Will Lightning Strike in Chicago? Previewing the Cup Final


To advance to the Stanley Cup Final, you need depth. Well, it’s no secret that both of these teams are stacked from top to bottom, however, there are some key differences that may end up playing a huge role.

Chicago wins hands down on the offensive front. Aside from the typical big guns such as Kane, Hossa, and Toews, the Hawks have gotten production from their third and fourth lines. Those two lines have combined 38 points through the first three rounds of the playoffs. The fourth line alone has put up 14 points. To put things into perspective, Tampa’s third and fourth lines have combined for just 8 points. That really puts into perspective just how well-built the Blackhawks are.

On the other hand, there is defensive depth. Chicago has one of the best defensive cores in the league, but they also encounter a steep

Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith - Photo Credit:   Andy Martin Jr
Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith – Photo Credit: Andy Martin Jr

dropoff when you look past the second pairing. Hjalmarsson, Oduya, and Seabrook are all averaging 25-plus minutes a game, with Duncan Kieth averaging over 31 minutes a game. Then comes the dropoff. Michael Rozsival is averaging around 17 minutes, Kyle Cumiskey around 11, and Kimmo Timonen around 9.

On the other hand, Tampa Bay has been running seven defensemen for most of the post season, and their minutes are significantly more evened out. Even better? The Lightning are getting production from some of these guys. Nikita Nesterov has 6 points and is a plus-4 and Andre Sustr is a plus-6. That’s the type of depth a team needs up against an offense the likes of Chicago.

The Bottom Line: Chicago boasts two of the best defensemen in the game, however, if Tampa Bay’s first two lines can put a beating on Chicago’s top pairings, then they may be in trouble. Let’s just say having the last change could work in Tampa’s favor.

A Tale of Two Well Endured Teams

That title is in reference to the Chicago Blackhawks. Chicago has been involved in eleven, yes eleven overtime periods in just three rounds.

(Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports)
Tampa Bay ousted two of the best teams in the East. (Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports)

They are 4-1 across those games. That’s almost four extra games added on top of the seventeen they have already played. Tampa on the other hand has been involved in just four overtime periods , however, they have played 20 games, which means they’ve been involved in two game seven’s already. And just incase you needed more reason to be thrown in loops, Tampa is 3-0 in overtimes this post-season.

Despite all of the overtimes and seven game series, both teams have stayed relatively healthy, and that is a huge bonus. That being said, one injury during this series could severely hinder either side.

Chicago’s overtime adventures could be a blessing or a curse. As I touched on above, Chicago’s top defesemen have played a lot of minutes. These guys could be worn. On the other hand, Tampa has seen it all this post-season, they’re a group of guys who have fought their way for a spot in the Final.

The Bottom Line: It’s pretty simple, if this series includes two or three games that go to overtime, my money is on the Blackhawks. However, if we’re packing it in for the long haul, and going six or seven games, look for Tampa to have a slight edge.

Keys For Each Team

Chicago: Keep getting production from the back-end. As mentioned above, Chicago’s offensive depth is a huge reason they are in the Stanley Cup Finals. The production they are getting out of Teravainen, Vermette, Shaw, and Sharp is something that is unmatched on any other third and fourth line. Two of Chicago’s overtime winners have come from these guys (Vermette, Kruger). Depth is key when competing for a Cup, it’s what helped get Chicago here, and it’s what could earn them another Stanley Cup.

Tampa Bay: The Powerplay and containing Patrick Kane. Tampa is operating at 22.2% on the powerplay, and went a whopping 39% against the Rangers last round. It is not something Chicago would be interested in facing. Chicago also doesn’t boast the best penalty

Patrick Kane scored 64 points in 61 games during the regular season (Rob Grabowski, USA TODAY Sports)
Tampa needs to keep a close eye on Patrick Kane. (Rob Grabowski, USA TODAY Sports)

kill unit, which is operating at just around 75%. Special teams can win or lose a series, if Tampa takes advantage of their hot powerplay, they could come out on top.

The second key I brought up for Tampa, is containing Patrick Kane, this is probably their biggest task. Watch Patrick Kane play, and you ‘ll quickly realize that he is the staple for Chicago’s second line. Kane is second in the playoffs in scoring with 20 points, his linemates (Bickell and Richards) have combined for just 16 points. Most of those points came from goals that were set up or scored by Kane. If Tampa Bay can neutralize the playoff monster inside of Patrick Kane, then they will stand a really good chance of winning this series, because they will effectively neutralize Chicago’s entire second line. Once again, this is where the last change and Tampa having home ice advantage could play a huge role.

The X Factor

Corey Crawford. I really can’t stress enough how big of a factor Corey Crawford is going to be during the course of this series. Crawford has let in some very weak goals, but has stood tall many times throughout the course of this post-season. It’s been a roller-coaster ride for him. Scott Darling almost stole his job, and since then, Crawford has looked better. That being said, this is his toughest test yet. The Ducks could score goals, but they are team built off of size and scoring dirty goals. The Lightning are a finesse team, and a team that has guys who can pick corners and fire lasers high-glove side, which is Crawford’s weakest area.

Chicago has one of the best defenses in the NHL. If Crawford stands tall behind them, then Tampa Bay doesn’t stand a chance. That, however, is a hard pill to swallow, seeing as Crawford has been just average through most of the playoffs.

The Verdict

Chicago has unmatched depth on offense and a better defense without a doubt. That being said, I think matchups are going to be a huge part of this series, and home ice advantage will be a huge factor. Tyler Johnson and Steven Stamkos being on seperate lines creates a huge problem for the Blackhawks, one that they haven’t faced yet. These are two huge scoring threats, and the top pairing won’t be able to play against both. Chicago was able to do it with Parise and Pominville along with Perry and Getzlaf. It won’t happen against Tampa. The fact of the matter is, Tampa Bay has two very good lines, and they will get to pick and choose the matchups in the first two games and possibly a game seven. Crawford is also really going to have to step his game, especially with how good his counterpart Ben Bishop has been.

This one is going to be really close, but Chicago might be just a little bit worn out. Tampa in 7.