Now that Game Three is in the books and the Tampa Bay Lighting have a 2-1 series lead over the Chicago Blackhawks, this is as good a time as any to review individual performances on both sides.
We are a period and a half from the halfway point of the series, should it go the full seven games. If any momentum is carried into the next game, it is on the Tampa side. To say that Game Four is a must-win for Chicago would be an understatement because if the Blackhawks find themselves down 3-1 with two of the remaining three games in Tampa, it will be virtually impossible to climb back into this series.
After three games, both teams have completed the feel-out process. Now it is down to brass tacks. Any love has been lost and the niceties are a distant memory. The real distaste of the opponent lends itself to discourse on the ice. After splitting the first two games, this year’s Stanley Cup Final has now become a best of five.
After Game Three, not only did Tampa set itself apart from Chicago with the victory but there were some individual players that set themselves above and below the majority of the players in this final. This is as good a time as any to review the play from both teams and decide of all the participants, who is hot and who is not.
Who is Hot
Victor Hedman – All you need to know about how well Hedman is playing is to see the moves Joel Quenneville is making to counter him. In Game One, Quenneville had Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews on the same line. That configuration made it easy for Tampa’s coach, Jon Cooper to have Hedman on the ice when Chicago’s big two were out there. Then in Game Two, Coach Q began to separate them which made it more difficult for Hedman to defend against both.
Hedman is also having an amazing Final on the offensive side. In Game Three alone, he assisted on two of the three Tampa goals including the game winner. Everyone knows that Duncan Keith is one of the best Defensemen in the game today and he is having a good Stanley Cup Final but Hedman is out producing Keith in assists, total points, shots on goals, plus/minus, hits and blocked shots and he is doing so playing about five minutes less a game than Keith, so Hedman is red-hot.
Cedric Paquette – Hot Paquette is, well, hot in this series. Tasked with defending against the Toews line, the 21 year-old rookie is clearly frustrating Chicago’s superstar. Looking at the stat line through three games between Toews and Paquette and you see why the Tampa rookie is in the Hot list. Through three games: Toews has no goals, one assist, a zero plus/minus with eight shots, three hits and one blocked shot. Compare those to Paquette’s stats of: two goals, no assists, plus one with seven shots, eleven hits and three blocked shots. It would be difficult for anyone to believe that Toews won’t bounce back but with Tampa halfway to four victories, Paquette is outshining Captain Serious.
Ben Bishop – Throughout the playoffs the narrative has jumped up and down on Bishop. After allowing four goals to Detroit in the opening series of the playoffs in a pivotal game five that saw Tampa go down three games to two, many in the media were asking why Bishop was so shaky. What was wrong with Big Ben? He came back in a decisive Game Six at the Joe Louis Arena and by shutting out the Red Wings in Game Seven to help his team win that series.
The same narrative about a shaky Bishop came again in the Eastern Conference Final against New York. After giving up five goals in consecutive games, although one of those games was a Tampa victory, the media onslaught towards Bishop began anew. How did he respond? A shutout in Game Five in Madison Square Garden and for an encore, a carbon copy 2 – 0 shutout in Game Seven again in Madison Square Garden.
After the opening Game One loss to Chicago in the Stanley Cup Final, the narrative has changed to what is physically wrong with Bishop but after the Game Three performance of stopping 36 of 38 shots to ensure Tampa’s victory, all of the storylines are immaterial. Bishop is outplaying Chicago’s netminder, Corey Crawford in the series and giving is team a fantastic shot at winning the Cup.
Teuvo Teravainen – I would be remiss not to include Chicago’s fine rookie in this list. He has registered two goals and an assist through the first three games. Teravainen is also the only Chicago player to score more than one goal thus far. Considering that he is averaging about 12:18 TOI, Qenneville should give some thought to getting his 20 year-old Finn more ice time.
The Triplets Line – So much has been said about the Triplets throughout the playoffs including how much of Tampa’s scoring they were providing. Chicago paid attention and in Game One, they held the Triplets to a combined zero goals, zero assists, a minus two with only two shots. That lack of production from the Triplets will spell trouble for Tampa.
In the next two games, the Triplets had three goals, three assists for a plus nine with 13 shots and also 16 hits. Both of those games were Tampa wins. Perhaps, it’s true that so go the Triplets, so goes the Lightning. If the Trips continue this type of performance, Chicago will not come back in this series.
Honorable mentions in this Hot category should be led by Marian Hossa. While Hossa has not scored a goal, he has assisted on three of the seven total goals Chicago has scored. Adding his amazing fore checking and back checking abilities and Hossa continues to play like one of Chicago’s big horses. Would also like to recognize, Tampa’s bottom two lines. In prior playoff series, they were virtually non-existent on the score sheet. Led by the play of Ryan Callahan and Paquette mentioned above, they are simply out performing Chicago’s vaunted top two lines.
Who is Not
Patrick Kane – Who would have thought that Kane would be without a goal three games into this series? Not only that, in Game Two he was held without a shot on goal. He is also a minus two for the series, and has only five shots. There is little doubt that Kane will pick up his game going forward, but he shouldn’t wait too much longer or Chicago will be out of the series.
Patrick Sharp – Chicago’s other Patrick. Much has been written lately that with Chicago being in a cap crunch, that Sharp is the player most likely to be traded this off-season. Perhaps, that is weighing on his mind. Maybe it is Tampa’s defense. Whatever the reason, Sharp has zero goals and one assist and is a minus two through three games. This type of production simply won’t help Chicago.
Jonathan Toews – Hard to believe that Chicago’s captain would be on this kind of list but here is the proof: No goals, one assist with a zero plus/minus through three games. This is not the kind of playoff production Blackhawk fans are accustomed to from Toews. I’m sure he knows it and will do everything in his power to change this. Now, if he can only do something about a relatively unknown guy by the name of Paquette.
Corey Crawford – In playoff predictions, most analysts gave Chicago the edge in goaltending primarily because Crawford had already won the Stanley Cup back in 2013. Yes, there is something to be said about playoff experience but thus far Crawford has a save percentage of .898 through the first three games. That, my friends won’t win you a beer league Cup, let alone a Stanley Cup.
It should be noted that like the series, this list is fluid and can change in the blink of an eye. Since Tampa took a two games to one lead, they fill the Hot List and conversely, since trailing the Blackhawks permeate the Not list. One thing for certain, this series has been entertaining and hard-fought. All three games have been won by one goal. As fans, we couldn’t ask for more than that regardless of who is playing better than others.