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Around the NHL: Stars Advance to Final, Laviolette Joins Capitals

By Kevin Durso, Sports Talk Philly editor 

Three teams remain in the bubble for the NHL as one team has punched their ticket to the Stanley Cup Final.

The Dallas Stars get the chance to play for the Stanley Cup after completing a series win against the Vegas Golden Knights in five games with a 3-2 overtime win on Monday night.

More on the close of the Western Conference Final, an update on the East and a new coaching hire in the Metropolitan Division.

Stars Power Their Way into Cup Final

For the fifth game of the series, it seemed like Vegas was going to be poised to pull out a victory, generating a lot of shots and capitalizing on a couple of chances, notably Reilly Smith’s goal 15 seconds into the third period to open up a 2-0 lead.

The Stars did not go quietly, and rallied back, first getting a goal from captain Jamie Benn with 10:06 left in the third. Then with 5:24 to play, the Stars got their chance, a tripping penalty on Alex Tuch.

Dallas had just one power-play goal in the series to that point, but cashed in as Joel Kiviranta roofed a rebound from in tight to tie the game with 3:47 remaining in the period to set up overtime.

Just 2:15 into overtime, the Stars got their chance again as Zach Whitecloud cleared the puck out of play for a delay of game penalty. With Vegas on the penalty kill, Paul Stastny’s stick snapped blocking a shot, leaving the Golden Knights scrambling to cover. The Stars cycled the puck around the perimeter from Corey Perry to Roope Hintz to John Klingberg at center point to Denis Gurianov waiting at the right circle for the one-timer. The blast beat Robin Lehner to give the Stars the 3-2 come-from-behind overtime win and the series.

The Stars became Western Conference champions and advanced to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 2000 when they were defeated in six games by the New Jersey Devils. The Stars have won the Stanley Cup once in franchise history in 1999.

Lightning on Brink of Reaching Final

Tuesday night, the Stars may very well learn of their opponent for the Stanley Cup Final. The Tampa Bay Lightning emerged victorious in Game 4 on Sunday afternoon, 4-1, over the New York Islanders, taking a 3-1 series lead in the process.

With the exception of a Game 1 shellacking by a score of 8-2, the series has actually been really close throughout. Game 2 came down to a lack of execution on special teams for the Islanders and a last-minute goal by Nikita Kucherov, helping by the Lightning in the driver’s seat with a 2-1 win and a 2-0 series lead. Game 3 featured much more of what the Islanders have shown throughout the playoffs, playing a tighter defensive game and a much more physical style. The Islanders took Game 3 by a score of 5-3 after a late goal by Brock Nelson put them back in front after a 3-1 lead slipped away.

But the Lightning had to endure Game 2 and 3 without two key forwards. Alex Killorn exited Game 2 early with a major penalty and was suspended for Game 3. Brayden Point played very little following the first period of Game 2 and missed Game 3. Both were back on the ice for Game 4, but it was Point that really contributed with a goal and an assist. While it’s clear Point is ailing - following his goal early in the third, he seldom played - the Lightning have displayed an ability to step up and fill the void. 

After the Islanders and Lightning exchanged goals quickly in the second - the first by the Islanders and then two from the Lightning in a matter of 27 seconds - Point’s goal early in the third proved to be the dagger for the Islanders.

Now the Islanders find themselves in the opposite position as their last series, trailing 3-1 in a series with their playoff lives on the line. Is it Tampa’s time or do the Islanders still have something left for a team that was widely predicted to reach the Final?

Laviolette Hired by Washington

Tuesday morning brought some coaching news. Peter Laviolette, formerly the coach of the Nashville Predators, Philadelphia Flyers, Carolina Hurricanes and New York Islanders, has been hired to be the new head coach of the Washington Capitals

Laviolette brings a very esteemed resume to the Capitals. He has reached the Stanley Cup Final with three of the four previous teams he has coached, winning in 2006 with the Hurricanes and coming up short with the Flyers in 2010 and Predators in 2017. Laviolette also ranks 16th all-time in coaching wins in NHL history with 637.

The Capitals fired head coach Todd Reirden following a five-game series loss to the Islanders in the first round of the playoffs. Reirden has since joined the Pittsburgh Penguins as an assistant coach.

A quick glance around the Metropolitan Division at the men behind the bench might as well be a look at hockey royalty. It is arguably the most accomplished group of coaches in one division in NHL history. And it has come together relatively quickly and recently.

Of the eight teams in the Metro, six have made a coaching hire within the last two seasons. Laviolette with Washington and Lindy Ruff with New Jersey are the newest additions during the 2020 offseason. Ruff ranks sixth all-time in coaching wins with 736.

Last offseason, the Flyers hired Alain Vigneault, who ranks 10th all-time in coaching wins with 689. Vigneault helped the Flyers to their first playoff series win in eight seasons in 2019-20.

Two offseasons ago, three other teams made coaching changes. The New York Rangers brought in David Quinn, who has a 69-64-19 record over the two seasons and helped the Rangers be one of the 12 teams in the Eastern Conference in the playoffs this season. 

The Carolina Hurricanes turned over coaching duties to former captain Rod Brind’Amour. Brind’Amour has made a lot of noise as a head coach, posting a strong 84-54-12 record in his first two seasons behind the bench, reaching the playoffs in both seasons and reaching the Eastern Conference Final in the 2018-19 season.

The New York Islanders went with veteran leadership behind the bench and hired Barry Trotz after the 2017-18 season, a year where he won a Stanley Cup with the Washington Capitals. Trotz has an 83-50-17 record in two seasons with the Islanders, reaching the playoffs in both years and the conference finals this season. Trotz also is at 845 career coaching wins, ranking fourth all-time.

Then there are the two longest-tenured coaches in the division, both having a history. John Tortorella took over early in the 2015-16 season for Columbus and Mike Sullivan, one of Tortorella’s former assistants, took over mid-season in Pittsburgh. 

In five seasons in Columbus, Tortorella has a 209-140-42 record with four playoff appearances. His 655 career coaching wins rank 14th all-time and he has a Stanley Cup title from 2004 with Tampa Bay.

Sullivan, also five seasons into his time with Pittsburgh, has a 214-115-40 record with five playoff appearances, including two Stanley Cup championships.

Collectively, the head coaches in the Metro are one regular-season win shy of 4,000 and have five Stanley Cup titles. That’s quite a resume indeed.

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