Neither of these teams have won the Stanley Cup in over 15 years. Both fought through comebacks, overtimes, and injuries to make it to the Finals. And we all heard Anton Khudobin’s locker room declaration for the Dallas Stars: “We are not going home!” Now the time has come to see which team will ring that sentiment true and etch their names into the COVID – I mean, Stanley – Cup.
All jokes aside, this postseason has been no laughing matter. Teams came in healthy and fired up, and the learning curve back into shape was quickly conquered. Intensity was up from the moment of the first puck drop, and there’s no doubt that whichever team walks away with this year’s Stanley Cup earned it through just as much blood, sweat, and tears as every team that came before them.
So who will it be? Check out the game schedules and preview each team’s pros and cons to decide whose side you’re on. Final Round coverage starts tonight, September 19 at 7:30pm ET on NBC.
Game 1: Saturday, Sept. 19 - 7:30 p.m. ET – NBC
Game 2: Monday, Sept. 21 - 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Game 3: Wednesday, Sept. 23 - 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Game 4: Friday, Sept. 25 - 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*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
Tampa Bay Lightning
Here is a team that had a record-setting season last year, and was swept out of the playoffs in the first round. A team that got to the Finals in 2015, but couldn’t stick the landing. A team whose consistent strength and talent is bound to pay off one day soon – maybe even as soon as next week.
Tampa Bay’s stamina is unrivaled so far in these 2020 playoffs. The Lightning have gone into overtime 6 times, playing a total of 12 extra periods since starting their playoff run with a record-setting 5OT win over the Columbus Blue Jackets. They have a roster that’s deep with talent and a determination to never quit, even when they’re so gassed they can barely give a post-game interview (looking at you, Brayden Point). Superstar veterans like Nikita Kucherov and Victor Hedman continue to come in clutch, and Andrei Vasilevskiy has carried them in net through all 19 games of this postseason so far with a .931 save percentage.
There’s absolutely no question that the Lightning have the skills to get their names back onto the Stanley Cup. But as the Islanders showed last round, a strong defense that can manage to put a damper on Tampa Bay’s explosive scoring power is a dangerous thing. They will need to find a way to keep Dallas out of their heads and stay on top of their offensive game if they want to make their dreams a reality.
This Dallas team has turned into a brand new beast in these playoffs. They haven’t been to the Stanley Cup Final since 2000 when they attempted to win back-to-back championships, but their veteran roster is not showing any signs of squeamishness.
Bolstered by the unbelievably strong play of goaltender Anton Khudobin and the seemingly magnetic scoring abilities of Alexander Radulov and Jamie Benn, the Stars have been robbing offensive teams of their identities for three rounds now. They skate fast, hit hard, and refuse to be dazzled by a shiny offense with fancy moves. It’s basically an embodiment of survival of the fittest at this point, except they’re not technically the fittest – they just refuse to admit that fact. Instead they ignore their aging roster and do what they know best, with a gritty consistency that outlasts their opponents.
The Stars have shown that they’re absolutely lethal with the comeback, and have managed to shrug off the offensive blitzes thrown at them by both the Colorado Avalanche and the Vegas Golden Knights in the previous two rounds. Which is a good sign for them, considering Tampa Bay also thrives on burying their opponents under a mountain of pucks. But the Lightning bring a new challenge to the table as well: a rock-solid goaltender who’s not in the business of letting in softies or leaning on his defense to keep him safe. Dallas will need to elevate their game to a new level to get their legacy etched back onto the Stanley Cup after 21 years.