2015 Stanley Cup Final Preview: Can the Lightning Stop a Blackhawks Dynasty?
Just two NHL teams — the Chicago Blackhawks and Tampa Bay Lightning — remain alive with a chance to drink from the Stanley Cup this year. The 2015 Stanley Cup Finals start Wednesday in Tampa. Here’s a preview of what to expect:
How They Got Here / Prior Stanley Cup Histories:
Tampa Bay: The Lightning (50-24-8) rolled up 108 points and finished second to the Canadiens in the Atlantic Division. Tampa Bay rallied past Detroit in seven games in the conference quarterfinals before upsetting Montreal in six games in the conference semifinals. The Lightning needed seven games to get past the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference finals.
An expansion entry into the NHL in the 1992-93 season, Tampa Bay is making its second Stanley Cup Finals appearance. The Lightning won the iconic trophy when they beat the Calgary Flames in seven games in the 2004 Finals.
Chicago: The odds-on pre-season favorite, Chicago (48-28-6) managed 102 points and a third-place finish in the Central Division. However, these Blackhawks were built for the post-season, where they have dispatched the Nashville Predators in six games in the conference quarterfinals and swept the Minnesota Wild in the conference semis. It took seven grueling games, but Chicago topped Anaheim in the Western Conference Finals to advance.
One of the Original Six NHL franchises, Chicago is making their 14th Stanley Cup Finals appearance. They have won the title five times (1934, 1938, 1961, 2010, 2013).
Season Series: The teams split two games this season, with the Blackhawks topping the Lightning, 3-2, in a shootout on November 11 and Tampa Bay beating Chicago, 4-0, on February 27.
Tampa Bay Will Win The Stanley Cup If They…
Forecheck, Forecheck, Forecheck:The Lightning will be challenged by Chicago’s depth. The Blackhawks boast four talented lines, all of which attack the net. There’s little chance that Tampa can stop each of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp, but they’ll need to apply constant pressure and slow down Chicago’s speed with some physicality to win.
Ben Bishop Is Clutch: Tampa Bay doesn’t lack for offensive talent, but its defense can be leaky at times, especially when defensemen Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman aren’t on the ice. Mammoth-sized goalie Ben Bishop needs to be consistent and stonewall the Blackhawks’ attack. A high goals-against average in this series won’t cut it.
Believe In Themselves: The Lightning players are much less experienced on hockey’s biggest stage. If Tampa’s upstart talent thinks too long about whether or not they “deserve” to be here, Chicago may cruise to victory. The Lightning need to bring the same relaxed approach that helped them beat the Red Wings, Habs and Rangers — three esteemed NHL franchises — to every game of this series.
Chicago Will Win Their Third Stanley Cup In Six Seasons If They…
Shut Down The Stamkos Line:Tampa’s Triplets (Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, Nikita Kucherov) are dangerous, but Steven Stamkos is an elite-level hockey player who has his team on the doorstep of greatness. Along with linemates Alex Killorn and Valtteri Filppula, Stamkos has been nearly impossible to stop over the last two rounds. Chicago’s Johnny Oduya and Niklas Hjalmarsson need to keep this line from dominating play in front of goalie Corey Crawford.
Kill The Power Plays: The Lightning doesn’t have much depth past its top two lines. Led by Duncan Keith, the Blackhawks need to squash out the Tampa power plays — and stay out of the penalty box. Chicago is deeper and faster when all sides are equal.
Believe The Hype: Even while finishing third in their division, the Blackhawks always believed they could turn it on in the playoffs. Then they went out and proved it. Chicago knows they can beat Tampa Bay. They just need to keep that focus long enough to win four more games.
2015 Stanley Cup Finals Schedule
Game 1 at Tampa: Wednesday, June 3, 8 p.m. ET; NBC
Game 2 at Tampa: Saturday, June 6, 7:15 p.m. ET; NBC
Game 3 at Chicago: Monday, June 8, 8 p.m. ET; NBC Sports Network
Game 4 at Chicago: Wednesday, June 10, 9 p.m. ET; NBC Sports Network
*Game 5 at Tampa: Saturday, June 13; 8 p.m. ET; NBC
*Game 6 at Chicago: Monday, June 15; 8 p.m. ET; NBC
*Game 7 at Tampa: Wednesday, June 17; 8 p.m. ET; NBC
* — if necessary