Photo: Scott Audette/Getty Images
The Tampa Bay Lightning, the second seed in the Eastern Conference, will face the Dallas Stars, the third in the Western Conference, in the 2020 Stanley Cup Final with Game 1 from Rogers Place in Edmonton on Saturday night (7:30 PM ET, NBC). This will be the first time the two teams have met in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
After going 2-1-0 in the round-robin tournament, the Lightning got past the Columbus Blue Jackets (first round) and Boston Bruins (second) each in five games before defeating the New York Islanders in six games in the Eastern Conference Final. The Stars, who went 1-2-0 in the round-robin, defeated the Calgary Flames in six games in their first-round series, the Colorado Avalanche in seven in the second round, and the Vegas Golden Knights in five in the Western Conference Final.
Regular-Season Series Recap
The Stars took both meetings in overtime, the first by a score of 4-3 on December 19 at Amalie Arena in Tampa despite trailing 3-1 in the second period of that game and the second 3-2 in Dallas on January 27.
Stanley Cup Playoff Team Leaders
Goals – Fs Denis Gurianov/Joe Pavelski (nine)
Assists – D Miro Heiskanen (17)
Points – Heiskanen (22)
Plus-Minus – D Jamie Oleksiak/F Joel Kiviranta (+5)
Goals – C Brayden Point/D Victor Hedman (nine)
Assists – F Nikita Kucherov (20)
Points – Kucherov (26)
Plus-Minus – Hedman (+19)
Stanley Cup Playoff Team Stats
Goals-Per-Game: Lightning – 3.11 (fourth) Stars – 2.95 (seventh)
Goals-Against Per Game: Lightning – 2.21 (third) Stars – 3.05 (16th)
Power Play: Lightning – 17.9% (T-11th) Stars – 27.3% (fifth)
Penalty Kill: Lightning – 83.6% (eighth) Stars – 83.3% (T-ninth)
Shots-Per-Game: Lightning – 35.5 (fifth) Stars – 30.7 (12th)
Shots-Against Per Game: Lightning – 30.7 (12th) Stars – 33.1 (19th)
Stanley Cup Playoff Advanced Stats
Corsi-for Percentage: Lightning — 55.59% (fourth) Stars — 47.96% (16th)
Expected Goals-For Percentage: Lightning — 57.3% (fourth) Stars — 49.18% (13th)
Scoring Chances-For Percentage: Lightning — 54.67% (seventh) Stars — 50.58% (13th)
Team Save Percentage: Lightning — .9409% (fifth) Stars — 91.8% (15th)
PDO: Lightning — 1.022 (fourth) Stars — 1.003 (11th)
G Andrei Vasilevskiy (Lightning) – The Stars’ offense has gone from 26th in goals-per-game during the regular season (2.58) to seventh in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, suggesting they have been outperforming their expectations. If Vasilevskiy plays like the Vezina Trophy finalist he has been in each of the past three seasons, the Stars are going to have a challenging time scoring goals, which will force them to defend against a high-octane Lightning offense – not a recipe for success. Vasilevskiy has recorded a 14-5-0 record, a .931 save percentage, and a 1.82 goals-against average during the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He will also go head-to-head against one of the best goalie tandems in the NHL from the regular season as Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin combined for a .933, second in the league.
C Tyler Seguin (Stars) – The Stars have had many players’ goal total increase in the Stanley Cup Playoffs compared to the regular season. However, the 28-year-old is one of the few exceptions as he has recorded just two goals, eight points, and a -2 rating in 20 games since the resumption of play. Going against the NHL’s top-scoring team for each of the past three seasons, the Stars cannot afford Seguin’s production to be as dry as it has been through the first three rounds.
Vasilevskiy (Lightning) – The 26-year-old has posted a .941 save percentage, a 1.51 goals-against average, 6.64 goals-saved above average, a .836 high-danger save percentage, and a 0.46 high-danger goals-saved above average at five-on-five in the Stanley Cup Playoffs leading into the Final. In eight career regular-season games against the Stars, Vasilevskiy has posted a 5-0-3 record, a .924 save percentage, a 2.33 goals-against average, and two shutouts. He posted an .873 save percentage and a 3.37 goals-against average in the Lightning’s two losses to the Stars during the regular season. He went 35-14-3 (led NHL in wins) with a .917 save percentage, a 2.56 goals-against average, and three shutouts in the regular season.
Khudobin (Stars) – As Bishop has been unfit to play for most of the tournament, the 34-year-old had played 19 games during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, going 12-6-0 with a .920 save percentage, a 2.62 goals-against average, and one shutout. He has recorded a .928 save percentage, a 2.19 goals-against average, a 0.77 goals-saved above average, a .872 high-danger save percentage, and a 1.09 high-danger goals-against average since the NHL restart. In six regular-season career games against the Lightning, he is 3-3-0 with an .899 save percentage and a 3.02 goals-against average. Khudobin went 16-8-4 with a league-leading .930 save percentage, a 2.22 goals-against average (third), and no shutouts during the regular season.
