Veteran Lightning Favored to Win Stanley Cup, Rested Stars Await Them in Final

Posted on: September 19, 2020, 01:40h. 

Last updated on: September 19, 2020, 04:41h.

After nearly two months since play resumed in the NHL, we’re finally down to two teams left. The Dallas Stars and the Tampa Bay Lightning will square off in the Stanley Cup Final starting Saturday night.

NHL Stanley Cup
Mikhail Sergachev and Nikita Kucherov of the Tampa Bay Lightning celebrate a goal against the New York Islanders in the Eastern Conference Final. Tampa Bay is the favorite against the Dallas Stars in the Stanley Cup Final, which starts Saturday. (Image: Jason Franson/Canadian Press)

The best-of-seven series, like the conference finals that preceded it, will take place at Rogers Place in Edmonton. It is one of two hubs the NHL employed to resume play after the COVID-19 crisis halted the league for more than four months.

According to the oddsmakers, the Lightning will skate into the Final as the favorite to win their second Cup in franchise history. This will be their third appearance in the Final, having won it in 2004, while losing to Chicago in 2015.

2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final Odds
William Hill: Lightning -190, Stars +170
FanDuel: Lightning -195, Stars +155
DraftKings: Lightning -182, Stars +160
Circa Sports: Lightning -188, Stars +163
BetMGM: Lightning -182, Stars +150
PointsBet: Lightning -180, Stars +145

For the Stars, this marks their return to the Stanley Cup Final after a 20-year absence. After hoisting the Cup in 1999, they fell to New Jersey a year later. Combining the years the team played in Minnesota, the Stars now have made five trips to the championship series.

Game 1 starts Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET. The game will air on NBC.

Lightning Led by Veteran Core

The Lightning reach the finals a year after their most disappointing playoff appearance. In 2019, they were overwhelming favorites entering the postseason after winning 62 of 82 games and racking up 21 more points than the next best team, Boston, in the Eastern Conference.

Despite the great season, the last-seeded Columbus Blue Jackets shocked the Bolts with a four-game sweep.

While such an exit might have been painful for a less-veteran crew, it wasn’t for Tampa Bay, which features a cadre of players who have been together for years. This year marked the fourth time in the last six the Bolts have reached the conference final.

To get back the way we have, especially with the core group all still together, I couldn’t be more proud of them,” coach Jon Cooper said. “That’s why I’m so happy for the players, because, man, did they gut this stuff out.”

Tampa, the preseason Cup favorites, has one of the more prolific offenses in the NHL, and Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point currently lead all players in playoff points with 26 and 25, respectively. True to their name, the Lightning can strike quickly, as they showed in their 8-2 romp over the New York Islanders in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals earlier this month.

And they’ve continued the offensive production even without captain Steven Stamkos, who has missed the entire playoffs so far with a lower-body injury. Stamkos, who was second on the team in points in the regular season, is with the team and has skated. But team officials are closed-lipped on any potential return.

They can also play defense. Andrei Vasilevskiy will be between the pipes for Tampa Bay, and he’s posted a strong 1.82 goals-against average this postseason.

Stars Get Rest Before Stanley Cup Final

When play ended in March, Dallas found itself among the top four teams in the Western Conference. But it ranked among the worst teams in the league with a paltry 178 goals in 69 games. By comparison, Tampa Bay led the NHL with 243 in 70 games before COVID-19 forced the teams off the ice.

Dallas comes into the Final the more-rested team. They got five days off after dispatching the Vegas Golden Knights in five conference final games.

Coach Rick Bowness said his team needed the rest before the Stanley Cup Final.

“We had some guys, they’re banged up and they’re tired,” he said. “But speaking with a couple of veterans today, they’re ready to get playing again.”

Somehow, Dallas has advanced despite being outscored in the playoffs and seeding games by 62-64. They’re led by defenseman Miro Heiskanen, whose 22 points lead all blueliners in the postseason.

The Stars have also gotten some strong play from rookie right wing Denis Gurianov. He scored a team-high 20 goals in the regular season. However, he only ranked eighth on the team in points with 29. Howe’s upped his performance in Edmonton, as he’s picked up 17 points in 21 games to lead all rookies.