The Western Conference Final has earned the title the “real Stanley Cup Final” by fans and media alike.
Can you blame them? Six of the past eight, as well as 12 of the last 18, Stanley Cup champions have hailed from the West. The previous five Eastern teams (Boston, Pittsburgh, Carolina, Tampa Bay and New Jersey) who won the Stanley Cup had to do so in seven games, while the past seven Western teams to claim victory have done so in six games or less.
Do not tell this to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The franchise owned by Jeff Vinik will enter its first Final since winning in 2004 — a team led by Martin St. Louis, Vincent Lecavalier and Brad Richards, who currently plays for the opposing Chicago Blackhawks. This version of the Lightning has overcome two Game 7s (Detroit, quarterfinals; New York Rangers, Eastern Conference Final), and has shut down a resurgent team that attempted a comeback after falling to a 3-0 series deficit (Montreal Canadiens, semifinals).
The Lightning will have their work cut out for them. On the opposite side of the ice, Chicago seems like a team on a mission … again. After winning Cups in 2010 and 2013, the Blackhawks have, for the most part, kept the band together. The club has eight players on the roster who has been a part of each Cup drive and currently on the roster, while seven members will be entering their second Stanley Cup Final with the franchise.
The Blackhawks upended the Anaheim Ducks Saturday night in California, 5-3. It was a score that went uncommon through most of the series, as Games 2-5 ended in a one-goal difference that reached six overtime periods in that span. The 2015 Western Final was some of the best hockey displayed all season for all 30 NHL organizations.
The Eastern Final was not far behind, though. Although only two games ended with the winning team ahead by one goal, netminders Ben Bishop and Henrik Lundqvist dueled on a nightly basis. Bishop stood taller, not allowing a Rangers goal at Madison Square Garden in the final two games. In total, Bishop allowed just four goals on 115 shots on the road in the series, posting an astounding ,965 save percentage.
Leading the offense is Tyler Johnson, whose four-goal, five-assist performance in the Eastern Final thrust him into first place among playoff scoring in both goals (12) and points (21). Along with linemates Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov, dubbed the triplets line, Johnson will be looked to as the spark in the Lightning’s offense yet again.
The Lightning, who have no remaining members from their 2004 championship, will rely on speed and tenacity to defeat the daunting Blackhawks. Chicago has faced a gruesome knock-them-out physical battle to advance to the final round, while the Lightning have engaged in both goal-trading affairs and defensive match-ups.
The Lightning will dictate whether the Ducks and Blackhawks just finished off the best hockey series of the playoffs. If their speed can wear down the Blackhawks’ blue line, this series will be a lot more exciting than the Stanley Cup Final of past years.
Here is the rest of your news and notes from this past weekend:
Here’s the 2015 SCF schedule. [Pro Hockey Talk]
What did we learn about the Lightning’s advancement to the SCF? [SB Nation]
Tampa Bay welcomes a series with the Blackhawks. [Hockey Buzz]
Toews and Kane were the leaders in the Game 7 victory. [The Score]
Watch Toews’ goals in Game 7. [CBS Sports]Chicago will be the focus of NHL marketing the next few weeks. [TSN.ca]
Ryan Getzlaf did not take the series loss in stride. [Puck Daddy]
Some stations across the country aired different programming than Game 7 between Chicago and Anaheim. [Deadspin]
The Bruins might be worried about an offer sheet being sent to Dougie Hamilton. [Boston Herald]
The Oilers need to find more leadership for when Connor McDavid arrives. [Today’s Slapshot]