written BY: NINA BENICH, staff writer
On Saturday night, the Dallas Stars defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-1 in Game One of the Stanley Cup Finals.
The Stars and the Lightning are the first two Sunbelt teams to ever face off in the Stanley Cup finals, “Sunbelt” meaning they were added during the NHL expansion period in which more southern teams were actively pursued by the league.
Although the Lightning, who have won only one Stanley Cup in history in 2003, started the season off slow without Captain Steven Stamkos, they have now climbed their way up to the top offensive team in the regular season. Coach Jon Cooper led the team through a 23-3-0 run, eventually ending up at a 43-21-6 pause, for a second place in the Atlantic Division. Game One of their series against the Columbus Blue Jackets ended up being the fourth-longest game in NHL history, and the Lightning went on to win the series in five games, with another overtime win in Game Five thanks to a score by Brayden Point. In the next round against the Boston Bruins, the Lightning lost Game One before going on a four-game-streak until Victor Hedman scored a double-overtime goal in Game Five. Finally, in the Eastern Conference finals against the New York Islanders, they won yet again in five games with a goal by Anthony Cirelli.
The Stars, also having one previous Stanley Cup win in 1999, have proved themselves to be one of the NHL’s best defensive teams, even after Coach Jim Montgomery’s firing. Rick Bowness, the NHL’s oldest coach with 2,266 games of experience, took over, and the Stars ended up with a 37-34-8 record but lost six games in a row before COVID-19 paused the season. However, in the playoffs, they eventually won against the Calgary Flames, scoring 21 goals, and won the semifinal series against Colorado Avalanche, scoring 28 goals in seven games.
2018-19 NHL MVP Nikita Kucherov has led the Lightning with 26 points in 19 games. Point has performed as a close second with 25 points in 17 games, and Hedman has nine goals. Miro Heiskanen leads the Stars with 22 points in 21 games, Captain Jamie Benn has eight goals and 10 assists, and Alexander Radulov has scored 14 points and won two overtime games with winning goals. Joe Pavelski and Denis Gurianov have scored nine goals each.
One question raised for the finals is whether Steven Stamkos is going to play. He has suffered an injury and has been out for most of the season, but has recently recovered to the point of possibly playing in the series.