Hockey is perhaps the greatest sport invented by man. It’s so great that you can take away two of the best things about it, being on ice and having a big stick, and end up with an okay sport like soccer. The saddest thing about writing about Oregon State sports is that the school doesn’t have a hockey team to cover, but with no OSU sports for at least a little bit longer, I’ve got to write about something else for awhile.
The Stanley Cup Finals start in just a few hours, so now’s the best time to start watching. “But,” you may say, I don’t know anything about the NHL, or the Dallas Stars and Tampa Bay Lightning? I didn’t even know Tampa had a Bay?!?” Well then, I’m here to help you decide which team to root for.
Fair warning, while I love hockey and the NHL I am no means an expert. Also, a lot of these names are really hard to spell. So I apologize for any factual or spelling errors in advance.
The two teams have a similar history. The Dallas Stars relocated from Minnesota in 1993, and were immediately successful. They were a regular playoff contender, and won the Stanley Cup in 1999. They’ve been consistently in the playoffs and near the top of the Western Conference since then, but have only made it back to the finals once, losing in 2000.
This year’s Dallas team is following the time honored NHL strategy of starting the year off terribly, firing your coach halfway through the season, and then going on a tear through the playoffs. They’re led by a pair of veteran forwards, Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. Benn and Seguin have been with the team for about a decade, and Benn may be having his best season, with 18 points in the postseason.
The Stars also have a stingy defense, with right side defenseman Miro Heiskanen performing amazing in only his second NHL season. Perhaps the biggest reason for the Stars’ success this postseason is goalie Anton Khudobin. Khudobin bounced around the league for a few years before joining the Stars as their backup goalie a few seasons ago. Normally, he plays behind Ben Bishop, but Bishop has struggled at times during the playoffs, and appears to be dealing with injuries. Khudobin absolutely destroyed the Vegas Golden Knights during the Western Conference Finals.
Historically, the Lightning are very similar to the Stars. They joined the league in 1992, and while they didn’t have the Stars immediate success, they eventually became a consistent contender, winning a Stanley Cup Championship in 2004. They’ve returned to the Finals a few times since then, most recently losing to the Chicago Blackhawks in 2014.
For the past few seasons, the Lightning have been one of the best team’s in the league, and arguably the best. Despite this, they haven’t managed to secure a cup, with big disappointment in the playoffs being the team’s hallmark. This came to a head last year, when despite tying an NHL record for wins in a season, the Lightning were swept in the first round of the playoffs by the Columbus Blue Jackets.
So far, the Lightning have looked great in the playoffs. The team’s offense, the best in the NHL, has taken down the team with the top rated defense, the Boston Bruins. and exorcised some demons by defeating the Blue Jackets in a rematch of last year’s first round. They have an incredible first line in Brayden Point, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat, who have scored 21 goals and only allowed six so far in the playoffs.
They also have one of the best defensive players in the league in Victor Hedman, who is arguably the team’s MVP at this point. Their goalie, Andrei Vasilevsky, might be the best in the league. Even without team captain Steven Stamkos, who has been battling injuries and hasn’t played since the league returned in the summer, this team looks phenomenal in all aspects. They’re not unbeatable, but they’re very, very good.
So who should you root for? Hard to say. The Lightning are the favorites, but not by enough to call this a David and Goliath level struggle; no one would be surprised if the Stars managed to take the cup home. Watching Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov on the ice is a ton of fun, and it’d be great to see Tampa finally perform up to their potential in the playoffs. That said, it would also be great to see Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin get a cup in what may be one of their last best shots at a championship.
For me, I don’t care a ton who wins, I just want too see an exciting series. Everyone already knows I’m Corvallis’s biggest Seattle Kraken fan. Your best bet might just be tuning in and seeing which side ends up feeling right for you. Things kick off at 4:30 Pacific tonight.