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Stanley Cup Final

The Stanley Cup Final is the mountain top every kid playing hockey dreams about. The promised land that we commonly refer to as the Cup Final is upon us.  The Tampa Bay Lightning meet the Dallas Stars in the best of seven series for The Stanley Cup. 

Many call it the hardest trophy to win in all sports.  Maybe, maybe not but it is the only one that engraves your name on it when you win one.  Perhaps that’s why it is so coveted.  A team enters this tournament having to play four best of seven series.  It is eight weeks of grueling hockey games.  Players give their blood, sweat and tears with the objective to win 16 games.  So, both the Lightning and Stars have 12 of the required wins.  First team to win four games in the next 6 to 12 days will hoist the Cup

Stanley Cup Final Prediction

Coaches: Jon Cooper is the longest tenured coach in the NHL. On the bench for Dallas is a familiar name, Rick Bowness.  Rick Bowness.  Bowness was the Associate Coach in Tampa for Cooper’s first five seasons with the Lightning.  Named interim coach last December after Jim Montgomery was fired, Bowness led his team to their first Cup appearance in 21 years.

Bowness is a defensive minded coach.  Cooper is more offensive minded.  The old adage is that defense wins championships.  So, let’s take a closer look as to what these two teams have done so far in these playoffs.

The Lightning are giving up 2.21 goals per game, the Stars are at 3.05.  The Lightning are scoring 3.11 goals per game and the Stars are at 2.95 per game.  In all fairness, the Stars number one goalie, Ben Bishop has been injured throughout most of the postseason.  In his stead, Anton Khudobin has done the job helping propel his team to the Final. Advantage: Lightning

Forwards March

Forwards:  Both teams have depth. Lightning can roll out their top line of Brayden Point, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat.  Stars can counter with Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov.  As we know, both teams will work hard against the top lines, so this is where the depth can make the difference.

The third line in Tampa has been the catalyst for a lot of good energy this postseason.  The play of Yanni Gourde, Barclay Goodrow and Blake Coleman has earned them the spot of opening the games for the Lightning.  Dallas’ second line has scored 22 goals and 14 assists in 21 games.  You may recognize the name of Joe Pavelski but Joel Kiviranta and Denis Gurianov are not exactly household names.  They’ve proven to be dangerous this postseason.

Over the last five seasons, the Stars have appeared in the playoffs three times.  In the two previous postseasons, they did not get past the second round.  By contrast, the Lightning have played in the postseason four times in five years with three Conference Finals appearances.  Advantage: Lightning

Defense Is Attack!

The late Bruce Lee is quoted as saying: Defense is attack.  Actually, he said more.  “Defense is attack, attack is defense, each being the cause and result of the other”.  He easily could of been thinking of these two Stanley Cup Final teams because their defense attacks.

The top scorer in the playoffs this postseason for Dallas is defenseman, Miro Heiskanen with 5 goals and 17 assists..  If you are unaware of him, think of a more compact Victor Hedman.  He can and will jump into the offense and plays shut down defense.  Sure, he’s shorter than Hedman at six foot one but the Lightning cannot afford to lose sight of him, especially when Dallas is in the offensive zone.

If that isn’t enough, John Klingberg has added 3 goals and 16 assists from Dallas’ back end.  To counter that for Tampa, Conn Smythe contender, Hedman is leading all defensemen with 9 goals this postseason.  Mikhail Sergachev has been prominent in getting involved in the offense as well especially on the power play.  Advantage: Slight to Lightning

Special Delivery

Oftentimes, a playoff game can come down to the special teams.  Playing with the man advantage or trying to kill a penalty can change the game in an instant.  No question, killing off a penalty in a critical part of the game is huge.  It can give that team the momentum it needs.  Same holds true if the power play units score a goal.

So far in the playoffs the Stars are converting 27.3% of their power play opportunities.  The Lightning without Steven Stamkos have struggled in this department at 17.9%.  Both penalty killing units for each team have done the job.  Lightning killing 83.6% of their penalties and the Stars at 83.3%.  Ultimately, Dallas wants to take advantage of the penalties that the Lightning commit.  For Tampa, the trick will be not to commit the number of penalties they have in these playoffs.  Advantage: Big for Dallas

Another Brick in the Wall

Goalies: Andrei Vasilevskiy is All-Universe in these playoffs.  He’s the only goalie that’s appeared in every playoff game his team has played.  As if that’s not enough, he leads all goalies who played beyond the first round with a 93.1% save percentage.  Most hockey analysts believe no team has a chance to win the Stanley Cup Final without a goalie who saves at least 92%.  Before you go calling the engraver for the Cup, Khudobin is at 92% on his save percentage.

Goals against is where we begin to see the difference.  Vasilevskiy is at a 1.82 goals per game.  Did I mention All-World?  This is while he’s logged over 1300 minutes of ice time.  Khudobin has given up 2.62 goals per game but has stood on his head when his team needed him. Advantage: Big for the Lightning

The Upshot

Without question, to appear in the Stanley Cup Final is a huge accomplishment but it is not the prize everyone seeks.  Proper credit needs to be given to both these teams to get through the three previous playoff rounds.  There’s so much at stake.  For veterans in Dallas like Pavelski and Corey Perry, they get another chance to grab the brass ring.  For the Lightning, it’s Pat Maroon (who can win back to back Cups) and Zach Bogosian.  Cooper can prove the naysayers wrong about his ability to win it all.  Bowness can take the “interim” off his title.  This is what they play for, what they’ve dreamed up since they were kids.  Should be a great series.  Stanley Cup Final Prediction: Lightning in Five Games.


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