The Dallas Stars and the Tampa Bay Lightning, two of the NHL’s southernmost teams, will battle it out for the first time ever in the Stanley Cup Final beginning on Saturday night with Game 1.

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The Stars were named Western Conference Champions on Monday after a surprising series upset, beating the Vegas Golden Knights 4-1. Stars’ defenseman Miro Heiskanen has played a pivotal role in Dallas’ success, leading the team in postseason scoring with five goals and 17 assists (22 points) in 21 games.

It’s not a massive surprise to see the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Stanley Cup final. They tied an NHL record with 62 wins a season ago and were determined to avenge last season’s surrendered first-round draft picks in two trades this winter in hopes of balancing his roster out with more grit, bringing in Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow.

Job well done, sir. The Bolts were the class of the East entering the 24-team bubble, and here they are in the final.

But not too many of us had the Dallas Stars going all the way. We saw a solid team with star power on defense and great goaltending, yes, but an aging, pop-gun offense looked like it would hold Dallas back when the post-season arrived. Instead, the Stars have treated us to a

rollercoaster of comebacks, scoring binges, upsets and surprise heroes, none bigger than Joel Kiviranta. They weren’t necessarily the team everyone expected to represent the West, but they sure have momentum – and respect – on their side now. It should be an eventful and exciting Stanley Cup final featuring interesting personalities on the ice and behind the bench.

OFFENSE

Deciding which team has the edge in offense depends on which sample size you choose to trust. In the regular season? No contest. The Lightning led the NHL in goals per game and boasted the No. 5 power play, while the Stars finished 26th in goals per game. Of the 24 teams qualifying for the bubble tournament, only one scored less often than Dallas in the regular season.

The playoffs, however, have brought an awakening for the Stars’ scorers. Well, most of them. Breakout star defenseman Miro Heiskanen has led the way, of course, averaging better than a point per game, but Dallas has also gotten the balanced scoring distribution it’s lacked for

years, with four different players notching eight or more goals, most notably Denis Gurianov,
who had 20 as a rookie during the regular season as one of the league’s most efficient generation – on the whole in the tournament, they’ve been outshot, outchanced and even outscored – but they’ve made their chances count. Their power play has been lethal, humming along at better than 27 percent.

The Lightning are who we thought they were, however. They had to grind to get goals on the stingy New York Islanders, but BriseBois has engineered this team so that it can win ugly

final. When games open up and become track meets, which has happened plenty of times during Dallas’ run to the final, the Lightning can keep up there, too, even if injured center Steven Stamkos doesn’t return. With all-world talents like right winger Nikita Kucherov, defenseman Victor Hedman and center Brayden Point driving the play, the Bolts are still the most talent-rich team in the league.

For Dallas to keep up, it needs star center Tyler Seguin to find his touch. He’s scored twice in 20 games after an underwhelming regular season in which he managed just 17 goals in 69 games.

WHAT TO KNOW

WHEN: (all times Eastern)

Game 1: Sept. 19, 7:30 p.m.

Game 2: Sept. 21, 8 p.m.

Game 3: Sept. 23, 8 p.m.

Game 4: Sept. 25, 8 p.m.

Game 5 (if necessary): Sept. 26, 8 p.m.

Game 6 (if necessary): Sept. 28, 8 p.m.

Game 7 (if necessary): Sept. 30, 8 p.m.

WHERE: Rogers Place, Edmonton, Alberta

WHO’S MISSING? (via NHL.com)

LIGHTNING:

Scratched: Mathieu Joseph, Mitchell Stephens, Carter Verhaeghe, Alexander Volkov, Braydon Coburn, Scott Wedgewood

Unfit to play: Jan Rutta, Steven Stamkos

STARS:

Scratched: Nick Caamano, Ty Dellandrea, Jason Robertson, Gavin Bayreuther, Thomas Harley, Landon Bow, Justin Dowling, Taylor Fedun

Unfit to play: Stephen Johns, Ben Bishop, Radek Faksa

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