The 2020 NHL playoffs have nearly reached their final conclusion. The Dallas Stars are your champions of the Western Conference, while the Tampa Bay Lightning have joined them from the Eastern Conference.
It was a season with lots of twists and turns — including a nearly five-month pause due to the coronavirus pandemic — but the sport’s ultimate goal is in sight.
Here’s an early look at how the Stars and Lightning match up, including the reasons for hope and causes for concern for each team, and key stats to monitor.
The NHL staged both conference finals series in the Edmonton, Alberta, bubble, and that will continue through the Stanley Cup Final. Here is how the schedule breaks down:
All times Eastern
Game 1: Sept. 19, 7:30 p.m.
Game 2: Sept. 21, 8 p.m.
Game 3: Sept. 23, 8 p.m.
Game 4: Sept. 25, 8 p.m.
Game 5: Sept. 26, 8 p.m.
Game 6: Sept. 28, 8 p.m.
Game 7: Sept. 30, 8 p.m.
Reason for hope for the Stars
Dallas is absolutely locked in right now. The Stars perfected a formula against Vegas: bending but not breaking defensively as they kept offensive chances to the outside; relying on the athletic goaltending of Anton Khudobin, whose performance teammate Tyler Seguin likened to Tim Thomas‘ Conn Smythe-winning performance for the Boston Bruins in 2011; and getting timely offensive contributions from throughout their lineup.
The biggest reason for hope is their unflappable confidence. “We know we’re not going to control a game for 60 minutes at this level. You have to have that mentality that we’re going to bend a little bit here, we’re going to need some lines to get us going, get back to play our game. And that’s crucial: the ability to roll four lines like we do and have everyone on the same page,” coach Rick Bowness said. “Our players do have that confidence. The attitude of the players is huge. No matter the score, we have faith that we will get our game going again.” — Greg Wyshynski
Reason for hope for the Lightning
It’s their time. Since 2016-17, no team in the NHL has won as many games as the Lightning (201). They have accumulated one Presidents’ Trophy, two 100-plus-point seasons, and plenty of regular-season records — but don’t have a Stanley Cup to cement the success. This team, with this core, is due. After being embarrassed in a first-round sweep last season, general manager Julien BriseBois made several additions to improve his team’s depth and made the Lightning a more physical team. That includes defenseman Zach Bogosian, fourth-liner Patrick Maroon and a pair of trade-deadline acquisitions in Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow. All four players have had major impact on the Lightning this postseason.
As Brad Marchand of the Bruins summed it up last month (shortly before Tampa Bay knocked out Boston): “They have a bit of a different makeup now; they compete a lot harder. They are a lot more physical and, obviously, they have a ton of talent. They’re very fast, have a great goalie, they have everything.” — Emily Kaplan
Cause for concern for the Stars
After scoring at will against the porous defenses of the Flames and the injury-impacted Avalanche, the Stars reverted back to the more conservative offensive style that defined their regular season. Their four wins against Vegas were all one-goal games, with two of them ending in overtime. While the Dallas defense deserves credit for suffocating the Golden Knights’ offense, the fact is that Vegas’s offensive funk predated that series. The Lightning are a more formidable offensive team and have figured out a way to score goals against three elite defensive teams en route to the facing another one in Dallas.
Also, this break for Dallas is a blessing and potentially a curse. The Stars haven’t had more than one day off since Aug. 30, and had been playing every other day. Their most recent game was on Monday. Yes, they’ll be rested and healed up in a way Tampa Bay will not. But they’ll also be five days removed from game action, while the Lightning ride in fresher off their series. How that dynamic plays out remains one of many mysteries of the bubble. — Greg Wyshynski
Cause for concern for the Lightning
The status of Brayden Point and Steven Stamkos. The Lightning have been without their captain, Stamkos, all summer and have proved they can win without him. Stamkos (who has a lower-body injury) has remained with the team in the bubble, hopeful he can make a return.
Meanwhile, Point has been Tampa Bay’s most dominant forward, along with Nikita Kucherov. Point has two overtime winners in these playoffs, as well as 25 points in 16 games. Yet he missed two games in the Eastern Conference finals as he manages an undisclosed injury. “I’d go as far as far to say he’s the most dangerous guy in the playoffs this year,” teammate Blake Coleman said. “He’s a special talent. He tilts the ice every time he’s out there.” An extended Point absence could tilt the series. — Emily Kaplan
Stats at a glance
Goals per game:
Stars: 2.95 | Lightning: 3.17
Goals against per game:
Stars: 3.05 | Lightning: 2.28
Stars: .908 | Lightning: .926
Shot attempt percentage:
Stars: 47.96 | Lightning: 55.27
High-danger chance percentage:
Stars: 49.42 | Lightning: 57.93
Stars: Miro Heiskanen (22) | Lightning: Nikita Kucherov (26)