The final battle for the Stanley Cup is underway and only two teams remain: the Dallas Stars from the West and the Tampa Bay Lightning from the East. The Lightning entered the series with the Stars as heavy favorites, but so did the three teams the Stars defeated to get to the final (Vegas Golden Knights, Colorado Avalanche and Calgary Flames).
The proverbial ice of the series was broken at 5:40 of the first period when the Stars 29-year-old defenseman Joel Hanley snapped a wrist shot in the slot past Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevsky for the first goal of his NHL career. Seven minutes later, Lightning forward Blake Coleman threw a shot on net from the blue line, which banked off a Stars player and Tampa Bay’s Yanni Gourde to tie the game at 1-1. The rest of the game belonged to the Stars, who scored twice in the second period and then again in the final minute of the game with the Tampa Bay net empty. The Stars won 4-1 and took a 1-0 series lead.
Much of the Stars success throughout this surprise playoff run can be attributed to the play of their defense. With goals from defensemen Hanley and Jamie Oleksiak in Game 1, Dallas now has 15 goals from their D corps, which is the most of any team throughout the playoffs. Oleksiak himself has tallied five goals throughout the postseason despite scoring only three during the entire regular season. Their leading scorer throughout the playoffs is star defenseman Miro Heiskanen, who has registered 23 points, five more than anyone on the Stars roster. Goaltender Anton Khudobin has also been brilliant thus far, going 13-6 with a .923 save percentage.
The biggest cause for concern with the Lightning right now is fatigue and health. Their series with the New York Islanders ended only two nights before Game 1 of the final, and they looked tired. The Lightning are the faster and more skilled team, but they weren’t able to lure Dallas away from their oppressive defensive structure. Furthermore, the Lightning’s best forward and leading scorer in the playoffs, Brayden Point has been battling injuries for over a week. Point missed two games against the Islanders (the only two games the Lightning lost in that series) and looked a step slow against the Stars. He had zero points in Game 1 and had a -3 rating. Tampa Bay will need Point to produce at his usual elite level if they want to get back in this series.
Game 2 will be played on Monday, Sept. 21 at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.