What is driving the Stars’ offensive breakout?

The Stars have pushed one of the top Stanley Cup contenders to the brink of elimination and are a win away from reaching the Western Conference Final for the first time since the 2008.

On its own nothing about that sentence should be overly shocking.

The Stars won a lot of games during the regular season, and they were at pretty much this exact same point in the playoffs a year ago.

What is surprising about their success this season is the way they are winning.

They enter Game 5 of their Second Round series against the Avalanche on Monday (9:45 p.m. ET, NBCSN; livestream) as one of the highest scoring team in the league since the 16-team playoff field began play a couple of weeks ago. Since the start of the First Round the Stars have already scored 40 goals in their 10 playoff games, and when looking at it from a goals-per-game angle there is really only one other team that has been close to them (Colorado).

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

To fully grasp what is happening here we need to at least consider how much the Stars struggled offensively coming into the playoffs.

  • During the regular season they finished 26th in the league in goals per game, and managed just five total goals in their three Round-Robin games.
  • Since the start of the 2018-19 season, the only three teams in the league that scored fewer goals per game have been the Kings, Ducks, and Red Wings — three of the worst teams in the league.
  • Over the past three years the Stars have had only one other 10-game stretch where they scored at least 40 goals, and that came earlier this season between October 28 and November 22 when they went on a 9-0-1 run. Last year they never scored more than 31 goals over any 10-game stretch.

This just isn’t something they do. When they have found success, it has typically been on the strength of goaltending and the fact they have two No. 1 defenders on their blue line in Miro Heiskanen and John Klingberg.

Those factors are still there right now (Heiskanen is an early Conn Smythe contender), but they are also getting offense.

Where is that offense coming from?

The power play

This is the one area where the Stars have been very respectable offensively the past two years, finishing in the top half of the league (13th and 11th) in terms of power play success rate.

The Stars’ big problem offensively in recent years has been a lack of depth beyond their top five or six players (only three forwards had more than 30 total points a year ago). But while that depth has been a question mark, there has still been enough talent at the top of the lineup to put a functioning power play unit together.

During this 10-game run that power play unit has converted on 28.6 percent of its opportunities. Just for perspective, the top power play unit in the NHL from the regular season converted on 28.2 percent of its chances (that power play unit belonged to Tampa).

The top line is dominating again

The trio of Alexander Radulov, Jamie Benn, and Tyler Seguin has been the Stars’ go-to line for three years now, and at times over that stretch has been the only line carrying them.

They are starting to do that again.

Over the past 10 games that trio has spent nearly 100 minutes of 5-on-5 ice-time together, a stretch that has seen them outscore their opponents by a 9-2 margin and completely dictate the pace of the game in terms of shot attempts and scoring chances. Seguin hasn’t really started to pile up points just yet, but Benn and Radulov have been outstanding over the past two weeks.

They found some secondary help

The Stars spent big over the summer on Joe Pavelski and Corey Perry with the hopes they could solve some of the secondary scoring issues. And while Pavelski had a slow start and did not come close to matching his 40-goal performance from a year ago, he has been everything the Stars could have hoped for in the playoffs with seven goals in the first 13 games.

Keep in mind, the Stars played 13 playoff games a year ago and did not have a single player score more than five goals in those games.

Then there is Denis Gurianov, probably the most overlooked player on this team — maybe within the team itself. The rookie finished the regular season as the Stars’ leading goal-scorer (20) despite averaging just a little more than 12 minutes of ice-time per game and only being a secondary part of the power play. His role has increased a little in the playoffs (still only 14 minutes per game) and is, again, leading the team in goals (8).

The fact the Stars’ top-two goal scorers in the playoffs are NOT a part of their top line is perhaps the most encouraging development for them because it means that top trio does not have to be counted on to carry the offense. Add in players like Roope Hintz and Radek Faksa making an impact on the power play, and there are a lot of positives here.

Some luck

Yes, there is a little of that going on here and it’s not bad a thing. Every Stanley Cup team always has some luck on its side at some point. And when your team scores on more than 11 percent of its shots over a 10-game stretch, when that team hasn’t been close to that in years, there is an element of luck to that.

Some of it is simple puck luck and shooting luck (like that Cale Makar turnover on Sunday).

Some of it is running into a couple of teams (Calgary and Colorado) that do not have the strongest goaltending. That has been especially true in this series where Pavel Francouz has struggled in place of Philipp Grubauer.

