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Since ESPN will only give real hockey fans about 3 mins of a 24 hr news cycle dedicated to hockey, I felt like a REAL series preview from a REAL lifelong hockey fan was in order. The Blackhawks and Lightning may be one of THE best Stanley Cup matchups possible of all 16 playoff teams. Granted, for TV ratings purposes, New York Rangers vs. Chicago Blackhawks would’ve been better for the NHL; but, for the fans, this is like watching the Blackhawks play a younger version of their own team. It’s going to be fast, high scoring, exciting, and probably the most memorable Stanley Cup of the last 20 years. Between the Stamkos/Johnson and Kane/Toews combos, well, pick your poison, but let’s get down with the breakdown starting with the Chicago Blackhawks.
Clearly the Blackhawks have experience on their side; this is their 3rd Stanley Cup berth in 6 years, you can call it a dynasty, and their core team has been together the whole time. The hawks even brought on Brad Richards, who played for Tampa during their last Stanley Cup run in ’04. Coach Q has about 9x the game experience as Tampa’s Coach. The Hawks have only had 5 losses this playoff season, and only 1 overtime loss, winning 4 other OT games, when it’s crunch time…they crunch. The media is making a big deal of the 4 man defensive rotation the Blackhawks are pulling; however, with a little more practice time this week, I think we will end up seeing the minutes numbers of Keith/Seabrook/Hjalmarrson/Oduya go down as other players chip in, especially with the intensity, speed, and skill the top two lines of Tampa possess. The Hawks have 3 players in the top ten in playoff points this year, they have played on this stage before, and nerves shouldn’t be an issue.
The Lightning really impressed me this post season, and after beating the President’s Trophy winning Rangers, they stamped their ticket to the final. The aforementioned top 2 lines have been on a tear as well, with both Johnson and Stamkos in the top ten in playoff points (Johnson leads the NHL). Ben Bishop has really shut down the opposition scoring, I wouldn’t say he has had a stellar playoffs, but he steps up when needed, and uses his big frame to keep the puck out of the net. Tampa has balls though, to win a game 7 in Madison Square Garden is no easy task, and the biggest glaring stat I see, is the Lightning special teams has the edge over the Hawks both on the kill and power play, so they should definitely use that to their advantage especially against the tired Hawks defense. The Lightning can score at will, but the real key is if they can keep opposition goals from happening.
Here’s how I see it, Blackhawks win in 5 games. It boils down to experience and star power. The Hawks have both, not to mention a goaltender that has won a cup and two perennial all stars to lead the way, oh, and Coach Q. The Hawks have shown they can win on the road this post season, and they can win in big games as well as in overtime. When the playoffs started, I thought the only hiccup the Hawks would have would be Anaheim because of their size and style of play. Well that hiccup came and went, and in my opinion, the western conference was just better top to bottom this year than the eastern. With all that being said, this is already a forgone conclusion that the Hawks win their 3rd cup in 6 years and a dynasty is here. The Lightning will have other chances at the cup with their great young team, but this year the Hawks will be too much for them. Every game will be fun to watch, but the cup is taking a trip to Chicago this summer.