The NHL’s final four teams will all be based out of Edmonton, Alberta from now until the end of the Stanley Cup Playoffs after the quarterfinals were all completed on Labour Day weekend. The New York Islanders shut out the Philadelphia Flyers 4-0 in game seven of their series on Saturday night after the Dallas Stars edged the Colorado Avalanche 5-4 in overtime and the Vegas Golden Knights blanked the Vancouver Canucks 3-0 in their respective game sevens on Friday.
The Tampa Bay Lightning had already taken care of the Boston Bruins in five games earlier in the week. The Eastern Conference clubs, which played the qualifying series and first two rounds of the postseason in Toronto since July 27th, now head west to compete at Rogers Place in Edmonton. The Western Conference Final features Vegas vs Dallas while the Eastern Final pits Tampa against the Islanders.
When it comes to the starting goalies, it appears Robin Lehner will get the nod over Marc-Andre Fleury for Vegas while Anton Khudobin will start for Dallas. Khudobin has taken over in net for the Stars as Ben Bishop has been Ben Bishop listed as unfit to play for the team in 10 of the last 11 games. Bishop started the fifth game of the series against Colorado but was pulled after conceding four goals on 19 shots before 14 minutes had elapsed in the contest. Bishop was then listed as unfit to play for the final two encounters of the series.
So far, Khudobin has compiled an 8-5 record in the playoffs with a 90.9 save percentage and a goals-against average of 2.94. It’s still unknown if Bishop will be healthy enough to play against Vegas but if he is, fans may see head coach Rick Bowness start him again since he’s still considered to be the team’s number one netminder.
One of the hottest players entering the semi-finals is blue liner Miro Heiskanen of Dallas as he’s riding an eight-game scoring streak of two goals and 10 assists to set a franchise playoff record for a defenceman. Heiskanen has racked up five goals and 16 helpers for 21 points in 16 postseason outings so far. Just seven rearguards have managed to reach 20 points in fewer playoff contests in NHL history with these being Paul Coffey, Bobby Orr, Brian Leetch, Ray Bourque, Al MacInnis,Denis Potvin and Larry Robinson. All seven are in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
In Vegas, Lehner has taken over as the top goalie from Fleury but Fleury has played a few games in the playoffs this season. Lehner’s record so far stands at 8-4 with a 91.8 save percentage with a 1.99 goals -against average and three shutouts while Fleury has gone 3-0 with an 89.3 save percentage to accompany his 2.67 goals-against average.
Both Dallas and Vegas replaced their head coaches during the season with Rick Bowness taking over the Stars on Dec. 10th when Jim Montgomery was let go and Peter DeBoer getting the job in Vegas on Jan. 15th to take over from the fired Gerard Gallant. Bowness coached in a conference final 28 years ago when he was behind the bench with Boston while this is DeBoer’s third conference final after guiding the New Jersey Devils to the Stanley Cup Final in 2012 and the San Jose Sharks in 2016 with both teams losing in six outings.
In the East, Tampa’s win over Boston came early enough to give the team an extra five days of rest. This could turn out to be beneficial or it may be too long of a layoff. However, in Tampa’s case the rest may have done more good than harm since the club played a total of nine overtime periods in the first two series for a total of 134:29 extra minutes. They technically eliminated the Bruins and Columbus Blue Jackets in 10 games but in reality played the equivalent of 12 games.
On the injury front, Tampa winger Nikita Kucherov should be ready to play after being injured in the fifth game against Boston and center Steven Stamkos may make his first appearance of the playoffs against the Islanders.
For the Islanders, this is the first time since 1993 they have reached a conference final and they haven’t been to the Stanley Cup Final since 1984. The team has used both Thomas Greiss and Semyon Varlamov in net this postseason with Greiss starting just twice and posting a shutout. Varlamov has started the other 14 encounters with a 9-4 record, a 92.1 save percentage, a 2.00 goals-against average and two shutouts.
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