Stanley Cup Final Game 2: Tampa Bay Lightning v. Dallas Stars

Bruce Bennett - Getty Images

The 2020 Stanley Cup Final is underway, with the Tampa Bay Lightning and Dallas Stars knotted at 1-1 after two games.

The Stars took Game 1, 4-1 on Saturday, while Tampa Bay responded with three goals in the first period of Game 2. The Lightning were able to hold off a third period charge from the Stars to tie up the series.

Dallas appearing in the Stanley Cup Final is a bit of a surprise, considering how their season began. Head coach Jim Montgomery was relieved of his duties on December 10 after Montgomery was forced to address substance abuse issues. Assistant Rick Bowness became the oldest active head coach in the NHL when he was tasked with taking over for Montgomery. Bowness is quite familiar with his opposite number, as he was an assistant on Tampa Bay head coach Jon Cooper's staff from 2013 to 2018.


The Stars started off life in the bubble slow and nearly were sent home when the Colorado Avalanche pushed Dallas to a seventh game in the Western Conference Semifinals. Dallas really found their groove against Las Vegas in the Western Conference Final, dumping the top-seeded Golden Knights out of the playoffs in five games. Defense was the deciding factor in the series, with the Stars only allowing Las Vegas to score eight goals in five games.

Dallas has really shined when the pressure has been turned up. So far in this year's playoffs, the Stars have gone to overtime in five games, winning all five of those contests. In game 5 against Las Vegas, Dallas found themselves in a 2-0 hole before tying up the game with two goals in the third period, sending the game to overtime. Denis Gurianov secured the first trip to the Stanley Cup Final for the Stars in 20 years with a power play goal just three minutes into overtime.

After jumping out to a 3-1 lead in the Eastern Conference Final against the New York Islanders, Tampa Bay needed a couple games to close out the Islanders. The Lightning couldn't get the job done in double overtime in game 5, but Jon Cooper's team wouldn't be denied in Game 6, with Anthony Cirelli's goal securing Tampa Bay their third appearance in the Stanley Cup Final in franchise history.

Much like Dallas, Tampa Bay has been well versed in overtime during the playoffs, playing two overtime games in each series, posting a 5-1 record in those games. The Lightning must be getting paid by the hour during the playoffs, since in each series they have seen a game go to multiple overtimes. The most notable of those games came in the first game of the first round of the playoffs, as the Lightning and Columbus Blue Jackets played the fourth-longest game in NHL history after the game wasn't decided until the middle of the fifth overtime.

Tampa Bay right wing Nikita Kucherov Tampa Bay right wing Nikita KucherovKim Klement - USA TODAY Sports

Including the two games in this series, Nikita Kucherov is the leading scorer in the playoffs, with last year's league MVP registering 28 points in 21 games. Kucherov has shown he is one of the best playmakers in the league, notching 22 assists during the playoffs. Between the regular season and postseason, Kucherov now has 113 points. The next goal from Kucherov will be his 40th combined goal of the season.

Brayden Point sits just two points behind Kucherov for the team lead, but Point is leading the Lightning with 10 goals in the playoffs. Point opened up the scoring for Tampa Bay in Game 2, and was followed just minutes later by Ondrej Palat, who netted his ninth goal of the playoffs. Tying Palat with nine tallies so far in the playoffs is Victor Hedman, who fell just short of winning the Norris Trophy as the best defenseman in the NHL.

Dallas might not have the offensive firepower than Tampa Bay does, but that doesn't mean the you should sleep on the ability of the Stars to put the puck in the back of the net. After Tyler Seguin led Dallas with just 50 points during the regular season, defenseman Miro Heiskanen has recorded nearly half that amount so far in the playoffs, tallying 23 points. Veteran Joe Pavelski leads Dallas with 10 goals, and right behind Pavelski is Denis Gurianov, who has scored nine goals. Jamie Benn and Alexander Radulov have both netted eight goals so far in the postseason.

Where this series will be decided is between the pipes. Tampa Bay goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy is 15-6 so far in the playoffs, sporting a tidy 1.88 goals against average. Even though Winnipeg's Connor Hellebuyck denied Vasilevskiy his second straight Vezina Trophy, many would tab the Tampa Bay net-minder as the best goaltender in the NHL today.

