Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars: Stanley Cup Finals, Free Picks, Odds & Predictions

Tampa Bay Lightning vs Dallas Stars NHL Stanley Cup Final
Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars, Stanley Cup Finals

The Tampa Bay Lightning saved their best performance for last as they shut out the Dallas Stars to win the franchise’s second Stanley Cup. Brayden Point converted on the power play midway through the first period and Tampa Bay’s defense did the rest as it held the Stars to just 22 shots in the deciding game. The Lightning only had 29 shots in the victory, but it was more than enough to overcome the Stars.

Tampa Bay Lightning win 4-2

The Tampa Bay Lightning were supposed to run out of gas at some point, but they instead powered their way to the Stanley Cup victory. They were clearly the best and most consistent team in the postseason, even while playing eight overtime games, including four that went to multiple overtimes. Dallas had an excellent run to the Stanley Cup Final, but you could see the injuries starting to pile up and the Stars ran out of depth but never heart. Tampa Bay will enter the offseason as favorites to repeat, of course, after besting the 23 other teams in the bubble to capture the ultimate prize in sports.

Game 1

September 19th, 7:30 p.m., Rogers Place

For the fourth time this postseason, the Dallas Stars enter a series as an underdog overlooked by everyone outside the Edmonton bubble. The Stars have surpassed expectations every time and now face the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Stanley Cup Finals. It will be a tall task for the Stars’ defense to shut down Tampa Bay’s vaunted attack, but the Islanders figured out a formula in Games 5 and 6 to limit the Lightning. The Lightning will need to be equally adept defensively to prevent Dallas from doing what it has done best all postseason and capitalizing on its best chances to win games.

Tampa Bay has been more than dominant in this postseason with an average shot differential of nearly five shots per game, if you exclude the five-overtime win over Columbus. Since that victory, Tampa Bay is averaging 33.3 shots per game and the Lightning have only been held under 30 shots three times since the end of the round robin. The goals have also come for the Lightning, who are scoring a little more than three goals per game in the playoffs and are scoring on 10 percent of their shots since that Game 1 against the Blue Jackets. Tampa Bay has allowed two goals or fewer in seven of its last eight games and have scored at least three goals in five of those games.

Dallas might be on the opposite end of that spectrum in every capacity. The Stars didn’t have more than 26 shots in any of the five games against Vegas and it failed to score more than two goals in regulation in any of those contests. Over the last four games, Dallas was outshot by double digits three times and they’ve only led in shots twice in the last 12 games. The Stars have just been resilient in absorbing the pressure from the other team and making the most of their chances at the other end, but Andrei Vasilevskiy is the best goalie Dallas has faced all postseason, so that strategy might not work. Anton Khudobin will need to retain his brilliant form from the conference finals if Dallas has any chance in this one.

In a vacuum, the Lightning are the clear favorites to lift the Stanley Cup at the end of this series. Tampa Bay is the clear favorite in the Stanley Cup betting in New Jersey and it has been the better team and more dominant team this postseason. However, Tampa Bay has also played a lot of overtime contests – including Games 5 and 6 against the Islanders – and that fatigue could end up playing a factor in this series. I don’t think it’ll make a difference in the final outcome, but I do expect Dallas to be able to push the Lightning a little bit further than normal. I like the Lighting in six games, which can be wagered at +415 odds.

If Dallas had shown more of a propensity to score against Vegas, I’d like its chances in Game 1 a lot more, but the Stars’ offensive struggles don’t bode well against Tampa Bay. The Lightning have dominated games for most of the postseason, but unlike Vegas, the Lightning have held their own defensively in that domination. That is the big difference in my mind for the Stars in this series, and why I’m following the NHL betting sites in New Jersey by picking Tampa Bay at -177 odds to win Game 1.

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Game 2 (Dallas Stars lead 1-0)

September 21st, 8:00 p.m., Rogers Place

The Dallas Stars allowed 16 more shots on goal then they took, but they skated past the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first game of the Stanley Cup Final. The Lightning started to control the game more as it went along, but the Stars did an excellent job at protecting the areas around Anton Khudobin. Dallas also was able to pin the Lightning’s best players in the defensive zone at times, converting three goals against Tampa Bay’s top line in the game. It is the Stars’ ability to capitalize on mistakes that should have Tampa Bay most worried because the Lightning are going to need every ounce of strength they have to score against Khudobin.

I’ll keep saying it, but Dallas continues to defy expectations by winning despite being outshot and outchanced. The Stars had just 20 shots, 19 of which with a goalie in the net, but they scored four goals and buried their best chances with the puck. They took advantage of almost every mistake the Lightning made in their defensive zone and were able to create some traffic in and around Andrei Vasilievskiy. Defensively, the Stars will need Khudobin to continue to play the best hockey of his career against this dangerous Tampa Bay attack.

