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The start of the finale of what will be the longest season in NHL history begins Saturday evening, with the Dallas Stars facing the Tampa Bay Lightning. HabsWorld’s contributors provide their insights into this series and predict how it will end.

Stanley Cup Final

Tampa Bay Lightning vs Dallas Stars

Kevin Leveille predicts: Stars in 6 games
Norm Szcyrek predicts: Lightning in 6 games
Brian La Rose predicts: Lightning in 7 games
Allan Katz predicts: Lightning in 6 games

(Kevin) This is a matchup of two teams who finally lived up to the talent that resides on each of their respective rosters. Tampa Bay overcame significant self-doubt with a first-round victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets and have been rolling ever since. The Stars were early favourites in 18-19 after acquiring some big names but needed a bit of time, an impromptu coaching change, and a backup goaltender playing out of his mind to get there.

Both forward groups are ultra-talented and ultra-deep so giving the advantage to anyone here is quite difficult. I would give the edge to Tampa if they had Steven Stamkos, but they don’t so I’ll call this one even.

Andrei Vasilevskiy holds the edge over Anton Khudobin, on paper. Khudobin has been crazy good though so while Tampa has the edge in net, it’s a narrow margin.

The blue lines are also quite similar. Some highly touted young guns playing with some high-end proven talent is how to best describe these units. While I prefer Miro Heiskanen to Mikhail Sergachev, but I also think Victor Hedman is the best player in this series. Hedman, to me, gives Tampa the edge.

After giving Tampa the edge in two of three departments, why can’t I bring myself to choose them as the winners? Maybe it’s because the Stars represent the same type of team the Blue Jackets did, with much more skill. Defensively aware, with big bruising forwards that won’t allow Tampa the required room for the extra pass. I don’t think Tampa’s top point producers will overcome this physical matchup.

(Norm) This is going to be an exciting series! The Lightning dominated the NHL in 2018-19 leading the league in points but were swept from the playoffs in the first round. They seemed to have learned a lesson this season. Tampa has provided some high octane offence led by the likes of Nikita Kucherov (the NHL’s top playoff scorer) and Brayden Point (third highest scorer, leading goal scorer). Alternate captain Victor Hedman has been impressive on offence (tied for the league lead in goals) and defence. Hedman has stepped up huge for injured captain Steven Stamkos providing leadership for this squad. Ex-Hab Mikhail Sergachev has played well, as he is third on his team in scoring among defencemen. Goalie Andrei Vasilevsky has managed the second-highest goals against in the league (behind Carey Price) and the fifth-highest save percentage among starting goalies.

In Dallas’ case, they are a relative surprise to make it to the Final if you considered that notion at the start of the playoffs. Their defence has been excellent overall, especially when it comes to providing offence. Their blueliners have led the postseason in scoring with 53 points in 21 games. Miro Heiskanen leads his team in scoring and is fourth overall in league scoring. His offensive dominance has brought him two points behind the NHL record for points scored by a defenceman, currently held by Brent Burns back in 2016. John Klingberg has also been impressive so far with the third-most points in the NHL. Captain Jamie Benn has come up big this postseason and is second in his team in scoring. Forward Denis Gurianov surprised many by stepping up his game and is second in team scoring among forwards. Forwards Joe Pavelski and ex-Hab Alexander Radulov have been contributing with timely goals. Backup goalie Anton Khudobin, who took over for injured starter Ben Bishop, has been a big surprise when he has played, making big saves when needed.

Pro golfing legend Arnold Palmer once said, “Winning isn’t everything, but wanting it is”. I believe that quote best applies to Tampa for this series, as their players have performed like they wanted to win more than their opponents. This final series will prove that out in the end.

(Brian) My initial inclination was to call this a six-game series but since everyone else picked that, I’ll go one more.  Dallas continues to surprise me considering I’ve picked them to lose every series and they’re still here.  Khudobin has held up better than I thought he would and I think the extra rest will benefit them a little bit at the start.

Tampa Bay is the better team on paper but I’m a little worried about some of the injuries that are being played through and while Stamkos’ potential return (he has been skating in recent days) would help, it’s hard to count on that right now.  The injuries could help the Stars at times as well who are relatively healthy at the moment.

As long as Dallas’ offence doesn’t dry up as it did for extended chunks during the season, they can make a real push here.  But since I’m going with seven games, it ultimately comes down to who I’d take between Vasilevskiy and Khudobin (or Bishop if he manages to come back and play well at some point).  Give me Vasilevskiy and the Lightning in that scenario.

(Allan) Offence rules the day, but the fact is Tampa is better than Dallas defensively even more so then offensively. Based on how the world seems basically upside down and spinning, one would think an upset is in the making, so anything is possible, but the fact is this is Tampa’s time and Dallas will be lucky to take it to 6.