Chicago Blackhawks and Tampa Bay Lightning Set to Drop Puck on Stanley Cup Finals

By Brian Kinkade

Feb 27, 2015; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Ben Bishop (30) looks at Chicago Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews (19) after making a save during the third period at Amalie Arena. Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the Chicago Blackhawks 4-0. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Here we go!  The Chicago Blackhawks triumphantly return to the Stanley Cup Finals for the third time in six seasons.  This time, they will face the Tampa Bay Lightning, who won their one and only Finals appearance back in 2004.

Tonight’s Game One of the Stanley Cup Finals will be played in Tampa.  Puck drop is set for 7:00 PM Central Time.  You can catch tonight’s game on NBC and you can hear it on WGN AM 720.

The Lightning aren’t like the Ducks.  Their kind of like…the Blackhawks.  A speed team that thrives on possessing the puck and doesn’t worry about being overly physical and intimidating or wearing down their opponents.  Just get the puck and get the job done.

Tampa Bay’s top two forward lines boast as much fire-power as you’ll see in the NHL.  The top line is centered by Valtteri Filppula with Steven Stamkos and Alex Killorn as his wings.

Everyone knows Stamkos, as they should.  Stamkos is arguably the best pure goal scorer in the NHL and is an absolute weapon on the Power Play.  Killorn is the most unknown of the two, but the man has 16 points in 20 playoff games, so he’s got some skill.  Filppula is a faceoff man, normally a 2nd or 3rd liner and not a big scorer.  His main job is to make sure Stamkos has the puck in their opponents’ zone.

The second line has been the most productive for the Lightning in the playoffs.  Known as “The Triplets”, Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov have made hay out of opponents.  This line makes opponents pay for their mistakes with their murderous speed.

Much will be made of Johnson’s height “merely 5’8” but he is the most dangerous of these three.  Kucherov and Palat both possess big shots and big speed.

After these two lines, there’s a big drop-off.  Matchups will be very interesting this series, but Tampa has far less depth than the Hawks.  However, the Galactus-like abilities of the top two lines are going to be tough to deal with.

On the blueline, the Lightning top-pairing of Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman is a darn good one.  Hedman has big size as well as big speed and plays a smart game.  Stralman is not big at all, but he has enough speed and plenty of hockey smarts to make him a very effective defenseman.

Once again, there’s another big drop-off for Tampa.  After the top-pairing, the Lightning is a very vulnerable team, but still, that top-pairing is damn good.

Starting in net for the Lightning will be Ben Bishop.  Bishop is a tall man at 6’7 and was a Vezina Finalist last season.  He’s had an up and down regular season and post-season.  Still, at the end of the day he has a .920 Save Percentage in 20 playoff games, as well as two shutouts on the road in the Eastern Conference Finals against the New York Rangers.

The Hawks have fire-power too.  It’s just a bit more spread out.  It’s likely that Jonathan Toews will be reunited with Marian Hossa and Brandon Saad and will be taking on one of Tampa’s top two lines.  Which one?  We shall see.

The other top Tampa line will likely fall to Marcus Kruger’s line which also features Andrew Desjardins and Andrew Shaw.  This line did an excellent job of shutting down the Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry line in the Western Conference Finals.

This would likely leave the offense to players such as Patrick Kane, Teuvo Teravainen, Brad Richards, Patrick Sharp, Antoine Vermette and Bryan Bickell of the Hawks 2nd and 3rd lines.  You’ll take that.  You’ll take that any day.

The Hawks core-four of defenseman: Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson, and Johnny Oduya will once again get the lion’s share of time on ice.  This is actually an advantage for the Hawks, as we learned that the physicality of the Anaheim Ducks did little to wear down the over-worked Hawks’ defensemen.

The Lightning will not be nearly as physical and have even less quality depth on their blueline that the Hawks.  The fact that the Hawks core-four d-men can handle the increase in minutes turns their supposed disadvantage into an advantage.

Corey Crawford will get the nod in net, of course.  Like Bishop, Crawford has had an up and down post-season.  Also like Bishop, Crawford was excellent at the end of his previous series.

The nerves are already a wreck.  Let’s just get this thing started already.  Previewing Game One of a series is just so abstract.  We’ll know more once the series actually begins.  Bring it home, Hawks!  Bring it home!

Go Hawks!