Stats and experience favor the Chicago Blackhawks over the Tampa Bay Lightning for the Stanley Cup. But Hawks fans should not get caught up in the past.
The Lightning beat the Blackhawks in the regular season. But Chicago lacked superstar Patrick Kane at the time. He roared back to the roster in the playoffs and returned to dominance. In 17 games, he scored 20 points with three game-winning goals, including the goal to force a Game 7 against the Ducks. On top of that, coach Joel Quenneville put him and Jonathan Toews on the same line with Brandon Saad. That forward line, with the help of the defensemen, scored four of the five goals in Game 7 in Anaheim.
That line could easily take over the Lightning’s talented “Triplets” line: Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, and Nikita Kucherov. The Triplets scored a combined 28 out of the team’s 55 playoff goals. Johnson alone has 12 goals and 21 points, placing him at the top of the leader board. It helped when captain Steven Stamkos finally showed up after complete silence in the first round against Detroit, which props up the Lightning’s first line. Now he has seven goals and 14 points.
Anaheim Ducks’ goalie Frederik Andersen was a problem for the Hawks. They will face a bigger challenge in 6’7” Ben Bishop, who shut out the New York Rangers twice, including Game 7 in New York. The odds stacked against them since goalie Henrik Lundqvist previously won six straight Game 7s. Plus, the Rangers kept a 7-0 record at the Garden in Game 7s. He also shut out the Detroit Red Wings in Game 7 in the first round. While he struggled at times, the goalie shows up when it matters the most.
Comparing the two put the Hawks on top, but their defense might allow the Lightning to shine on offense. The Hawks are down to four defensemen with Duncan Keith chewing up the majority of the minutes. If the Hawks win, the NHL must award him the Conn Smythe. He only grew stronger and more reliable as the series against Anaheim continued. Game 1 will show if the seven-game series wore them out. But then again, the four men grew stronger as the series continued.
Experience will be the reason why the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup. It sounds cliché, but it is true. The Hawks can win their third Stanley Cup in six seasons. They played behind in the series the previous years. While Bishop rescues his team when the opposition forces more games, the Blackhawks actually appeared better in the elimination and must-win games unlike the Lightning’s previous opponents. The Red Wings and Rangers do not have anyone like Toews. In Game 6 against the Nashville Predators, he scored a much-needed power-play goal and assisted on Keith’s goal that won the game. In Game 7 against the Ducks, Toews scored two early goals in the first period and the Hawks never looked back.
This should be a fun and tough series. The teams are similar, loaded with talent. While most favor the traditional markets, hopefully the Lightning will receive due respect after the series, win or lose. The team is young and still developing. The Eastern Conference better keep an eye on them.
My prediction? Blackhawks in six. They must win it in less than seven. They do not want to face Bishop in a Game 7.