For the Dallas Stars, their 4-1 victory against the Lightning in Game 1 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final was as close to “as you draw it up” as it gets. Starting in Game 2 on Monday (8 p.m. ET on NBCSN: livestream), we’ll find out if this remains storybook for the Stars, or if the Lightning answer with some twists of their own.
While we wait, let’s ponder three takeaways from the Stars winning Game 1 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final against the Lightning by a score of 4-1.
1. Anton Khudobin: still red-hot
Through the first 40 minutes, it looked like the Stars had a good handle on the Lightning. Anton Khudobin only faced four shots on goal during the first period, and even as business picked up during the second, there weren’t a ton of Grade-A chances. Via Natural Stat Trick, the Stars managed an 8-3 edge in high-danger chances through the first two periods.
But the final 20 minutes reminded us of what a great story Anton Khudobin has been, and it’s a good clip show for Khudobin’s agent to trot out during the free agent frenzy.
The Lightning fired more shots on goal during the third period (22) than the Stars managed all game long (20). That final frame also represented the only period when the Lightning received power-play opportunities, but they loaded up with three.
Despite a stretch of utter domination, Jason Dickinson‘s empty-netter ranked as the only goal of the third. It’s hard to argue that the Lightning really “beat” Khudobin on their lone goal of Game 1, either, so consider the veteran red-hot. Still.
2. Stars defenders keep scoring — and not just the obvious ones
Look, it’s not a surprise to see Miro Heiskanen, John Klingberg, and even Esa Lindell collect an assist, as they all did in Game 1 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final. (Granted, it’s especially promising for Heiskanen, who was limited to a single assist and zero goals in five games against the Golden Knights.)
Big D getting big contributions from defensemen extends beyond the big obvious names to include an actually very big defenseman in Jamie Oleksiak. As surprising as it is pretty much every time Oleksiak scores, it’s becoming a more common occurrence during the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. He hit his fifth goal of this run, and did it with style.
There’s a reason why it’s surprising, though.
#GoStars Jamie Oleksiak
5 goals in his last 22 games.
4 goals in the previous 124 games.
— Sportsnet Stats (@SNstats) September 20, 2020
Fellow defenseman Joel Hanley stood out as the biggest surprise, though, as the first goal of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final also was the first goal Hanley scored at the NHL level — regular season or playoffs.
Thanks to those two goals from Game 1, the Stars have now received an impressive 15 goals from defensemen.
3. Could the Lightning have a Plan B line if their top guys are out of gas?
When you’ve logged the miles and accrued bumps and bruises like Brayden Point, Nikita Kucherov, and Victor Hedman have during the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, you might start to run on fumes. It was a tough Game 1 for Point (zero points or SOG, -3 rating) and Kucherov (zero points, -2 rating, five SOG; might have been partially responsible for the Oleksiak goal). Considering that both have missed time during this postseason, and that Hedman faced some of his own issues, the Lightning might need some other heroes.
Jon Cooper might even want to do the uncomfortable and give Point a breather.
[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]
But, for as frustrating as Game 1 must have been — especially during the third period — the Lightning may have a trio that can ease some of the burden for the likes of Kucherov and Point.
By the eye test, it looked like Tyler Johnson was finding some space with his skating, while Anthony Cirelli and Alex Killorn were doing their thing. Take a gander at some of their forward line stats from Game 1, via Natural Stat Trick:
Yes, it’s true that the line didn’t score a goal. You can also see that other groupings enjoyed useful results, including vaunted support players such as Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow.
But Cooper really might want to ponder leaning on Killorn – Cirelli – Johnson if they create the sort of looks that they did in Game 1. That trio manufactured three high-danger chances for, and none against, among other promising signs.
After being passed by over the years (including seeing his already falling ice time drop to an average of just 14:33 TOI per game this season), it would be quite the story if Tyler Johnson came up big for the Lightning during the 2020 Stanley Cup Final. Especially if the salary cap forces Johnson out after a potential last hurrah.
Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars (DAL leads 1-0)
Game 1: Stars 4, Lightning 1. (recap)
Game 2: Monday, Sept. 21, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
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
*Game 6: Monday, Sept. 28, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*Game 7: Wednesday, Sept. 30, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.