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BUBBLE CUP PREVIEW AND PREDICTION

 

STANLEY CUP FINALS

It has been nearly a WHOLE CALENDAR year since the beginning of this hockey season, and we have made it to the pinnacle of hockey. After multiple game 7s, injuries, delays, and a pandemic, the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Dallas Stars have gritted their teeth and made it to the final games of the season. Both teams were dominant in flashes and in their conference finals to get here, but who will have more heart for Lord Stanley’s Cup? Let’s take a look at the numbers, games, and matchups to determine who will win the 2020 Stanley Cup:

Tampa Bay Lightning

After an absolute meltdown last year as one of the winningest team in NHL’s regular season history, the Lightning have bounced back stronger than ever en route to their 2nd Cup appearance in the past decade. Long-known as a team who has struggled “getting over the hump,” the Lightning are looking to get the monkey off of their back and bring home their first cup since 2004.

During the regular season, the Lightning led the league in scoring with 245 goals and road a 9th best net into the bubble before securing the second seed in the top teams’ robin-style play. Thus far in the Playoffs, the Lightning have dispatched the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Boston Bruins, and the New York Islanders. Their first series win against the Blue Jackets was huge for Tampa since they got swept to them last year and became the biggest punchline in the NFL. Fueled by what could have been, the Lightning completed their gentleman’s sweep of the Blue Jackets and awaited the reigning Eastern Conference champs. The Bruins were also just a small hurdle in the Lightning’s revenger tour when the Lightning were the only team to complete their series without 7 games (they did it in 5). Finally, the Lightning squared off against a solid New York team led by Stanley-Cup winning coach Barry Trotz and a stingy defense. Behind the playoff point leader Nikita Kucherov’s 10 points, the Lightning put on an absolute flurry of goals with 20 of them in 6 games and overcame the Islanders despite 3 total overtimes being played.

The Lightning have been through a lot this postseason and while playing less games than the Stars, they have played a lot of minutes with a quintuple overtime game to start their postseason and another double-overtime game in their last series. The Lightning do a great job of pushing the puck with 35.5 shots per game this postseason and they capitalize on those shots with 3.11 goals per game so far in these playoffs. Their penalty kill is also one to be proud of at 83.6%, and even if their defense is caught lacking (over 30 shots allowed per game), their net has been incredible this postseason only allowing 2.21 goals per game. Their net will have to be at its best against this relentless Stars team.

Dallas Stars

The Stars are a bit more of a surprise to everyone else, but to themselves, this is a moment a longtime coming. They have had many franchise players such as Seguin and Benn for a few years, but it took everybody and a few unsuspected heroes to push this far in the playoffs. Once they got the bumps and bruises out in the round robin, they haven’t looked back since and now find themselves in the Stanley Cup finals for the first time since 2000. They’re not just here to say they were the Western Conference Champs though; they are here to secure a Stanley Cup and party like it’s 1999 (that last time they won a Cup).

The Stars have got to feel confident coming into this game seeing as how they have been able to beat the Lightning twice during the regular season. Albeit, the Stars wins both came in overtime so they are fully aware the Lightning will not just rollover. The Stars are battle tested as they drew some tough opponents in the west having faced the Calgary Flames in the first round and getting by in 6 hard-fought games. That was just the beginning of tests for this Stars team that allowed a fiery Avalanche team to crawl back and force a game 7 after having a 3-1 lead. The Stars managed to win that game 7 in overtime to advance to the WCF against the heavily favored, and top seeded Golden Knights. The Stars seemed to not care about the Knights being favored seeing as that they beat the Knights in 5 games and even secured a tough shutout in game 1. The Stars had to bite and claw to win in 5 games seeing that 2 of the games went to overtime and their other 2 wins were only by one point. Tenured Star Jamie Benn led the charge with 3 goals in the series, but the network of Anton Khudobin was monumental as he posted a .950 save percentage and shutout the Knights to send the Stars back to the Stanley Cup.

 

The Stars have been opportunistic all postseason and they know now more than ever they have to continue with that against a solid Lightning team. The Stars sport the 5th best powerplay in these Stanley Cup playoffs at an absurd 27.3%, and also back it up with solid play while shorthanded (83.3% penalty kill) that was just behind the Lightning this postseason. The Stars will also hurl plenty of shots at the Lightning with an average of 30.7 per game, and they are glad to have a solid goaltender seeing as they allow more shots than they take themselves. The Stars are 2nd in this postseason with 62 goals with Pavelski and Denis Gurianov leading the charge at 9 goals apiece this postseason. They will need all the goals they can get and even stronger performances from their goalies in a series that could turn into a shootout fast.

Verdict

Both of these teams have been through a lot to get to this point and I think this is one of the better matchups we could have hoped for. There is a lot of offensive firepower on both sides, and the defense is sturdy for both teams. It’s really hard to find an edge for either of these teams but I think one of the biggest differences will be in the net. I think that the Stars’ Khudobin has been on fire this postseason and will continue his dominance en route to a Stanley Cup victory.

Winner: Stars in 6

Written by Kodey Stauffer

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