Stanley Cup Final Game 4: Tampa Bay Lightning @ Dallas Stars Picks
The Tampa Bay Lightning stormed out of the game in Game 3 and took a 2-1 series lead in the Stanley Cup Final by defeating the Dallas Stars by a score of 5-2 on Wednesday night. The Lightning have been the favorites to win the Stanley Cup and their performance on Wednesday highlighted exactly why.
The Lightning were bolstered by the triumphant return of Steven Stamkos to the line-up. Despite recording less than three minutes of ice-time and not playing at all in the final two periods, the impact of the Lightning captain dressing for the first time in these playoffs served as a spark for Tampa Bay. He scored early to put the Lightning up 2-0 and the Tampa bench exploded in joy for their leader who has battled and overcome a lot to get to this point.
Despite the fairytale return, the status of Stamkos moving forward is still uncertain. He tweaked something early in the game which forced him to be stapled to the bench for most of the night. Will he play through the injury? Tampa probably doesn’t want to dress Stamkos if he can only play three minutes, even if he does score and provide a tremendous emotional boost.
If I had to guess, Stamkos doesn’t seem likely to play again. He got his moment and now the team can focus on winning the Cup and dressing a player who can give them a regular shift. Stamkos himself can feel fulfilled, knowing his name belongs on the Stanley Cup if they do indeed win it.
The narrative for Tampa Bay might have been Stamkos, but the true story of the game has to be the Lightning top line featuring Brayden Point, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat. In the last two games at 5v5, the trio has been on the ice for 19 shots and only allowed one. They’ve had ten high danger scoring chances and only conceded one. The Lightning’s expected goals percentage when they’re on the ice? An unreal 93.6% in Games 2 and 3.
Dallas has no answer for the Lightning’s big guns. They’ve tried the smooth skating Miro Heiskanen. They’ve tried their top lockdown defenseman in Esa Lindell. Just like the New York Islanders in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Stars have a solid group of defensemen but they still can’t prevent being worked by this elite trio.
Hurting things for Dallas has been the performance of Anton Khudobin in between the pipes. Khudobin has been beaten eight times on 60 Lightning shots in five periods. He was pulled for the third period of Game Three. His .867 save percentage the past two nights needs to be closer to .967 if Dallas is to have any chance of pulling out the upset victory. If Dallas is going to win, Khudobin is going to have to steal it for them.
You have to account for the fact that Khudobin is a career back-up goalie. Yes, he’s a very good one. Maybe the best in the league. However, in his career he’s been the second-fiddle behind elite goalies like Tuukka Rask in Boston and Ben Bishop in Dallas. Back-ups tend to become exposed the longer they play. Not to mention the fact that Khudobin is not used to this type of workload. He’s played basically every other night for two months now. Is fatigue becoming an issue?
I really think Tampa Bay smells glory here. Their performance these last two games has made Dallas look incompetent at times. Despite my strong feelings about the Lightning, I can’t justify laying -160 on the money-line. With Khudobin’s struggles and the Lightning top line playing at a nearly unprecedented level, I think we have to look towards the over here.
Dallas is generating very little at even strength which makes this a bet I don’t love. Tampa Bay held them under one expected goal in Game 3 at 5v5. Despite the underlying numbers looking bleak, Dallas has still managed eight goals in the three games of this series. They’ve scored at least two goals in every game so far.
If Dallas can give us two goals in Game 4, I think Tampa takes care of the rest.