Heading into tonight’s fourth game of the Stanley Cup Finals, the Chicago Blackhawks trail the Tampa Bay Lightning two games two one. Sometimes, when a team is behind in a series, no matter what point it’s at, that team is not playing up to par with the leading squad. As such, many ’Hawks’ fans took to social media and other websites after Monday’s Game 3 to express their belief the Bolts have outplayed the ’Hawks thus far.
In reality, this couldn’t be further from the truth. There are a few key reasons why this series is far more even than some viewers seem to believe, but there are also apparent reasons why some fans think the ’Hawks are getting rolled.
Let’s delve into both topics ahead of tonight’s game, if only to calm some fears that the ’Hawks are running out of gas/just don’t have it/etc.
Jun 8, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews (19) celebrates after left wing Brandon Saad (20) scores during the third period of game three of the 2015 Stanley Cup Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning at United Center. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports
Tampa Bay is not outplaying Chicago in this series. We’re going to take a look at all three previous games to back up this assertion. Of course, just looking at the scoreboard will not prove anything either way. Some fans seem to believe the Bolts are skating circles around the ’Hawks, when there is simply no evidence to back that up. Has Tampa had some extended surges in the first three games? Absolutely. But so has Chicago.
The ’Hawks have won the puck possession battle with the Bolts in all three games so far, posting Corsi advantages of 52-45, 49-48 and 67-51 according to War on Ice. If Tampa was skating circles around the ’Hawks, the Bolts would be winning that battle. Instead, we’re seeing Tampa skate at Chicago’s players, in an attempt to separate them from the puck. That was indicative in the 46-27 hit tally that went in favor of Tampa in Game 3. (Side note: The team that records more hits generally has the puck less often than its opponent; that’s why that team has more hits, as they’re trying to separate the other team from the puck. One team having more hits than the other is pretty much never an indicator of better play.)
The argument could be made that the possession stats don’t matter since the ’Hawks haven’t scored enough goals to beat Tampa in two occasions so far. But that also isn’t true. The puck luck really hasn’t been there for Chicago in this series. We’ll talk more about the Bolts’ success in this area later, but just think back to Game 3 for the ’Hawks’ side of this. Marian Hossa missed a wide-open net, which he probably hits in that spot nine of 10 times. Antoine Vermette got pretty much nothing on a breakaway opportunity later. The ’Hawks put 19 shots on net in the opening period of Game 3 and added 12 more in the third frame. That is not indicative of a team getting outskated and outplayed. Thirty-one shots, but just two goals to show for it, in 40 minutes against an obviously injured Ben Bishop? It sounds rough, but what if one or two more of those 31 shots just slips through a hole or is redirected by a Chicago stick? We’re talking about a 2-1 Chicago lead in the series, in that case. And that’s not even counting the game’s other 20 minutes.
Da Windy City
And this isn’t an isolated case. The ’Hawks generated 29 shots to the Bolts’ 24 in Game 2, including a 10-2 edge in the third period. They scored once in the third and three times overall. Again, if Bishop doesn’t make a certain strong save, if he makes a mistake or if the puck is just redirected past him, we have a different story. Game 1 is the only outing so far in which Tampa has outshot Chicago, but that was mostly due to the Bolts dominating play through the opening 20 minutes. The ’Hawks controlled most of the rest of that game and turned out the victors, and the winning team in puck possession.
Looking back to Monday’s game, the line of Brandon Saad, Jonathan Toews and Hossa lit the world on fire in overall possession, with the trio combining for a Corsi differential of plus-56. And how many goals did those guys combine for Monday? Just Saad’s third-period marker. If you give guys that talented enough time with the puck, they’re going to score more than one goal, and the ’Hawks will be in much better shape.
If you’re looking for another reason why these stats haven’t equaled three Chicago wins, outside bad puck luck, look to Tampa also doing its best to break up the ’Hawks chances and stick to Chicago players when they have the puck. The Bolts certainly haven’t made it easy to get the puck to Bishop, with the ’Hawks cracking 30 shots just once in this series up to this point. Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman have been particularly stellar on Tampa’s blue line, with Hedman likely the Conn Smythe winner if this series ended after three games. But it doesn’t, so the ’Hawks have plenty of time to find ways to beat him and the rest of the Bolts (not to say they’ve had much trouble beating several of them already).