan favorite.
That caused a dustup Saturday, when Fleury’s agent, Allan Walsh, tweeted an image of a sword in Fleury’s back labeled “DeBoer.” But Fleury met with McCrimmon and DeBoer and asked Walsh to take it down, and by Sunday night, even though Lehner shut out the Canucks and improved to 6-1-0 in the postseason, goaltending was not the story.
The story was Vegas’ dominance. This is a team with good chemistry despite turning over significantly in three seasons, a team with talent down the roster, a team that can win on The Strip or at a neutral site, a team that can ignore outside noise and make its own noise on the bench.
“We’re here for one thing,” DeBoer said, “and that’s to pursue a Stanley Cup.”
Stamkos remains out of Lightning lineup for Game 5 vs. Stars – Sportsnet.ca
Tampa’s captain suited up in Game 3, but was declared unfit to play for Friday’s Game 4 victory. Before Game 5, Lightning coach Jon Cooper said Stamkos will not play on Saturday. However, earlier Cooper did not rule him out for the remainder of the series, should Dallas stave off elimination Saturday.
Stamkos has missed the entirety of the Lightning’s post-season run due to an injury suffered before the club reconvened from the season’s pause to begin training. Managing only 2:47 minutes of ice-time during Game 3, Stamkos made an immediate impact upon returning to the lineup, scoring the second goal of the Bolts’ eventual 5-2 win just seven minutes into the tilt.
Stamkos posted 29 goals and 66 points through 57 regular-season games in 2019-20, dominating before being forced to the sidelines with a core muscle injury.
Lightning-Stars stream: 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final – NHL
NBC’s coverage of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs continues with Saturday’s Stanley Cup Final matchup between the Lightning and Stars. Coverage begins at 8 p.m. ET on NBC. Watch the Lightning-Stars stream on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.
Boosted by the long-awaited and “inspirational” return of Steven Stamkos, the Tampa Bay Lightning got goals from all three of their first-line forwards, their top defenseman and their captain in a threee-goal win to move within two wins of the franchise’s second Stanley Cup. For the second straight game, Tampa jumped out to a multi-goal first-period lead before the Stars got on the board. The Dallas Stars cut the deficit to one entering the second period, but the middle frame was all Lightning, outscoring Dallas 3-0 in large part thanks to a 21-4 shot differential.
After Game 2, Kevin Shattenkirk said, “when we play our best game it’s hard for teams to win.” In Game 3, Tampa played one of its best games this postseason, getting major contributions from its usual suspects in the top line trio and Hedman and also a quantifiable (one goal from Stamkos) and unquantifiable lift from the return of its captain.
The top line of Palat, Point and Kucherov carried the day once again, combining for three goals and six points in Game 3, their second straight game with four-plus points. Point leads all players this postseason with 11 goals and with Palat and Hedman also reaching double-digit goals in Game 3, the trio make Tampa the first team in a decade to have three players with 10-plus goals in the same postseason.
Tyler Seguin has struggled mightily in the 2020 playoffs. The 28-year-old has now gone 12 consecutive games without a goal and has just one assist over that span (which was six games ago). His last goal came in Game 3 of the Second Round vs. Colorado
Along with Seguin, some of Dallas’ other forwards have been quiet recently as well:
▪ Jamie Benn: Zero points this series after ending West Final on a three-game goal streak
▪ Denis Gurianov: Zero points, three shots this series (OT goal and assist in series-clincher vs. Vegas)
▪ Alex Radulov: Zero goals, three assists this series
Tampa can become the first team in the NHL expansion era (1967-present) to win the Stanley Cup the season after being swept in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
WHAT: Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars
WHERE: Rogers Place – Edmonton
WHEN: Saturday, September 26, 8 p.m. ET
ON THE CALL: Mike Emrick, Eddie Olczyk, Brian Boucher
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Lightning-Stars stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.
Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars (TB leads 3-1)
Stars 4, Lightning 1 (recap)
Lightning 3, Stars 2 (recap)
Lightning 5, Stars 2 (recap)
Lighting 5, Stars 4 [OT] (recap)
Game 5: Saturday, Sept. 26, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
*Game 6: Monday, Sept. 28, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*Game 7: Wednesday, Sept. 30, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
Stars have no choice but to believe after gut-wrenching OT loss in Game 4 – Sportsnet.ca
EDMONTON — It was what so many Game 4s turn out to be. The fact was, the Tampa Bay Lightning could lose and still win the series. The Dallas Stars could not.
