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Canadiens vs. Penguins recap: Habs rally to move closer to playoff spot – Habs Eyes on the Prize

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“Well, at least we don’t root for the New York Rangers,” I thought as the Blueshirts lost their third straight and took the swiftest of exits from the hub in Toronto to join the Alexis Lafrnière sweepstakes.

After winning the first game and losing the second, Montreal returned to home ice, which these days looks an awful lot like away ice, to host the Pittsburgh Penguins for the crucial third game of this best-of-five play-in series.

There was one change for each team compared to their previous lineup. Jake Evans replaced Jordan Weal in that hybrid center-winger-ish role on the fourth line, while Mike Sullivan replaced Jared McCann with Sam Lafferty.

Brendan Gallagher was tested pre-game and must have given Claude Julien both thumbs up since he took his usual spot to the right of Phillip Danault and Tomas Tatar to start the game. In his first shift, Gally rushed to the boards to chase down a Penguins defenceman and was seen limping off the ice. His foot is clearly still hindering him, but knowing Gallagher, he would probably rather amputate the foot than take a night like this off.

Montreal took the lead four minutes into the contest. Shea Weber got not one, not two, but three chances in a row upon joining the rush in front of Matt Murray. Third time’s a charm for the captain, as he backhanded the puck past the goalie from close range.

Natural Stat Trick

Pittsburgh’s bench decided that it would be wise to challenge the goal for goaltender interference, since there was a bit of contact between a surging Artturi Lehkonen and Murray’s left pad just as Weber’s shot went in. The challenge was unsuccessful, sending the Habs on the power play on a delay-of-game penalty.

The power play was — as so many times before — a letdown to watch. But if power-play goals are your cup of tea, you would get your fill just minutes later. Unfortunately though, both goals were scored by the frozen birds from western Pennsylvania.

The first one came after a slashing call on Ben Chiarot. The always surgically lethal Evgeni Malkin found Patric Hörnqvist out left, just as the referees were raising their arms for a delayed penalty on Weber for cross-checking. Weber gave the refs an interrogatory look and lost focus just long enough for Hörnqvist to one-time it past Carey Price.

Since an accident seldom comes alone, Jason Zucker slapped in the leading tally for the guests just a minute later, when Weber was repenting his sins in the penalty box. Game-changing goals in the playoffs were exactly what Jim Rutherford was praying for when he shipped half his house and Alex Galchenyuk to Minnesota earlier this year. Now Zucker has scored in two straight games, and Rutherford is beginning to see return on his investment.

Jesperi Kotkaniemi decided that enough was enough and tried to inject his team with fire and grit by levelling Brian Dumoulin hard enough to knock his helmet off in front of the benches. Dumoulin looked bewildered as to what had just happened. Young playmakers aren’t supposed to take down defencemen like that.

Just seconds before the break, Conor Sheary decided that it would be fair to even out the stat sheet for number of power plays. Very kindly, he took an unnecessary minor for tripping. Going to the booth, he looked so pleased with himself that he was laughing in the referee’s general direction.

Montreal’s second power play of the night ended as the previous six have ended during this series: without a goal. The man advantage continued to look stiff and uninspiring.

Five minutes into the second period, the hill would become even steeper for the Canadiens as Pittsburgh extended their lead. Brandon Tanev skated full-speed to win a battle in the offensive zone. His pass cut straight into the slot to find Zach Aston-Reese. After a rebound from Price, Latvian superstar Teddy Blueger scored his first ever post-season goal from close range, diving into the crease to win the battle against Victor Mete and Xavier Ouellet.

After yet another uneventful power play (which at least had a decent scoring chance from the second unit), Montreal creeped closer via a goal from Jonathan Drouin. Once again, the goal came after great lead-up work by the reborn Kotkaniemi. The centreman won a battle near the boards and Weber served Chiarot for a slapshot, which was deflected in by number 92. Exactly what the doctor ordered, both for Drouin and for the Canadiens.