MORE:
Heiskanen takes over top spot in Conn Smythe Watch
Stanley Cup Playoffs Second Round schedule


Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Lightning-Stars stream: 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs continues with Wednesday’s Stanley Cup Final matchup between the Lightning and Stars. Pre-game coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Watch the Lightning-Stars stream on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Tampa scored three goals in the first 15:16 minutes of the game, including two on the power play, and held off a late push by Dallas to win 3-2 and even the Stanley Cup Final at one game apiece. Brayden Point opened the scoring by netting his 10th of the postseason and Ondrej Palat and Kevin Shattenkirk each scored to give the Lightning a three-goal lead they would not relinquish.

Since the beginning of their First Round series against Columbus, the Lightning are a perfect 5-0 following a loss this postseason. Tampa last lost consecutive games on March 8th and 10th – its final two games before the pause. Andrei Vasilevskiy has not lost consecutive starts since dropping three straight from Feb. 20-25.

After going 0/14 on the power play in their previous four games, the Lightning scored twice on the man-advantage in Game 2, with both tallies coming in the first period. Point and Palat scored power-play goals 2:59 apart in the first period in the win. Dallas took three penalties in the first 14 minutes of play and the Lightning were able to take control by scoring twice.

Tyler Seguin, who is making his third appearance in the Stanley Cup Final, has struggled mightily in the 2020 playoffs. The 28- year-old has gone 11 consecutive games without a goal and has just one assist over that span. His last goal came in Game 3 of the Second Round vs. Colorado.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

WHAT: Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars
WHERE: Rogers Place – Edmonton
WHEN: Wednesday, September 23, 8 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
ON THE CALL: Mike Emrick, Eddie Olczyk, Brian Boucher
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Lightning-Stars stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars (Series tied 1-1)

Stars 4, Lightning 1 (recap)
Lightning 3, Stars 2 (recap)
Game 3: Wednesday, Sept. 23, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
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

*if necessary

Steven Stamkos scores in return to Lightning lineup

Stamkos Game 3
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For the first time in nearly seven months Steven Stamkos was back in the lineup for the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday night for Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final.

He wasted no time in making an impact.

Just 6:58 into the first period, and on his third shift of the night, Stamkos scored to give the Lightning a 2-0 lead over the Dallas Stars. It is the first Stanley Cup Final goal of his career and it came on his very first shot this postseason.

Here is a look at the play.

Stamkos had been sidelined since the end of February due to a lower-body injury and surgery to repair a core muscle injury.

He has been with the team throughout the entire 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs but has not yet been able to return to the lineup. That changed on Wednesday when he started the game on the fourth line with Cedric Paquette and Patrick Maroon. He replaced Carter Verhaeghe on that line.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

But while he was able to score early in the game, Stamkos did not take a single shift during the final seven minutes of the first period and was not on the team’s bench for the start of the second period. He eventually returned to the bench but was not taking a regular shift with his line.

Stamkos was having another monster season for the Lightning — recording 66 points (29 goals, 37 assists) in 57 regular season games — before his injury knocked him out of the lineup. Injuries have been an issue for Stamkos throughout his career and this was just the latest one to knock him out of the lineup for a significant period of time through the playoffs. His return on Wednesday is reminiscent of when he missed all but one game of 2015-16 Stanley Cup Playoffs, returning for the Lightning’s Game 7 loss in the Eastern Conference Final.

He had a 15-game point streak going at the time of his injury this season and with his goal on Wednesday has now recorded at least one point in each of his past 16 games played.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

NHL schedule for 2020 Stanley Cup Final

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The Stanley Cup Playoffs continue on Saturday, Sept. 19 in the hub city of Edmonton. Now that we are through the conference finals, the full 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final schedule has been announced.  

The top four teams during the regular season in both conferences played a three-game round robin for seeding in the First Round. The eight winners of the best-of-5 Qualifying Round advanced to the First Round.  

Rogers Place in Edmonton will host 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final.  

Here is the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final schedule.

