Dallas is making a last minute playoff push, but the Lightning have had their number so far this season.
Currently, the Dallas Stars sit two points behind the Nashville Predators with two games in hand, giving them the slight edge in terms of points percentage. But as we’ve learned all too well this season, games in hand only matter if you actually win them, which might be tough when three of your remaining seven games are against the reigning Stanley Cup Champions.
Tonight, Dallas kicks off a seven game road trip to end the regular season, their first game coming against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Whereas last year’s Final was fairly even between the two teams, the season series has not been — Tampa Bay have won four out of five, with the Stars’ sole victory being their most recent matchup over a month ago.
Then again, simply looking at the wins column might be a bit misleading. Joe Smith from The Athletic recently looked at how the two teams have matched up this season, and the results might surprise you:
(Season series, five-on-five, via Natural Stat Trick)
Corsi For % — Lightning 49.13
Goals For/Against — Lightning 8-3
Expected goals for/against — Lightning 6.79/8.62
Scoring chances for/against — Lightning 89, Stars 103
High-danger chances for — Lightning 31, Stars 49
Save percentage — Lightning 97.03, Stars 91.75
High-danger save percentage — Lightning 90.32, Stars 78.26
To summarize, while the Lightning have greatly outscored Dallas at 5-on-5, the Stars actually have the edge when it comes to scoring opportunities, high danger or otherwise. The difference has been in goal, where Vezina frontrunner Andrei Vasilveskiy has all but completely shut down the Stars while Jake Oettinger and Anton Khudobin have been at best average.
The silver lining is that Vasilveskiy has cooled down over the past month or so, as well as the Lightning in general. After standing comfortably at the top of the Central for a good while, they now sit in third in the division (second in points percentage), fighting it out with the Carolina Hurricanes and Florida Panthers. Captain Steven Stamkos is also out due to injury, and Nikita Kucherov (like Tyler Seguin) has yet to return.
All of which is to say both teams are in similar positions. Both are missing key players, and both desperately need to win games — Tampa Bay to avoid a first round matchup with Carolina or Florida, and Dallas to simply make the playoffs in the first place. We’ll see which team comes out to head tonight at 6:00 PM CDT.
Here were the lines used against the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday:
Robertson — Hintz — Pavelski
Dickinson — Benn — Gurianov
Cogliano — Faksa — Comeau
Kero — Dowling — Pysyk
Lindell — Klingberg
Oleksiak — Heiskanen
Hanley — Sekera
Expect Roope Hintz to be a game-time decision as usual, while Tyler Seguin is not expected to return quite yet. Head coach Rick Bowness said Joel Kiviranta could be an option for tonight as well.
Jake Oettinger will man the pipes with Antoin Khudobin expected to start Saturday night versus the Nashville Predators.