By: Luke Johns
After both teams survived grueling seven-game series’, the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Chicago Blackhawks will be facing each other in the Stanley Cup Final. Both teams are worthy contestants and bring skilled players to the rink. Two very different identities, but two similar styles of play. We all know by now that this is Chicago’s third trip to the Stanley Cup Final in six years and they’re the playoff regular. Conversely, its been over 10 years since Tampa Bay has been in the Final and only have one player on their roster with a championship ring. Despite that, it looks like a wide open series ahead of us.
Keys To The Series
There are three main keys to the series from Tampa Bay’s perspective. Firstly, the line they call the “Triplets” will have to continue the success they’ve enjoyed so far this postseason if Tampa Bay is going to have a chance to win this thing. That line is anchored by Tyler Johnson who is leading the NHL in postseason scoring. The line has combined for 28 goals and 55 points.
Secondly, goaltender Ben Bishop needs to be more consistent. He gave up five goals in a game three times in the Eastern Conference Finals. Additionally he had two shutouts in that same series, so he is very capable of being the difference against the Blackhawks. I’m not convinced the Lightning can overcome another bad outing by Bishop. They can get away with him being mediocre on nights that just don’t belong to the Lightning, but a Lighting loss in this series at the hands of Bishop will put Tampa Bay in an extremely difficult hole seeing how even these teams are.
Lastly, an area to take advantage of is for head coach Jon Cooper to find a way to exploit Chicago’s lack of defensive depth. Based on how Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville played his blue-liners against Anaheim, during the critical times of these Stanley Cup Final games it’s likely he’ll resort to just play Keith, Seabrook, Oduya and Hjalmarsson. If Cooper can somehow find a way to make the minutes catch up to the Chicago defensemen, it could give Tampa Bay an opportunity to get more scoring chances than they’d normally have.
For Chicago, priority number one without a doubt has to be slowing down the “Triplets.” Tampa Bay swims or sinks based on that line’s performance. When that line registers a point, the Lightning are 11-3 this postseason. When they don’t, they’re 1-5. The best way to neutralize them is for Quenneville to either find a way to slow down Tampa Bay’s rush through the neutral zone or draw up a good forecheck to make it difficult for the Lighting to leave their zone.
Aside from that, Jonathan Toews and the Blackhawks will have to continue to create the great scoring opportunities that they’ve been doing all postseason. When it comes down to the meat and potatoes, Chicago is going to have to produce and get the timely goals that have gotten them to this point.
Lastly, Corey Crawford will have to continue to get the job done between the pipes. Remember, Crawford was briefly benched in the first round but has come back and put up an okay 2.33 GAA since. As long as Crawford doesn’t lay an egg in the early portions of the series, the goaltender situation won’t even be a thought.
Notable Stats and Numbers
-In the regular season and postseason, Chicago has never lost when leading after two periods (32-0).
-Tampa Bay is 9-0 this postseason when scoring first.
-Tampa Bay is 3-0 this postseason in overtime games. Chicago is 4-1.
-Duncan Keith leads the Blackhawks in average ice time this postseason with 31:36. Victor Hedman leads Tampa Bay in that category at 23:25.
-Steven Stamkos has scored 11 goals against the Blackhawks in his career.
-Tampa Bay and Chicago played twice in the regular season. Chicago won in a shootout on Nov. 11. and Tampa Bay won in regulation on Feb. 27.
It’ll be the goaltending. Neither starter has been horrendous, but neither has been outstanding either. This is a rare year that the Stanley Cup contestants didn’t get there on the back of their goalie. That being said, if either Bishop or Crawford suddenly get hot, it’ll change the complexion of the series.
For Chicago, it’s Jonathan Toews. If he gets his third cup to go along with his two Olympic gold medals, he will establish himself as the most prolific winner of the decade at age 27.
For Tampa Bay, it’s Steven Stamkos. He’s already known as a superstar, but it’s important to win a Stanley Cup early before he gets the reputation as “the guy who can’t win the big one.”
Blackhawks in 7.