Thanks to a couple of fast starts, a bounce-back from their power play unit, and a brief appearance from captain Steven Stamkos the Lightning have been able to win back-to-back games and take a 2-1 series lead in the 2020 Stanley Cup Final.
It has been the usual suspects leading that charge for them as forwards Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point, and top defenseman Victor Hedman, continue to pace their offense.
All three players find themselves at the top of our latest Conn Smythe Watch.
1. Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning. Truly a dominant postseason in every possible way. He has already scored 10 goals (with 10 assists) in 22 games and completely controls every game when he is on the ice. He has played more than 434 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey this postseason, and during that time the Lightning are outscoring their opponents by a 24-6 margin and controlling close to 60 percent of the total shot attempts and expected goals (via Natural Stat Trick). With all due respect to Kucherov, Point, and a healthy Stamkos, he is pobably the best player on this team.
2. Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning. He leads the league in assists and total points this postseason and has helped jumpstart Tampa’s power play in the Cup Final. His performance in Games 2 and 3 got the Lightning off to fast starts that helped them take the series lead.
3. Brayden Point, Tampa Bay Lightning. Point had been emerging as the top Conn Smythe favorite for Tampa. His drop to the third spot is simply a testament to how good the other two guys currently ahead of him have been. Point and Kucherov have been unstoppable at times this postseason offensively and it is starting to get to the point where it is difficult to separate one from the other. They are great individually. Together they are a nightmare for the Stars. And every other team that has tried to slow down the Lightning.
[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]
4. Miro Heiskanen, Dallas Stars. His first period turnover that led to Kucherov’s goal in Game 3 was the low-point of his postseason, and one of the few mistakes he has made this entire postseason. He has been the Stars’ best and most consistent player from the start of the playoffs and if they are able to win three of the next four games and win the Stanley Cup he will be one of the biggest reasons why. He is averaging a point-per-game offensively as a defenseman, is playing a shutdown role defensively, and still has not taken a single penalty in the playoffs even though he spends 20-plus minutes per night playing against the top players in the world. A stunning player.
5. Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars. He has proved this postseason that he still has a lot left in the tank and can be a top-line offensive producer. He has been one of the Stars’ most productive forwards and come through in some huge moments for them.
6. Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning. He has not only played every minute for Tampa in the Toronto and Edmonton bubbles, he has done so at an incredibly high level. He enters Game 4 of the Cup Final on Friday (8 p.m. ET, NBC; livestream) with a .928 save percentage. On most other teams that sort of goaltending performance would be at the top of this list. But the rest of Tampa’s roster is so good, and so dominant that it kind of gets overlooked.
[Lightning vs. Stars: 2020 Stanley Cup Final schedule]
7. Anton Khudobin, Dallas Stars. It would be unfair to say that he has been bad in the Cup Final, because he hasn’t been. He has also had some rotten puck luck work against him. But he also has not been as good as he was in the Western Conference Final. Dallas is going to need him to be.
8. Denis Gurianov, Dallas Stars. The most underrated player on this Stars team. Whenever he is on the ice, something good seems to happen for the Stars. He is one of their most productive and impactful players despite still only getting about 13 minutes of ice-time per game. He is averaging more than two points per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 ice-time. Play him more, Dallas!
Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.