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Rested Stars Ready to Face Favored Lightning

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Everyone has a reason why Dallas shouldn’t be here, but they are (and they deserve to be).

NHL: Dallas Stars at Tampa Bay Lightning Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The national media has arrived en masse, so now is the time for bad takes. If you want enlightenment, you can head to USA Today, AP, or Yahoo Sports. You might even try to see what the experts at ESPN think. At The Athletic, Dom Luszczyszyn has his traditional analytic breakdown of the Stanley Cup Final that once again can’t figure how to account for what the Dallas Stars do on defense. The one point of agreement is that this series is there for the taking by the clearly superior team: the Tampa Bay Lightning.

For a bit more nuanced look, you can also review the commentary and visuals done by Micah Blake McCurdy from hockeyviz.com:

With all due respect to the North American media, at Defending Big D we watch Dallas Stars hockey, many of us (in a normal year) from Traverse City through the bitter end. We discuss the relative merits of leaving Joel L’Esperance off the list of players who made it to the Edmonton bubble and even have thoughts about where he fits into plans in Cedar Park.

We know what “FCC” means, and it’s not a federal bureaucracy (although it can bring proceedings to a screeching halt).

There is southern hockey to play on a Saturday evening in September and it’s for Lord Stanley of Preston’s Cup. Your Dallas Stars are still alive and kicking.

Dallas Stars Lineup

Jamie Benn (14) - Tyler Seguin (91) - Alexander Radulov (47)
Mattias Janmark (13) - Joe Pavelski (16) - Denis Gurianov (34)
Joel Kiviranta (25) - Roope Hintz (24) - Corey Perry (10)
Andrew Cogliano (11) - Jason Dickinson (18) - Blake Comeau (15)

Esa Lindell (23) - John Klingberg (3)
Jamie Oleksiak (2) - Miro Heiskanen (4)
Joel Hanley (39) - Andrej Sekera (5)

Anton Khudobin (35)

The big question for the Stars heading into Game 1 is the status of Radek Faksa. The top line for Tampa Bay is highly skilled and fast — a line that is just begging for the Dallas shutdown line. The Stars will need to limit the damage from that trio if they want any chance of rolling all four lines.

Tampa Bay Lightning Lineup

Ondrej Palat (18) - Brayden Point (21) - Nikita Kucherov (86)
Barclay Goodrow (19) - Yanni Gourde (37) - Blake Coleman (20)
Alex Killorn (17) - Anthony Cirelli (71) - Tyler Johnson (9)
Cedric Paquette (13) - Patrick Maroon (14)

Victor Hedman (77) - Kevin Shattenkirk (22)
Mikhail Sergachev (98) - Erik Cernak (81)
Ryan McDonagh (27) - Luke Schenn (2)
Zach Bogosian (24)

Andrei Vasilevskiy (88)

Notably missing from the Lightning lineup is notable Stars’ killer, Steven Stamkos, who has missed all games in the playoffs to date, but could still see action in the Stanley Cup Final. Point was “unit to play” for two games in the New York Islanders series, which also hurt Tampa Bay down the middle.

Keys to the Game

Rest. Other media will harp on the quick turnaround for the Lightning and the added rest for the Stars. Devoted Dallas fans know that it takes a while for this team to get the old joints loosened up. Dallas needs to survive the first period and then work into their dominating shutdown game.

Battle of Strengths. Tampa Bay will use their umbrella/no net-front offense to generate chances from the high slot. Dallas will work the puck to the point and fight for inside position in the crease. Both defenses take away these strengths, so in Game 1 this will be a battle of wills to see who can dominate their preferred spot on the ice.

Number 2s. Hedman and Heiskanen are dominant two-way, first-pair defenders. Both will amaze. Sergachev and Klingberg would be superstar first-pair defenders on most other teams, and the luxury of having them lead a second defensive pair has been a difference-maker in this years playoffs. Which one will step up in Game 1?

Speed through the Neutral Zone. The Lightning will try to break the Stars’ forecheck with speed and east/west puck movement. Getting the puck to the weak side allows for odd-man rushes, or at worst, a Stars team chasing. Dallas snow plows north/south through the neutral zone by activating the defense, again creating odd-man rushes and rebounds. This is solid, secondary offense for both teams and if it can’t be controlled, could change the scoring narrative for either team.

Game 1 will begin at 6:30 p.m CT.