The last time these two teams met, the Tampa Bay Lightning came from behind to stun the heavily favored Chicago Blackhawks, in a 3-2 shootout victory, in Chicago. Tonight’s game will, be the final game between these two teams, barring a Stanley Cup Finals mathchup.
The Lightning are playing the 6th game, of a 7-game home stand, and are looking to end it on a positive note. The home stand started off great, with 3 victories, in the first 4 games. However, a rough 5-0 loss to the Boston Bruins has left a bad taste, in the ‘Bolts’ mouths. The Lightning have a serviceable record of 5-3-0 (10 points), which has them sitting in a 3-way tie for 4th place, in the Atlantic Division. Most consider Tampa to be a “bubble” team, when it comes to playoff time. It’s impossible to count out a team that has such a mighty offensive punch, lead by regular NHL stats leaders in long-time ‘Bolt Martin St. Louis, and one of the league’s brightest stars in Steven Stamkos. What has made the Lightning a “bubble” team or worse, rather than a perennial contender, the past few seasons is it’s goaltending struggles. So far, this season,
Ben Bishop, has played extremely well, but since he is inexperienced, it is hard to tell if his high-quality performance is sustainable, throughout an entire season. Bishop was outstanding, in the Lightning’s previous game against the Blackhawks, in Chicago, and if he can keep up the quality play along with the Lightning’s offensive fire-power continuing to do what they are expected to, this team will be a force to be reckoned with.
The Blackhawks have gotten off to what on paper looks like an excellent start, certainly doesn’t feel that way, in Chicago. While the Hawks are 6-1-2 (14 points), they have blown way too many leads, due to flat, undisciplined play, in the 3rd period. This shouldn’t be anything to worry about, as the Hawks are getting results as good as anyone could have asked, the copious amount of points have had much to do with a sizable amount of luck, but it is ALL fixable, with the NHL season still in it’s infancy. The Hawks boast a roster full of offensive weapons that most teams wish they had, as well as emerging new members to the usual suspects of contributors to the abundant hockey successes, in the Windy City.
Niklas Hjalmarsson is living up to his newly inked contract extension, and then some, as he has seemingly discovered an offensive touch, in the young season. “Man-Child” Brandon Saad is showing no signs of a sophomore slump, and is instead playing like the marquis player of the next-wave of young home-grown talent, for the Hawks. Recent call-up Brandon Pirri has many Hawks fans excited, as he is playing like the long heralded true 2nd line center, that the Hawks have been seeking for some time.
In net tonight, will be a sort of throwback for both the Hawks and the Lightning. Former Stanley Cup Championship winning goaltender, for the Lightning, Nikolai Khabibulin, will get the start, in net for the Blackahawks. After winning the Cup, with Tampa in 2003-2004, Khabibulin signed a big contract with the Hawks, and lead them to the playoffs, in 2008-2009, for the first time, since the 2001-2002 season. Khabibulin has returned to Chicago this season, as a backup to Corey Crawford.
While the Lightning are looking to rebound from an embarassing loss, on their home-ice, to Boston, the Blackhawks are looking for revenge for the comeback win the Lighting pulled off, earlier this month, on their home ice. Lots of goal scoring, point producing stars, and old friends, in this game, it should be a good one.