Tampa Bay Lightning: Behind Enemy Lines

The Tampa Bay Lightning will begin their final series in the Stanley Cup Playoffs tonight against the Dallas Stars where each team will battle it out for the best trophy in professional sports. However, not many believed that the Dallas Stars would be the one to emerge out of the Western Conference to contend for the Cup. The two most popular choices pre-playoffs were the Colorado Avalanche and the Vegas Golden Knights – both eliminated by the Stars.

So what is it about this Stars team that’s so special? I reached out to Blackout Dallas‘ Josh Clark to learn a little more about the Western Conference Champions.

Jamie Benn is an absolute stud, but who has really helped get Dallas to this point that Lightning fans may not be aware of?

The interesting thing about this Dallas Stars team is you could point to any player on the roster and argue that they’re the reason the Stars are in the Stanley Cup Final or, at the very least, a reason why they avoided elimination at some point in the first three rounds.

But if you’re looking for one name besides Jamie Benn (who has been turned the clock back to 2016 physically, mentally, and emotionally), you have to look at Miro Heiskanen. The 21-year-old defenseman leads all Stars in points with 22 and set the franchise record for most points in a playoff year by a defenseman… in Game 4 of the second round. He’s as smooth of a skater as they come, is rarely ever caught out of position, and can fix any mistake with his speed and agility. He’s a smart player with the puck and even smarter without it and can play a top-grade offensive and defensive game while also skating 25+ minutes a night. If there’s any Stars player you don’t know already but need to know, it’s no. 4 in green.

This team has rallied around Anton Khudobin throughout the playoffs. How will he fare against a Lightning team that can score with any forward line as well as a great group of defenseman that have had some offensive success?

This should be Khudobin’s biggest test yet, but he’s proven to be up for every other one so far. The Golden Knights we’re struggling to score coming into the Western Conference Final, but Khudobin didn’t do them any favors in finding their mojo. He had his best series of the playoffs (.950 save percentage) and seemed to get into the Golden Knights’ heads by making timely saves and shutting down games.

Many in the media circles are still treating him as a baffling and unexpected story, but the fact of the matter is that Khudobin has been like this since arriving in Dallas. He’s a legitimate 1B goaltender that can take on a starting load when needed and keep the opposing score low and within reach with his aggressiveness in the crease. He’s been a rally point for the Stars not only in games, but also in the locker room and off the ice. He’s got an infectious personality and will do anything to help his team win, even if that means putting it all out on the line. Vegas poured it on with the shots, but Khudobin held the line. Tampa is a new challenge, but if his 45-save performance against the Lightning in December 2019 is any indication, he should be up for the challenge.

Dallas and Tampa Bay are similar in the sense that they can win no matter what style of play the opponent wants to play. What makes them so successful in beating opponents at their own game?

That’s a good question. A lot of it has to do with overall belief mixed with their veteran experience and depth. But another dose of credit must be given to Rick Bowness.

He’s gotten the team through highs and lows this season and always seems to have them ready and prepared for what the opponent is bringing to the table. If you need some thrilling comeback wins against a streaky Calgary team, they can do it. If you want to march Colorado’s high-flying, run-and-gun style and go for 5+ goals per game, they can do that as well. And if you want to revert to the Stars’ roots and suck the life out of a 2-1 game in the third period, you can best believe that they’ll be ready.

Finally, what is your prediction for the series? 

I usually don’t make my predictions public, but I could very well see this one going the distance. But after watching this Stars team and seeing them continue to defy the odds and carve out a success story like no other, give me Dallas in six.

I will have my prediction up in tonight’s game one preview, but this Dallas Stars team will be no easy task for the Tampa Bay Lightning in their quest for a second Stanley Cup Championship.