Stanley Cup Final: Lightning vs. Stars preview and prediction

The NHL started its Return to Play tournament with 24 teams, but we are officially down to the final two.

Three day after the Dallas Stars punched their ticket to the 2020 Stanley Cup Final, the Tampa Bay Lightning did the same on Thursday by knocking off the New York Islanders in six games.

The Lightning are seeking their first Stanley Cup since 2004 while the Stars are looking for their first since 1999. So let's preview the showdown between two teams looking to end their droughts:

Offense

No team scored more goals during the regular season than the Lightning (243), who have finished No. 1 in that department for three straight seasons. The Stars ranked No. 29 with 177 goals, but it's been a different story in the playoffs.

The Stars have erupted for 62 goals in 21 games for a goals-per-game average of 2.95, which ranks No. 6 among all playoff teams. The Lightning have 59 goals in 19 games for a goals-per game-average of 3.11, which ranks No. 3.

Statistically, it's close to a wash, but the Lightning are clearly the better puck possession team and could be getting a major boost with the potential return of five-time 40-goal scorer Steven Stamkos, although that appears to be a long shot.

Defense

The Stars and Lightning were two of the top defensive teams during the regular season. Dallas gave up the fewest even-strength goals (126) while the Lightning allowed the fourth-fewest (143), in part due to above average goaltending.

But the Stars have taken a mini step back in the postseason while the Lightning have elevated their game.

 

The Stars' expected goals against per 60 minutes at even strength has gone from 2.33 in the regular season to 2.49 in the postseason, according to Natural Stat Trick. The Lightning have gone from 2.46 to an astounding 1.66.

Goaltending

It's no secret why the Lightning and Stars are the final two teams standings. They can both score, defend and have gotten terrific goaltending.

Andrei Vasilevskiy is 14-5 with a 1.87 goals-against average, .930 save percentage and 8.06 goals saved above average, which ranks No. 2 among all playoff netminders.

Khudobin is 12-6 with a 2.62 goals-against average, .920 save percentage and one shutout. He had a 4.52 goals saved above average in the Western Conference Final against Vegas. 

Special teams

The Stars have had a sensational power play all postseason long. They've scored 18 goals on 66 opportunities for a success rate of 27.3 percent and have generated a playoff-best 72.1 scoring chances on a per 60 minute basis.

The Lightning have a 17.9 percent conversation rate and are at 55.7 in the scoring chances category.

The penalty kill is about as even as it can get. The Stars have killed off 83.3 percent of their penalties while the Lightning have killed off 83.6 percent. But with the Lightning and Stars each possessing a lethal power play, this area will be even more magnified.

PREDICTION: Lightning in six games