Stanley Cup Finals Preview
The Stanley Cup Finals are set as the Dallas Stars will take on the Tampa Bay Lightning for the most coveted trophy in all of sports, the Stanley Cup. The series begins tonight so I thought I'd put together my thoughts on both sides, who to watch out for, and of course who will walk away champions of the National Hockey League.
The Dallas Stars have been the most surprising team of all in these playoffs. Armed with a new coach and horrid start, they had to claw their way out of an early hole. However, a surge in early November got the Stars up from the basement and got them trending in the right direction, but even with the sudden turn around the team fired head coach Jim Montgomery for unprofessional conduct to the team.
Dallas would task Rick Browess with the job. They won 37 games in 63 games, and were first in the Central Division. From there they dispatched Calgary in 6 games, Colorado in 7 and wiped out Vegas in 5. Much of their success is due to their Russian net minder Anton Khudobin, and now find themselves playing in the Finals for the first time in 20 years.
Unlike Dallas, the Tampa Bay Lightning surprised no one with their Finals birth. This was supposed to be where they were last year but were unceremoniously swept by the Blue Jackets in the first round. However, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and this the Lightning team were looking to right their wrongs from 2019.
Tampa Bay would be the second seed in the playoffs thanks to winning 2 of the 3 seeding games and would get their rematch with the Jackets. Many wondered if Tampa would get their vengeance but there was little drama as they finished the Jackets in 5. The Lightning would drop game one against the Bruins but would storm back to win 4 straight games to advance to the Eastern Conference finals.
There, a young Islanders team were waiting in wings. The Lightning had to work a little harder going 6 games, but ultimately brushed them aside.
So that's how we got here, but who could walk away with the Conn Smythe?
For the Lightning I have my eye on the big boys! Kucherov, Hedman, and Vasilevskiy. The trio obviously will play a massive role in how these finals go. As for Dallas I can see either Heiskanen or Khudobin continue to stay hot. These aren't risky bets by any means, but with the way these playoffs have been going they are the most logical.
As for how I see things matching up, the Lightning's offence will be a tough test for Dallas, but they’ll still be without Stamkos. Dallas’ sturdy defence will get a little relief even if they are talented enough not to need any. In net I give Vasilievskiy the advantage. He’s gotten a ton of playoff experience in the past few years and the Stars offence is subpar despite being a cup contending team.
The Stars didn't have a 30 goal scorer and had only one player notch 20 goals this season, however, since the playoffs began their best players have stepped up, but it’ll be hard for them to beat the reigning Vezina winner. Averaging over 3 goals a game during the playoffs, and having the dynamic duo of Point and Kucherov gives Tampa another edge. Tampa can also match Dallas’ defensive efforts, they have truly become a complete team.
It's difficult to go against the Lightning. Tampa Bay has more depth on offence, they matchup well on D, and have the goaltending to beat anyone. While the Cinderella story of Anton Khudobin was a nice ride in a crazy year, the Lightning might be a little too much for the underdogs. Lightning in 5.