By: Isaac Blank
The NHL restart began with two bubbles and twenty-four teams. Approximately two months later, we are down to two teams in Edmonton who will meet in the 2020 Stanley Cup Finals. The Tampa Bay Lightning will represent the eastern conference and the Dallas Stars will represent the Western conference. Both teams have had hard-fought paths to reach this point. The Lightning came into the bubble as the second seed in the east, and kept that same seed by going 2-1-0 in the round robin tournament. Then, they entered the first round against a popular upset pick, the Columbus Blue Jackets, but managed to finish off Columbus in a five game series that included a five overtime game one. In the second round, the Lightning easily finished off the Bruins in five games. Most recently, the Lightning defeated the Islanders in six hardfought games to reach the Stanley Cup finals. The Stars’ journey to the Stanley Cup finals began with a third place finish in the round robin tournament after going 1-2-0 in three games. The Stars’ first round matchup was with the Calgary Flames, and like the Lightning, they were a popular pick to get upset. However, they were able to prove the doubters wrong and defeat the Flames in six games. Next up for Dallas was the Colorado Avalanche, who they upset in seven games. Finally, the Stars also upset the Vegas Golden Knights in five games to reach the Stanley Cup Finals.
When examining who has the upper hand in the positional groups between these two teams, you can tell that there is a clear favorite to win this series. Starting with the forwards, there is a clear advantage towards the Lightning. They have Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point who lead the NHL in playoff points thus far with twenty-six and twenty-five points respectively. Additionally, there is a chance that their captain, Steven Stamkos, returns, and if he does he will provide even more of an offensive spark to this already stacked lineup. Finally, Tampa Bay’s overall forward depth is better than Dallas. When comparing defense cores this gets very difficult to decide, however, I am going to give the slight edge to the Lightning. This is because the Lightning have better overall defensive depth, including Mikhail Sergachev, Ryan McDonagh, and Kevin Shattenkirk. Additionally, they are led by Norris Trophy nominee Victor Hedman, who has fifteen points this postseason. That said, the Stars do have young stud defenseman Miro Heiskanen, who leads all defensemen this postseason in points with twenty-two, and is fourth overall in playoff points. John Klingberg is also having a great playoffs, with sixteen points. Finally, the goaltending battle absolutely favors the Lightning. While Anton Khudobin has been excellent this postseason, Andrei Vasilevskiy is arguably the best goalie in the league. Khudobin has gone 12-6 with a 2.62 goals against average and a .920 save percentage. Vasilevskiy has gone 14-5 with a 1.82 goals against average and a .931 save percentage.
One last important note to touch on is the Stars’ head coaching situation. Rick Bowness, a beloved coach who has been behind NHL benches for multiple years, was named the interim head coach of the Stars back on December 10, 2019. Bowness replaced former head coach, Jim Montgomery, who was let go due to unprofessional conduct. Not many people expected Dallas to be in this position at this time of year, especially with an interim head coach calling the shots. However, Bowness is here to face Tampa Bay where he had been an assistant coach for multiple years up until 2018. It will certainly be interesting to see how this story plays out, and to see if Bowness can defeat the odds one final time to beat his former fellow coaching staff.
Although the Lightning are heavily favored in this series, the Stars have been proving people wrong throughout this whole postseason. My prediction is that the Lightning will win this series in six games. This will be a very fun series to watch, and it will be exciting to see how Dallas’ defensive structure holds up against Tampa Bay’s high-flying offense. Game 1 is this coming Saturday at 8 P.M.