Any injury on the ice becomes worse than normal to witness during these crowd-free times. The Scotiabank Arena went eerily quiet when Evans got slammed into the boards by Brandon Tanev. Evans went to the locker room with a bloody towel covering his face, and he was later ruled out for the night. That is not something you want a young guy to experience in his post season debut.

Malkin got sent to the box a few moments later, sending the Habs back on the power play yet again. If nothing else, it is good for this team to practise playing one man up, to see if they can overcome their woes. And what do you know, this time it nearly resulted in a goal! Montreal tied it up three seconds after the PP was over, and it was all thanks to Paul Byron. He found Nick Suzuki for a shot, which Murray stopped, but using his blazing speed, Byron was first to the rebound, circled around the net, and pushed the puck past the Pens netminder to draw the game even. It was an excellent effort and a wonderful confidence boost.

Dale Weise celebrated his birthday by shoving Aston-Reese to the ground without a call from the referees. Aston-Reese got back on his feet and, not knowing who had been the instigator, he shoved Max Domi to the ice. This was seen by the refs and the Penguins forward got penalized for roughing, all while Domi laughed like a hyena from the bench.

During the power play, Danault was as close as can be to steer in the tiebreaker off a shot from Joel Armia, but the puck danced away off the line after hitting both Murray and the crossbar. Instead, Montreal kept their habit of waiting until the opponent is back at full strength before scoring.

Jeff Petry noticed that he had zero passing lanes to work with as he positioned himself out left near the goal line. From almost no angle whatsoever, he launched a rocket which hit Murray in the mask and went in. You could say that there is no way that a top-tier goaltender should concede a goal from that angle, but it was actually a perfectly placed shot. Kudos to Petry for banking on that chance! This could be a future classic if this becomes a memorable playoff.

With a 4-3-lead against a Sidney Crosby-led Penguins, focus shifted, as it tends to do, toward Price. Laser-focused and large, he denied Pittsburgh a game-tying goal on several occasions, without seeming to break a sweat. The Penguins players looked listless and clueless on the bench. I am certain that they didn’t see this scenario unravelling when they were two goals up just a period earlier.

Byron decided to take a hooking penalty with three-and-a-half minutes left, risking the very fragile lead. With 20 seconds left of that penalty kill, Murray went to the bench, putting the Pens up by yet another attacker. The Habs fought and clawed their way through the remaining seconds, not giving Crosby, Malkin, or Kris Letang an inch to create quality scoring chances.

The Canadiens held on and can celebrate Dale Weise’s birthday in style tonight. On Friday afternoon, at 4:00 PM Eastern, thsy will have a chance to kick out the fifth-seeded Penguins from the post-season, before it has even begun.

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Stanley Cup Final storylines for Lightning vs. Stars – NHL.com

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The Lightning’s championship came in 2004. The Stars won theirs in 1999.

They will play the first Stanley Cup Final contested entirely at one neutral site in front of no fans. 

Game 1 of the best-of-7 series is at Rogers Place in Edmonton on Saturday (7:30 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS).

“It might be one of the hardest Cups to ever win,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “Whoever raises this Cup, they’ll have earned this one, I’ll tell you that.”

Tampa Bay reached the Cup Final by defeating the Columbus Blue Jackets and Boston Bruins each in five games, and the New York Islanders in six games in the Eastern Conference Final.

The Stars defeated the Calgary Flames in six games, the Colorado Avalanche in seven games, and the Vegas Golden Knights in five games in the Western Conference Final.

Here are seven Stanley Cup Final storylines to follow:

Lightning trying to make history

Tampa Bay can become the first team in the NHL expansion era (since 1967-68) to win the Stanley Cup the season after being swept in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Tampa Bay lost four games to Columbus in the Eastern Conference First Round last season, becoming the first Presidents’ Trophy winner to be swept in the first round.

