No sense stopping now.
That is the mindset of the Dallas Stars as they ready to face the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Stanley Cup Final that opens Saturday at Edmonton.
The Stars, despite finishing fourth in the Western Conference during the truncated regular season, were not considered a big favorite when they faced the Calgary Flames in opening round of the playoffs.
They were definitely the underdogs against both the Colorado Avalanche and Vegas Golden Knights in the subsequent rounds. Yet, they dispatched them all en route to facing the Lightning.
“We all took the approach that if we were going to start (the season) back up, that we had as good of a chance as anyone,” forward Blake Comeau said.
“People were going to be making big sacrifices to come to the bubble, so we wanted to make it worthwhile. We said from the start the way to make it worthwhile was coming home with the Stanley Cup. We took a big step to get to the Final. Now we’re hitting the reset button and we’re getting ready to go.”
Dallas won both regular-season meetings against Tampa Bay in overtime. Both teams have won one Stanley Cup: the Stars in 1999 and Tampa Bay in 2004. Both teams have reached the Cup Final only to lose — Dallas in 2000 and the Lightning in 2015.
Dallas coach Rick Bowness was an assistant coach for the Lightning under Tampa bench boss Jon Cooper when they had their 2015 run.
Despite being outshot and outplayed by wide margins through their series with the Golden Knights, the Stars relied heavily on goaltender Anton Khudobin, who stopped 153 of 161 shots for a .950 save percentage, in dispatching Vegas in five games.
The Stars will face a Lightning team still fueled by their upset in the first round of last year’s playoffs. Tampa Bay defeated the Columbus Blue Jackets and Boston Bruins in five games before beating the New York Islanders in six games in the Eastern Conference final.
“We knew it was going to be tough and our group believes in one another, and that happens over the course of time,” defenseman Ryan McDonagh said. “We’re really thankful for the opportunity to be back in these playoffs coming out of the break, and now that we’re here, we’re really focused and determined to finish the job.”
The series will feature a similar contrast in styles that appeared in the conference finals.
Tampa’s high-octane attack was too much for the defense-first New York Islanders, while Dallas, which boasts a strong blend of veteran experience to go with a bevy of young talented skaters, counter-punched to beat the offensively talented Golden Knights.
“I really feel like we have a really hungry team to make this happen,” forward Andrew Cogliano said. “I think we’ve proven that over the course of the playoffs when we’ve been down in situations and when things haven’t gone our way, and from young guys to old guys and from the coaching staff, I think our whole organization really wants to … put everything we got out there for this last series.”
The Lightning provided no update on the status of captain Steven Stamkos, who has not played in the postseason, but has returned to practice. Top scorer Brayden Point missed a couple of conference final games due to an undisclosed injury but played the series finale.
For Dallas, goalie Ben Bishop, forward Radek Faksa and defenseman Stephen Johns remain unfit to play, as of now.
“When people said, ‘Is this going to be one of the hardest Cups to win?’ It might be one of the hardest Cups ever to win,” Cooper said. “There’s two of us left standing.”
–Field Level Media