Stanley Cup Final: Tampa Bay Lightning, Dallas Stars preview

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The Dallas Stars and the Tampa Bay Lightning, two of the NHL’s southernmost teams, will battle it out for the first time ever in the Stanley Cup Final beginning on Saturday night with Game 1.

The Stars were named Western Conference Champions on Monday after a surprising series upset, beating the Vegas Golden Knights 4-1. Stars’ defenseman Miro Heiskanen has played a pivotal role in Dallas’ success, leading the team in postseason scoring with five goals and 17 assists (22 points) in 21 games.

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Even more impressive has been the performance of backup goalie Anton Khudobin who took over the starting job after Ben Bishop was listed unfit to play early into the playoffs. In his 16 playoff appearance, Khudobin is 11-4 with a 2.62 goals-against average and .921 save percentage. In the series against Vegas, he finished with a 1.69 GAA, a .950 save percentage and one shutout.

But Dallas’ defense will be challenged when they take on Tampa’s skillful offensive play on Saturday.

The Lightning were named Eastern Conference Champions on Thursday after outplaying the New York Islanders in a 4-2 series. Forwards Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point have stepped up as the team’s scoring leaders with Kucherov leading the postseason with 26 points (six goals, 20 assists) and Point who has scored 25 points (nine goals, 16 assists.)

But a key factor in the Lightning’s success will be their offensive defense.

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Victor Hedman, a fourth-time finalist for the Norris Trophy, has scored the most goals by a defenseman in the postseason with 9 and is second overall. In addition to production, Hedman has shown no signs of slowing down on the ice as he averages 26:31 per game heading into the conference final — important for a team that only had two days of rest before the Stanley Cup final.

Tampa Bay defensemen have 46 combined points, and helped the Lighting go 10-2 in one-goal games this postseason. Since falling behind 1-0 in Game 4 against New York, they have allowed only three goals in more than 195 minutes.

Dallas, by comparison, has combined for 53 points (13 goals, 40 assists), the most during a postseason in the history of the franchise in its first Stanley Cup Final since 2000.

Tampa Bay is 0-2 this season against Dallas. This will be their first time meeting in the Stanley Cup Finals.

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WHAT TO KNOW

WHEN: (all times Eastern)

Game 1: Sept. 19, 7:30 p.m.

Game 2: Sept. 21, 8 p.m.

Game 3: Sept. 23, 8 p.m.

Game 4: Sept. 25, 8 p.m.

Game 5 (if necessary): Sept. 26, 8 p.m.

Game 6 (if necessary): Sept. 28, 8 p.m.

Game 7 (if necessary): Sept. 30, 8 p.m.

WHERE: Rogers Place, Edmonton, Alberta

WHO’S MISSING? (via NHL.com)

LIGHTNING:

Scratched: Mathieu Joseph, Mitchell Stephens, Carter Verhaeghe, Alexander Volkov, Braydon Coburn, Scott Wedgewood

Unfit to play: Jan Rutta, Steven Stamkos

STARS:

Scratched: Nick Caamano, Ty Dellandrea, Jason Robertson, Gavin Bayreuther, Thomas Harley, Landon Bow, Justin Dowling, Taylor Fedun

Unfit to play: Stephen Johns, Ben Bishop, Radek Faksa

The Associated Press contributed to this report.



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