“We put that behind us,” Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman said. 

Video: TBL@NYI, Gm6: Lightning earn Prince of Wales Trophy

During the NHL Original Six era (1942-67), two teams won the Cup after being swept in the first round the previous season; the Chicago Black Hawks defeated the Detroit Red Wings in six games in the 1961 Cup Final after being swept in the NHL Semifinals (first round) by the Montreal Canadiens in 1960. The Toronto Maple Leafs defeated the Canadiens in six games in the 1967 Cup Final after Montreal defeated Toronto in four in the semifinals in 1966. 

“You look at what happened last year, we took it on the chin, and rightfully so, we deserved to take it on the chin,” Cooper said. “But to counterpunch the way we have this year, good on the guys.”

Bowness’ big chance

Stars coach Rick Bowness, in his 45th year in professional hockey, the last 38 as a coach or assistant, is four wins from winning the Stanley Cup for the first time. To do it, he has to defeat one of his many former teams.

Bowness was an associate coach with the Lightning under Cooper from 2013-18. Cooper, who hadn’t coached in the NHL prior to 2013, credits Bowness for teaching him a lot about the League, including where the entrance was to all the arenas.

They helped the Lightning reach the Cup Final in 2015, when Tampa Bay lost to Chicago in six games. Bowness also went to the Cup Final as an assistant with the Vancouver Canucks in 2011, when they lost to the Boston Bruins in seven games.

Video: DAL@VGK, Gm5: Stars receive Clarence Campbell Bowl

This will be the first time a coach and his former assistant have faced each other as coaches in the Stanley Cup Final, according to the NHL Coaches’ Association,

“There’s no better satisfaction than what he’s living right now,” Stars general manager Jim Nill said of Bowness. “It’s because of hard work, how he treats people and who he is.”

Vasilevskiy against Khudobin

Barring injury, it appears a Russia-born goalie will win the Stanley Cup as a starter for the second time in NHL history, joining Nikolai Khabibulin, who won it with the Lightning in 2004.

Tampa Bay goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy is 14-5-0 with a 1.82 goals-against average and .931 save percentage this postseason.

Dallas goalie Anton Khudobin, who in the regular season was the backup to Ben Bishop, Vasilevskiy’s former teammate with Tampa Bay, is 12-6-0 this postseason with a 2.62 GAA, .920 save percentage and one shutout.

Vasilevskiy is the only goalie who played in the conference finals who started every game for his team in the postseason (19). He has allowed two or fewer goals in eight of the past nine games.

Khudobin wasn’t supposed to be the starter for the Stars, but Bishop has been unfit to play. Khudobin has won eight straight games when making at least 30 saves.

Big-game Benn

Jamie Benn is in the discussion for the Conn Smythe Trophy as postseason MVP.

Benn leads Dallas forwards with 18 points (eight goals, 10 assists) in 21 games. The Dallas captain scored five points (three goals, two assists) in five games against Vegas, including a goal in each of the last three games.

Video: Breaking down Jamie Benn’s big performance in the WCF

Benn scored 39 points (19 goals, 20 assists) in 69 games this season, the lowest single-season point total of his NHL career, excluding the shortened 2012-13 season, when he scored 33 points (12 goals, 21 assists) in 41 games.

“He’s our leader and our captain, and whenever there are big moments he’s always the front-runner in changing the momentum or keeping the momentum,” Stars center Tyler Seguin said. “He’s playing the best that I’ve seen him, and I think he’s still got another level.”

Hedman against Heiskanen

Hedman was voted the Norris Trophy winner as the best defenseman in the NHL two seasons ago, was third in voting last season, and is one of three finalists this season. The 29-year-old is arguably Tampa Bay’s favorite to win the Conn Smythe Trophy through three rounds.

Stars defenseman Miro Heiskanen likely will also become a perennial Norris Trophy contender, and the 21-year-old is a contender for the Conn Smythe Trophy.

