Stanley Cup Final vs. Tampa Bay: Game 1

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I’ve wondered before if it was ok to get my haircut in between rounds while growing a playoff beard. I’ve been told it’s ok. Look at Patrick Kane’s sweet, three-lined mullet. That thing is fresh. Lookin’ good Kaner! So am I.

After a season that drove us crazy, featuring nights where the Blachawks were clearly coasting through the regular season, after losing Patrick Kane for two months, we get the reward of watching Stanley Cup hockey. This is going to be awesome. The pace of this series will be much faster than anything we’ve seen in recent years. The Tampa Lightining are a run-and-gun type of team. Their best chance to win this series will be to outscore the Blackhawks, so we’re in for a thrilling series.

Tampa Bay features two potent scoring lines that are as good as any in the NHL. Spearheaded by their captain, Steven Stamkos, this team is fast and can score quickly. Playing alongside former Detroit Scum Valteri (Count) Filppula, Stamkos has scored a million goals in the last 10 games (all stats approximate). The Lightning also have a second line, known as “the Triplets,” that have been scoring a ton during these playoffs. Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, and Nikita Kucherov are all young, fast, and seem to have some psychic connection to be able to find each other with passes all over the ice.

If Q is going to match strength against strength, Stamkos is going to get real familiar with Jonathan Toews in this series. Marcus Kruger and the 4th line will likely be tasked with marking the Triplets. The Blackhawks should have the advantage as far as forward depth because Tampa hasn’t gotten much of anything from their bottom two lines. Throughout most of the playoffs, Tampa coach Jon Cooper has preferred to play a 7th defenseman rather than a 12th forward, so their depth in this department will be tested even further. The Blackhawks have the capability of getting goals from all four of their lines, so hopefully this will be the difference in the series.

On defense, there isn’t a whole lot for Tampa fans to brag about. That being said, Victor Hedman is a stud. He is also a mountain of a man at 6’6″ and 230 lbs. But we’ve seen this movie before. The Blackhawks (well, Dustin Byfuglien) beat up Chris Pronger in 2010 until he wore out. The Hawks buzzed around the Tower of Zdeno Chara in 2013 until he wore out. I expect the same thing to happen to Victor Hedman. Anton Stralman is his defense partner to make an effective top pair. Beyond that, they don’t have anyone who the Hawks shouldn’t be able to puck possess to death over a 7 game series.

I’m not worried about the Blackhawks depth on defense, even though their top four have been logging heavy minutes. Tampa Bay isn’t anywhere near the physical team that Anaheim was, and I can’t imagine that they would try the same tactics Anaheim failed to execute. The Hawks’ top four should be fine and hopefully, with less pressure on the D, maybe they’ll get a little more out of their bottom pair as well.

A point of emphasis in this series, as is the case the longer you go on in the playoffs, will be on special teams play. The Lightning are killers on the power play. The best defense against a good power play, STAY OUT OF THE PENALTY BOX. The good thing is, the Blackhawks have typically been a well-disciplined team and don’t commit a lot of penalties, especially compared to Tampa Bay. So killing penalties when the Hawks do commit them is one of the most important factors in this series.

Tampa Bay’s goalie, Ben Bishop, is also a huge dude. Seems like Tampa has like four guys that are over 6’6″, so they aren’t lacking for size. Bishop is 6’7″, so he covers a lot of the net without having to move. But as with every huge goalie, that’s how you beat him. Get him moving side to side and there will be a lot of holes to shoot through. Bishop has been the most bipolar goalie in the playoffs, giving up 5 one game, then pitching a shutout the next. He was a Vezina trophy finalist last season and was injured before the playoffs began, so this year has been the first playoff action of his career. The formula for the Blackhawks to score on him will be the same as all of the others so far in these playoffs: get traffic in front of him and get pucks to the net.

My keys to winning the Stanley Cup are as follows:

1. Stay out of the penalty box.

2. Shut down Tampa’s top two lines.

3. Play smart on defense.

If the Blackhawks can limit the scoring of the Lightning by their top two lines and power play, it will be hard for them to score. Tampa Bay isn’t a great 5-on-5 team, which is the area the Hawks are the best at. It’s going to take a disciplined effort to slow Tampa down, but the Hawks have the talent on defense, and at forward, to get the job done. I think the Blackhawks can take this series in 5, but the puck bounces weird all the time and who wouldn’t want to see the Hawks finally raise the Cup on their home ice? So I, like most everyone else, have the Hawks in 6. LET’S GO HAWKS!!!

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