Stanley Cup Final Game 3: Tampa Bay Lightning @ Dallas Stars Picks
The Tampa Bay Lightning evened the Stanley Cup Final with their 3-2 win in Game 2 on Monday night. The Lightning came out to a 3-0 first period lead and then hung on for dear life as the Stars charged back with vigor. We now have a best of 5 series to decide the Stanley Cup.
The first two games of this series have gone pretty much as expected. Dallas was outplayed in Game 1 by the Lightning, but they were able to pull out a victory thanks to spectacular goaltending from Anton Khudobin and timely scoring. In Game 2, when their goaltending went from spectacular to average, the Lightning got the win.
It’s not a hot take to say the Tampa Bay Lightning are the superior team in this series. If variables like goaltending and special teams are even, the Lightning will hoist the Stanley Cup. Thankfully for Dallas, this is hockey and things like goaltending and special teams have a huge impact on every game. This is a sport where variance is almost as prevalent as it is in baseball.
Allowing two powerplay goals in the first period is definitely not a part of the Stars gameplan. If the Stars are going to have success in this series, not taking penalties has to be a priority. And when they do take penalties, they need to kill them off. If the Lightning are successful on the powerplay, it’s lights out for Dallas.
The Lightning have been the better team in this series. Score adjusted numbers have the Lightning with over 59% of the shot attempts and 55% of the expected goals. These numbers are buoyed by the Lightning top line consisting of Ondrej Palat, Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point.
In Game 2, the trio was on the ice for 17 shot attempts towards the Dallas net and only three towards the Lightning net. To put it in simple to understand terms, the Lightning top line was absolutely dominant.
With Dallas now becoming the defacto home team and having control of last change, it’ll be interesting to see what Stars coach Rick Bowness decides is his best option to try and contain the Lightning top unit. He can pair any forward line or defensive pairing he wants against the trio. Miro Heiskanen, the Stars top defenseman, did not get the job done in Game 2 as he only had a 37% expected goal rate.
Dallas has struggled to break out of their own zone in this series, and that’s shown in the Lightning’s solid possession and shot quality advantage. Most of the Stars’ chances have come off the rush on the counter-attack or while the Stars have a powerplay. If the Stars can’t establish zone time at even strength, the Lightning barrage of shots will continue.
Both games in this series have gone under the total of 5.5. Even with the low scoring affairs, I think the scoring might be inflated based on what we’ve seen. Neither team has cracked 2 expected goals in either of the games at 5v5 hockey. Four of the 10 goals in this series have been either on the powerplay or into an empty net.
Game One saw Andrei Vasilevskiy struggle. Game Two saw Anton Khudobin’s play dip to below where we’ve been accustomed to seeing him perform. These are two of the top goaltenders in the league, but we haven’t seen both guys on top of their game on the same night yet in this series.
I think we continue to watch these teams grind it out. Tampa’s last four games have gone under the total. Seven straight games have gone under for Dallas. It’s obvious that these teams are focusing on defense and that’s the path they think gives them a best chance to lift the Cup.
The Pick: Under 5.5 goals @-145