Projected Game 1 Lineups
Ondrej Palat — Anthony Cirelli — Kucherov
Alex Killorn — Yanni Gourde — Blake Coleman
Barclay Goodrow — Cedric Paquette — Tyler Johnson
Pat Maroon — Carter Verhaeghe
Hedman — Kevin Shattenkirk
Ryan McDonagh — Zach Bogosian
Mikhail Sergachev — Erik Cernak
Unfit to play: Point, D Jan Rutta, F Steven Stamkos
Jamie Benn — Seguin — Alexander Radulov
Mattias Janmark — Pavelski — Gurianov
Kiviranta — Roope Hintz — Corey Perry
Andrew Cogliano — Jason Dickinson — Blake Comeau
Esa Lindell — Klingberg
Oleksiak — Heiskanen
Andrej Sekera — Joel Hanley
Unfit to play: Bishop, D Stephen Johns, C Radek Faksa
Lightning’s Keys To The Series
- Flex The Scoring Power: Even though the Stars have shined offensively in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, they were 28th with a 2.56 goals-per-game average over the past two regular seasons in a much larger sample size. The only three teams that were worse did not qualify in either of the two seasons. Meanwhile, the Lightning were first in goals-per-game in each of them and have more depth and firepower offensively.
- Figure Out The Man Advantage: Despite all of their firepower up front, the Lightning are in the middle of the pack on the power-play. Even though Stamkos has not played since the NHL’s return to play, the team should have more than enough reinforcements among the NHL’s best. The power-play will be pivotal for the Lightning against a Stars team that has been in the top-two in defense in consecutive seasons. Even though the Stars’ penalty-killing unit has underperformed since the restart, you cannot discount a strong defensive team like they are, especially with players like Kucherov, Point, Hedman, and Cirelli on their power-play.
- Physicality: The Lightning have spent the past year making their roster more physical with the free-agent signings of Maroon, Bogosian, and Schenn and the trade acquisitions of Coleman and Goodrow after the St. Louis Blues won the Stanley Cup in 2019, and the Blue Jackets swept them in the first round because of their size. As a result of the acquisitions, the team is fifth in the NHL with an average of 38.62 hits-per-60 in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. However, the Stars are first with an average of 40.8. The Lightning will have to be even more physical against a big Stars team, which will be intriguing to watch throughout the final.
Stars’ Keys To The Series
- Stick To Identity: The Stars have found success in the past two seasons with a robust defensive system, and that must continue against a well-balanced and potent offensive team like the Lightning. They have gotten away from that a little bit during the postseason, but their increased offensive production has helped the Stars overcome the disappointing defensive play. To beat a team like the Lightning, the Stars must instill that solid defensive structure since they are most likely not going to beat them in an offensive track meet.
- Get The Big Guns Rolling: While the Stars have gotten some significant contributions from their secondary goal-scorers, Seguin and Hintz, the Stars’ top-two centers each have only two goals. If they are going to stand a chance to defeat the Lightning, the two have to get going offensively because they are deeper than the Stars offensively, which means when their secondary scoring dries up, Seguin and Hintz must step up. If that does not happen, it spells trouble for the Stars.
- Discipline: In addition to facing the Lightning’s deadly power-play, the Stars’ -13 goal-differential while shorthanded is the worst among the 24 teams that participated in the NHL’s return-to-play plan. Their 6:28 shorthanded time-on-ice per game is fourth-most among the final 16 teams. Even though the Lightning’s power-play is underperforming, this is still in NHL’s most deadly offense three years in the running. The more that Khudobin is tested, the better the chances are that the Lightning crack him, which cannot happen for the Stars to win the Cup.
Stanley Cup Final Experience
Nine (Kucherov, Hedman, Stamkos, Palat, Johnson, Coburn, Killorn, Paquette, and Vasilevskiy) players remain from the 2015 Lightning team that lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Final. Also, McDonagh (2014 with New York Rangers) and Maroon (2019 with Blues) have both made the final in their respective careers. Maroon is the only Lightning player to have won it all. Stamkos has not played since February 25 due to two different injuries and will not play in Game 1 on Saturday.
Only Perry (2007 with Anaheim Ducks), Pavelski (2016 with San Jose Sharks), and Bishop (2015 with Lightning) have made the Stanley Cup Final in their respective careers, with Perry the only one having won it all.
Prediction: Lightning in 7
By Harrison Brown