Tampa Bay’s fatigue is most apparent in the first period as the Lightning again surrendered the first goal of the game. The Lightning eventually settled into the game from a pressure perspective, but they were not able to crack the Dallas defense over the final two periods. Tampa Bay has to do more with its shot advantage, of course, but the Lightning also had some very poor defensive breakdowns that led to Dallas’ goals at even strength. If the Lightning cannot allow two goals or fewer while allowing just 20 shots then it will be a quick exit for Tampa Bay from this series.

Tampa Bay hasn’t lost consecutive games this postseason, and it seems impractical to think that streak would end now. However, Dallas’ clinical execution despite few chances on offense and Tampa Bay’s lack of goals despite plenty of shots in the last three games gives me pause for concern for the Lightning. We saw with Vegas how a goal-scoring drought could hurt against Dallas, but the Golden Knights at least kept the Stars off the scoreboard. I’ll bet on the Lightning at the NHL betting sites in New Jersey at -148 moneyline odds, but I’m not very comfortable in that selection. Dallas is proving to be far more dangerous than we gave them credit for on offense entering this series.

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Game 3 (Series tied 1-1)

September 23rd, 8:00 p.m., Rogers Place

It was the Tampa Bay Lightning who dominated the opening 20 minutes, but they still had to fend off the Dallas Stars to even the Stanley Cup Final at one win apiece. Tampa Bay scored twice on the power play and added a third goal less than a minute after the second power-play tally to take a commanding lead early in the game. Yet the Stars continued to chip away at the deficit and trimmed it to one goal early in the third period, but could not get any closer. The Stars had 12 shots over the course of five power plays, but only struck once, otherwise they were limited to 17 shots at even strength for the rest of the game.

Tampa Bay had the edge in shots and it converted on its early power plays to take the lead, but the Lightning needed to be better in putting Game 2 away. A one-goal lead is never safe and the fact the Lightning had to protect one for 14 minutes after a dominant first periods is concerning. However, Tampa Bay raised its level in the latter stages of the third period, especially after a fourth goal was wiped off the board by offside. The Lightning controlled the game after that moment, but it should never have gotten there in the first place. I’m sure Tampa Bay is tired after so many long, tough games in the bubble, but the Lightning need to keep their focus for just another week if they want to get the job done and return home with the trophy.

Dallas’ game fell apart in the first period and the Stars could not climb out of that hole. The Stars just seemed ill-prepared for the energy that Tampa Bay brought in the opening minutes and in a less than four-minute span went down three goals. Dallas showed its resilience in clawing back to within one early in the third period, but that final surge just wasn’t there. The recipe for success is going to be built on that plucky attitude that allows them to battle back in games that seem over early, but the Stars cannot rely on that alone to win the Stanley Cup. Dallas needs to find a way to match Tampa Bay’s energy from the outset and grind out games for 60 minutes because those are the types of games the Stars will win.

The Lightning are favored to win Game 3 at the NHL betting sites in New Jersey, but the Stars are proving to be a team that won’t go away easily, and that pesky quality is being reflected in the odds being set. It makes for some better value in picking Tampa Bay when betting on the Stanley Cup Final, and I’m going to take that value. Although there were some tense moments for the Lightning, they closed the game well especially after having a goal disallowed. I expect Tampa Bay will have a similar energy boost to start Game 3 that will be enough to push it over the top, so I’ll bet on the Lightning to win at -159 odds on the moneyline.

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Game 4 (Tampa Bay Lightning lead 2-1)

September 25th, 8:00 p.m., Rogers Place

The Tampa Bay Lightning buckled down and dominated the second period to breeze past the Dallas Stars in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final. Tampa Bay shot out to an early 2-0 lead in the first period, including a goal by Steven Stamkos in his return after missing the first three rounds with an injury. But Dallas scored a shorthanded goal late in the first period to give itself some life. The Lightning responded with an early power-play goal in the second and they scored three more times to solidify their 2-1 lead in the series. Tampa Bay finished with a 32-24 advantage in shots and they were just 21 combined blocked shots in the game.

Although Stamkos was limited to just five shifts, his mere presence seemed to give the Lightning a lift. The fact that he scored only gave Tampa Bay more energy, but Stamkos didn’t play in the final 45 minutes of the game for an undisclosed reason and his status for Friday’s Game 4 is in question. If he does play, the captain will again give Tampa Bay a big boost, but if he doesn’t the Lightning will need to bottle up their quick start and use it again. The Lightning had been slow starters in the past few games, but taking that early lead seemed to change the dynamics of the game significantly for Tampa Bay.

Dallas dominated the third period, but it only scored once on its many chances while limiting Tampa Bay to just three shots. The Stars need to play with that desperation the entire game if they want to keep up with the Lightning, but they really need to just find better starts to games. Falling behind by two goals just seven minutes into the game isn’t a sustainable formula for Dallas’ success, and we’re seeing Anton Khudobin start to revert to the form we saw from him in the first two rounds of the postseason. The Stars need to do a better job around him and limit Tampa Bay’s quality opportunities or the Lightning will continue to score and put pressure on Dallas’ offense to win a high-scoring game.