2020 STANLEY CUP FINAL (Rogers Place – Edmonton)

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars (Series tied 1-1)

Game 1: Stars 4, Lightning 1 (recap)
Game 2: Lightning 3, Stars 2 (recap)
Game 3: Wednesday, Sept. 23, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
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

*if necessary

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

CONFERENCE FINAL RESULTS

EASTERN CONFERENCE FINAL
Lightning beat Islanders (4-2)

WESTERN CONFERENCE FINAL
Stars beat Golden Knights (4-1)

***

SECOND ROUND RESULTS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
Lightning beat Bruins (4-1)
Islanders beat Flyers (4-3)

WESTERN CONFERENCE
Golden Knights beat Canucks (4-3)
Stars beat Avalanche (4-3)

***

NHL QUALIFYING ROUND / ROUND-ROBIN RESULTS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
Philadelphia Flyers (3-0-0, 6 points)
Tampa Bay Lightning (2-1-0, 4 points)
Washington Capitals (1-1-1, 3 points)
Boston Bruins (0-3-0, 0 points)

Canadiens beat Penguins (3-1)
Hurricanes beat Rangers (3-0)
Islanders beat Panthers (3-1)
Blue Jackets beat Maple Leafs (3-2)

WESTERN CONFERENCE
Vegas Golden Knights (3-0-0, 6 points)
Colorado Avalanche (2-1-0, 4 points)
Dallas Stars (1-2-0, 2 points)
St. Louis Blues (0-2-1, 1 point)

Blackhawks beat Oilers (3-1)
Coyotes beat Predators (3-1)
Canucks beat Wild (3-1)
Flames beat Jets (3-1)

***

FIRST ROUND RESULTS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
Flyers beat Canadiens (4-2)
Lightning beat Blue Jackets (4-1)
Islanders beat Capitals (4-1)
Bruins beat Hurricanes (4-1)

WESTERN CONFERENCE
Golden Knights beat Blackhawks (4-1)
Avalanche beat Coyotes (4-1)
Stars beat Flames (4-2)
Canucks beat Blues (4-2)

Stars vs. Lightning: Three keys to Game 3 of 2020 Stanley Cup Final

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After the Stars held off a late push to beat the Lightning in Game 1 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final, the Lightning returned the favor in Game 2. In Game 3 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final (Wednesday, 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN (livestream), we’ll see which team grabs a 2-1 series lead.

Let’s consider three key factors in Game 3 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final between the Stars and Lightning.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

1. More offense from defense?

As the grind of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs wears on, it’s not surprising that teams are leaning on point shots for a decent chunk of their offense.

Defensemen have certainly factored into scoring for both teams so far. During Game 1, the Stars received unexpected offense from defensemen Jamie Oleksiak and Joel Hanley. John Klingberg factored into Dallas’ Game 2 comeback push with two nice assists, while Kevin Shattenkirk scored the game-winner for Tampa Bay.

After Klingberg took his turn, will Miro Heiskanen erupt (one assist in his last four games, yet still a point per playoff game [23 in 23 GP] during this run)? Could we see another big goal from Victor Hedman?

[Taking a look at the Lightning’s strong “trade deadline line”]

2. Stars need to walk “that fine line” better in Game 3

Look, it’s probably in the Stars’ best interests to bring a certain level of nastiness to their battles with the Lightning during the 2020 Stanley Cup Final. Chances are, if the Stars hoist the Stanley Cup, it will be after playing at least a solid chunk of ugly hockey.

But ugly hockey doesn’t always just lend itself to destroying flow and finesse. When players lapse into bad penalties, it can cause many trips to the penalty box.

While the Stars have acquitted themselves nicely on the power play, that’s still not the game they want to play against the Lightning. Tampa Bay showed how quickly its man advantage can go from cold to hot in Game 2, as those early strikes made the difference for the Lightning.

If history teaches us anything, officials will become less and less willing to call penalties as the 2020 Stanley Cup Final wages on. Still, we’re only in Game 3, so Dallas is better off being careful between whistles.

[Can Tyler Seguin break out of his 2020 Stanley Cup Final slump?]

3. Who starts and finishes strong?

Each team (Stars in Game 1, Lightning in Game 2) took a turn protecting a healthy lead during the 2020 Stanley Cup Final. In each case, they sat back a bit. One shouldn’t take all of the credit away from each rally attempt, but when you sit on a lead, you often play with fire.

Getting the first goal will, as always, be huge. Yet the fabled “full 60-minute effort” could be key this time around. (Then again, the Lightning can attest to games going a lot longer than 60 minutes … but hopefully you catch the drift.)

Such approaches — taking a foot off the gas, or turtling altogether with a lead — boil down to the philosophies of Rick Bowness and Jon Cooper. If there’s another beefy lead on either side, will the Lightning/Stars find a happy medium between being safe and snatching defeat from the jaws of victory?

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars (Series tied 1-1)

Stars 4, Lightning 1 (recap)
Lightning 3, Stars 2 (recap)
Game 3: Wednesday, Sept. 23, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
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

*if necessary

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.