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Around the NHL: Lightning Reach Stanley Cup Final with OT Win

By Kevin Durso, Sports Talk Philly editor 

The Stanley Cup Final is set. Two teams remain in the Edmonton bubble with a chance to capture the Stanley Cup.

The Tampa Bay Lightning advanced to the Stanley Cup Final on Thursday night with a 2-1 win in overtime over the New York Islanders in Game 6, claiming the series, 4-2.

More on the Lightning’s Game 6 win, a look at the Stanley Cup Final schedule and news of an interesting trade from this week in our look around the NHL.

Cirelli Plays Hero for Lightning in Game 6 Clincher

It was starting to feel like a carbon copy of the Flyers series with the Islanders. Following a Game 5 overtime win on a goal by Jordan Eberle, the Islanders were locked in a 1-1 game with the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 6, once again heading to sudden death.

The Lightning had 23 seconds of power-play time at the end of the third period and started overtime with 3:37 on the man-advantage and failed to score. The Islanders got a power play midway through overtime and never got set up.

At 13:18 of overtime, Anthony Cirelli was the hero, taking a shot from in close that hit off the post, rolled along the goal line and crossed when it hit off the pad of Semyon Varlamov to give the Lightning the 2-1 win, advancing them to the Stanley Cup Final.

Cirelli’s goal came on Tampa’s 48th shot of the game, as Varlamov did everything he could to force a Game 7, falling just short with 46 saves. 

Devon Toews opened the scoring for the Islanders in Game 6 at 4:15 of the first period, scoring on a wraparound on the Islanders first shot of the game. They finished the game with 27 total and Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped the final 26 that came his way, including a shorthanded breakaway chance for Brock Nelson in overtime.

Just over two minutes after Toews got the Islanders on the board, Victor Hedman tied the game back up by cleaning up a rebound in the slot for his ninth goal of the playoffs.

Stanley Cup Final Schedule Set

Things have moved quickly in the bubble from series to series and it will be no different with the Stanley Cup Final.

Game 1 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final will be on Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. Game 2 will be on Monday, Game 3 will be on Wednesday followed by Games 4 and 5 on back-to-back nights on Friday, Sept. 25 and Saturday, Sept. 26. The series will conclude with Game 6 on Monday, Sept. 28 and Game 7 on Wednesday, Sept. 30. Games 2 through 7 will all be at 8 p.m.

Notable on the schedule is the possible completion date should the series between the Lightning and Dallas Stars go the distance. At the latest, the Stanley Cup will be awarded on the final day of September.

When the NHL made its return with the Round Robin and qualifying round games, they began on Aug. 1. In a span of two months, possibly less depending on the length of the Final, the NHL will have completed the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Considering the landscape of sports and the world as a whole five months ago, that’s certainly impressive.

Buffalo-Minnesota Make Interesting Player-for-Player Swap

It’s sure to be an interesting offseason with the flat salary cap, and we saw one example of how teams will try to make changes to their rosters this offseason with limited resources. On Wednesday, the Buffalo Sabres and Minnesota Wild made a trade that involved one player from each side changing teams, no picks, no retained salary, just a straight-up player-for-player deal.

Veteran center Eric Staal was traded by the Minnesota Wild to the Sabres in exchange for forward Marcus Johansson.

Staal, who turns 36 at the end of October, just completed his fourth season with the Wild, scoring 19 goals and 47 points in 66 games in the regular season. Staal had a resurgence in his career early in his time in Minnesota, scoring 28 goals in his first season and 42 in his second season. The 42 goals were the second-highest total in a single season in his career, falling short of the 45 goals he scored in his second NHL season in 2005-06 when he helped lead the Carolina Hurricanes to a Stanley Cup title.

Staal is expected to bring a veteran presence to the forward group on the Sabres, while still being capable of providing reasonable offensive production.

Johansson, who turns 30 in early October, struggled over the year he spent in Buffalo. After being traded by the Washington Capitals following the 2016-17 season, Johansson joined the New Jersey Devils and was off to a solid start in his first season when a pair of concussions shortened his season at 29 games with five goals and 14 points. In the next season with New Jersey, Johansson scored 12 goals and had 27 points in 48 games before being traded to the Boston Bruins at the trade deadline, where he scored one goal and had three points in 10 games. He also had four goals and 11 points in 22 playoff games as the Bruins came up just short of the Stanley Cup.

Johansson then signed in Buffalo as a free agent ahead of the 2019-20 season and scored just nine goals and 30 points in 60 games in his only season there. 

Both Johansson and Staal have one year remaining on their contracts before becoming free agents. Johansson’s cap hit is $4.5 million, $1.25 million more than Staal’s.

Could this be the first of many trades of this style in the offseason? With the flat cap sure to have an impact on several teams, you could see a lot of players on the move through trades instead of the free agency route this offseason.

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