Hedman is averaging 26:31 of ice time per game in the postseason; Heiskanen is averaging 25:43.

Heiskanen leads defensemen with 22 points (five goals, 17 assists) in 21 games and is one of 11 defensemen in NHL history to score that many points in a single postseason. 

Hedman leads defensemen with nine goals, the first time a player at the position has scored that many in a single postseason since Brian Leetch scored 11 for the New York Rangers in 1994, when he won the Conn Smythe Trophy and Stanley Cup.

Maroon can join small club

Lightning forward Pat Maroon has a chance to become the fourth player in the NHL expansion era to win the Stanley Cup in back-to-back seasons with different teams.

Maroon won the Stanley Cup last season with the St. Louis Blues. He signed a one-year, $900,000 contract with the Lightning on Aug. 24, 2019.

“We’ve got to go for four more [wins],” Maroon said.

The last player to be a part of back-to-back Cup championships with different teams was Mark Hartigan, with the Anaheim Ducks in 2007 and Red Wings in 2008. 

Hartigan’s name is not on the Stanley Cup, however, because he didn’t meet the games-played criteria either time (at least 41 games played in the regular season or one game played in the Stanley Cup Final).

Before that, Cory Stillman won the Stanley Cup with the Lightning in 2004 and the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006. The Stanley Cup was not awarded in 2005 because of a work stoppage.

Claude Lemieux is the last player to play in the Cup Final with different teams in back-to-back seasons and win it each time. He did it with the New Jersey Devils in 1995, when he won the Conn Smythe Trophy, and in 1996 with the Avalanche.

Will Stamkos play?

Steven Stamkos hasn’t played in the postseason because of a lower-body injury he sustained before the Lightning reconvened in Tampa Bay for training camp in July. The forward has not played since Feb. 25.

But Stamkos has not been ruled out for the Cup Final, though he won’t play in Game 1; he was on the ice for the postgame celebration when the Lightning accepted the Prince of Wales Trophy as the Eastern Conference champions Thursday.

“Even though [Stamkos] is not playing he’s still the leader of this team,” Hedman said of the Lightning captain. “He’s such a good influence in the room, in practices, morning skates. He’s such a big reason why we’re here where we are.”

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Win or lose, Anton Khudobin has reached legendary status – Yahoo Canada Sports

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Anton Khudobin isn’t the sexiest name out there when you consider the stars in this year’s Stanley Cup Final between the Dallas Stars and Tampa Bay Lightning. But he might be the most lovable.

Since being pressed into service during the Stars’ first-round series against the Calgary Flames, it has been a whirlwind for the 34-year old netminder, who once lived in Saskatoon, Sask., with a billet family and has bounced around four pro leagues (KHL, ECHL, AHL and now the NHL) before reaching this moment. He is arguably the best feel-good story of the postseason in a year when good news is seriously welcomed any time we can get it.

Khudobin has been a driving force in the Stars’ quest to capture Lord Stanley’s mug for the first time since 1999. “Dobby” has been the go-to guy in the playoffs despite taking a back seat in the regular season to Ben Bishop, who battled a mysterious ailment through camp and only played one of the three round-robin games, suited up once against Calgary, allowing four goals, and once against Colorado, giving up four goals in 13 minutes before hitting the showers. Khudobin has made the most of the opportunity, posting a 12-6 record alongside a .920 save percentage and 2.62 goals-against average.

The 34-year-old saved his best work for when it mattered most, going 4-1 with a .950 SV% and 1.69 GAA against the Vegas Golden Knights in the Western Conference final, capping it off with another viral moment after finishing them off.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="That tweet has been seen nearly 60,000 times, reaffirming that, yes, Khudobin is thriving in 2020 and we are all here to see it.&nbsp;” data-reactid=”24″>That tweet has been seen nearly 60,000 times, reaffirming that, yes, Khudobin is thriving in 2020 and we are all here to see it. 

