Thanks to their 5-2 victory on Wednesday night, the Lightning will carry a 2-1 lead into Game 4 of the series on Friday night, and a third straight win by Tampa Bay would place them on the cusp of the franchise’s second championship.
Standing in Tampa’s way is one of three contenders for the Conn Smythe Trophy, which is presented to the most valuable player in the playoffs.
Stars goalie Anton Khudobin, a 33-year-old journeyman who has played for five different teams during his 11-year NHL career, has been exceptional in the NHL’s Edmonton bubble.
With starter Ben Bishop deemed unfit to play, the native of Kazakhstan has led Dallas to series victories over Calgary, Colorado and Vegas, three clubs that know how to put the puck in the net, and stopped 35 of the 36 shots he faced in Game 1 against the high-flying Lightning.
Tampa Bay has pumped eight goals past Khudobin in the last two games, which could mean that they’ve either figured him out or he just had a couple of bad outings.
Candidate No. 2 for the Conn Smythe is Tampa forward Brayden Point, who has a playoff-leading 11 goals, along with 28 points in 20 outings.
Point ended one of the longest games in hockey history, scoring in the fifth overtime as Tampa Bay topped Columbus 3-2 in their first-round series opener and has scored a few more big goals along the way.
The top candidate for playoff MVP, in my opinion, is Lightning defenceman Victor Hedman, who scored his first goal of the final on Wednesday, his 11th tally of the post-season — one behind Hall of Famer Paul Coffey’s defenceman record of 12 set in 1985.
Hedman, who scored in four straight games earlier in the playoffs, leads all active playoff participants with an average of 26:00 of ice time and the six-foot-six Swede has elevated his play all over the ice, in part because of injuries to Point and fellow forward Steven Stamkos.
The way the Stanley Cup final is shaping up, Hedman is in line to become the first blueliner since Duncan Keith in 2015, and the 10th overall, to win the Conn Smythe Trophy.
Rick Zamperin is the assistant program, news and senior sports director at Global News Radio 900 CHML.