Tonight could be the final time until October we see an NHL game that counts toward anything. And if that’s the case, the Chicago Blackhawks will be the 2015 Stanley Cup champions.
But there is still plenty of work to be done ahead of such a proclamation, as Game 6 against the Tampa Bay Lightning kicks off at 7 p.m. Central time. This will be the first Stanley Cup Final game at the United Center to be shown on NBC, for some reason. The game can also be seen on NBC Sports Extra Live and CBC, as well as heard on WGN 720-AM.
The storylines attached to this game are obvious: The ’Hawks are seeking their third Stanley Cup in six seasons, an unprecedented feat in the salary-cap era, while the Bolts hope to extend the series to a seventh game on their home ice.
The ’Hawks hold a 3-2 series advantage after winning Game 5 in Tampa 2-1 behind goals from Patrick Sharp and Antoine Vermette. Chicago came flying out of the gate and held a 14-5 edge in shots after 20 minutes. The game was back and forth from there, with the Bolts outshooting the ’Hawks 27-15 over the last two periods.
But a stellar defensive effort and more strong goaltending by Corey Crawford sealed Chicago’s second road win of this series and have given the team a chance to win the Cup on its home ice for the first time since 1938. This will also serve as the first time the ’Hawks have had the opportunity to win the Cup on their ice since 1971.
Da Windy City
Tampa, as has been the case throughout this series, had an optional morning skate, so there’s no read on its lines. However, Nikita Kucherov, who was injured after running into a goal post behind Crawford early in Game 5, skated this morning. Coach Jon Cooper said Kucherov, one third of a line dubbed The Triplets (along with Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat), is “probable” to play in tonight’s game. Ben Bishop also appears likely to start for the Bolts in net once more.
With Joel Quenneville having the last change at home, this is a night for Chicago’s top two lines to shine. In Game 5, the third and fourth lines generated many scoring chances while dealing with weaker competition from the Bolts. Q will likely look to get his top six away from Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman and having them skate against the likes of Braydon Coburn, Jason Garrison and Matt Carle. If there was ever a night for Kane and Toews to leave their impression all over the scoresheet, it’s this night.
Steven Stamkos will also look to get off the schneid in this series, having just one assist up to this point (as does Kane for Chicago). Stamkos may very well feel he should throw the team on his back at this point, so expect an inspired effort from him. Still, he’ll see his fair share of Keith and Hjalmarsson, as will the rest of Tampa’s top six.
The key for Chicago in this game should be to keep up the solid defensive effort that was on full display in Game 5 after making a strong appearance in Game 4, while also getting as many shots as possible on Bishop. He’s faced waves of ’Hawks in this series, but it hasn’t always been easy for quality shots to get through the Tampa defensemen. The more pressure the ’Hawks can put on Bishop and his friends in front of the net, the more likely we’ll see a Chicago victory.
And an extra key: Stay out of the penalty box, ’Hawks.
With that said, fasten your seatbelts and try to enjoy tonight’s game. It should be an absolutely electric atmosphere from the anthem onward (nobody tell Bishop).
Let’s go ’Hawks!
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