The gleam of the 127-year-old Stanley Cup was practically dimmed by the coronavirus pandemic. But after the suspension of play in March, an elaborate plan to return to the ice, a brand new labor settlement, the creation of two so-called bubbles in Edmonton and Toronto and an expanded postseason, the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Dallas Stars will play for the trophy beginning Saturday evening.
The two finalists have every gained one Cup: 16 years in the past for Tampa Bay and 21 years again for Dallas. For the Lightning, a second championship could possibly be the end result of an period that has seen their high gamers obtain particular person dominance however fall in need of the final word group accomplishment. For the Stars, it could possibly be a serious step ahead for a company looking for sustained success.
The Road to the Finals
Dallas stifled opponents in the course of the shortened common season, thanks largely to a cellular protection corps that would oscillate fluidly between containing assaults up the partitions and defending its internet. But Dallas had struggled to attain, posting the third fewest targets within the N.H.L. (Tampa Bay led the league). The Stars additionally gained solely 14 of their closing 28 video games, a span that included shedding their closing six video games earlier than the season was suspended. In round-robin play, they gained one sport, in a shootout.
Then they received rolling. They eradicated the Calgary Flames in six video games, received by the Colorado Avalanche in seven (regardless of having held a Three-1 lead within the sequence) and dispatched the top-seeded Vegas Golden Knights in 5. The Stars had been outshot handily by each Colorado and Vegas, and they’ve a minus-two objective differential for the postseason, making them the primary finalist with a negative-goal differential for the reason that league expanded its playoff format in 1979-80.
Tampa, which takes benefit of a potent counterattack, had gained an unremarkable 12 video games via November earlier than averaging simply shy of 10 wins a month within the closing full three months of the season.
Five has been the Lightning’s magic quantity in these playoffs. They performed a marathon five-overtime sport towards Columbus within the first of a five-game sequence within the first spherical. Then Tampa Bay bounced the defending convention champion Boston Bruins in 5 video games. They practically completed the Islanders in 5, however dropped Game 5 in double extra time earlier than middle Anthony Cirelli sealed the sequence with a objective in extra time of Game 6.
An Offensive Awakening
The Stars, who had been one of many worst offensive groups within the common season, discovered their groove within the Edmonton bubble. Their energy play has been the best of any group to advance past the primary spherical. They additionally had extra constant tempo created by defensemen John Klingberg and Miro Heiskanen, who leads his group in scoring regardless of recording just one level in the course of the convention finals. Three Stars have had hat tips in these playoffs, together with a four-goal sport. In the franchise’s 26 seasons in Dallas, no participant had each scored a playoff hat trick.
Along the best way, Dallas has developed fairly a knack for comebacks. The Stars have trailed sooner or later in eight of their 13 postseason victories, gained six occasions after ceding the opening objective, and have gained all 5 of their extra time video games this postseason.
Trophies to Spare, however Not the Big One
The Lightning’s trophy case has a full assortment of the N.H.L.’s greatest prizes.
Center Steven Stamkos, who has but to look in these playoffs however hasn’t been dominated out of the finals, has twice led the league in targets. In 2018, Victor Hedman gained the Norris Trophy because the league’s greatest defenseman. Last 12 months, Andrei Vasilevskiy gained the Vezina Trophy because the league’s high goaltender, and proper wing Nikita Kucherov gained the Hart Trophy because the N.H.L.’s Most worthy participant. As a gaggle, the Lightning gained the Presidents’ Trophy in 2019 because the league’s greatest regular-season group.
But the Stanley Cup has eluded them, regardless of reaching 5 convention finals previously decade. This is their second journey to the finals underneath Jon Cooper, whose group misplaced in six video games to the Chicago Blackhawks in 2015.
In these playoffs, Hedman has come via with 9 targets (which provides him a shot at Paul Coffey’s postseason report of 12 by a defenseman), and his towering presence has anchored the Lightning protection. Vasilevskiy has been remarkably sturdy and constant, enjoying each minute of the playoffs and sustaining lean numbers with out the assistance of a single shutout. Kucherov has posted a postseason-high 26 factors, one forward of his linemate, middle Brayden Point, and Colorado middle Nathan MacKinnon. Point missed Games Three and 5 of the convention finals with an damage.
Pining for a Cup
Both groups have predominantly homegrown expertise, so it comes as little shock that there are few former champions on this sequence. Tampa wing Patrick Maroon, who gained the Cup along with his hometown St. Louis Blues final 12 months, is the one Cup winner on Tampa’s roster. On the Stars’ facet, proper wing Corey Perry, 35, gained the Cup with Anaheim in 2007 and Tyler Seguin, 28, lifted the trophy as a rookie with Boston.
Even the coaches within the sequence have largely seen the Cup elude them. Dallas Coach Rick Bowness, 65, by no means gained the Cup as a participant and had not been a head coach since 2004, with the majority of his work coming within the 1990s. He solely took cost of the Stars after Jim Montgomery was dismissed in December for “unprofessional conduct.” Cooper, 53, had been a collegiate lacrosse player and a public defender before getting into coaching.
Perhaps the most agonizing wait, though, has been for Stars forward Joe Pavelski, 36, who evolved from a seventh-round pick in the 2003 draft to a franchise cornerstone and team captain in San Jose. There, he went to the conference finals four times and the Stanley Cup finals once. He has played more than 1,000 regular-season games and 155 playoff contests, more than any player in this series. But a title at the end of it would be his first.