And then there were two. After what feels like an eternity, the 2019-2020 season finally approaches its climactic ending. One teams’ inclusion in the Stanley Cup Final has felt inevitable since the season commenced last October(!), while the others’ very much has not. After a spectacular regular season and an equally dominant playoff run, the Tampa Bay Lightning find themselves exactly where most fans and pundits predicted they would.
The Dallas Stars, on the other hand, found the odds heavily stacked against them and somehow defied them all. Can they slay one last dragon and win hockey’s ultimate prize or will Tampa Bay finally fulfill their destiny as a modern day juggernaut? Let’s take a closer look at the final matchup of these 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Stanley Cup Finals Betting Picks
Tampa Bay Lightning vs Dallas Stars
On paper this doesn’t look like much of a contest. Tampa Bay is arguably the deepest team in the league at every position. A meticulously crafted team by general manager Julien Brisebois, the Lightning have no glaring weaknesses of which to speak. Dallas most certainly does, but they’ve made mincemeat out of statistical prognostications all season long so counting them at any stage feels shortsighted. There’s been hiccups along the way for both teams, sure, but each have faced the best their conferences have to offer and sent them all packing.
For Dallas, there are some red flags that can’t be ignored. They are the first team since the 1968 St. Louis Blues to enter the Stanley Cup Final with a negative goal differential, having been outscored 64-62 through the first three rounds. They were outshot 166-118 against the Vegas Golden Knights, yet still won the series in five games. Vegas, the heavy favorite, underperformed their xGF by nearly 7 goals in those five games against Dallas and by nearly 11(!) in the playoffs total. That is to say, they were incredibly unlucky to a nearly historic degree and Dallas was the beneficiary. The Stars did what they needed to do to beat a heavily favored team though, but you can’t help feel like the laws of physics deserve a primary assist.
The Lightning had a slightly tougher time than many may have envisioned dispatching of a plucky New York Islanders team , but it simply felt like a matter of “when”, not “if” for the Bolts. The Lightning were the highest scoring team throughout the regular season and fourth during these playoffs. The Stars were nearly dead last in actual goals for the regular season but are only slightly behind the Lightning at fifth in the playoffs, averaging 2.48 goals per game to Tampa’s 2.53. Defensively, the Stars had the highest team save percentage in the league through the regular season with a whopping 93.4% rating, and backup goalie Anton Khudobin has more than answered the call with a tidy .920 through 19 games in the playoffs. Can he keep it up against a team like Tampa Bay, who is a danger to score any time they’re in the offensive zone? That’s a tremendous ask for any goaltender.
Tampa is as close to you can get to a perfectly assembled team in a salary cap league. Elite talent at forward, a stud defenseman and world class goaltending make this team nearly invincible and that’s without injured team captain, Steven Stamkos. Stamkos could return this series but by the time he does it may not matter. Dallas has had a miraculous run thus far and beaten some extraordinary teams along the way. Mitigating circumstances and statistical anomalies may have played a part to be sure, but at this point it would be foolish to count these Stars out. Beating Tampa Bay four times is likely too much of an ask here, even for a team with the hockey gods currently on their side. Expect the Lighting to pull this one out and raise their second Stanley Cup in team history.
As we’ve repeatedly said, hockey is a game of chaos. Luck factors into every game nearly as much as skill and systems. There’s no such thing as a sure thing, and one bounce here or there can determine an entire teams’ fate. It would be unwise to simply assume the better team will win, as Dallas has proved throughout these entire playoffs.
All that said, sometimes a talent gap is simply too wide to bridge, even with all the luck in the world. Dallas has shown that they won’t go down without a fight, and I expect them to steal a game along the way, but barring a complete meltdown from Tampa Bay, they should wrap this up in five games, aka The Gentleman’s Sweep. At +385, a five game series win for the Lightning feels very nice.
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