In an unprecedented National Hockey League postseason, the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Dallas Stars will battle it out in the bubble for one of the most coveted trophies in all of sports, the Stanley Cup.
The NHL implemented a new playoff format due to the shortened season caused by the COVID-19 outbreak. The Lightning and Stars emerged from a twelve-team tournament in their respective conferences to reach the finals.
The Tampa Bay Lightning are four wins away from breathing a sigh of relief and claiming themselves as the bounce-back kids.
In the 2018-19 campaign, the Lightning put together a dominating regular-season resume. The club finished with 62 wins, becoming only the second team to reach this mark behind the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings. They clinched the President’s trophy for the first time in team history. Also, Nikita Kucherov skated away with his first Art Ross Trophy after registering 128 points.
Although the Lightning were equipped for a long postseason run, the Bolts were embarrassed by the eighth-seeded Columbus Blue Jackets in four games in the first round.
Inside the bubble, the Lightning used that devastating playoff loss as motivation to reach their third Stanley Cup Final appearance.
After posting a 2-1 record in round-robin play, Tampa secured the second seed in the Eastern Conference. With this leverage, the Bolts took down the Blue Jackets in their revenge tour in five games. This was followed by a defeat the Boston Bruins, who were a heavy favorite to win the cup, in five games. Then in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Lightning edged the scrappy New York Islanders in six games.
The Lightning have utilized their speed and star-studded defense as well as their brick wall in Andrei Vasilevskiy to support this run to the finals.
The top line of Kucherov, Brayden Point, and Ondrej Palat has terrorized their first three opponents as they have combined for 64 points. This dangerous trio will look to wreak havoc on the Stars.
However, if there was one player that has the utmost importance in aiding this team to the finals, its Victor Hedman. The 29-year-old blueliner has been the backbone of the defense along with tying the team lead with nine goals in the postseason. His stout defending has led this defensive core to become one of the best in the league.
As for the Dallas Stars, their run to the cup has been quite unusual. The team started slowly as they jumped out to an abysmal 1-7-1 record to start their season.
After picking up steam and climbing to a 17-11-3 record on December 10, the team experienced a switch in guard as head coach Jim Montgomery was fired for a personal behavior issue. Montgomery would later announce that he checked himself into rehab for alcohol abuse.
Rick Bowness, the new head coach, guided the team to a third seed in the Western Conference.
The Stars were able to best several cup contenders, including the Calgary Flames in six games, the Colorado Avalanche in seven, and the Vegas Golden Knights in five games.
The Stars have a solid mixture of veterans such as Corey Perry, Jamie Benn, and Joe Pavelski, along with several young stars like Miro Heiskanen, Denis Gurianov, and Roope Hintz.
Dallas will rely on 34-year-old goaltender Anton Khudobin who has won the starting position and helped the team collect 12 wins while posting a 2.62 GAA.
The success of these Stars will come at the hands of the numerous veterans on this roster. One player especially who needs to take the next step in providing for this team is Tyler Seguin as he has only netted two goals this entire postseason. His ability to find the back of the net will be pivotal in this series.
This club is looking for its first Stanley Cup since 1999 when they won on a controversial triple-overtime call as Brett Hull scored with his skate in the crease. The Buffalo Sabres would go onto protest the game, but the league reviewed the call and upheld the original stance.
As the time nears for puck drop of game one, it will be compelling to see if the Stars can handle to speed and elusiveness of Tampa Bay.
In this matchup, do not be surprised to see the Tampa Bay Lightning capture their second Stanley Cup as they defeat the Stars in six games.