The 2020 Stanley Cup Finals has been an eventful series, to say the least, featuring the Dallas Stars and Tampa Bay Lightning, each of which has had its ups and downs. Dallas took a commanding Game 1 victory over the Lightning, cruising to the finish line by a score of 4-1.
The first goal of the game was scored six minutes into the first period by defenseman Joel Hanley. Forward Roope Hintz collected the loose puck behind Tampa Bay’s redline and shuffled around the net to find an open Hanley streaking toward the goal. With a beautiful feed from Hintz, Hanley took a wrist shot top shelf over goaltender Andre Vasilevskiy, bouncing off the inside of the crossbar and into the net. Hintz notched his team-leading 10th assist of the playoffs on the Hanley goal. Tampa Bay tied it up six minutes later in incredibly odd fashion: a deflected shot by forward Blake Coleman from the blue line bounced off of the skate of forward Yanni Gourde, then off of the skate of Hintz, and back into the cage. To put it bluntly, Tampa Bay couldn’t score all night, and needed help from Hintz to score their lone goal and prevent the shutout. Even with a moot offensive outing by his team, Vasilevskiy made save after beautiful save, snagging some slapshots with his glove like a baseball catcher early in the second period. Fluid puck movement by the Stars’ offense eventually opened up floodgates that even Vasilevskiy’s best effort couldn’t stop, as defenseman Jamie Oleksiak caught his own rebounded shot from a wrister in the slot and put the puck top shelf above a recovering Vasilevskiy. Icing the game away for Dallas, with less than 30 seconds to play in the second period, forward Joel Kiviranta took the puck down into the Lightning’s zone from center ice and fired an absolute dart between Vasilevskiy’s legs. To put the game entirely out of reach for Tampa Bay, forward Jason Dickinson scored on an empty net in the closing minutes of the third period.
Whatever miscues occurred for Tampa Bay’s offense in the first game that caused them to stall in front of the net, they certainly ironed them out prior to their second contest against Dallas. The Lightning came out swinging, scoring three consecutive goals, and playing tight defense in front of Vasilevskiy. Forward Brayden Point started the scoring on the first power play of the night, taking the feed from Nikita Kucherov into the slot and threading the needle past goaltender Anton Khudobin, notching his 10th goal of the playoffs. The next goal was scored by forward Ondrej Palat with Kucherov picking up his 22nd assist of the playoffs. Defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk scored the third for the Lightning, with all three coming in the first period. The Stars made a valiant comeback effort, with forward Joe Pavelski scoring his 10th of the playoffs from the left faceoff circle to cut the lead to 3-1. Forward Mattias Janmark then brought Dallas within a score in the third period, scoring his first goal of the playoffs and cutting the lead to 3-2. Ultimately, Tampa held off Dallas for the rest of the third period to tie the series up at 1-1.
Tampa Bay really flipped a switch following their disappointing Game 1 outing and continued to take early leads against Dallas. In Game 3, the Lightning jumped out to a 2-0 lead midway through the second period. On the night, there were five different scorers for the Lightning, including center-forward Steven Stamkos, who made his debut in the 2020 playoffs coming off surgery to repair a torn core muscle. The Lightning had 32 shots to the Stars’ 24 as they took a 2-1 lead in the series.
Game 4 of the series was a back and forth battle with the Lightning winning 5-4 in overtime to push the series to 3-1 over the Stars. The Stars scored the first two goals of the contest in the first period, flipping the script on Tampa Bay. The Lightning rallied late in the first to make it 2-1 after one period of action. Tampa Bay scored twice in the second period while the Stars scored once, tying the game at 3-3 going into the third period. Both teams scored a goal each in the third period to make it 4-4 and forcing the game to go to overtime. In overtime, defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk scored the winner to put Tampa up in 3-1 in a crucial game four for both teams.
Heading into their fifth contest of the final round of the playoffs, Dallas knew that they were in a win or go home situation, and their mentality on the ice proved they weren’t ready to leave the NHL bubble just yet. Both teams managed to take eight shots on goal apiece before Dallas punched in the first score of the night. Veteran forward Corey Perry attacked the net straight on, getting up in the face of Vasilevskiy and hitting a wrist shot that deflected off of Vasilevskiy’s left shoulder and into the top left corner of the net. Less than five minutes into the second period, Palat leveled the score at one by dangling around a diving Khudobin for the easy tying goal. The offensive chemistry displayed by both teams, not only in this game but throughout the entire series, really made this Stanley Cup Finals a thing of beauty to watch. Stalwarts in Khudobin and Vasilevskiy kept the contests from being blown out of the water, and a tip of the cap is truly deserved for both goaltenders. Four minutes into the third period, Tampa Bay lit the lamp once more, with defenseman Mikhail Sergachev receiving the feed at the blue line and firing a 94 mph clapper between four players, just barely missing the outstretched left leg of Khudobin and pinging inside the left side of the net. Pavelski caught a beautiful rebound in front of the net with seven minutes of action left in the third period and buried it up top over a recovering Vasilevskiy to tie the game up at two. Neither team could manage to get the puck past their opponents’ goaltender for the remainder of regulation, nor could they sneak one past in the first overtime period either. Tired, battered but ready to continue the fight, the Stars kept their foot on the gas in the second overtime period. Playing some sloppy defense up front, Tampa Bay couldn’t manage to cover up a loose puck in front of the net, allowing the Stars to feed the puck around to the blue line. A slapshot from defenseman John Klingberg ricocheted off of Vasilevskiy right onto Perry’s stick, who lit the lamp for the final time that night as the Stars won 3-2 to avoid elimination.
Dallas aims to push the series to seven games, as they face off against the Lightning on Monday, Sept. 28. The puck drop will be at 8pm, with fans looking forward to potentially the most electric game of the series yet.