What’s the biggest thing that’s stood out to you through three games?
Sean Leahy, NHL writer: The flip in special teams execution for both teams. From the start of the First Round through the conference finals, the Dallas Stars‘ power play was dominant (26.5%) and their penalty kill was strong (83.3%). Meanwhile, Tampa’s extra man unit was down 6% from the regular season to 17.9%.
The Lighting’s power play issues were well-documented heading into the Stanley Cup Final, but that unit was woken up since Game 2 and is at 27.3% in the series with three goals in two games. Dallas has only one goal in 11 opportunities. Tampa holds a PK advantage of 90.9% to 72.7%.
Special teams can decide a series, and right now, through three games, they’ve made a huge difference for the Tampa Bay Lightning.
James O’Brien, NHL writer: The Lightning’s physicality, particularly though a grinding playoff run, has been unexpected. I truly expected fatigue to be a bigger factor for Tampa Bay. Combined with the Stars’ mix of speed, size, and stinginess, I thought the Bolts would be forced to the outside a lot more. This Lightning team isn’t just skill, and all of the talk about depth additions isn’t out of line. Consider that Tyler Johnson (!) was credited with nine hits during Game 3 alone.
Adam Gretz, NHL writer: I want to see that Andrei Vasiilevskiy might actually be underrated. Crazy to say about a goalie that has been a Vezina Finalist in each of the past three seasons, but there are so many other stars on this team (Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, Victor Hedman, Steven Stamkos when he is in the lineup) that we kind of overlook the goalie that is also one of the best players in the world at his position. He has literally played every minute for the Lightning in the Return To Play and he has been great while doing so. In any other year on any other team he would be a runaway Conn Smythe favorite, and on this team in this postseason he is just sort of like an afterthought.
Michael Finewax, Rotoworld Senior Hockey Writer/Editor: The thing that has stood out to me has been how the Lightning have been dominating the play. The Stars got off to a quick start in Game 1 but the Lightning came back to outshoot them 22-2 in the third period and with the exception of the middle frame of Game 2 when Tampa Bay took four minor penalties, the Stars have looked rather ordinary. It is obvious to me that Tampa Bay is the best team in the NHL and Dallas needs Anton Khudobin to stand on his head and that could be difficult as he must be tired, playing more games in the last seven weeks (23 games) than he has at any other time in his career.
Jake Abrahams, Managing Editor, NHL content: The level of play from each team’s top line. For the Lightning, they continue to receive significant contributions from Ondrej Palat, Brayden Point, and Nikita Kucherov. That trio has combined for 10 points in the team’s two victories. On the Dallas side, it’s been radio silence from Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin: zero points through three games for each. Benn was instrumental in the Vegas series, but that production has slowed. Meanwhile, Seguin is mired in a massive slump, with just one point (an assist) over his last 12 games.
Which player has surprised you (good or bad) so far?
Sean Leahy, NHL writer: They’re good, we’ve known that, but Tampa’s top line has been unbelievable to watch. Kucherov is in beast mode. Point is making a Conn Smythe case. Every goal Palat scores seems to be a big one. Via Natural Stat Trick, through three games of the Cup Final, the Lightning have outshot the Stars 23-5 at 5-on-5 when the trio is on the ice. They’ve combined for three goals to one against in over 34 minutes of even strength time together.
James O’Brien, NHL writer: Besides Stamkos showing how much he could accomplish in a few minutes (reflects for a moment on how long it often takes me to do the dishes), this series has served as a helpful reminder of how good Ondrej Palat is. During the last two games, Palat scored two goals and one assist, pushing him to 10 goals and 16 points in 22 playoff games. While I don’t use plus/minus to condemn a player (or really use it much at all), it can quickly give you an idea of if a player is going through happy or bummer-y times (sorry for the scientific jargon). Palat is a +13 during these playoffs after enjoying a +25 rating during the regular season. Palat doesn’t deserve Kucherov or Point-type attention, yet he’s an all-too-easily forgotten contributor who can fit right in with top linemates.
Adam Gretz, NHL writer: Can I say Steven Stamkos? Because I definitely want to say Steven Stamkos. Here is a guy that did not play a game in more than six months, was clearly not 100 percent, then showed up in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final, played two minutes, and scored a huge goal to help set the tone for a win. He not only scored a goal, it was an absolutely beautiful play to dodge a check at the blue line and then pick the corner off the rush against an NHL goalie. It was starting to get to the point where I did not expect to see him play at all, and I still don’t think we will see him play again in this series, and he just showed up for five shifts and did that like it was nothing.
Michael Finewax, Rotoworld Senior Hockey Writer/Editor: I have been surprised by the lack of scoring from Tyler Seguin. He must be injured and playing through it as he has only two goals and six assists in 23 games. That is tied for eighth best on the Stats with Radek Faksa who has not seen the ice since September 10. Seguin is averaging .35 points per game in the post-season, which is better than only his rookie season in the NHL where he averaged .30 points per game as an 18-year-old. The only logical explanation is an injury but his lack of scoring is hurting the Stars a lot as they attempt to win their second Stanley Cup.
Jake Abrahams, Managing Editor, NHL content: Anton Khudobin has come back to Earth. To pin the losses in Games 2 and 3 solely on Khudobin would be unfair, but clearly the level of play he displayed in the Western Conference Final (and even Game 1 of the Cup Final) has dipped a bit. Perhaps the Lightning exposed a weakness, as all five goals in Game 3 were scored on Khudobin’s blocker side. With the back-to-back coming up this weekend, all eyes will be on the Dallas netminder to see if he can bounce back.
Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars (TB leads 2-1)
Stars 4, Lightning 1 (recap)
Lightning 3, Stars 2 (recap)
Lightning 5, Stars 2 (recap)
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