The Dallas Stars' bubble has been popped.
After nearly three months in the Edmonton bubble, the Stars' bid for the Stanley Cup fell just short. After grinding and bullying their way to the Stanley Cup Final as an underdog, the Stars finish the 2020 season as runner-ups after losing to the Tampa Bay Lightning in six games.
It's always painful to endure a long Cup run only to come up just short but it may be especially painful this year thanks to added element of relative isolation in the bubble. With that in mind, it wasn't surprising to see many Stars players completely gutted after Tampa Bay sealed the deal on Monday night.
So, what went wrong for Dallas in the Final? Let's take a look.
It might surprise you to find out that the Stars actually outscored the Lightning at 5v5 in this series (12-11) despite being out-possessed by a significant margin (Tampa Bay had 58 percent of the attempts and 60 percent of the shots in the series). I wouldn't say the Stars were necessarily better at 5v5 -- they often struggled to generate opportunities -- but they kept things close and gave themselves a fighter's chance against a superior Lightning team.
Where the Stars didn't do themselves any favors was on special teams. Both teams had 19 power play opportunities in the series but Tampa Bay's man-advantage unit came alive after a cold spell leading up to the SCF. The Lightning went a whopping 7-for-19 on the PP (36.8 percent conversion rate) while the Stars went just 1-for-19. Special teams cost the Stars big-time in their Game 4 loss.
Dallas coach Rick Bowness recognized that his team needed to be more disciplined and not allow Tampa to get to the man-advantage, and they did a good job of that to stay alive in Game 5 (TBL had just one power play). But the issue reared its head again in Game 6 when Dallas took a couple of early penalties and allowed the Lightning to break the ice and establish early momentum with a PPG in the first period.
Simply put, the Stars lost the special teams battle badly on both sides and that's just not something you can afford to do while playing a Lightning team that is so good at controlling play at 5v5.
The Stars have a pretty top-heavy lineup and their offense can often live and die with their top-six forwards. But those top stars also can be pretty streaky, and several of them didn't have a big enough impact against the Lightning.
Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, Alex Radulov, Roope Hintz and Denis Gurianov combined to score zero goals in this series. They didn't necessarily play super poorly (Seguin, Benn and Radulov all finished as pluses in the series) but the Stars don't have enough offensive firepower to survive without getting more from production from those top guys. Joe Pavelski and Corey Perry -- two guys who were added this past offseason to help share some offensive weight -- led the team in goals with four and three, respectively. The only other Stars player to score more than once over the six games was Jason Dickinson.
They were banged up
After every Stanley Cup run, we find out that teams were banged up and get a laundry list of players that were playing through injury. You don't really have to wait for that list to know that the Stars really struggled on the health side in this series. Dallas finished with five players on the "unfit to play" list in the final two games of the Stanley Cup Final.
Blake Comeau was injured in Game 3 and didn't return. Hintz took a big spill into the boards in Game 4 and was knocked out of the lineup. Andrej Sekera was hobbled after blocking a shot in Game 5. I'm sure we'll hear about plenty more ailments in the coming days.
Obviously, injuries are a part of this whole thing. Every team suffers bumps and bruises on the long road to the Stanley Cup Final, but the Stars were hit especially hard in a physical, gritty Final. As the team with significantly less depth in this series, that certainly didn't help Dallas much. Over the final couple of games, the Stars clearly had heavier legs.
Tampa was just better
You can nitpick all you want but the reality is this: The Tampa Bay Lightning are better than the Dallas Stars. Tampa boasts one of the most talented and complete rosters in the NHL (and they have for some time now) and they executed incredibly well top-to-bottom throughout the majority of these playoffs. They were dominant -- perhaps one of the better Stanley Cup champions of the salary cap era.
You don't get to the Stanley Cup Final without having a great team, and the Stars put up a fight against a clearly superior opponent. There's plenty of reasons for Dallas to be disappointed, but there's also plenty reasons for them to be proud. This is a team that weathered a number of challenges -- including a horrendous start to the season and the sudden, unexpected firing of their coach -- and then survived the physical and mental toll of the bubble under an interim coach. There's no shame in that.
Seriously, the Lightning were great
Don't you dare try to put an asterisk on this championship.