The Tampa Bay Lightning will have a chance to win the Stanley Cup in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final on Saturday (8 p.m. ET, NBC, Livestream) when they take on the Dallas Stars.
Injuries will again be a big factor as Steven Stamkos is set to miss yet another game for the Lightning as he continues to recover from a lower-body injury.
On the Dallas side, Roope Hintz, Blake Comeau, and Radek Faksa will all be unavailable, leaving a significant dent on a penalty killing unit that has already struggled in this series.
The Stars need to put together another improbable run this postseason, and it has to start on Saturday night.
Let’s take a look at three keys to the game to get you ready.
1. The Lightning power play vs. the Stars penalty kill
You could also go back to the No. 1 key from Game 4 and say that the Stars have to remain disciplined, but that ship seems like it has already sailed in this series. Plus, with the way the Lightning are clicking on the power play right now they may not need many opportunities to change the game and get a big goal.
The Lightning have scored on six of their 15 power play opportunities in this series and are coming off of a Game 4 performance where they found the back of the net three times, including on Kevin Shattenkirk‘s overtime winning goal.
This group is just too good, too talented, and too precise to consistently slow down. Add in the fact that the Stars are without Radek Faksa, Blake Comeau, and Roope Hintz (three regulars on the PK, with the former two being two of their most utilized players) and it becomes an even bigger challenge.
That is a lot to replace.
2. Goalies on the back-to-back
Most teams do not like playing their goalies in both ends of a back-to-back during the regular season, and we even saw a lot of teams use their backups during this year’s postseason to help reduce the workload.
But no coach is going to sit their starter in the Stanley Cup Final, especially in a potential elimination game.
So you are going to see Andrei Vasilevskiy and Anton Khudobin again on Saturday even though both goalies played an entire overtime game just 24 hours earlier.
Back-to-backs are always a lot for goalies, but when you consider the workload these two have taken on this postseason they have to be running on fumes at this point.
That has to be especially true for Vasilevskiy as he has played every single minute for the Lightning since the postseason began in late July.
Given the way this series has played out the Stars are going to need Khudobin to carry them again.
3. Tampa Bay’s top line
The trio of Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, and Ondrej Palat has been dominant all postseason, and they are somehow getting stronger in the Stanley Cup Final.
They have aleady combined for seven goals in the first four games of the series (four for Point, one each for Kucherov and Palat) while Kucherov has five assists.
They have not only helped get the power play rolling again, but their 5-on-5 play has been equally dominant.
Just take a look at the numbers this line is producing when all three are on the ice together during 5-on-5 play:
- Total shot attempts: Tampa Bay 64, Dallas 26 (71.1 percent in Tampa Bay’s favor)
- Shots on goal: Tampa Bay 31, Dallas 13 (70. 4 percent in Tampa Bay’s favor)
- Expected goals: Tampa Bay 2.92, Dallas 1.06 (73.3 percent in Tampa Bay’s favor)
- Goals: Tampa Bay 4, Dallas 1 (80.0 percent in Tampa Bay’s favor)
All of that in just 48 minutes of 5-on-5 ice time.
The Stars have no answer for them, and it hasn’t really mattered which defensive pairing they have tried to use as both Miro Heiskanen and John Klingberg have been unable to slow them down. The Klingberg pairing has especially struggled, as the Stars have been outscored 2-0 and out-attempted 25-4 in the 20 minutes that pairing has played against the Kucherov line.
(Data in this post via Natural Stat Trick)
Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars (TB leads 3-1)
Stars 4, Lightning 1. (recap)
Lightning 3, Stars 2. (recap)
Lightning 5, Stars 2. (recap)
Lightning 5, Stars 4 [OT]. (recap)
Game 5: Saturday, Sept. 26, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
*Game 6: Monday, Sept. 28, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*Game 7: Wednesday, Sept. 30, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.