Hopefully everyone stocked up on alcohol and Band-Aids ahead of this Stanley Cup Final series between the Chicago Blackhawks and Tampa Bay Lightning. You’ll probably need the former to calm your nerves and the latter to cover your bitten-to-shreds fingernails, both a result of watching these teams play for the game’s ultimate prize.
We expected a fast-paced, exciting series, and Game 1 indicated we won’t be disappointed. The Bolts may have sacrificed a goat to the Energizer Bunny ahead of this game, because they came out impressively fast. But aside from a fluky goal featuring some strong hand-eye coordinator from Alex Killorn, Tampa was silenced by great goaltending from Corey Crawford.
The ’Hawks got better as the game went on, the Bolts fell back into protect mode…and Teuvo Teravainen struck. Now here we are, home-ice advantage once again stolen away from an opponent.
Here are three observations from Chicago’s Game 1 triumph:
Jun 3, 2015; Tampa, FL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford (50) dives on the puck against Tampa Bay Lightning center Brian Boyle (11) , left wing Brenden Morrow (10) and right wing J.T. Brown (23) in game one of the 2015 Stanley Cup Final at Amalie Arena. The Blackhawks won 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
Crow saved the game. It’s hard for all fans to love Chicago’s goaltender, for whatever reasons. But all ’Hawks fans need to give Crow a big air hug after Game 1, because things could have gotten out of hand before Chicago even dented the scoresheet. As we recognized at the top, the Bolts came out with their collective hair on fire, crushing the ’Hawks in possession to the tune of 24-11 in Corsi-for. Tampa also recorded 13 scoring chances, including eight high-danger scoring chances, in the first period according to War-On-Ice. But just the one puck got past Crow despite deflections and plenty of below-the-circles action from the Bolts — plus a powerplay caused by a foolish Andrew Shaw penalty.
We can never discount the ’Hawks in a game, especially considering they opened this postseason by going down 3-0 in a game at Nashville and winning anyway. But this game could have taken a much different complexion if the Bolts had scored two, three or four goals. With the way Chicago was struggling to get shots, and specifically shots of high quality, on Tampa goaltender Ben Bishop before Teuvo broke through, multiple goals could have loomed heavily over the ’Hawks. But Crow was up to the task through the first period and beyond. Even as Tampa “slowed” to a normal pace (still quick by many teams’ standards), Crow kept coming up with solid saves when needed, the best being on a breakaway opportunity for Ryan Callahan just ahead of Teuvo’s strike.
Even if the ’Hawks had gone down more than one early, they likely would have been assisted by…
Jon Cooper’s strange decision-making. Does any team that attempts prevent defense in the late stages of a game against the ’Hawks ever win without its goaltender standing on his head? Pretty sure that’s a no, and Tampa figured that out in Game 1. As dominant as the Bolts were in possession for large parts of the opening frame, the ’Hawks Tampa in that department in the final period, to the tune of 21-9 in Corsi-for. And the Bolts let the ’Hawks get away with it. They were rarely pushing play and seemed content to grind the ’Hawks down and get to the final horn with a 1-0 win.
Game 1’s third-period possession numbers, courtesy War-On-Ice.
The reason this often doesn’t work against Chicago, regardless of the opposing goaltender, is the ’Hawks have too many weapons on offense. You can silence some threats (the Brandon Saad–Jonathan Toews–Patrick Kane line was a combined -24 in Corsi overall), but you can’t silence them all. All it took was a nice hold and carry by Duncan Keith, who dropped the puck off to Teuvo for an absolute snipe, followed by fantastic defensive work from Teuvo and good awareness from Antoine Vermette, and bang. Tampa’s prevent defense sunk its hopes of winning Game 1, and the blame for that decision rests on head coach Cooper. You won’t win a Stanley Cup series against the ’Hawks intentionally playing 40 minutes a night.
(Writer’s note: Cooper reminds me of Doug Thompson, the head of the golf tour in Happy Gilmore)
Da Windy City
The lines are alright. Remember in 2014 against Los Angeles, when Brandon Bollig was a thing and the ’Hawks seemed barely able to roll three lines? Yeah, that issue doesn’t exist now. Even though Bryan Bickell took a seat for Kris Versteeg due to a reported injury to the former, the ’Hawks were still able to comfortably roll four offensive lines in Game 1. Much has been made about Joel Quenneville relying heavily on four defensemen, but it’s easier for them to handle the workload (they can handle it regardless) when there are 12 capable forwards on the ice in front of them. And from a scoring standpoint, having 12 guys with legitimate ability to put the puck past Bishop is key.
Do you know how many Chicago forwards haven’t scored a goal yet these playoffs? Two: Bickell and Joakim Nordstrom, and the latter shouldn’t see any more ice time this postseason (unless Shaw’s biting problem is legitimate). The number is four for Tampa, but only one (Brenden Morrow) suited up in Game 1. At the same time, those forwards on Tampa’s bottom two lines haven’t offered much of anything in the scoring department, while Chicago has a combined 14 goals from four bottom-six guys — Teuvo, Vermette, Shaw and Patrick Sharp. The ”Hawks are officially a many headed monster again, and that makes them extremely difficult to defend. It also makes the Game 1 win that much bigger, because if Tampa feels it really needs to take Game 2 and starts playing a high-risk style to achieve that goal, the ’Hawks can and will make the Bolts pay.
In fact, the ’Hawks might make the Bolts pay regardless of what Tampa does to try and prevent it.
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