Game One is tonight and the puck will be dropped for the final series of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Chicago Blackhawks will be on the road in Tampa for the first two games in this series, giving Tampa coach Jon Cooper a chance to pick the match-ups he wants with his forwards and d-men. Speaking of those forwards, let’s take a peak and compare the two teams forwards heading into tonight’s contest.
Brandon Saad-Jonathan Toews-Patrick Kane vs. Alex Killorn-Valtteri Flippula-Steven Stamkos
Top lines are top lines for a reason. If these six face off against each other for the most of series, it will be quite the entertaining one. The nuclear option of Kane and Toews together seemed to work and one may wonder if Coach Q will stick with it throughout the Stanley Cup Final. For the Lightning, Flippula and Stamkos are the two to worry about on this line. Hawks’ fans will know about Flippula from his days with Detroit and Stamkos has been a Blackhawks killer in his career. These three for Tampa will be tasked with facing Toews for most of the series, creating an exciting matchup between Toews and Stamkos.
Marian Hossa-Brad Richards-Bryan Bickell vs. Ondrej Palat-Tyler Johnson-Nikita Kucherov
Well, if you are a Hawks’ fan, you do not want to see these lines out against each other. Hossa-Richards-Bickell aren’t known for having a ton of speed and whoever goes up against the Triplets line is going to need that in order to stop them. It’s been a Tyler Johnson coming out party this post-season and this is where a lot of the Lightning offense is coming from. Now Hossa and Kane could find themselves flip-flopped, but I don’t think that will matter much as Bickell, despite what anybody says, looks hurt and Richards isn’t the man he was in 2004.
Patrick Sharp-Antoine Vermette- Teuvo Teravainen vs. Ryan Callahan-Cedric Pacquette-J.T. Brown
And this is where the series tends to favor the Blackhawks. When we get to the fourth line, we will really discuss why the Hawks’ have the advantage, but this third line matchup can prove to be disaster for the Bolts. If these two lines square off for most of the series, it stands to reason that Sharp, Vermette and TeuvoTime will have their way with these three. Callahan is most remember for his days with the Rangers, with Pacquette and Brown rounding out this group that has some speed and brings some energy. But because the Hawks’ have some real play-makers on the third line, it will be hard for Callahan and Co. to provide that energy if they are playing in their own end for most of the game.
Andrew Shaw-Marcus Kruger- Andrew Desjardins vs. Brandon Morrow-Brian Boyle
What has made the Hawks’ success this year despite some of their flaws is their ability to roll four lines again. It plagued the last year in the series against the Kings, but it was the difference this year against all three of their Western Conference foes. The Lightning have been rolling with seven defensemen, a problem that the Blackhawks would love to have. But because of that, they only have 11 forwards, and really are playing with nine for most of the game. They may have been able to work against the Rangers, Red Wings and Canadians, but it won’t work against the Hawks’ who roll a pretty physical and talented fourth line. This combination has provided energy, some scoring and really good ability to handle tough assignments on the road and at home. With Cooper rolling three lines, Coach Q will be able to get this fourth line out at some opportune times to really change the flow of the game, which can really benefit the Hawks when they are in Tampa and don’t have last change.