Dallas Stars goaltender Anton Khudobin Dallas Stars goaltender Anton Khudobin Bruce Bennett - Getty Images

Dallas had questions at goalie early in the playoffs when Ben Bishop really struggled in three appearances, forcing Bowness to pull the former Tampa Bay goalie and turn to backup Anton Khudobin. So far Khudobin has not disappointed, saving 35 shots in Game 1 to give Dallas a 1-0 lead in the Stanley Cup Final. During the playoffs this year, Khudobin has posted a 13-7 record with a 2.57 goals against average.

This is the first Stanley Cup Final played between teams from the "sun belt", so naturally it is being played in Canada. Dallas has been a great story in the playoffs, especially with the adversity they faced after moving on from Montgomery. The Stars have come together against the best teams in the Western Conference, but Tampa Bay is on a mission after being embarrassed in last year's playoffs, when the eighth-seeded Columbus Blue Jackets swept the Lightning in the first round.

Dallas gives Tampa Bay all they can handle but the Stars come up just short. Vasilevskiy continues his outstanding run of play, earning playoff MVP honors as Tampa Bay wins in six games, earning their second Stanley Cup in franchise history.

Paul George grabbing a rebound in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals

Barry Gossage/Getty Images

In a must win game for the Los Angeles Clippers, Paul George was finally able to look like the best player on the floor in a playoff game.

After a slow start, George poured it on in the second half on his way to a game high 41 points in Game 5. The performance elevated the Clippers over strong outings from the likes of Devin Booker and Chris Paul as L.A. outlasted Phoenix 116-102.

The Clippers don't have much time to bask in their win however as they have to turn around and play two more elimination games just to make it out of the West. The Suns jumped out to a 3-1 series lead as Los Angeles struggled to find their identity without Kawhi Leonard. If the Clippers are to stave off elimination any longer, George has to continue this level of play.

Keep reading... Show less

Ben Simmons disappointed in the playoffs this season

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Following a Game 7 loss to the Atlanta Hawks, the Philadelphia 76ers and coach, Doc Rivers, are questioning if Ben Simmons is the right guy to be running their offense through moving forward.

Offense being the key word here.

Simmons is an all-world defender possessing the ability to guard virtually any opponent on the court from the perimeter to the rim. But it was his lack of offensive help throughout this playoff season that stood out beyond any accomplishments this year. Simmons joined Rudy Gobert as unanimous selections for the NBA's All-Defensive First Team this year and also finished fifth in the NBA in assists per game with 8.8 per contest.

Keep reading... Show less

The Lakers looked lost in the Valley

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The Phoenix Suns are just a win away from sending LeBron James home in the first round of the playoffs for the first time in the King's illustrious career.

After stating that "These shoulders were built for a reason," James referring to facing the challenge of taking on added responsibilities after Anthony Davis was ruled out for Game 5, the Lakers and LeBron disappointed in a big way Tuesday night. L.A. started off hot jumping out to a 10-5 lead behind a couple shots from James and a three from Davis' replacement Markieff Morris. But it didn't take long for the wheels to completely fall off for the defending champion Lakers as they spent most of the first half trying to remember how basketball works.

LeBron James LeBron looking on during Game 5Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Two numbers stick out in the Game 5 loss for the Lakers and those are 34.5 and 12. Los Angeles shot 34.5% from the field on Tuesday night and were minus 12 in turnover ratio. No matter who's on your team, if you can't shoot and you can't protect the ball, the outcome is already determined.

The Suns weren't simply beneficiaries of a poor performance however as the Suns put it on the Lakers early and often and they never let their foot off the pedal for 48 minutes. Phoenix ended with 15 more assists, had seven more combined steals and blocks, and outscored L.A. in the paint by 12 points. Devin Booker and Cameron Payne were spectacular and they seemed to hit big shots every time the Lakers appeared to threaten a comeback. Mikal Bridges was effective on both sides of the ball adding three steals and two blocks to help electrify his team with the defensive effort.


Keep reading... Show less