Stanley Cup Finals
Blackhawks in 6
One thing is sure for the 2015 Stanley Cup Finals is that there should be plenty of excitement and thrills as the Tampa Bay Lightning and Chicago Blackhawks feature some of the best pure skaters and shooters. The Lightning were the highest scoring team in the NHL this season, averaging 3.2 goals per game. In the playoffs they have been just as strong with their mighty mite Tyler Johnson leading the way with 12 goals. The Blackhawks meanwhile are lead by the two headed monster Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews who have combined for 19 goals and know what it takes to win the Stanley Cup as the Blackhawks seek their third sip from hockey’s holy grain in six years.
Chicago’s championship pedigree is their biggest edge in this series. The Lightning have speed and talent and can become a perennial cup contender for years with players like Tyler Johnson and Steven Stamkos. However, this is the first time they will be skating on hockey’s biggest stage and when some many good talented players face each other that experience can often be the deciding factor. It certainly looked like the deciding factor for the Blackhawks in their Game 7 win over the Anaheim Ducks in the Western Conference Finals. The Ducks have struggled in Game 7s especially at home, while the Blackhawks who have already won the Stanley Cup in 2010 and 2013 knew how to close teams out, and got two early goals from Jonathan Toews and a strong game from goalie Corey Crawford to win 5-3 on the road.
Tampa’s biggest edge comes in speed, no team in the NHL can match the skaters of the Lightning who strike as fast as the team name suggest. Steven Stamkos is the best overall player on Tampa, and has been solid in the playoffs with seven goals and ten assists. However, it has been Tyler Johnson stealing all the thunder in Tampa as he has been unstoppable with a playoff best 21 points and 12 goals. He has been a big part of the triplet line that has gave the Red Wings, Canadiens and Rangers headaches throughout the playoffs, as Nikita Kucherov has scored nine goals, while Ondrej Palat is among three Tampa players with seven tallies. If Tampa can continue to blaze a trail up and down the ice they will have a chance to bring Lord Stanley back to Florida’s Gulf Coast.
Goaltending has been suspect at times for both teams. Ben Bishop did deliver two big shutout wins at Madison Square Garden in the Eastern Conference Finals. However, he also had ugly games at home in Game 4 and 6. Truthfully Bishop’s shutouts were helped by the Tampa defense and Rangers lack of aggression at home as they often looked for the perfect shot. The Blackhawks know what it takes to win and won’t waste time looking for the perfect shot. The Blackhawks have experience net crashers like Marian Hossa, who know that sometimes it’s the imperfect deflection goal that wins the Stanley Cup. Corey Crawford also had his struggles in the 2015 postseason, as he was benched in the first round against the Predators. However, he has looked better ever since and played a key role in Chicago’s win over the Ducks with heart stopping saves as the Blackhawks won two overtime marathons in which the Ducks had the better of the chances to put the game away and take a firm stranglehold in the series.
The Blackhawks know how to win and with players reaching the end of contracts and salary cap restrictions upcoming this could the last chance for this core of players to win another Cup, before they are forced to retool. Duncan Keith could end up being the x-factor as he is the defensive sniper that Tampa lacks. He has been big in the playoffs for the Blackhawks with a postseason best 16 assists. If Tampa is to have a chance to win the series they must contain Keith. In the end it should be a close series, but the Blackhawks are too strong and too deep. They have three players on their team that have won Conn Smythe trophies, with Tampa’s 2004 hero Brad Richards still a solid contributor on Chicago’s third and fourth lines. Both of the Blackhawks previous titles were won on the road, this time they will celebrate on their home ice, winning the series in six games.