With the Chicago Blackhawks’ 5-3 win over the Anaheim Ducks in game 7 of the Western Conference Final, the 2015 edition of the Stanley Cup Final has its two participants. Starting Wednesday, June 3 at the Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida, the Chicago Blackhawks will face the Tampa Bay Lightning in a best-of-seven series for the Stanley Cup.
For Tampa, it will be their second trip to the Finals (the last time coming in 2004 when they defeated the Calgary Flames for their first Cup in seven epic games) and their fourth series this playoff year against an Original Six opponent. They played Detroit in the first round, dispatching the Red Wings in seven games. They took on Montreal in the second round, eliminating the Habs in six. In the Eastern Conference Final, they saved Devils fans everywhere from a nightmare scenario by beating the Rangers in seven. Chicago will be their next test and the last obstacle between the Bolts and their second Cup in franchise history.
For the ‘Hawks, this will be their third trip to the Finals since 2010. They are two-for-two with their win in 2010 against the Flyers and 2013 against the Bruins. The Blackhawks have been the team of this decade so far, along with fellow Western Conference powerhouses the LA Kings, and are the closest thing to a dynasty the NHL will have in the salary cap era, should they win this year. Chicago defeated Nashville in round one in six games, swept the Wild in four straight in the second round and then dumped the Ducks in seven for their berth in the Finals.
Some interesting items of note going into the Finals sees Brad Richards, the man who won the 2004 Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP for Tampa will now be suiting up against his former team as a member of the Blackhawks. In the regular season, Richards played in both games the ‘Hawks played against the Lightning and scored a goal. Tampa outscored Chicago 6-2 in their two meetings, coming on November 11 at United Center (a 3-2 shootout win by the ‘Hawks) and on February 27 in Tampa (a 4-0 Lightning win). Although it is tough to use regular season matchups as a barometer on the Finals, Tampa would be the favorite going in that case, due to roster turnover and momentum through the playoffs, you can use it as a general idea for what you will get.
Both teams possess the firepower up front, while Chicago probably has the edge defensively. Goaltending-wise, both Ben Bishop and Corey Crawford looked sharp in their game 7 wins in the Conference Finals. Bishop can get rattled, as shown during the Ranger series when the Lightning would get blown out in a game right after coming off of a win (think game 4 – 5-1 and game 6 – 7-3), but he can keep them in the close games. Crawford can give up four or five at a time, however, Chicago is able to keep pace in those kinds of games because of their scoring ability and high-energy style.
But do not think that Tampa cannot put up lots of goals on the board when they need to. With guys like centers Steven Stamkos, Tyler Johnson and Alex Killorn lurking as threats on the ice at all times, they can put the puck in the net.
It will, of course, as most playoff series do, come down to goaltending here. Personally, I would give Chicago the slight edge, with the series going the distance of seven games, but it should be a fun series with lots of great hockey nonetheless. Both teams are at their peak and should put on an entertaining show for hockey fans everywhere.