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Praise for the Kazakh has gone beyond what his past and present teammates have said about him. His personality and “memeability” has already caused some on Twitter to change their display names, ranging from “Anton Khudobin stan account” to “I would kill a dude for Anton Khudobin.”&nbsp;” data-reactid=”25″>Praise for the Kazakh has gone beyond what his past and present teammates have said about him. His personality and “memeability” has already caused some on Twitter to change their display names, ranging from “Anton Khudobin stan account” to “I would kill a dude for Anton Khudobin.” 

Extreme, but the passion is there for the potential Conn Smythe winner. 

Of course, Khudobin wouldn’t be enjoying this level of success and newfound fame without the support of his teammates, one of whom also has a good case for the Conn Smythe Trophy.

It's hard not to cheer for Anton Khudobin. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
It’s hard not to cheer for Anton Khudobin. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Miro Heiskanen is fourth in playoff scoring — and tops among all D-men — while matching up against the best of the best for 25 minutes a night. Jamie Benn has shown off his leadership qualities throughout the postseason while leading all Stars forwards in points with 18. Denis Gurianov and John Klingberg have also kept the Stars shining all summer. 

But the fate of the Stars against the high-powered Lightning is going to rest heavily on the thick shoulders of their spiritual leader, who with a little more magic could become the first goalie since Cam Ward (whom Khudobin once backed up) in 2006 to win the Conn Smythe Trophy while finishing with a GAA above two. The highest GAA recorded by a Conn Smythe Trophy winner was 3.00, recorded by Ken Dryden with the Canadiens in 1971.

No matter what happens in the Stanley Cup Final, “Dobby” has left his mark on the game — or at the very least, on the Internet.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="More NHL coverage from Yahoo Sports” data-reactid=”42″>More NHL coverage from Yahoo Sports

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2020 Stanley Cup Final Preview: Lightning vs. Stars – Sportsnet.ca

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On Sept. 17, 2019 the Tampa Bay Lightning played their first pre-season game and dropped a 3-0 decision to Carolina. Exactly one year later, they punched their ticket to a Stanley Cup Final that will bring to an end that same 2019-20 season.

It’s been a strange and wild season that we didn’t always think would be able to get finished, but the Lightning and Dallas Stars have outlasted everyone and are the final two teams standing. No one will ever forget this historic 2019-20 season that will end without fans inside a bubble, and that’s what could also make this the hardest final ever to lose.

By the time the puck drops on Game 1, these two teams will have been separated from the outside world for 55 days, dating back to the end of July when the return to play plan came to fruition. It’s been a grind for more reasons than usual and now everything is on the line.

Tampa Bay arrives in the final as a long-held favourite, while Dallas is a bit more of a surprise, though they qualified as one of the top four teams in the West. Here’s a preview of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final.

From the Stanley Cup Qualifiers to the Stanley Cup Final, livestream every game of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, blackout-free, on Sportsnet NOW.

ADVANCED STATS

Playoff 5-on-5 numbers via Natural Stat Trick

Dallas: 47.96 CF% (16th), 49.37 GF% (10th), 91.8 SV% (15th), 8.48 SH% (8th), 1.003 PDO (11th)

Tampa Bay: 55.59 CF% (4th), 62.5 GF% (1st), 94.09 SV% (5th), 8.11 SH% (9th), 1.022 PDO (4th)

TEAM STATS (POST-SEASON)

Dallas: 27.3 PP% (5th), 83.3 PK% (9th), 2.95 GF/G (7th), 3.05 GA/G (16th)

Tampa Bay: 17.9 PP% (12th), 83.6 PK% (8th), 3.11 GF/G (4th), 2.21 GA/G (3rd)

HEAD-TO-HEAD RECORD

Dallas: 2-0-0

Tampa Bay: 0-0-2

How the Dallas Stars got to the Stanley Cup Final: Although they were the West’s No. 3 seed after the round robin, Dallas has been regarded as something of an underdog for this run. Their backup goalie, Anton Khudobin, has started nearly every game with Ben Bishop “unfit to play.” The Stars had the 26th-ranked offence in the regular season, and if the return to play order was determined by standings points instead of points percentage, they would have had to go through the qualifying round.

