Yes, you heard me correct, the Stanley Cup finals are upon us. These playoffs have flown by and we find ourselves down to the last set of opponents.
The Dallas Stars and the Tampa Bay Lightning are set to face off in what is anticipated to be a high-flying, white-knuckling, rollercoaster of a series. This matchup is exciting partly because of all their similarities.
Both teams have top lines that they rely on to drive offense. Both teams had to brave two overtime games in the conference finals. Both teams are anchored by Russian goaltenders. Both franchises are searching for only their second Stanley Cup wins in history, Tampa won in 2004 and Dallas won in 1999. Most importantly, they are both hungry.
As one could guess, a series with teams that match up this tightly is not easy to predict. Dallas is a fun team to watch and they have size and physicality that is tough to handle. They are led by Jamie Benn, someone who makes plays in the offensive zone but is also playing well defensively. When he comes out hitting, the team follows.
The Lightning have already endured three physical opponents this postseason, which is either promising or disconcerting depending on how you look at it. On one hand they should be ready for the game style that Dallas brings, but it’s also possible that we will see a team that is worn down from all the gritty hockey that they’ve played.
With no Steven Stamkos on the ice, Tampa has turned to defenseman Victor Hedman to lead them through the postseason. Hedman is big, he plays well defensively, and he’s been scoring goals. He has 9 goals so far in these playoffs, while the most in a single playoffs by a defenseman in NHL history is 12. They also boast strong defensive depth, which will be necessary to give Hedman some rest so he can matchup with the Stars’ potent top line.
Dallas has shown that they can do it all. They proved they can outscore anybody when they beat the offensive wizards of the Avalanche. They illustrated their ability to play lockdown defense in the conference finals by taking down the playoff-tested Golden Knights, who many thought were the best team in the West. Anton Khudobin, their goaltender, has been red hot in the playoffs, snatching the starting role and leading his team to 12 victories.
There are lots of questions coming into this Stanley Cup Final. The Lightning haven’t had an opponent yet who can score like Dallas. Their series against the Islanders was low-scoring, and the Bolts struggled to crack Semyon Varlamov. Can they match the offensive output of the Stars?
Tampa has yet to lose consecutive games this postseason, can Dallas change that? Will Brayden Point, who missed a couple games against the Islanders, return to 100% health and regain his scoring form? Will we see Steven Stamkos and how would he fit into this lineup?
Can either of these teams take the next step and get over the playoff hump? Has the Dallas coaching carousel finally yielded a coach that can press the right buttons in Rick Bowness? Does Tampa have more depth and more playoff experience?We will all know the answers to these questions soon enough, with Game 1 set for a Saturday night start. This series is a toss-up, but my heart says Dallas in this one.
Stars in 7