Ranking the best possible Stanley Cup Final matchups

We’ve now seen Game 1 of each conference final (the Stars tightly shutting out the Golden Knights, and the Lightning blowing out the Islanders). Before that, PHT also rolled out predictions. While it’s far too early to tell which two teams will reach the 2020 Stanley Cup Final, it’s never too early to daydream about the possibilities.

Also, it’s never too early to aggravate fans who are already smarting about their teams being called boring. That’s just good Internet!

Let’s rank the four possible 2020 Stanley Cup Final matchups involving two of the Dallas Stars, Vegas Golden Knights, New York Islanders, and Tampa Bay Lightning. Surely no one will object to these subjective rankings, right?


Ranking each possible 2020 Stanley Cup Final series

1. Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Vegas Golden Knights

<—- Starts drooling disgustingly like Homer Simpson.

Plenty of people would draw up Lightning vs. Golden Knights as a best-on-best matchup, and few would question such claims.

To start, each team boasts serious firepower. Can Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty show they’re in the same league as Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov? Would the Golden Knights’ “other” top line be the real difference-maker? Does Shea Theodore deserve all of that dark horse Norris talk when he’s stacked against an actual Norris-winner in Victor Hedman?

Delightfully, this wouldn’t just be a series where it’s only fun to watch when the biggest names are on the ice. Each team rolls out some of the best depth you can ask for in a salary cap age.

Oh yeah, there’s also potential for some tea-spilling drama to seep in.

Maybe Peter DeBoer or Jon Cooper would drop a barb or two at each other. Ryan Reaves might stir things up, perhaps with Cedric Paquette. And all you need is a rogue agent to make things messy for Robin Lehner and/or Marc-Andre Fleury.

After seeing a Golden Knights – Avalanche series fall through the cracks, fans of the sport as a whole must be crossing their fingers for Golden Knights – Lightning in the 2020 Stanley Cup Final.

(As always, fans of specific teams want their team.)

2. Lightning vs. Dallas Stars

Consider this a distant second. As we saw from the Stars’ Game 1 win against the Golden Knights, Dallas probably defaults to a defensive shell.

But, as we saw from the Second Round, a team can also force the Stars into some run-and-gun. Perhaps that’s why the Stars can be frustrating for observers who aren’t fans or foes. This Stars roster has the makings of an attacking team, only they moved away from that since the latter part of the Lindy Ruff era.

Could the Lightning coax out more of an attacking style? That would go a long way in boosting this hypothetical championship round, although one couldn’t blame the Stars if they wanted to try to slow things down and limit the likes of Point and Kucherov.

Maybe we can dub this the Ben Bishop Bowl…if he’s even playing.

3. Golden Knights vs. New York Islanders

Really, second or third place would probably come down to coaching. If Cooper and Rick Bowness chose passive approaches, they wouldn’t have the most thrilling Stanley Cup Final.

We’ll get a better idea of whether or not the Golden Knights can force the pace they seek as their Western Conference Final progresses against the Stars. While the Golden Knights can be nasty and aggressive, they also thrive under frenetic circumstances. You’d assume that both the Stars and Islanders would want to keep things slow and low-energy, then. Through Game 1, it worked for the Stars — and as the postseason goes along, gathering that “locomotive on the loose” energy only becomes tougher.

That said, this series could be a lot of fun if Vegas was able to force the Isles out of their comfort zone every now and then. The physical nature could also come to play, as both teams love to hit. (Again, there’s a perfectly sound argument that this series would be second-best. It’s close.)

You might tear a tendon reaching for “Barry Trotz vs. the Golden Knights team he coached against in winning a Stanley Cup” narrative, but … hey, it’s better than nothing.

Then there’s also the fun subplot of Robin Lehner against his old team.

4. Stars vs. Islanders

Uh oh, this almost seems like a trap to make Islanders and Stars fans really angry. Sorry!

Actually, this is 2020. For all we know, the two teams could put together an all-time classic to defy those of us who are pre-cringing at what we’d expect to be hockey’s answer to a staring contest. Or a modern reboot of that unspeakably bad 2003 Wild – Ducks series where Minnesota scored a single goal.

Ultimately, there’s room for these two teams to entertain aplenty if they choose to.

Miro Heiskanen and John Klingberg give the Stars the sort of puck-moving ability to transition into white-knuckle scoring chances. Watching Mathew Barzal play hockey ranks among one of the most mesmerizing spectacles in the sport; you could probably meditate to his best shifts.

And, if nothing else, Jamie Benn will probably get really mad at Islanders heavy-hitters such as Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck.

In other words, even the “worst” potential 2020 Stanley Cup Final series could still be a lot of fun.

Just maybe not as fun as Golden Knights – Lightning. Then again, that series would probably be tough to top (if the coaches stay out of the way).

Stanley Cup Playoffs Conference Final schedule

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.

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.


WHAT: Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars
WHERE: Rogers Place – Edmonton
WHEN: Wednesday, September 23, 8 p.m. ET
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.


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


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



Lightning beat Islanders (4-2)

Stars beat Golden Knights (4-1)



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

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



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)

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)



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

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.


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.