The 2020 Stanley Cup Final stage is finally set as the Dallas Stars will square off with Tampa Bay Lightning.
Both teams enter the series-winning their respective series in overtime. With the Lightning defeating the New York Islanders in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final on Thursday night. While the Stars defeated the Vegas Golden Knights in the Western Conference in five games back on Monday night.
The Lightning are back in the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 2015. While the Stars are making their first appearance in the Stanley Cup Final since 2000. This will be a battle between two hard-working teams that do not quit on their systems. Tampa Bay is coming in playing a lot of hockey, especially in overtime. While the Dallas Stars enter the series with four days off and rested. Who will have the edge? The team that was extended to six games or the team that ended their series early? Time to preview the 2020 Stanley Cup Final between the Dallas Stars and Tampa Bay Lightning.
2020 Stanley Cup Final Preview: Dallas Stars vs Tampa Bay Lightning
Battle Between the Pipes
Had the Dallas Stars made it to the 2020 Stanley Cup Final, one of the storylines would have been about Ben Bishop facing his former team in the Tampa Bay Lightning. However, that is not the case. With Bishop still unfit to play, the man tasked with going up against Andrei Vasilevskiy is Anton Khudobin. The Stars are not in this position if they do not have Khudobin in the net. Plain and simple. Through three rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Khudobin has put himself in the Conn Smythe Trophy race for the way he has played. The “Russian Machine” dubbed by his teammates has a 2.62 goals-against average and .920 save percentage in 19 games this post-season. This includes 18 starts. Those are solid numbers for a guy that was supposed to be the backup to Bishop entering the playoffs.
Khudobin continues to do everything in his power to keep the Stars in games. Especially when they were getting badly outshot. He is calm and cool in the net and allowing his team to go down to the other end of the ice and score timely goals to tie or win hockey games. Just look at the last three games against the Golden Knights in the Western Conference Final. Khudobin was the main reason why the Stars were able to win those games. Especially Game 5 when Vegas was up 2-0 early in the third period. Khudobin will have to continue to play well between the pipes. The guy he is squaring off with has a Vezina Trophy to his name.
Throughout the playoffs, Khudobin has not gotten the edge in net. It will be the same in the Stanley Cup Final. Just looking at performances and past numbers Andrei Vasilevskiy has a slight edge. In 19 starts this post-season Vasilevskiy has a 1.81 goals-against average and .931 save percentage. Those numbers are outstanding. He is also in consideration for the Conn Smythe Trophy. Vasilevskiy has been in this position before and has tasted Stanley Cup Finals action back in 2015 filling in for Bishop. But now both guys enter the series as the starter. Vasilevskiy just does not give up that bad goal that hurts a team. Khudobin is more susceptible to do that. It will be interesting to see how this battle plays out.
High Skilled Offence Versus Hard Nose Defence
For the third time this playoff season, the Lightning are going up against a team that leans heavily on defence. While the Stars can score goals as we have seen in the playoffs, they rely on defence to win games. Just look at their previous series against the Golden Knights. The Stars were able to lock it down defensively and made games very low scoring. Though they can adapt to a roller or street hockey style. But what head coach Rick Bowness wants his team to do is lock down that neutral zone and slow the game down. In addition to playing great defence, they rely on Khudobin a lot more than they should. But with the Lightning learning lessons the hard way and not quitting on their system, the Stars just can’t always play prevent defence.
Since being eliminated by the Columbus Blue Jackets last year in the first round of the playoffs, the Lightning have adapted to playing a harder nose game. As we have seen this postseason, the Lightning are not looking to cheat as much. They are keeping with their system, staying patient and pouncing when the time is right. Adding players like Barclay Goodrow and Blake Coleman has really added an edge to this Lightning team. Pairing them with Yanni Gourde has given the Lightning a very relentless third line. In close games this season, the Lightning are not afraid to dig in and grind to get that winning goal. This Stanley Cup Final will be won in the trenches as the two top lines will cancel each other out.
Battle On The Backend
One of the more intriguing matchups is the battle on defence between Victor Hedman and Miro Heiskanen and John Klingberg. Both Hedman and Heiskanen have played themselves into the discussion for the Conn Smythe Trophy. Heiskanen leads all defenceman in points (22) and assists (17). Everything Dallas does runs through Heiskanen. He makes the offence run from the backend. He means everything to the Stars and makes his teammates better. As we have seen throughout the playoffs as guys like Esa Lindell and Jamie Oleksiak are stepping up to provide offence as well. The Tampa Bay forecheck will need to keep the Stars defence in line because if they let Heiskanen loose, things go could downhill quickly.
On the flip side, the Lightning are a completely different team when Hedman is not in the lineup. Like Heiskanen, Hedman makes everything go defensively for the Lightning. When he is not himself, the Lightning are off. That is why he has become so valuable for the Lightning this season. Having a fully healthy Victor Hedman has allowed Tampa Bay to achieve their full potential. Plus when they need him to provide an offensive spark he does. Hedman leads all defenceman in goals with nine. A nominee for the Norris Trophy, Hedman is showing that while the young kids are getting the attention, he can still get it done because his game is so sound. This will be an interesting matchup to watch for sure.
We know both teams have very good top lines with the Stars being led by Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, and Alexander Radulov. While the Lightning are led by Brayden Point, Nikita Kucherov, and Ondrej Palat. These two lines will cancel each other out. The series will come down to which depth guys can score the big goals. We know for Dallas Denis Gurianov and Joel Kiviranta can come up with the goods. Then there is Joe Pavelski who is looking for that first Stanley Cup win. And what about Corey Perry? He knows what it takes to win. On the other side, the Lightning have that third line but don’t count out Alex Killorn, Tyler Johnson, and Anthony Cirelli to get big goals. And where does Steven Stamkos fit into all of this? Could he make an appearance if he does, he makes the Lightning even better.
On paper, the Lightning are the better team. However, both teams feel destined to win the Stanley Cup this year. Game 1 of the 2020 Stanley Cup gets underway Saturday night at 7:30 pm.
Prediction: Lightning in six
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