As a result of a very interesting second game of the Stanley Cup Finals, tonight’s Game 3 offers plenty of intrigue. The Chicago Blackhawks have the chance to go up two games to one against the Tampa Bay Lightning, and the opportunity is fortified by playing inside the United Center.
The ’Hawks have won their first game in the Madhouse on Madison in two of three playoff series this season, with Joel Quenneville’s unnecessary creativity playing a large role in Chicago losing the other, to the Anaheim Ducks. Additionally, the ’Hawks have taken home-ice advantage despite zero goals from the likes of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Brandon Saad, Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp.
So there’s reason for optimism heading into tonight’s game, as ’Hawks fans have to believe those big guns can’t all be held off the scoresheet forever. At the same time, Chicago still has room for improvement against a quick and, after Game 1’s third-period mistake, relentless Lightning squad.
Here are some key players to watch tonight from both squads:
Jun 6, 2015; Tampa, FL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks right wing Patrick Kane (88) and center Jonathan Toews (19) skate together with the puck against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first period in game two of the 2015 Stanley Cup Final at Amalie Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Patrick Kane. You could easily put Toews here as well, but Kane is the guy among Chicago’s top-six forwards who is most looked to for a scoring punch, especially at this stage of the season. The man knows how to create plays for himself (and teammates), and it’s generally just a matter of time before he breaks through. Kane was the top ’Hawks player in possession at even strength in Game 2, sporting a plus-8 Corsi differential. On top of that, Q has last change at home and can get Kane out against Tampa defensemen who don’t look like Victor Hedman or Anton Stralman. Therefore, Kane has a golden opportunity to bust out tonight and single-handedly take over this game for Chicago. At this morning’s skate, Kane was lining up with Brad Richards and Bryan Bickell. Richards has looked revitalized in these Finals, while Bickell is coming off an apparent injury. Still, Kane should be able to make things happen with these two, and he’ll likely see time with the ’Hawks’ top line later in the game, unless the ’Hawks go up 10-0 after one period.
Patrick Sharp. He was treated to ’Hawks fans’ anger on social media after the Game 2 loss thanks in large part to his costly high-sticking penalty, and he blamed himself for the defeat after the game. While the current image of Sharp is “player who did a stupid thing that led to the game-losing goal,” ’Hawks fans should remember he is a talented scorer playing alongside the plenty capable Antoine Vermette and seemingly full-of-confidence Teuvo Teravainen. Sharp is also Chicago’s fifth-best points producer these playoffs with 13, a fact fans who commented on the linked tweet above seemingly ignored. An angry and motivated Sharp spells trouble for Tampa Bay. Sharp could also end up moonlighting on the second line if Bickell is off due to whatever was plaguing him. Again, a motivated and angry Sharp — but then with the benefit of playing alongside Kane — is very dangerous for the Bolts.
Da Windy City
Marcus Kruger and Andrew Desjardins. It seemed like these two were constantly attacking the Lightning net in Game 2, and a good bounce here or there could have gotten one or both of them a goal on the night. While both are still relied on primarily for defense, they don’t seem to be satisfied with preventing Tampa’s superstars from potting goals. It’ll be interesting to see who Q sends these two and Andrew Shaw out against in Game 3 (it’d be fair to place money on the Triplets line of Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov), and it makes the ’Hawks’ fourth line one to watch tonight. But Kruger and Desjardins should also be paid attention because they seem close to putting a puck or two behind whoever is in the Bolts’ net. Might tonight be the night for that?
Jun 6, 2015; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos (91) skates with the puck against Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith (2) in the second period in game two of the 2015 Stanley Cup Final at Amalie Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Steven Stamkos. No one said this list was limited to Chicago players. And we certainly shouldn’t limit it that way when one of the game’s best goal scorers had no points in the first two games of the Stanley Cup Finals. In reality, Corey Crawford has made some of his better saves this series against Stamkos. You can bet the talented kid will see doses of Niklas Hjalmarsson, Duncan Keith and Johnny Oduya at the United Center. But is it possible to keep Stamkos off the scoresheet forever? Detroit seemed to do a pretty good job with it in the opening round, as Stamkos had just three assists. He then had seven goals and seven assists across 13 games against Montreal and the New York Rangers. So the guy is plenty capable of breaking out. If he can find a way to do so — no guarantee against Hjalmarsson, Keith and/or Oduya, despite Stamkos’ great talent — it really aids Tampa’s chance of stealing back home ice.
Whoever is in Tampa Bay’s net. Remember that intrigue mentioned at the top of this article? A lot of it stems from whatever was ailing Ben Bishop in Game 2, resulting in a pair of relief appearances from Andrei Vasilevskiy. (With a name like that, there’s a good chance this guy is a Cold War sleeper agent for Mother Russia). Old Chicago frenemy Roberto Luongo had a hilarious suggestion for what caused Bishop to depart twice with the game on the line, but it seems more likely Bishop has some sort of injury. So will we see Bishop or Vasilevskiy in Game 3? That is currently unknown, with Tampa coach Jon Cooper refusing to clarify Sunday, and the team seemingly taking a wait-and-see approach today. The ’Hawks have struggled in the past facing goalies they know little about (paging Calvin Pickard and pretty much anyone who has played goal for Calgary the last five years), so if Vasilevskiy is the guy, it’ll be interesting to see how the ’Hawks react.
But whether it’s him or Bishop, the game plan should be the same: tons of rubber directed at the goaltender. Vasilevskiy is a 20-year-old who has just 16 games of regular-season experience (plus three mid-game fill-ins for Bishop these playoffs, including Saturday). While he’s posted entirely respectable numbers overall, we’re still talking about a very young goaltender who could be getting thrown into his first start since March 31, and it’d be in the Stanley Cup Finals. Also, his previous two relief stints these playoffs resulted in save percentages of .885 (against Montreal) and .857 (against New York). The ’Hawks did essentially nothing to test Vasilevskiy, putting five shots on him in 9:13 while looking mostly lost in the last four minutes of Saturday’s game.
Jun 6, 2015; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Ben Bishop (30) in the third period in game two of the 2015 Stanley Cup Final against the Chicago Blackhawks at Amalie Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
On Bishop’s side, we’re talking about a plenty capable goaltender who could now be dealing with a nagging injury. The ’Hawks will want to be making him move side to side and up and down as much as possible, and guys like Shaw, Desjardins and even Bickell should try to make life hell for Bishop in his own crease. Even if Bishop earns the start tonight, there’s no guarantee he goes the full 60 (assuming no overtime). If the ’Hawks can make Bishop work extensively early in the game, we could even see a cold Vasilevskiy come in again, which gives an additional advantage to the ’Hawks solely based on a cold goaltender entering the game. Regardless of who starts tonight, you can bet a lot of attention will be paid to this situation.
Jason Garrison/Matt Carle/Braydon Coburn/Andrej “Buy a Vowel” Sustr. This is part two of the Kane entry. Tampa fans should be biting their nails at the idea of any of these guys having to face Saad-Toews-Kane or Saad-Toews-Hossa and Kane on the second line. All four of these Lightning defensemen were kicked to the curb in possession Saturday (Sustr was the best of the four in all situations at minus-4; Carle was worst at minus-10). And that was with Hedman and Stralman taking on Saad, Toews and Kane. Now Q has the option to get his big guns out against much weaker opposing defensemen, and you know he’ll take that opening. At least one of these four is going to commit a penalty tonight trying to deal with the speed and ability the ’Hawks’ top line possesses. And the ’Hawks’ top line will probably make at least one of them look foolish on a play. This is really where Game 3 should be won for Chicago.
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