The Stanley Cup has arrived in the bubble! The NHL’s 2nd and 3rd southernmost teams will play for the Stanley Cup in the NHL’s northernmost city when the Tampa Bay Lightning and Dallas Stars begin the Stanley Cup Final at 4:30pm tonight. Only in 2020, right?
As I did with my first three rounds of predictions, in addition to predicting the winner and number of games, I’ve gone out on a limb and added a bold prediction for each series. The point is for those predictions to be unlikely to happen, but maybe one or two will be accurate. Here is Emerald City Hockey’s Stanley Cup Final pick:
2-Tampa Bay Lightning vs. 3-Dallas Stars
Stars win in 6 games. I’m aware that this prediction goes against the grain of popular opinion. The Lightning (-152) are the clear betting favorites. 11 of 16 NHL.com staff writers have picked the Lightning to win. In my Round 3 predictions, I said I was convinced the Lightning are for real. I still am. In many ways, it makes logical sense that the Lightning would win this series. They don’t have any glaring weaknesses, while the Stars are the first team since the 1968 St. Louis Blues to enter the Stanley Cup Final with a negative goal differential. The Lightning have elite goaltending, better underlying numbers, and look like a deeper team overall.
That said, those were the exact reasons I picked the Golden Knights to beat the Stars in the last round. I thought Robin Lehner would outshine Anton Khudobin in goal. While Lehner played very well, Khudobin stole the show for Dallas. I thought Vegas’ control of the play would overwhelm Dallas’ defense. Instead, the Stars defensemen excelled at moving the puck out of their own end and keeping the Golden Knights’ scoring chances to the low danger areas. I thought Vegas’ bottom 6 would completely outclass that of the Stars. The reality was the opposite. Ryan Reaves was a nonfactor in the series while the Stars got plenty of depth scoring led by Joel Kiviranta, who has quickly become their most clutch goal scorer. I don’t see why all of that couldn’t happen again in the Stanley Cup Final.
Doubting the Stars has been my biggest mistake in this year’s playoff picks. I picked them to lose in all three of their series thus far and each time they’ve proved me wrong. Hopefully it’s better late than never. I’m all in now.
Bold Prediction: Miro Heiskanen ends the series with the fourth-most points by a defenseman in a single playoff year and wins the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. Heiskanen has been dominant offensively and defensively on the Stars blueline this postseason. I would argue that he was the biggest factor for the Stars in the conference final. His puck-moving ability in the prevented the Golden Knights from establishing the kind of forecheck that was key to their earlier victories. Heiskanen currently leads the Stars with 22 points in 21 games this postseason, tied for 10th all-time by a defenseman in a playoff year. I predict he’ll get at least four more, which would move him into fourth all-time and be the most since Brian Leetch’s 34 points in 1994.