Lightning vs. Stars: 3 keys to Game 4 of Stanley Cup Final

After winning Games 2 and 3 earlier this week, the Tampa Bay Lightning have an opportunity to grab full control of the Stanley Cup Final against the Dallas Stars on Friday night (8 p.m. ET, NBC; livestream).

Captain Steven Stamkos will miss his third game of the series, but the Lightning still have their top-line and a roster full of All-Stars to help make up for his absence.

The Stars, meanwhile, have to hope that their top line can rediscover its scoring touch before the series starts to slip away from them.

Now let’s get you ready for Game 4 by taking a look at three keys to the game.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

1. Stars have to stay disciplined

One of the biggest issues the Stars have had so far in this series is they have not only allowed themselves to get into some early penalty trouble over the past two games, but they have also allowed the Lightning’s power play to start clicking again.

With all of that talent they have on the ice you had to know it was only a matter of time until they broke out of that slump, and they have in a big way in Games 2 and 3 with three power play goals.

The power play unit helped jumpstart the Lightning’s Game 2 win early in the first period, and then took away any momentum the Stars had began to build in Game 3 when Jason Dickinson cut two-goal deficit in half.

Now that the Lightning power play is starting to find its game again there is really only one surefire way to shut it down.

Keep it off the ice entirely.

2. Two top lines going in two different directions

On one side you have the Lightning top line of Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, and Ondrej Palat continuing to dominate.

The trio has already combined for five goals in the first three games of the series, while Kucherov and Point have been separating themselves as Conn Smythe contenders all postseason. It is not just the goal-scoring that sticks out about them, either. The line is just an offensive steamroller that crushing everything that dares to get in its way.

Kucherov has been especially dominant this postseason with an unmatched consistency that is helping him redeem himself after a forgettable 2019 postseason.

On the other side, Dallas’ top line of Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, and Alexander Radulov has yet to score a single goal in this series, and it sounds like coach Rick Bowness is at least considering the idea of maybe splitting them up in Game 4 on Friday. Whether he splits them up or keeps them together, the Stars have to figure out a way to get their big-three going to at least try and match up with Tampa Bay’s top line.

3. The Stars getting the Western Conference Final version of Anton Khudobin

I am not going to blame Khudobin for the past two games. It would be unfair, it would be insane, it would be wrong. The Stars have taken penalties, they have given up chances, they have had breakdowns in front of him, and there have been a couple of fluke goals that have been able to sneak behind him.

But, those same things happened in the Western Conference Final against the Vegas Golden Knights and the biggest reason the Stars were able to overcome them was the fact that Khudobin played at an incredibly high level for those five games. He matched that level in Game 1 against Tampa Bay as well.

Goaltending was always going to be the X-factor in this series, and Dallas’ best chance was going to sit with Khudobin playing the way he did in the previous round. So far, it has not happened. Nothing would get this series going back in Dallas’ favor faster than that.

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

*if necessary

MORE: Conn Smythe Watch: Victor Hedman makes his move

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

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