One dream fulfilled.
One goal failed.
It all comes down to this. The Dallas Stars will take on the Tampa Bay Lightning Saturday night to begin the 2019-20 Stanley Cup Final. For the Stars, it is their first Stanley Cup Final appearance since the 1999-2000 season, where they faltered to the New Jersey Devils in six games. The Lightning, meanwhile, will appear in the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since the Chicago Blackhawks hoisted the Cup over them to conclude the 2014-15 season.
Up to this point, each team has shown their strengths. Whether it be from their production on offense, stinginess on defense or grit of their goaltending, each club has done it all to get to where they are now.
Who holds the edge in each area, though? And, more importantly, who will be the lucky team to hoist one of the most cherished trophies in the entire sports world? Within this article, I preview each key area and explain who holds the edge. An overall prediction will be given on the team expected to hoist the Stanley Cup at the end.
You get the basic gist at this point, so enough out of me. Here is a preview of the 2019-20 Stanley Cup Final.
When it comes to scoring, Dallas’s formula is simple: balance. While other teams might go to the extreme, Dallas puts both forwards and defensemen in a puck-shooting role. Specifically, Dallas forwards in Jamie Benn, Denis Gurianov and Joe Pavelski lead the rest of their forward mates in the point department (18, 17 and 14, respectively). Defensemen Miro Heiskanen and John Klingberg, meanwhile, lead all other blueliners on the team in regard to points (22 and 16, respectively). In total, Dallas’s offense has averaged 2.95 goals per game this postseason and have an astounding 27.3 power-play percentage (PP%). The Lightning, meanwhile, have averaged 3.11 goals per game to go with a 17.9 PP%. Despite being without forward Steven Stamkos, star production from Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point (who both possess over 20 points this postseason) have been able to captain a deep lineup to success.
At this stage of the postseason, both teams have maintained excellent speed and puck-handling ability to get off shots all over the offensive zone. While the Stars have been extremely aggressive with the puck and have come up big, the Lightning have, too. While the Stars have nice pieces, Tampa Bay has even better ones in terms of explosiveness and speed.
Edge: Tampa Bay
Over the past few seasons, Tampa Bay has made it a priority to beef up the defensive department in terms of checking. This postseason, those labors have sprouted excellent results, as the likes of Victor Hedman and Mikhail Sergachev have helped reform Tampa Bay into a more physical team that can pick up big checks. Dallas’s strength, as shown all postseason, has come from defensemen and forwards alike playing in a defense-oriented role. In the Western Conference Finals against the Vegas Golden Knights, Dallas averaged 46 hits and 17 blocks a game. If you want a team that checks you into submission and chokes off any shot attempts, look no further than this team.
Credit should be given to Tampa Bay. They have wanted to tighten up the defensive play. For the most part, they have. While their unit and mindset are more favorable toward defense this season compared to others, Dallas is simply in a class of its own.
If you have not heard of Anton Khudobin or Andrei Vasilevskiy yet, well, you are going to learn today. With Ben Bishop still dealing with injury issues, Khudobin has taking the reins for Dallas and has run with them, as the 34-year-old netminder currently possesses a 2.62 goals-against average (GAA) and a save percentage (SV%) of .920 in 19 games played (18 games started). Within those matchups, Khudobin is 12-6 and has collected one shutout. Vasilevskiy, meanwhile, has started in all 19 matchups for Tampa Bay this postseason and has compiled a 14-5 record, 1.82 GAA and .931 SV%.
Both goaltenders, at times, have been magnetic with stopping the puck during the entire postseason trek. While Vasilevskiy does not have a postseason shutout to his name during the playoff run, he has shown more consistency in not allowing goals, as he has only given up more than four goals twice. Khudobin, meanwhile, has allowed four or more goals five times. At the end of the day, the goaltender that gives up less rebounds will be the goaltender that is more successful. While Vasilevskiy is not immune to the rebound bug, he will prevail over Khudobin and show the world why he is a reigning Vezina Trophy winner.
Edge: Tampa Bay
If you want a matchup pitting significant strengths against each other, this matchup is for you. On one side of the ring, you have the hard-hitting power of the Stars. On the other end, you have the star power of the Lightning. While speed, checking, scoring, blocking and goaltending will all be factors toward either team winning, resiliency will be the x-factor to determine a victor. While Dallas has been resilient to close out their last two playoff series in overtime thrillers, Tampa Bay has done it in all three of theirs. Whether in double-overtime or five, Tampa Bay has slowly but surely proven to the pundits that they can make a deep postseason run. It will all culminate in the team hoisting the Stanley Cup for the first time since 2004.
Prediction: Tampa Bay in 6