The Stars advanced past the Calgary Flames in six games and then met a Colorado Avalanche team that was among the favourites to win it all. While defence was supposed to be Dallas’ strength, and generating offence a weakness, they managed to outlast the Avs in a high-scoring, seven-game slugfest in which the Stars were actually outscored 29-28. Dallas may have benefitted from the fact Colorado was also without its starting netminder, but it was the second series in a row that Dallas averaged over three goals per game.

Heading into the conference final, Dallas was the second-highest scoring team in the playoffs behind only Colorado, which was one of the more surprising developments out of Rounds 1 and 2. But there they met a tougher defensive team in the Vegas Golden Knights, and the best goalie they had seen all playoffs in Robin Lehner. Dallas’ goal output slowed, but Khudobin was spectacular and the advantage he gave the Stars was enough to lift them to a five-game series win that whipped past quicker than anyone anticipated.

But how surprised should we really be by this Stars team? In 2019, Dallas took the eventual Cup champion St. Louis Blues to Game 7 overtime in Round 2, and were a goal line save away from eliminating them. The Jamie BennTyler SeguinAlexander Radulov trio are the headline names, but this roster is all about depth and a variety of different skill sets. Defenceman Miro Heiskanen is averaging over 25 minutes a game and is a Conn Smythe candidate with 22 points in 21 playoff games. Joe Pavelski, an off-season free agent acquisition, leads Dallas in goals with nine, tied with 23-year-old Denis Gurianov, who is a playoff rookie. Roope Hintz and Radek Faska are highly valuable third line contributors, although Faska’s health status is up in the air. John Klingberg is another star defenceman who can make someone like Esa Lindell fly under the radar. Joel Kiviranta has come out of nowhere with four goals in eight games.

All this is to say: there is a lot to like personnel-wise in Dallas and they all are completely bought into a defensive system first implemented by former coach Jim Montgomery and continued by Rick Bowness. As respected as the Stars were as a defensive team before this run, they’ve proven they can keep up in a track meet with more offensively dynamic teams as well.

How the Tampa Bay Lightning got to the Stanley Cup Final: A popular pick to win the Cup at the start of all this, the Lightning were the East’s No. 2 seed after the round robin and have taken a fairly quick route to the final.

After being swept out in Round 1 of the 2019 playoffs by Columbus, Tampa was challenged right away in 2020 with a rematch against those same Blue Jackets. An historic 5OT win in Game 1’s “August Epic” set the tone for a tightly contested series in which each game but one was decided by a single goal. But the Lightning rebounded from last year’s disappointment and proved their playoff mettle by turning that into a short five-game win.

Round 2 brought another familiar opponent in division rival Boston who didn’t show particularly well in the round robin and had Jaroslav Halak in net after Tuukka Rask had to leave the bubble. Tampa dropped Game 1, though, and faced their first trial of adversity in a Game 2 that was forced to overtime when Brad Marchand scored late in regulation. It was a key moment and had the Lightning dropped the first two games against the Bruins, perhaps we’re writing about a different team right now. But Ondrej Palat‘s winner gave the Lightning a second wind, and they followed up with wins in Games 3 and 4 as well by a combined 10-2 score. Palat’s goal was the turning point, and the Lightning advanced in another five-game series.

The conference final was the longest series Tampa has seen so far, and it was clearly advantageous for them to be so well-rested in Game 1. With the Islanders playing on short rest following a seven-game Round 2 series, the Lightning blew them away 8-2 in Game 1 and seemed on the way to another quick win. But the Islanders were much more themselves the rest of the way — tough on defence and not letting Lightning scorers get many quality opportunities.

