2015 NHL Stanley Cup Finals – Chicago Blackhawks vs Tampa Bay Lightning
The NHL Stanley Cup Finals are set and it should have been between the Anaheim Ducks and the Tampa Bay Lighting. The two teams who were the most consistent in terms of great play throughout the regular season and playoffs, for the most part. But instead we get the Chicago Blackhawks who ruined my Stanley Cup Finals prediction. I’ll rip the Ducks a new one in my season recap later. It’s just too easy. But in the match-up we got, we have a team going for their 3rd Stanley Cup with the same core, mostly, versus a team who is trying to win a 2nd one after a decade of winning their first Stanley Cup in franchise history.
A2 Tampa Bay Lightning vs C3 Chicago Blackhawks
Season Series: 1-1, the Blackhawks win was in the shootout
Playoff Series History: none
What We Learned: Never count the Blackhawks out in the series. As they usually grind out the first half of the series and then pull away with the win in the second half. The series with the Ducks actually reminded me of the Stanley Cup Finals against the Bruins a few years ago. The Bruins were the better team in the first four games but the Blackhawks managed to hang around and then play better in the games that mattered most. The Lightning have found away to win the tough later games on the road too. Winning Game 6 and 7 against the Red Wings, Game 6 in Montreal and then Game 7 in New York. They’ve had the harder road to get to the playoffs than the Blackhawks. But they’ve also made it harder for themselves.
Stars to Watch: Tyler Johnson and Patrick Kane are one and two in playoff scoring and lead their respective teams in playoff scoring. Of course leading the playoffs in scoring isn’t saying much when only players from four teams could realistically do so at this point. But they are at the top nonetheless. Both cooled a bit the last few games but both should be in the thick of things in the finals. Steven Stamkos finally woke up against the Rangers with a four game goal scoring streak. But he didn’t produce any points in Game 6 or 7 which is a concern. He needs to be the 50+ goal scorer for the Lightning to have a chance. You know Jonathan Toews will bring it, especially without a shutdown defender on him. Nikita Kucherov for the Lightning and Duncan Keith will also be ones to watch to see if they can continue their clutch play.
X-Factor: The are two big keys in this series. One is will the Blackhawks defenders have any juice left to go another long series with their short bench? The other is who will stop Toews on the Lightning? Although the Blackhawks top four defensemen are probably the best in the league, one cannot continue to play that many minutes and take that many hits and continue to play at a high level. Something has got to give. As far as Toews goes, not sure who will be called upon to guard him most. Stamkos isn’t really a shutdown guy and Johnson is too small. Valtteri Filppula would be my guess but I’m not sure the Lightning would want to play their third line against the Blackhawks top line most of the game. It’ll be interesting to see what they do. They’ll probably see how Stamkos does.
Goalie Problem: Ben Bishop has played excellent for a guy with no previous playoff experience. Much maligned Corey Crawford has bounced back really well since his series against the Predators. They’ve both had a few dud games but overall they’ve made the key saves when needed. All goalies have bad days. The Blackhawks have given up way more shots on goal to their opponents in fewer games than the Lightning. Both goalies will be busy though, as I don’t see any of these games being low scoring. If one of them has a bad game that will put their team in a hole they might not be able to get out of.
Fun Fact: The Blackhawks have won the last two Stanley Cups they have been in. They had lost the previous five they were in before that. The Lightning have only been the to the finals once before and they won that one.
Prediction: This is really tough to predict for several reasons. This are two teams who just find ways to win games even when you count them out. Either in the game or in the series. The Blackhawks also have way more experience in the player and coaching department. However, Lightning head coach John Cooper has been a winner at every level. The other key is that Jonathan Toews is the sole reason the Blackhawks are here, well that at coach Joel Quenneville. Toews willed them to a comeback in Game 5 and the wins in Game 6 and 7. The Lighting, though, have many people who can and do will them to a victory. Obviously, Tyler Johnson is the most prominent but they’ve had other players step up when it was needed too. It’s going seven games and I’m picking the Lightning but it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if the Blackhawks won.