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Stanley Cup Finals Preview, Sort Of…

The Stanley Cup Finals pits a heavily favored Tampa Bay Lightning against a scrappy underdog in the Dallas Stars. Who will take it?

Tampa Bay Lightning Preshow by Ms. Gemstone is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Stanley Cup Finals Preview, Sort Of…

Estimated Reading Time: 6 Minutes

After Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals, the Dallas Stars lead the Tampa Bay Lightning 1-0.

The elephant in the room is how did Tampa Bay lose? The Lightning are heavily favored to win. Almost every analyst doesn’t see a way that the powerhouse Lightning, one of the consistently strongest teams in the Eastern Conference, could lose to the scrappy Dallas Stars. In fact, the Stars were not projected to make it this far at all. However, here we are and we have to do some analyzing of our own. Now, I’ll say flat out, I am choosing the Lightning to win but I do think it will take seven games. I also have some personal pride riding on this but more on that later. For now, here are the potential strengths and weaknesses in both teams.

The Tampa Bay Lightning’s offense is so strong on paper, they could be an example in a textbook.

I’m planning to chock up Game 1’s loss to lack of rest and preparation. Dallas had 4 days off after defeating the Vegas Golden Knights to prepare and catch their breath. Tampa Bay had 48 hours and have played more hockey than every other team thanks to many multiple overtime games. There was an amount of fatigue mentally and physically to negotiate. I expect the playing field to be a little more even after Dallas has played again. Now, onto the nitty gritty.

Tampa Bay has a finessed, smart, and creative hockey team. They thrive on fast paced, quick passing ice hockey as the team is built around small, fast skaters. This goes down to every offensive line, where their depth of scoring is truly absurd. Captain Steven Stamkos has been out of the lineup the entire playoffs and Brayden Point was injured for part of the Islanders series. You barely noticed. Kucherov, Coleman, and Palat have continued leading the team in the offensive zone and dominating puck possession. Kucherov alone has been involved in many of his team’s 60 goals, with 6 goals of his own and 20 assists. Their offense is a force that I’m not sure Dallas is quite ready to face at full tilt.

Then there is that special someone between the pipes: Andrei Vasilevskiy.

Let’s just all say what we’re thinking: Vasilevskiy is too good. I have said it before and I am saying it again: I am genuinely annoyed by his skill. His glove hand is so fast, I would want him on my team in a Wild West Style shootout for sure. He’s only allowed more than three goals in a select few games in playoffs so far. He is the only goalie to play every minute of playoff hockey as well. His GAA is 1.88 and no one else kept theirs below 2.00. He’s playing monster goaltending right now and that isn’t likely to change. After the embarrassing playoff combustion last year to the Columbus Blue Jackets, the entire team has come back with a score to settle in these playoffs. He is on top of that pile.

Additionally, his defensive support is helping keep quality scoring chances to a minimum. Victor Hedman is playing such complete end-to-end hockey right now that I won’t be surprised if his legs detach from his body and skate without him at some point. Shattenkirk is liable to destroy another human’s body with his physical play or his own with the blocks he is willing to make. Protect a savant goalie well? You’re liable to win. I just don’t see the Lightning losing here unless they suffer another major implosion via injury or mental strength collapse.

But Dallas’s greatest skill is spoiling puck possession and dominating in size.

If Tampa Bay purposefully chose smaller, faster skaters, the Dallas Stars have done the opposite. The Dallas team is taller across the board and led by 6’7″ defenseman Jamie Oleksiak. They thrive on intercepting passes with their long arms and throwing hard hits where others may not. Thus far, this has been Dallas’ success. They take teams with strong systems and turn them upside down. Miro Heiskanen alone is something to be afraid of. He’s the defenseman currently leading the team in points and ice time. He’s all over the place and his team is following his example. This is translating into lots of blocked shots, aggressive back checking, aggressive forechecking and well… aggression.

Additionally, they seem to have found a small weakness in Vasilevskiy. They are shooting blocker side almost exclusively and this is a potential weak point. He traditionally falters on that blocker side and that strategy paid off in a win for Dallas in Game 1.

However, I’m not sure this will translate to a long term strategy for Dallas, and they have serious issues to contend with. Heiskanen is no replacement for Tyler Seguin’s quiet place in the line up. As the top guy normally, Seguin only has two goals in the whole playoffs, and that lack of leadership on the ice shows in Dallas’s up and down play. We see this most in the undisciplined penalties Dallas is taking. Tampa Bay will be sure to try to win the battle of special teams throughout the series by keeping out of the box and on the power play.

It could all be saved by Dobby.

The real star of the playoffs in general is Anton Khudobin. When starting goaltender Ben Bishop joined the IR, everyone assumed Dallas was done. Anton Khudobin has stepped up ten fold and been a Cinderella story of sorts in these playoffs. While a little up and down, his play is consistent enough and strong enough to pull his team through some tough wins. He makes big saves when they are needed and frankly just shocks everyone. In Game 1, he stopped 36 shots and most of them were quality chances. It was a sight to see, in my opinion.

A family friend said to me recently “if a goalie is hot, there isn’t much you can do about it.” And Khudobin has been hot. And there isn’t much else that can be done about it. Could this be a battle of the goalies?

Ultimately, I’m still picking Tampa Bay to win.

And as I mentioned, I have a personal stake. Like any couple that has been together for many years and live together, my boyfriend and I constantly struggle with the age old question: “what do you want for dinner?” That question yields to “I don’t know, what do you want for dinner?” and thus we go back and forth until we are both fed up over it and eat something out of the freezer or cook something easy like pasta or sandwiches.

Well, we’ve made the relationship bet to end all bets around the Stanley Cup. I’m rooting for Tampa Bay, he is rooting for Dallas. If your team loses a game, you have to decide, acquire and cook whatever is for dinner until the next game is played. That’s right, folks: two dinners that the loser is in charge of for the day after the game and the night of the following game. It can only get weirder or cuter from here. Not sure which. Tune back in for whatever the hell we ate and until then…

Happy Stanley Cup Finals!

Sarah Jane, Sarah, or SJ-depending on the source-is a director, educator, theatre artist and now, sports blogger. She lives in Queens with her darling, not-so-sports-fan boyfriend. She played ice hockey growing up for the NJ Quarry Cats and various other teams. Being team captain her last two seasons is the most important achievement of her life to date. She proudly also was about a quarter of the size of her opponents and often led her team in both penalty minutes and enthusiasm. She's a Pittsburgh Penguins and Steelers fan (thanks, Momma!) and a New York Yankees fan (thanks, Poppa?) and was given zero choice on all three of these teams. Other hobbies include reading non-fiction books, cooking, and being spunky. Check in with her for all your greater hockey needs!

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