What’s one thing that the Flames, Avalanche and Golden Knights upper management are probably saying to themselves ahead of crucial and perhaps, months of an NHL offseason upcoming? It’s got to be, at least a little bit, how can we be a little like the Dallas Stars?

They’ve been a menacingly difficult team to figure out. Versus Calgary they scored 21 goals and held a +30 shot-differential in a six-game series that went beyond regulation once. In a seven-game meeting with Colorado, the Stars were outshot and outscored and ultimately lost a 3-1 series lead, but managed to tie the game thrice in regulation before Joel Kiviranta ended the series in OT–a hat trick effort. Vegas, who to date, is the stingiest of teams to play this deep into September, allowed just 25 goals in 12 games versus Dallas’ 46 allowed in 13. And though neither side surrendered all that much, it was the timelier team that managed a four one-goal games to advance to the Final.

And now, Tampa, who has changed found themselves a bit more conservative this postseason as well, is finding out just how frustrating the Stars can be. Pre-pause backup-turned-postseason starting netminder, Anton Khudobin stopped 35 Lightning shots on Saturday while the Stars fired 20 shots from 12 skaters, but beat Andrei Vasilesvskiy with three of them before sealing the game with an empty-netter.

“I don’t think we were surprised by it,” Ryan McDonagh said. “But we need to play at a higher pace and a higher-tempo. Expect us to be better in that aspect at the start of game two.”

Yanni Gourde, Tampa’s lone goal-scorer in the Final opener, has six goals and 13 points through 20 postseason games, spoke about the frustrating style of Dallas.

“They were right on top of us from the get-go,” Gourde said. “We have to adjust and do a better job.”

Jon Cooper, who like a good portion of his team, is getting another crack at a Cup, after making a run to the Final in 2014-15 before falling in six games to the Blackhawks, didn’t exactly care for the poor start to be attributed to the so-called “feeling out process” of teams that haven’t met since a Jan. 27 regular season game.

“We made some errors,” the Lightning head coach said. “We just make a poor judgement error going into a corner to defend a player on a hit and now all of a sudden, we’re out of position. I don’t know what the shots were in that period (first), but there wasn’t a whole lot of chances either way.

“They capitalized in situations I think we can be better. Good on them, that’s what you have to do if you want to win. I’m sure they’re going to look at the tape and go ‘Holy Cow, we got away with that?”

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NHL Commissioner, Gary Bettman and Deputy Commissioner, Bill Daly addressed the media via video conference prior to the start of the Final’s opening game. And while there are some definitive dates including the latest the Cup can be awarded (Sept. 30), the NHL Entry Draft (Oct. 6-7) and the opening of free agency (Noon EST. on Oct. 9), there is nothing at all definitive about the start of the 2020-21 regular season.

“Anything that anybody suggests or reads or writes or commentates about next season is nothing more than speculation,” Bettman said. “We’re still focused on getting through the 19-20 season. Obviously, we’ve started informally thinking about what optionality is. December 1 has always been a notional date. I wouldn’t be surprised if it slips into later December–it could slip into January. There’s no point right now in making any definitive comments on our playing plans because there’s still too much we don’t know.”

Among the reasons cited by the Commish includes the status of COVID-19 as we begin to enter the fall and winter seasons with no real idea of the virus during these times as well as the pressing issue of the Canadian-U.S. boarder opening. There’s also the issue of determining if NHL arenas will be able to have fans inside in any kind of capacity. Still, he offered confidence that the 31 current team ownerships will be able to get through the significant loss stemming from the pandemic and revenue loss.

“The only good news in all of this is the ownership of the 31 and soon-to-be 32 NHL franchises has never been stronger and healthier and while nobody has any revenue coming in right now and owners are writing checks to cover overhead costs and expenses, our franchises will get through this and come out stronger on the other end. Yes, there will be a revenue hit. It’s no secret that attendance directly and indirectly impacts at least 50 per cent of our revenues and on whatever basis we may or may not be able to have fans in our buildings, which by the way as (Daly) indicated, is something that’s well beyond our control in terms of local government regulations, that will determine how much the shortfall is off of where we were and off of where we were projecting.”

One thing also noted was that whenever normal is back to that, the NHL will resume its access to the media, though the use of more virtual tools, which has enabled coverage to smaller publications and European-based media, who did not have to incur the necessary expenses related to travel costs, has been a learning opportunity as well.

“I think that actually, we’ve learned a lot,” Daly said. “The Zoom calls have been great. I don’t suggest that that’s the way we’ll go in the future, but certainly there are lessons learned and things that we can incorporate in our future protocols that will be very helpful.”

 

About The Author

Mad about being born into a Mets household during the Yankees dynasty, Neal McHale turned to something different after the 2000 World Series. He got NHL 2001 as a gift and it helped pioneer a hockey love affair. His first sportswriting gig was covering the historically-gritty Big East Conference. Since 2015, he's been with Inside Hockey covering the NHL.

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