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?
[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]
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.
The NHL playoffs will end with the Islanders slowly suffocating the Stars for a 1-0 overtime win in which neither team has 20 shots on goal. Time will slow down and then eventually run backwards. We will advance in reverse towards the past and that will be how we escape 2020
— Acting the Fulemin (@ATFulemin) September 7, 2020
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.