The Stanley Cup Finals have finally arrived after 56 days in the bubble. The Western Conference will send the Dallas Stars as its representative, while the Eastern Conference will send the Tampa Bay Lightning. This series should be high scoring as the Lightning have score 60 goals in the bubble and the Stars have scored 63.
How did they get here?
The Dallas Stars had 82 points at the time of the stoppage which was good for fourth in the Western Conference. The Stars went 1-2 in the Round Robin earning the #3 seed in the Edmonton bubble. In the first round, the Calgary Flames were up two games to one going into a crucial game four that Dallas would win 5-4 in overtime. The Stars would win the next two games taking the series in six.
The focus now shifted to the high-riding Colorado Avalanche. Dallas quickly jumped out to a 3-1 series lead by scoring more than 5 goals per game in games one through four. Dallas was unable to close out the series in the next two games as Colorado forced a game seven.
Down by a goal and only 3 minutes from elimination, Joel Kiviranta found the back of the net and sent game seven to overtime. Then, just 7:24 into overtime Kiviranta finished off his hat trick and sent the Stars to the Western Conference Finals.
Dallas would have to defeat the #1 Vegas Golden Knights to punch their ticket to the Stanley Cup Finals. Dallas won game one 1-0 before dropping game two. The Stars would go on to win the next three games by one goal each and Kiviranta once again scored the series-clinching overtime goal.
The Tampa Bay Lightning started the 2019-20 regular season slow but rebounded to tally 92 points at the time of the stoppage. The Lightning entered the bubble as the #2 seed in the East and held that placement by going 2-1 during the Round Robin.
The Lightning’s first playoff game was an instant classic. They would end up winning a five-overtime marathon against the Columbus Blue Jackets which propelled them to a hard-fought, five-game series win.
Tampa’s second round opponent were the rival Boston Bruins. What was set to be a thrilling seven-game series turned out to be a short, five-game series that went to the Lightning. Even though Tampa had only played ten playoff games, four of them had been overtime games including the five-overtime marathon in the first round. Both series were extremely hard-fought and had not been easy on Tampa Bay.
The Lightning would now face the surprising New York Islanders in the Eastern Conference Finals. After blowing out New York 8-2 in game one, the Lighting would win games two and four taking a 3-1 series lead. After losing 2-1 in double overtime of game five, the Lightning would return the favor and win game six by the same score also in double overtime.
What are the numbers?
The Stars won both games vs Tampa Bay in the regular season, but both did go into overtime. The Lightning will start Andrei Vasilevskiy between the pipes as they have throughout the Postseason. Vasilevskiy has been great in the bubble posting a .931 save percentage and 1.82 goals against average. The Stars will start breakout goalie Anton Khudobin. Khudobin has posted a .920 save percentage and 2.62 goals against average this Postseason.
Tampa Bay has clinched a Cup Finals birth without the help of their captain Steven Stamkos. Stamkos has missed the entirety of the playoffs with an injury. Both Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point have made up for Stamkos’ absence as they have tallied 26 and 25 points respectively.
The Lightning have also been able to get insane production from their blueline especially from Victor Hedman. The defenseman has scored nine times in the bubble which puts him in elite company for goals scored by a defenseman in a Postseason.
Dallas has been able to get production from their entire lineup this Postseason. Defenseman Miro Heiskanen leads the Stars in points with 22. Jamie Benn and rookie Denis Gurianov are not far behind with 18 and 17 points each.
The Lightning are 10-2 in the bubble in one goal games, while the Stars are 10-1. Tampa Bay is 6-1 in overtime, while Dallas is 5-0.
Who has the edge?
The Tampa Bay Lightning are an experienced team with many current players having Stanley Cup Finals experience. There is still a slim possibility their captain returns during the Finals, but this team is good enough without him to get the job done. Also, the Lightning defense is fundamentally sound enough to prevent Dallas’ depth from costing them the series.
The 2020 Stanley Cup Champions will be the Tampa Bay Lightning in six games.
Although the Conn Smythe (Playoff MVP) Trophy should, in my opinion, go to Victor Hedman, the writers will award it to Brayden Point.