While the Tampa Bay Lightning’s top line spent the past two games filling the back of the net, the Dallas Stars are still waiting for theirs to make a noticeable impact in the Stanley Cup Final.
Entering Game 4 on Friday night (8 p.m. ET, NBC; livestream), the Stars’ top trio of Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, and Alexander Radulov has combined for zero goals in the series, while only Radulov (three assists) has recorded a single point.
Seguin’s scoring funk this postseason has already been well documented. He has just two goals (both early in their Second Round series against Colorado) since the playoffs began and has managed just a single assist over his past 12 games. But while his offense has gone cold, Radulov and Benn had continued to help drive the offense.
Benn entered the series as one of the Stars’ most productive forwards, while Radulov hasn’t been far behind and had already scored four game-winning goals.
But so far against Tampa everyone on that line has gone cold.
There are a few factors at play.
For one, this is the best team that Dallas has had to play this postseason and the Lightning present several matchup problems. While they are known for their offense and have been the highest scoring team in the league for three consecutive years, they are also a fierce defensive team and one of the best lockdown teams in the league.
Victor Hedman is on the short list of best all-around players in hockey and is going to play close to half the game every night. He presents a challenge.
The Lightning have two forwards lines at the top of their lineup that have dominated in very different ways. The Nikita Kucherov–Brayden Point–Ondrej Palat duo is a tidal wave of talent that has overwhelmed every team they have faced this postseason. Behind them, the Lightning have the Blake Coleman–Yanni Gourde–Barclay Goodrow line that has been a brick wall defensively.
Even if Stars coach Rick Bowness wants to try and pick and choose his matchups he can’t keep his top line off the ice forever waiting for one of those two lines to leave. At some point they are going to have to play against one of them.
Then in the event that the Stars do break through one of those lines, and do get by Hedman, they still have to deal with an elite goalie in Andrei Vasilevskiy.
So the matchup is part of it.
One way to potentially get around that is to split up the top line and spread them throughout the lineup. That way you could potentially get one or two of them into a more favorable matchup. Bowness was asked about that possibility on Friday afternoon, but would not commit to it one way or the other.
One option that might be worth looking at would be to put Seguin alongside Denis Gurianov in an effort to get the former going again. They haven’t spent a lot of time together the past two seasons, but when they have they mostly dominated during the regular season. They did play 22 minutes together earlier this postseason with less success, but I wouldn’t let that small sample size stop me from trying something new in an effort to jumpstart things. Especially when Gurianov probably deserves more ice-time anyway.
There is also an element of puck luck at play here because it’s not as if the trio hasn’t been able to generate shots. Together they have combined for 23 shots on goal through the first three games of the series with zero goals between them. Given their shot rates during the regular season they would have been expected to score at least two goals as a group on that same number of shots. Nobody wants to hear about luck and bad bounces in the Stanley Cup Final, but to ignore it would be ignoring reality. Sometimes the puck just doesn’t go in the net for you.
One of the biggest problems the Stars have had in recent years was always the fact they had a great top line and little secondary scoring behind them. With the addition of Joe Pavelski, as well as the emergence of players like Gurianov and Roope Hintz they have definitely helped address that. And it has paid off in a big way this postseason.
Now they need that top line to find a way to get rolling again. It has not happened yet in this series, but it only takes one game to help change that narrative in their favor.
Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars (TB leads 2-1)
Stars 4, Lightning 1 (recap)
Lightning 3, Stars 2 (recap)
Lightning 5, Stars 2 (recap)
Game 4: Friday, Sept. 25, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
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
MORE: Conn Smythe Watch: Victor Hedman makes his move
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.