There was great excitement in the hockey world when the Chicago Blackhawks and Tampa Bay Lightning were pitted against each other in the Stanley Cup Final. Two dynamic offenses loaded with star power would surely make for an entertaining final. Stars such as Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Steven Stamkos could make this the most exciting Stanley Cup Final that we have seen in recent time. With so much high-end talent from each team in their top two lines, I expected them all to produce and that the difference in the series would be in the depth of the bottom-six forwards for the Blackhawks. Three games into the series, the superstars have yet to hit the big stage and its not the depth of the Chicago forwards that is making the difference, but the depth of Tampa Bay.
The hard-checking winger has arguably elevated his game more than any other player in this series. He started the scoring off in Game 3 on an absolute laser of a shot that beat Corey Crawford in the top corner of the net. After registering four points in his first 19 playoff games, Callahan has four points in the first three games of the Stanley Cup Final. In 2014, he was the captain of the New York Rangers and was shipped to Tampa Bay for a disgruntled Martin St. Louis. “No secret why he was captain of the New York Rangers,” coach Jon Cooper said. “You need guys that can play the 200 feet and make sacrifices for the team. When things aren’t going well personally or statistically, they find a way.” Anytime a team can add another team’s captain, you would think there would be a definite benefit. The playoffs have been a wild ride for Callahan. The toughness and leadership of the Rochester native is undeniable. After receiving an emergency appendectomy in the second round, he was back on the ice with his teammates within 72 hours of the surgery. There is no doubt that Callahan has brought an extra dimension to this team in the Stanley Cup Final.
If there is anyone who has stepped up as much as Callahan, you have to mention Cedric Paquette. The 21-year-old has been given the next-to-impossible task of shutting down Jonathan Toews, and has performed incredibly. “Just a little slash there, talking to him a little bit, just chirping. All the things you can do to piss him off,” Paquette said before Game 2. “I don’t like to do that too much. But against a guy like that you want to mess him up a little bit.” On top of limiting Jonathan Toews, Paquette has scored two goals himself, the latter of which was the game-winner last Monday in Chicago. I had predicted that Chicago’s third line (Teravainen, Vermette, and Richards) would be a deciding factor in the series, but the third line centered by Paquette (with Callahan and Brown) has definitely been the most effective thus far.
Struggling Stars in Chicago
The Chicago Blackhawks are a team loaded with superstars, but none bigger than Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. When these two produce, the Blackhawks are arguably the most dangerous team in the NHL. Unfortunately, its taken some time for the two players to get into a rhythm. The two have combined for one assist in the first three games of the Stanley Cup Final. In the previous series against the Anaheim Ducks, Coach Quenneville did what he only does in “desperate times,” and put the two players together in hopes of getting a spark. It worked, and the Blackhawks carried some momentum into the Stanley Cup Final with Toews and Kane as line mates. Game 1 and 2 did not go so well and the two were split up again in hopes of finding a better combination. Toews lack of production is more so on the offensive end, but his production in other facets of the game is undeniable. However, Patrick Kane’s job is to be felt on the score sheet. Kane has been held to six shots in nine periods so far, which is not nearly good enough. The Blackhawks will need the two to step up to get back into this series.
Where is Steven Stamkos?
Other than Toews and Kane, Steven Stamkos is the biggest star in this series. The Tampa Bay captain has been the face of the franchise since being drafted number one overall in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. He started the postseason fairly quiet, but had since come on strong in the Eastern Conference Finals. In three games, Stamkos has yet to register a point against the Blackhawks. After playing only 17 minutes in Game 1, Stamkos has seen his ice-time increase in each game, but the production still isn’t there. The production from their bottom-six forwards and the “Triplet” line has been enough for the Lightning, but surely Stamkos will have his influence on the series sooner than later.
Game 4 is in Chicago tonight. It will be interesting to see if the superstars finally show up, or whether the secondary players will continue to carry the load.