Series Preview: Lightning vs. Stars (Stanley Cup Final)
It all comes down to this. The greatest trophy in all of sports will be decided between the Dallas Stars and the Tampa Bay Lightning. This is the Stanley Cup Final.
It’s been quite the journey to get here. Just 50 days ago, there were 24 teams that were eligible to compete for Lord Stanley’s trophy. While the Stars and Lightning each took unique paths to get to this point, they now find themselves just four wins away from all the glory.
Tampa Bay, it’s time.
After years of heartbreak and failure to accomplish their ultimate goal, the Tampa Bay Lightning once again gets a shot to win it all.
No team over the last six years has been closer to a Stanley Cup without winning than Tampa Bay.
2015: Lost in Stanley Cup Final
2016: Lost in Game 7 of Eastern Conference Final
2018: Lost in Game 7 of Eastern Conference Final
2019: Swept 4-0 in the opening round after winning the Presidents’ Trophy and breaking the regular season win record
2020: vs. Stars in Stanley Cup Final
The Lightning’s championship window, especially with this core, could be closing. With Hart Trophy-winning forward Nikita Kucherov, Norris Trophy-winning defenseman Victor Headman and Vezina Trophy-winning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay has one of the most lethal and deep rosters the NHL has ever seen.
Remarkably, this doesn’t even include the injured future Hall of Famer Steven Stamkos, who has yet to play a game in the playoffs thus far.
Holistically, the Lightning have been an absolute unit these playoffs. Following a quintuple overtime game, they got their revenge on the Blue Jackets in the opening round. Then, after dominating the President’s Trophy-winning Boston Bruins in five games, Tampa Bay was challenged by a pesky Islanders team in the Eastern Conference Final, but the Lightning pulled through in six.
Now in the Stanley Cup, Tampa Bay will have to play the Dallas Stars, and they might be their toughest opponent to date.
20 years later, the Stars have aligned.
What a magical run it’s been for the Dallas Stars this postseason. A long way removed from hosting a sold-out Winter Classic in Cotton Bowl Stadium back in January, the Dallas Stars are now Western Conference champions for the first time since 2000.
Interim head coach Rick Bowness has rallied his group to tremendous success against some of the NHL’s toughest opponents. After defeating the Flames in the first round, the Stars battled with Nathan MacKinnon and the Avalanche in an entertaining seven-game series. In the Western Conference Final, Dallas knocked out the top-seeded Vegas Golden Knights in just five games.
It's hard to believe that the Stars actually fired their head coach Jim Montgomery in the middle of the season. Bowness has them playing a complete game, and it’s clear that the players have bought in.
The Stars have a new mantra that has united both the players and fans: “We’re not going home!”
Key player roles: necessary in every Stanley Cup-winning team.
In order to call oneself a Stanley Cup Champion, each player on the team must serve an important role in the team’s success.
It's obvious how good Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov have been. With 25 and 26 points, respectively, they lead the team in offensive production. But it's been the clutch scoring from Ondrej Palat and gritty play from Blake Coleman that was missing from Tampa Bay teams in the past. These players, along with veteran presence of Pat Maroon, have played critical roles in transforming Tampa Bay into a more well-rounded unit.
Dallas’ 21-year-old defenseman Miro Heiskanen has been the story for the Stars. Not only is he leading the team in points, but the work in his own end has distinguished himself as one of the best players in the game. As good as he has been, Dallas wouldn't be where it is today without key contributions from young guns Denis Gurianov and undrafted Joel Kiviranta.
Gurianov, a first-round pick in 2015, has quickly made a name for himself with nine goals and 17 points in 21 games this postseason. As for Joel Kiviranta… who in the world is this guy, and why is he scoring Game 7 overtime hat tricks against one of the best teams in the NHL? What a story it’s been for Kiviranta, a 24-year-old undrafted player from Finland, who has found a way to crack the lineup. He has just five points in eight games, but all four of his goals came in critical situations.
These role players for Tampa Bay and Dallas will play a key part in deciding which team wins the Stanley Cup in 2020.
There are only two outcomes but a million ways to get there. Predicting the unpredictable is what makes hockey the best sport in the world. Now it all comes down to which team has what it takes to take home hockey’s ultimate prize.
Tampa Bay, your time is running out. It’s time to move all your chips to the center of the table and go all in. This might be their last shot to win it with this core. There are no more excuses.
Dallas has earned the right to be here. The Stars have battled some of the NHL’s most lethal rosters and have clawed their way to the top. They’ve done it all playoffs long. There’s no reason they can’t do it again.
But Tampa Bay gets the job done in seven games. It will likely be a remarkable series with both teams giving 110%, but Kucherov will take over and win the Conn Smythe Trophy for playoffs MVP.
Finally, everyone should commend the NHL for putting this together. There’s been not one positive test for COVID-19 the entirety of the NHL playoffs: a remarkable feat that the league should be proud of, and a miracle for hockey fans the world over who have been lucky to witness these amazing playoffs over the past month. Regardless of the outcome of this series, we should look back at the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs fondly as a staggering success during one of the most difficult times the world has seen in recent history.
Kyle Cannillo is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email email@example.com.