The Dallas Stars struck first in the Stanley Cup Final on Saturday night with a 4-1 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning, continuing what has been an absolutely magical run through the playoffs.
They knocked off the top two Western Conference favorites in back-to-back rounds, and now find themselves just three wins away from their first championship in more than two decades.
They look to continue that championship chase on Monday night in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN, Livestream).
Steven Stamkos also appears to be out again for Tampa Bay.
What else are we keeping an eye out for on Monday? Here are three more keys to Game 2 of the series.
At this point Khudobin has made himself the story of the playoffs and the biggest key for both teams.
For Dallas, it is very simple. As long as he keeps stopping pucks the way he has been since the start of the Vegas series it is going to be awfully tough to beat them. This is the type of goaltending performance that not only produces a Stanley Cup for the team, but also gets the goalie himself some individual hardware in the form of the Conn Smythe Trophy.
Going back to the Stars’ Game 7 win against Colorado in the Second Round, Khudobin has won six of his past seven starts with a .946 save percentage in those games. He was a series-changer against Vegas, and he stood tall in Game 1 against Tampa Bay.
His recent performance is definitely a level of play we have never seen from him before, but we shouldn’t be shocked that he is performing at a high level. Because it’s all he has done since joining the Stars before the 2018-19 season. Over those two seasons, including playoffs, Khudobin has appeared in 92 games for the Stars with a stunning .925 save percentage. That puts him among the league’s elite goalies during that stretch.
He has always given them a chance to win on most nights. Now he is one of the biggest reasons they are three wins away from a championship.
Tampa Bay now has to figure out a way to break through that. The Lightning have been the best offensive team in the league for years, and even without Steven Stamkos still boast a deep lineup of scorers. But that same team has gone cold at times late in the playoffs, and a hot goalie is probably the last thing they want to see.
• Watch out for Dallas’ defense
And not necessarily for their defense.
But for their offense.
The key to the Stars’ success these past two seasons has been centered around their defensive play and, most especially, their goaltending where they have one of the league’s best duos in Khudobin and Ben Bishop (when he is healthy).
But they also have two No. 1 defenders on their blue line in Miro Heiskanen and John Klingberg, and that duo is not only helping to keep opponents off the scoreboard, it is also driving their own offense.
Heiskanen (23 points) and Klingberg (17) are both among the top-12 scorers in the league this postseason, while their defense as a whole has already combined for 15 total goals in their first 22 playoff games. Heiskanen and Jamie Oleksiak already have five goals each, while Klingberg (3), Esa Lindell (1) and Joel Hanley (1) have combined for five of their own.
They played a huge role in the Stars’ Game 1 win with Hanley opening the scoring and Oleksiak scoring the game-winning goal.
Lindell and Klingberg also had the two assists on Joel Kiviranta’s late second period goal that helped put the game out of reach.
• Tampa Bay’s third line
They are both among the top offensive players in the league and having absolutely sensational postseasons. If the Lightning end up winning this series, it is a strong bet that one of them will take home the Conn Smythe Trophy.
But their line is not the only one causing problem for opposing teams.
Mostly assembled at the trade deadline (Coleman and Goodrow were acquired in trades with New Jersey and San Jose) that trio has served as a shutdown line defensively while also chipping in some nice secondary offense. In more than 232 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey this postseason, the Lightning are outscoring teams 11-5 with those three on the ice together while dominating the shot and scoring chance numbers.