2019-20 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs – Stanley Cup Finals Preview
In my mind, there were only two possible Stanley Cup finals match-ups. The Vegas Golden Knights vs. New York Islanders or the Tampa Bay Lightning vs. the Dallas Stars. After the Stars advanced, I knew it was a foregone conclusion the Lightning would beat the Islanders. Took them one game longer than expected. I was fixated on the Golden Knights vs. Islanders being the finals match-up because I thought the Golden Knights were due and coming back the year after a blown call and beating the coach who beat you in your inaugural season in the finals is a great story. But the better story is and always was the Lightning.
The Golden Knights did take the penalty, and they did come back to tie Game 7. The Lightning were the best team in the regular season and just choked last playoffs when they were swept. Coming back from that disaster, getting your revenge over the Blue Jackets, and beating the most talented team in the finals is the better story. I know that sounds weird, but it’s not. That game-winning goal with nine seconds left in Game 2 against the Islanders are the moments you have in those Stanley Cup season recap videos.
I don’t really watch the NBA, but I believe the Los Angeles Lakers will win because the Lakers winning it all after Kobe Bryant’s death is the better story. It just makes sense. It’s those weird little things like when the New England Patriots won the Super Bowl after 9/11.
As for the Dallas Stars, they are fortunate. You can say they were better than the Flames, barely. But they weren’t better than the Colorado Avalanche or the Vegas Golden Knights. The Golden Knights hammered them in Game 2, and the Stars only won by one goal in their four wins. Two of which went into overtime. In fact, the aggregate score was 9-8 Stars. And they were lucky to win Game 5. The Golden Knights should have won, but a turnover and two dumb penalties did them in. But it doesn’t matter how you win, it’s that you win.
2 Tampa Bay Lightning vs. 3 Dallas Stars
Season Series: 2-0 Stars
Playoff Series History: None
What We Learned: The Lightning broke their personal streak of going to seven games in every Eastern Conference Finals when they won in six games. The Stars forgot how to score goals.
Stars to Watch: Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov are your leading playoff scorers, and both are in the top 10 in PPG. Point is critical to the Lightning’s success. Victor Hedman will eat up a lot of minutes and will need to have a strong performance. But Ondrej Palat will need to continue his strong play. He was sensational against the Bruins and was still good against the Islanders but cooled a bit. He’s their third-leading goal scorer these playoffs behind Point and Hedman. Depth scorers like Alex Killorn, Yanni Gourde, Blake Coleman, and Tyler Johnson will need to step up. Miro Heiskanen and Jamie Benn lead the way for the Stars. Heiskanen is still the only Star averaging over 1 PPG. John Klingberg and Alexander Radulov are right behind them. But Denis Gurianov and Joe Pavelski both have nine goals. Tied for second in the playoffs with Point and Hedman. Joel Kiviranta apparently only scores key goals. So odd. Don’t expect him to score until the third period.
Goalie Problem: Andrei Vasilevskiy didn’t face that many shots, but he stopped what he needed. I can’t remember the last bad goal he let in. Anton Khudobin actually did a pretty good Thatcher Demko impersonation against the Golden Knights. This should be an entertaining goalie duel and a low scoring series.
X-Factors: The Lightning won’t be able to sustain any more injuries. They don’t have the depth to do that against the Stars. If Tyler Seguin were to all of a sudden be good again, it would be difficult to beat the Stars. Don’t count on it. He has one measly point in his last nine games. The Lightning can’t take dumb penalties. The Stars will kill them.
Fun Facts: Buckle up because there’s going to be some overtime games. The Lightning have had two overtime games in each of the previous three rounds. The Stars had one in each of the first two rounds and then two in the last round. I’ll take at least two, please. One stat worth mentioning is Lightning players currently occupy four of the top five plus-minus spots in the playoffs. Why is this significant? Because over the last decade, when a team occupies four or five of the top five spots, they win the Stanley Cup. Ironically, if you have three of the top five, you lose. The Bruins had three last year and when they lost to the Blackhawks in 2013. Or maybe it’s just a Bruins thing. We aren’t done mentioning the Bruins.
Prediction: You already know I’m picking the Lightning. It would be so odd to go through all that and their injuries only to lose in the finals. But if we don’t go off fate, then I’ll go off something else. The Stars can’t be trusted. To count out the most talented NHL team is ludicrous, but they seem to be in this spot more because of luck than talent. Granted, luck worked very well for the St. Louis Blues last season. But the Stars remind me of the Boston Bruins. A team that can play great one game and crappy the next. A team that can beat you 7-5 or 1-0. A team that’s very reliant on the top line. Only the Stars are the Bruins times a hundred. Why do I bring this up? Because the Lightning know the Bruins well. Real well. In fact, they beat them already in five games. I will say this looks like the start of the Dallas Stars dynasty. It doesn’t mean they’ll win it now or next season. It just means they should be making a few finals appearances over the next six or so years. Lightning in 5, 6, or 7.