If the Stars couldn’t turn this Stanley Cup their way in Game 4 on Friday, in a game that meant everything to their Cup dreams, then they wouldn’t be able to turn it at all.
You can’t lose three of four against a team like Tampa, look yourself in the mirror the next day and say, “you’re going to beat the Lightning three games in a row,” and believe the guy talking to you.
Well, that’s where the Stars find themselves after a game in which everyone played as hard as they could play — they scored four times, yet lost 5-4 on a Kevin Shattenkirk power-play goal in overtime.
“I think we’ve got more,” said a defiant Tyler Seguin, who was simply fantastic for the full 66:34. “We would have won if we got everything out of everybody.
“I believe in the team, believe in the boys. We’ve got another level here.”
What choice does he have? What choice do any of them have?
“We’ll bounce back,” said head coach Rick Bowness, roughly 20 hours before puck drop in Game 5 on a rare set of back-to-back games in this COVID Cup. “I have full faith in our hockey club. We will fight back. We will bounce back and we’re going to play (Saturday) like we played tonight.”
This was, undoubtedly, a fine effort wasted by Dallas. Perhaps their finest in this Final.
On how many nights are they going to pin a minus-3 on stud defenceman Victor Hedman? Or pump three of their first nine shots past annual Vezina candidate Andrei Vasilevskiy?
How many more times can the Stars ask 36-year-old Joe Pavelski for two goals? Or get as stunning an effort by Seguin, who had two assists, three shots on goal and was an amazing 70 per cent in the circle?
“That’s his best game of the playoffs,” Bowness said of Seguin, whose lack of production has been rightly criticized up ’til now.
As playoff games go, this surely was not one of those nights when you walk out of the rink wondering who officiated the game, as the zebra tandem of Kelly Sutherland and Francis Charron had a bit of an adventure for three periods and overtime.
The pair missed some calls on Tampa early, including an inadvertent trip by Tyler Johnson that sent Roope Hintz into the boards so hard that he did not return. Then, with 29 seconds left in regulation, Corey Perry jabbed his stick into Brayden Point’s private parts, and somehow Sutherland called Perry for interference and Point for embellishment.
Seguin drew a legit penalty early in OT when he drove the net for a scoring chance, and the Lightning managed to kill a lengthy 4-on-3 and the remaining 5-on-4 disadvantage. Then Benn got a tad overzealous in a battle with Johnson 5:10 in overtime, and he gave Charron a chance to raise his arm.
Shattenkirk would score on the ensuing power play, and that might just be it for the Stars, who went down with their captain in the box.
“I see it. It’s in front of Kelly (Sutherland),” replayed Pavelski. “He’s got a great look at it, and the back ref (Charron) calls it.
“I don’t have a ton of time for a play where Tyler Johnson steps in front of Jamie Benn and has no real effect on the play,” the veteran continued. “There’s a battle going on there. It’s playoffs. It’s overtime. We expect 5-on-5, to battle it out.”
You hear it every year. All a hockey player asks for is a chance to decide it for themselves, but by taking the penalty, perhaps that’s exactly what Benn did.
“The players want to play 5-on-5 and let’s see what happens. The players are right,” said a disappointed Bowness. “I saw two guys going after a loose puck. Their guy hooking our guy and our guy trying to fight through the hook. That’s a hockey play. Two guys, in the playoffs, going for a loose puck.”
What Bowness also saw was his own power-play unit with a chance to end the game earlier in OT, and it failed.
“We had the 4-on-3. You have to put the puck in the net — simple as that,” he admitted. “Our power play had a chance to end the game and they didn’t get it done.”
They didn’t get it done.
Every year, whether in spring or fall, we say that about one of the teams fortunate enough to make it this far.
The guy in the Stars’ mirror Saturday morning is telling them they can still get it done. That being down 3-1 to the Tampa Bay Lightning isn’t a death sentence.
It says here, fat chance.
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