After a tough loss in Game 3, the Dallas Stars started strong but were unable to contain the Tampa Bay Lightning’s most dangerous players and eventually lost Game 4, 5-4 in overtime. The two teams will tangle again on Saturday night, and we could finally see the 2020 Stanley Cup handed out if the Lightning can win their fourth game in a row against the Stars, who won Game 1.
The Lightning finished the night 3-4 on the power play and whether you believe the penalty on Jaime Benn in overtime was actually a penalty, the Stars penalty kill – which was so strong earlier in this postseason – has been their Achilles heel in the Stanley Cup Final. Tampa Bay is now 6-12 with the man advantage in Games 2, 3, and 4.
Dallas needed a fast start in Game 4 – and they got just that, taking what looked to be a 2-0 lead into the first intermission behind goals from John Klingberg and Joe Pavelski. But the Lightning struck with 32.6 seconds left in the opening period with a big goal from Conn Smythe Trophy favorite Brayden Point.
Point would even the game early in the second period on the power play with a baseball swing, but Corey Perry gave the Stars the lead back after a netmouth play. Again, Dallas couldn’t survive the end of the period and Yanni Gourde converted on a power play with 1:06 left to tie the game at threes heading to the third.
When Alex Kilorn scored on a wild, turnaround whipping shot six minutes into the third period things looked bleak for the Stars. They nearly scored on a power play, and that seemed to give them some momentum and Pavelski netted his second of the game when he flipped the puck into a plethora of bodies near the front of the Tampa crease at 11:35.
In overtime Benn was whistled for interfering with Tyler Johnson at center ice. It was called a trip, which is incorrect, but Benn did toss Johnson to the ice with his free hand. Was it a penalty because he’s the stronger man? Or because the ref had a bad angle? Either way you have to kill it off if you’re Dallas. But they couldn’t.
At 6:34 Kevin Shattenkirk snapped a shot through Jamie Oleksiak’s legs and past Anton Khudobin to put the Lightning on the brink of winning the second Stanley Cup in franchise history. Tampa Bay is now 7-1 in overtime in the playoffs, and they have earned every one of those wins. This was the first loss for the Stars in overtime this postseason in six games.
With a back-to-back games the Stars need to erase this from their memory banks and come out with their best game of the series in Game 5 or else they will be heading home without the Cup after two months in the Edmonton bubble. “We have to move on from this pretty quickly,” said Tyler Seguin during his postgame availability, “get ready to play a game with our season on the line. I’m excited.”
Here are our three takeaways from Game 4.
1. Special Teams the Difference
Most hockey fans know that a good power play or a good penalty kill can change the momentum of a game or series, and that is just what we are seeing unfold before our eyes in the 2020 Stanley Cup Final. After being held without a power play goal in Game 1, the Lightning are clicking at 50%. It seems unimaginable at this stage in the playoffs that a team would convert on half of their chances over three games, but here we are.
Point, Nikita Kucherov, Victor Hedman, Ondrej Palat, and Shattenkirk have all been terrorizing the Stars penalty killers. even crazier the four games prior to this stretch they were unable to score any power play goals.
Conversely, Dallas is 1-for-14 on their power play in this series. Looking for reasons that the Lightning are up 3-1 in the series? That’s it right there. Pavelski has their only PPG, which came in Game 2.
2. Pavelski and Seguin Were Flying
At this point, it’s more of a story when Pavelski isn’t scoring a goal or winning a face-off or tipping a shot while screening a goalie. He has easily been the Stars’ best player in this series, and that trend continued in Game 4 with his two goals. Pavelski now has 60 career playoff goals, tying him with Joe Mullen for the most ever by an American-born player.
In Game 4 all he did was win 13 of the 19 face-offs he took, scored a nifty goal early on, and at the end of the game he was the beneficiary of a puck finding its way into the net through a maze of bodies. But when you’re hot, you’re hot and you get fortunate bounces.
At the other end of the spectrum would be Seguin who was mired in a lengthy pointless (5 games) streak, and an even longer goalless (12 games) streak. Game 4 was easily his best of this series, and that would have been the case if he didn’t have two assists. He was noticeable nearly every shift and his play directly led to those two goals he helped manifest.
Seguin is obviously ailing (likely a wrist injury that we’ll hear about in a few days, but if he can find more in the tank for Game 5 – Dallas might make it to a Game 6. These Stars have battled back numerous times in this postseason and now they get a chance to really battle back in what would be an epic comeback if they do win the Cup. In any other year, yeah, they might be toast. But this is 2020, who knows what will happen.
3. Tampa’s Top Players Outplaying Dallas’ Top Players
Dallas’ top line of Benn-Seguin-Alexander Radulov has combined for zero goals and seven assists in the first four games of the Cup Final. Four of those assists came in Game 4 when interim head coach Rick Bowness split up the trio.
Tampa Bay’s top line of Point-Kucherov-Palat has combined for seven goals and eight assists. All of those points have come in Games 2-4. Kucherov (32) and Point (30) lead all players in the playoffs in points, and the Stars will need to shut them down if they want to win Game 5.
That’s as simple as it gets. Pavelski (3g-1a in series) and the two studs on defense (Klingberg and Miro Heiskanen) can’t do it alone. After the way Game 4 ended for Benn, one would expect he comes out flying in Game 5 and he’ll have his best game of the series. Heiskanen (25) and Klingberg (20) lead their team in points and have been fantastic, but they can’t be expected to carry the load. Especially at this point in time. they are the second set of defenders on the same team to record 20 points each in the same postseason (Edmonton, 1985, Paul Coffey & Charlie Huddy).
It all sets up an intriguing Game 5.
Game 5 is Saturday, the first time since 2009 that a Stanley Cup Final has games on back-to-back days. If the Stars win, Game 6 will be Monday night. If necessary, Game 7 would be Wednesday, Sept. 30.
Dan Rice is in his 9th year of reporting for THW & has covered NJ Devils home games for 15+ years at various websites. He began his journey working for legendary broadcaster/writer Stan Fischler from 2002-04 & completed an internship at the ECHL; he also has been writing features for the NWHL (nwhl.zone) website since 2016.