The Chicago Blackhawks are four victories away from their third Stanley Cup in the last six seasons. Man, it feels good to type that.
Of course, Chicago’s remaining opponent, the Tampa Bay Lightning, isn’t going to roll over so we can have debates about whether the ’Hawks are a dynasty or not. The Lightning are looking for their first Cup since old friend Nikolai Khabibulin was their starting goaltender in 2004.
The last/only time Tampa won a Cup, there was a lockout the following year. So it would obviously be in the ’Hawks’ and NHL’s best interest for Chicago to grab another Cup. Plus, no one outside of Tampa wants to see the Stanley Cup in Florida over the summer.
Now that we’ve had some (bad) jokes at Tampa’s expense, let’s look at five reasons why the ’Hawks will triumph over the Lightning to bring Lord Stanley back to the Windy City:
May 30, 2015; Anaheim, CA, USA; Members of the Chicago Blackhawks pose with the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl after game seven of the Western Conference Final of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Anaheim Ducks at Honda Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports
Experience does matter here. This was a discussion point when the ’Hawks were preparing for the Ducks in the Western Conference finals, too. And it matters even more on the game’s biggest stage. Assuming Joel Quenneville rolls with the same lineup in Game 1 as he did when the Western Conference finals concluded, the ’Hawks will ice 14 players who have participated in at least one Stanley Cup Finals series in their respective careers. If Lightning coach Jon Cooper utilizes his most recent lineup for Game 1, he’ll have six players who have previous Cup Finals experience. And two of them — defensemen Matt Carle and Braydon Coburn — aren’t particularly good at hockey. Maybe the biggest experience edge comes in net, as Corey Crawford has led the ’Hawks to a Stanley Cup and has been part of multiple deep playoff runs. Ben Bishop has really been the Bolts’ leader in net for just two seasons, so that experience isn’t there for him (we’ll talk more about these two later). Additionally, the ’Hawks have the advantage of having a coach with Stanley Cup Finals experience. Though he make some interesting personnel choices, Q has coached a team to the promised land multiple times. Cooper has been a head coach for two-plus seasons and likely owned a dog-walking business before this job with the Bolts came along.
Some fans who watched both conference final Game 7s may have noticed different reactions by the winning teams as well. Tampa Bay’s players seemed ecstatic and overjoyed, and maybe even a little relieved, over ousting the New York Rangers. Meanwhile, the ’Hawks appeared calm and collected after their win over the Ducks, very much like a team that has been to this stage before. Is there anything wrong with Tampa’s reaction to the win? Of course not. But it may be an indicator of a team experiencing a little “happy to be here” syndrome. That is certainly not the case in Chicago’s locker room.
Da Windy City
Tampa’s style plays into the ’Hawks’ hands. Heading into the Western Conference finals series, there was much talk about Chicago’s speed and skill going up against Anaheim’s grit and physical style. While the ’Hawks might have initially experienced struggles, they ultimately took the Ducks’ style of play and shoved it right back in their faces. Well, this time it’s speed against speed, skill against skill. We’re talking about Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Brandon Saad, Marian Hossa, Teuvo Teravainen and others against Steven Stamkos, Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov, Ondrej Palat, Alex Killorn and others. (By the way, all these Tampa players look absolutely miserable in their team pictures; lighten up a little.) This similarity should benefit Chicago. How many teams have gotten into a track meet with the ’Hawks and come away victorious? In a regular-season game, maybe a few. In a playoff series, not many. The ’Hawks will have some idea of what to expect from Tampa because they’ve seen it from themselves. The fast and flashy offense is there, along with the odd-man rushes and defensive lapses that can result from said offense. Chicago should be able to plan for and adapt to this very well during the series.
There is a difference between the way the two teams go about their business on the ice, and it’s a big benefit to the ’Hawks. The Bolts are not exactly puck possession monsters, carrying 48.2 percent of all action during these playoffs. For comparison’s sake, Anaheim (51.4), Chicago (51.3) and New York (51.3) all posted far better figures. The Bolts hit their playoff average for puck possession percentage dead on against the Rangers, posting a 48.2 Corsi-for percentage in the series. And that was despite a ridiculous 59.2 percent share in Game 4 at home, likely due to totals of 45.0 (Game 1), 39.4 (Game 2), 42.0 (Game 5) and 45.4 (Game 7) hindering the team on the road. Tampa doesn’t even carry the puck terribly well with the man advantage, its 84.7 playoff percentage the lowest of the final four teams (the ’Hawks are highest at 91.8). The Rangers weren’t able to make Tampa completely pay for its possession struggles. The way the ’Hawks’ offense is going of late, the Bolts won’t get so lucky in these Finals if those possession problems continue.