When betting on the Stanley Cup Finals, it’s always good to first take a look at the goalies because that will win games for teams so many times. Khudobin has struggled in the last two games – not coincidentally both losses – and he has just a .867 save percentage on 60 shots in Games 2 and 3. Compare that to Andrei Vasilevskiy, who has a .925 save percentage over that same span. The goalie discrepancy is becoming more apparent as this series progresses, and that certainly leans in Tampa Bay’s favor. Dallas’ resiliency will prevent Game 4 from turning into another blowout, but I’m sticking with the Lightning at -104 odds to win in regulation at the NHL betting sites in New Jersey.

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Game 5 (Tampa Bay Lightning lead 3-1)

September 26th, 8:00 p.m., Rogers Place

Tampa Bay’s power play will garner the headlines for this game, but the Lightning’s victory began with Brayden Point. His goal at the end of the first period gave Tampa Bay some life entering the intermission then he scores early in the second period on the power play to really energize his teammates. The Lightning will not lose many games when they can score three times on four power plays, but the bigger confidence booster might be scoring five times on 35 shots. Tampa Bay was clinical in its finishing, especially after falling behind two goals early, and seemed to demoralize the Stars with their late goals at the end of both periods.

Dallas came out with the right energy to start the game, but again its defensive lapses came back to haunt it. Game 4 fundamentally changed when the Stars allowed Tampa Bay to score with 33 seconds left in the first period. If the Stars had held that 2-0 lead after 20 minutes it would have changed how both team played the next 40 minutes. Instead, the Lightning punished the Stars almost every time they went to the penalty box to continuously keep Dallas within striking distance. Dallas had a second chance to keep momentum heading into the third period, but allowed a goal with a little more than a minute left in the second to enter that break tied. Joe Pavelski’s tying goal was a big one in the third period, but Dallas again struggled to contain the Tampa Bay offense and now face elimination.

When push comes to shove, Tampa Bay has far more experience bouncing back quickly from overtime games and they have the better goalie. Anton Khudobin is not a goalie built to play back-to-back games, and it’s unclear if Ben Bishop is going to be ready for Game 5. That’s a massive edge to Tampa Bay in between the pipes, and that’s why I’m betting on the Lightning at the NHL betting sites in New Jersey to secure their second Stanley Cup in franchise history.

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Game 6 (Tampa Bay Lightning lead 3-2)

September 28th, 8 p.m., Rogers Place

Corey Perry scored the first goal of the game, but more importantly for the Dallas Stars, he scored the final goal of the game to keep the Stars alive against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Perry buried his chance in the first-period to help reward the Stars’ strong start to the game, but he also then stuck with the play to keep the series alive with his second goal of the game midway through the second overtime. The Lightning were held to just one power play in Game 5, and could not seem to crack the Dallas defense.

Dallas’ resiliency was on full display in Game 5, especially after Tampa Bay took the lead early in the third period. The Stars relied on their veterans a lot in a do-or-die game with Perry and Joe Pavelski scoring the goals and Tyler Seguin registering an assist on all three goals. Those three have all played in the Stanley Cup Final before, and two of them won rings as young players on veteran teams. If Dallas is going to climb the mountain and win the Cup, it will start with those three playing their best hockey over the next two games.

There wasn’t a lot from Tampa Bay’s perspective that stuck out in a negative way. Obviously, the Lightning would like to get more than 41 shots on net over nearly 90 minutes of hockey, especially when they had 33 attempts blocked by the Dallas defense. But Tampa Bay was strong on its only power play despite not scoring, limited Dallas to just 33 shots in the game and played a more physical game. The fatigue is the biggest concern for Tampa Bay, which has played a lot of overtime games in these playoffs, but there’s just a maximum of two more games to push through.

It’s going to be hard not to bet on the Lightning when it comes to betting on the Stanley Cup. Tampa Bay is just the better team and the Stars’ margin for error is razor thin. Then again, everyone has counted out the Stars since the beginning and here they are just two wins away from winning the Cup. Game 6 is going to be fascinating to see, especially for Dallas, which will need another strong start in order to stay in contact with the Lightning. Tampa Bay has all the motivation to not let this series get to seven games, and I expect that will come out in the first period Monday. It will be a tough slog for both teams, but I’m sticking with my gut and betting on Tampa Bay at -167 odds to win Game 6 at the NHL betting sites in New Jersey.

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Josh Walfish is an award-winning journalist who has been covering college and professional sports in the United States. He holds a journalism degree from Northwestern University and his work has appeared in the Miami Herald, Chicago Sun-Times and Providence Journal. He most recently chronicled the UMass hockey teams rise to prominence over the last two years for the local newspaper

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