The Tampa Bay Lightning are teasing us with a potential Steven Stamkos return; could Wednesday’s Game 3 be the night? In the meantime, Tampa Bay has continued its postseason-long trend of rebounding after losses (the team is now 6-0 after a loss) to tie the Stanley Cup Final, 1-1.
Meanwhile, the Dallas Stars look to reclaim the lead. To do that, they’ll need to stay out of the penalty box.
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The Stars took six penalties in Game 2, including three in the first 13 minutes, which is not ideal considering the Lightning finally got their mojo back on the power play. “It was an even game until we started taking penalties,” Dallas coach Rick Bowness said on Tuesday. “It’s faceoffs, turnovers and penalties — things you can’t afford to do against an elite team like that.”
The Lightning made lineup adjustments for Game 2, scratching both Zach Bogosian and Luke Schenn to return to a 12-forward, six-defenseman lineup — with Jan Rutta getting his first game action in six weeks, and playing in his second game since Feb. 5. “It took me a couple shifts to get into rhythm, but I think as the game went on, my game got better,” Rutta said.
Lightning coach Jon Cooper generally doesn’t disclose lineup decisions, so we’ll know if he’s sticking with the same group by warm-ups. For Bogosian and Schenn, Cooper said one scratch was a “coach’s decision” while the other was “unfit to play,” though he declined to elaborate on which player held what designation.
Question of the day: How much is bubble fatigue wearing on these two teams?
In reporting our bubble confidential story that was published on Tuesday, I was surprised at how candid the players were about how isolation since late July has affected their mental health.
“We love playing this sport, and I don’t think there is one guy who wasn’t appreciative for the chance to win the Cup this summer,” one Western Conference player said. “But also, I don’t think a lot of fans realize what an emotional toll the bubble took on some guys — the isolation, the grind, being away from our families and loved ones during a really stressful time to begin with. To be honest, after the first few days, I noticed a lot of guys were more down than they usually are. Some guys were legitimately sad. It’s not easy living like that for two months.”
The Stars and Lightning have now been playing longer than any other teams, and the Edmonton bubble specifically doesn’t have the most ideal setup. Both teams are staying at the JW Marriott, which is connected to the arena via a tunnel. That means players can go days without having to set foot outside.
And since the families issue never got sorted out — there are roughly a dozen family members total, all Canadian and living in Canada, who are here for the Final — that brings an extra layer of strain.
On Tuesday, Cooper discussed how the past two months have taken a toll on him personally.
“I missed an anniversary, birthday, another one’s coming up, first day of school, hockey tournaments, my daughter making the swimming team, my other daughter going to her first dance class,” Cooper said. “Where do you want the list to go?”
Of course, players and coaches will say the sacrifice was worth it for the chance to hoist the Stanley Cup. But this is just a quick reminder to show compassion; although they are professional athletes making millions of dollars, they are human too. And the isolation, stress and uncertainty of 2020 hasn’t been easy on anyone.
As Bowness said Tuesday: “I haven’t walked on grass in eight weeks. … We’re all tense. We’re all wired up. You need to take that little break of dinner with your wife and go for a walk outside. … This is tough living, but there’s no place we’d rather be.”
Quote of the day
“That just tells you not enough people are watching us play. The kid’s a dynamic player.” — Dallas coach Rick Bowness on Miro Heiskanen getting snubbed in the Norris Trophy voting. Heiskanen, however, is a Conn Smythe candidate this postseason. The defenseman leads Dallas with 23 points.
Three players to watch in Game 3
With a goal in Game 2, Pavelski became the fourth player in Stanley Cup playoffs history to record 10 goals in a single postseason at age 36 or older. He joins a pretty exclusive club of Hall of Famers: Maurice “Rocket” Richard, Brett Hull and Wayne Gretzky.
Speaking of Conn Smythe, Kucherov is squarely in the race if the Lightning win the Final. The summer’s leading scorer has already set the franchise record for most points in a single postseason (28), and in Game 2, the Lightning had a ridiculous 1.26-to-0.02 expected goals ratio with Kucherov on the ice, according to Natural Stat Trick.
While Heiskanen has garnered most of the media attention this summer, Klingberg is also having a great postseason. The defenseman has three assists in the first two games of the finals, while averaging 22:38 in ice time.
Social post of the day
To hoist the #StanleyCup…
THERE IS A PRICE TO PAY. pic.twitter.com/sTXglOu9kT
— NHL (@NHL) September 22, 2020
The NHL released a new ad campaign promoting the Stanley Cup Final. The one-minute, 10-second video made its rounds on social media on Tuesday — and was immediately critiqued, as many pointed out that the video glorified injuries. The video, coincidentally, came out the same day that TSN premiered a documentary about painkiller addiction and its prevalence among some NHL players.
Madison Koekkoek — who does social media work for Hockey Canada, and whose brother is Blackhawks defenseman Slater Koekkoek — made a particularly poignant statement:
Watching videos of people’s sons, husbands, brothers, Dads suffering in pain doesn’t fire me up one tiny bit. Cringe.
The price to pay is hard work and determination, far more inspiring than injury.
— Madison Koekkoek (@madisonkoekkoek) September 22, 2020