The two teams exchanged wins in Games 2, 3 and 4, leaving Tampa with a 3-1 series lead and on the doorstep of the final. The Islanders, not going quietly, forced the final two games to overtime — Jordan Eberle scored in the second OT period in Game 5 and Anthony Cirelli‘s winner in Game 6 moved Tampa to the final. Though the Lightning had reached Round 3 four times in the past six years, this is their first shot at the Cup since 2015, when a younger core lost in six games to Chicago.

The Lightning are catching no one by surprise being here. A big favourite, Tampa has stars at every position. Andrei Vasilevskiy in net, Victor Hedman on the blue line and Nikita Kucherov on forward, all of whom are award contenders each season. Cirelli is an emerging two-way force and Brayden Point has become one of the better centres in the league. And heck, they’ve lasted through this whole run without having Steven Stamkos for a single game.

Dallas Stars X-Factor: Joe Pavelski

This series reminds us of the Dallas-Colorado matchup in Round 2. Like Colorado, the Lightning can score a bunch and are led by a super first line. Tampa’s defence can play big and move the puck well. But unlike the Avs, the Lightning still have a healthy starting goalie and that will make it a challenge for the Stars to keep up on offence this time.

If there is one place the Stars could have a leg up on Tampa, it’s on the second line. The Lightning’s second unit has three minus players on it. When Tyler Johnson and Alex Killorn have been on the ice, Tampa has controlled less than half the shots on goal at 5-on-5, and only one other Lightning player (Cedric Paquette) is under 50 per cent.

With that in mind, Pavelski could be a big difference maker if he keeps the goal scoring up. After scoring just 14 times all season, Pavelski leads Dallas with nine goals in 21 post-season games from the second line. On Pavelski’s flank is Gurianov, who also has nine goals. Dallas’ top line will need to provide some level of offence and if the second unit can outdo their counterparts in Tampa it might just be a key to success. If this is going to be a close series, a clutch goal or two will be required and playoff veteran Pavelski is a good bet to play that role.

Tampa Bay Lightning X-Factor: Brayden Point

How healthy is Tampa’s top centre and how impactful can he be in the final? Point has been a beast for the Lightning so far with 25 points in 17 games and averaging over 20 minutes of ice time per game. When he’s in the lineup Tampa has been near unbeatable, winning 11 of the past 12 games he’s played. But an apparent lower-body injury forced him out of Games 3 and 5 against New York, both Lightning losses.

Point did return for Game 6 and wasn’t held back, playing over 25 minutes with four shots and four blocks. It will be a quick turnaround for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Saturday, though, and the Lightning need Point at full gear for the duration, especially if Stamkos remains out. With a strong finish to this run, Point could come out as the Conn Smythe winner.

Dallas will win if… Khudobin wins the goalie battle
The Stars’ playoff starter had a .950 save percentage against Vegas in the conference final, but was scored on 23 times in the Colorado series. Against those Avs the Stars faced a backup goalie, just as they did against Calgary and Cam Talbot. Now they’re up against one of the league’s best in Vasilevskiy who has a .931 save percentage and minuscule 1.82 GAA this post-season. Vasilevskiy has allowed more than two goals just once in his past nine games. Khudobin will be under fire at times and can’t falter, because the goalie at the other end won’t give Dallas any breaks.

Tampa will win if… their offence dictates the series

In the Western Conference Final, Dallas was mostly outchanced by Vegas and controlled just 41 per cent of the high danger chances through the series. Vegas converted on less than five per cent of its shots, though, which Peter DeBoer chalked up to being rattled by Thatcher Demoko in Round 2. This series could go much the same way, with Tampa controlling shots and Dallas attempting to keep as many of them to the outside as possible. But they can’t rely on their opponent having a low shooting percentage this time. The Lightning had the best offence all season long and if given enough opportunity, they won’t fail now.

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