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Series up for Grabs as Stars Face Lightning in Game 3

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Questions abound as Dallas gets their turn as the home team. Injuries are stacking up.

NHL: Stanley Cup Final-Dallas Stars at Tampa Bay Lightning Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Lightning made a few adjustments on the power play heading into Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final. Crisp passes by Nikita Kucherov led to a shot from the slot by Brayden Point and a royal road pass to Ondrej Palat. Two goals later, the Dallas Stars found themselves chasing the game, ultimately losing 3-2.

At even-strength, the Lightning were able to get their top line away from the Stars’ shutdown line and they rolled three effective forward units. Dallas did make a solid push in the second period, and when they pulled within one goal at 5:27 of the third period, it seemed like the Stars might be able to pull off another major comeback.

From that point on, however, Tampa Bay was able to lock things down. They clogged the neutral zone, forcing Dallas into a dump-and-chase game, and at every opportunity the Lightning either effectively counterattacked or went with the high flip to relieve pressure.

The Tampa Bay Lightning didn’t look like a team likely to squander a late lead.

Going into Game 3, there are certainly concerns about the Stars’ penalty kill, but those can be dealt with by some time in the film room. More concerning is the disintegration of the Dallas shutdown line. Already missing Radek Faksa, Blake Comeau went down with a brutal hit in the neutral zone in Game 2, leaving Andrew Cogliano as the lone FCC survivor to play in the third period.

If both Faksa and Comeau end up “unfit to play” for Game 3, the Stars find themselves needing to reinvent a line to match up with the Lightning top line. It’s going to need to come out of pieces and parts of other lines. It’s one thing to pull in Jason Dickinson to replace an injured Faksa, but there just isn’t a combination of center/right winger to play with Cogliano that mirrors what the FCC line does.

For the Dallas Stars, it goes back to at least the Lindy Ruff days, but it may be time to resurrect the Everyone Ropes, Everyone Rides mantra. Does the team have another Joel Kiviranta?

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)

If Comeau remains out, the team has a variety of options. Justin Dowling is the high-floor/low-ceiling choice, having playoff experience, but little else. Ty Dellandrea has pedigree, but absolutely no meaningful professional experience.

The choice probably comes down to Nick Caamano or Jason Robertson. Caamano brings intensity, size, speed, and a bit of recklessness. Robertson brings potential, shooting chops, but perhaps not defensive reliability and speed.

In the end, it probably boils down to who has shown best in their on-ice time in the bubble. That’s a black box, but the decision will show where Rick Bowness thinks he most needs to shore up a team that finds itself needing to plug an unexpected hole.

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) - Carter Verhaeghe (23)

Victor Hedman (77) - Jan Rutta (44)
Mikhail Sergachev (98) - Erik Cernak (81)
Ryan McDonagh (27) - Kevin Shattenkirk (22)

Andrei Vasilevskiy (88)

The Lightning have to like where they sit going into Game 3. Their top three lines are rolling, and they’ve shown the ability to pump enough rubber at Khudobin to get a few by him. Rutta was able to get his legs under himself playing with Hedman, leaving the fourth line as the only group underperforming — and they’re doing that in limited minutes.

Keys to the Game

Miro. Heiskanen arrived as a top-tier defender during the first three rounds of the playoffs. So far, the Final has been about the Stars’ second superstar defender, John Klingberg. Heiskanen has been solid against the Lightning, but this is the game for him to pop.

Third Period Heroics. Tampa Bay chased Dallas in Game 1, and Dallas reciprocated in Game 2. In both games, the team in the lead was able to lock things down to pull out the win. Game 3 feels like a game that will be tight as time winds down, with somebody doing something extraordinary for the win late in the third or in overtime.

Big 3. Benn, Seguin and Radulov have had their chances, but it’s the rest of the lineup that’s done the scoring. As the home team, Dallas controls that matchups, and it’s time for the big name Stars to step up.