The Tampa Bay Lightning and Dallas Stars are focused on winning Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final at Rogers Place in Edmonton on Friday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVAS, SN), not Game 5 on Saturday in the second half of a back-to-back.”You can’t look at (Game 5 on) Saturday without playing Friday,” Lighting coach Jon Cooper said Thursday. “You do all your prep, you put the 20 players out there you feel will give you the best chance to win on Friday and see what happens. You wake up Saturday and deal with Saturday then.”
Tampa Bay leads the best-of-7 series 2-1 after its 5-2 win in Game 3 on Wednesday in Edmonton, the hub city for the Cup Final.
Dallas, which had won five straight postseason games before losing Game 2, is taking the same approach, but clearly needs to win at least one of the games to keep its Cup hope alive.
“We’ll be doing everything we can to win that (Game 4) tomorrow,” Stars coach Rick Bowness said Thursday. “We don’t want to fall down 3-1 (in the series). Saturday’s a whole other discussion we’ll have after Friday. Right now, Saturday’s the least of our concerns.”
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The Lightning’s biggest concern heading into Game 4 is the status of center Steve Stamkos. The Tampa Bay captain scored 6:58 into Game 3 and played five shifts for 2:47 before leaving the game with 6:18 remaining in the first period.
Cooper did not have an update on Stamkos Thursday.
“I won’t be able to answer that until tomorrow morning,” Cooper said. “Guys are showing up to the rink now. I won’t have anything until after this, so I’ll update you tomorrow.”
Stamkos had been unfit to play throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He last played on Feb. 25 and had surgery to repair a core muscle injury March 2, missing the Lightning’s final seven games before the season was paused due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus. He scored 66 points (29 goals, 37 assists) in 57 regular-season games, second on Tampa Bay to forward Nikita Kucherov with 85 points (33 goals, 52 assists) in 68 games.
Each team has played back-to-backs during its run to the Cup Final.
Tampa Bay faced the Boston Bruins in Games 2 and 3 of the Eastern Conference Second Round at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, the Eastern hub city, on Aug. 25 and 26. The Lightning defeated the Bruins 4-3 in overtime in Game 2 and won 7-1 in Game 3.
Dallas defeated the Calgary Flames 5-4 in Game 2 of the Western Conference First Round on Aug. 13 in Edmonton, then lost 2-0 in Game 3 on Aug. 14. The Stars defeated the Colorado Avalanche 5-4 in Game 4 of the Western Second Round on Aug. 30 before losing 6-3 in Game 5 on Aug. 31.
Video: NHL Tonight previews Game 4 of the SCF
Goalie Ben Bishop started for Dallas in Game 2 against Calgary and in Game 5 against Colorado; he was pulled after allowing four goals on 19 shots against the Avalanche and has been unfit to play since.
Anton Khudobin started in goal in Game 3 against the Flames and in Game 6 against the Avalanche; he’s expected to make his 11th consecutive start when the Stars face the Lightning on Friday.
“I think the back to backs in the playoffs can’t be judged the way back to backs can in the regular season, in my opinion,” Cooper said. “You’re taking travel out of it. Will things change if tomorrow goes into five overtimes? Who knows? There are aspects that we go through that have us make these decisions. [Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy] will be in the net tomorrow night, and when you get to this part of the season, I think I said this last night, you need your big boys to be there for you, and they have, all playoffs long. I just don’t see why we would need to change that.”
Tampa Bay’s top players have been there.
Kucherov, who leads all postseason scorers with 30 points (seven goals, 23 assists) in 22 games, has four points (one goal, three assists) in his past two games. Defenseman Victor Hedman has scored 20 points (10 goals, 10 assists) in 22 games, including five points (one goal, four assists) in Games 2 and 3. Center Brayden Point, who has two goals and an assist in his past two games, leads the NHL in postseason goals (11) and is second on the Lightning with 28 points. Vasilevskiy is 16-6-0 with a 1.89 goals-against average and .928 save percentage in 22 postseason starts and has allowed Dallas two goals in each of the past two games.
The Stars are struggling to get production from their top players.
Center Tyler Seguin and forward Jamie Benn each has no points in the Stanley Cup Final and forward Alexander Radulov has three assists.
“There’s another level for us, bottom line,” said Stars center Joe Pavelski, who has scored a goal and an assist in the series. “It’s got to come from someone. We’ve got to step up and be better.”
Tampa Bay expects Dallas to respond in Game 4.
“We’re kind of laser focused on that and making sure we realize it’ll be a much different game tomorrow,” defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. “It’s not going to be a 5-1, 5-2 lead for most of the game. We’re going to have to battle for it. We know they’re going to come out hungry because it’s a desperate time for them as well.”