Your Average 2015 #StanleyCupFinal Preview By @adam_barnardino
Last summer I told a few hockey fan friends of mine that I wanted to put money on the Tampa Bay Lightning to win the Eastern Conference, but as a Boston Bruins fan, I simply couldn’t do it. Had I known that the Bruins would break my heart all season and miss the playoffs, I would have done this and been a rich (not really) man. The Chicago Blackhawks are a constant contender for the Cup every season, so it’s not really a surprise to see them here again. Let’s take a look at each team and see how they stack up, shall we?
Led by Captain Serious, Jonathan Toews, this team has the experience and championship pedigree to reach the mountain top for the third time in six seasons. Their strengths far outweigh their weaknesses. They have superstar players like Toews and Patrick Kane on offense, as well as one of the best all-around defenseman in the league in Duncan Keith. When you couple those players with their “role players” such as Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, Brandon Saad, Brent Seabrook, and Andrew Shaw, there is no reason the Hawks should see a lack of scoring in this best of seven series. I put “role players” in quotes because almost any other team in the NHL would see these guys as valuable bodies that know how to win and defend in their own zone, & it’s astonishing how Chicago has been able to keep this core group of players together for years as they continue to produce positive results. Backstopped by Corey “Crow” Crawford, the Blackhawks have a strong defense that has a proven track record in the playoffs. The only weakness I see in Chicago is their lack of defenseman. The loss of Michael Rozsival earlier in the playoffs was a blow to their defense and an aging Kimmo Timmonen has not been able to pick up the slack. I can see the speed of the Tampa Bay Lightning forwards exposing this slight flaw and using it to their advantage. If the Blackhawks do win the Cup, that would be 3 titles in 6 years, with 5 conference finals appearances mixed in. It’d be hard to argue that if they win, they’d join hockey royalty as a legitimate dynasty.
Tampa Bay Lightning
At the start of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs the leader of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Steven Stamkos, found himself in a rare scoring drought. As the playoffs have worn on, Stammer has found his scoring touch which is a bad sign for Blackhawks fan. Arguably the best scorer in the league, Stamkos can take over a series and drive his teammates to victory. During this drought Tampa was picked up by the Triplets line of Nikita Kucherov, Tyler Johnson, and Ondrej Palat. Three young forwards who have taken the playoffs by storm, combining for more points than any trio of forwards this postseason. Look for them to show their speed against a depleted Chicago defense. Their role players mirror that of Chicago with guys like Ryan Callahan, Valteri Fillpula, Alex Kilorn, and Brian Boyle. Unlike the Hawks, Tampa has seen a recent boost in their defensive core with the return of the hard hitting Matt Carle. Their top D-man is Victor Hedman who has quietly become a top 10 defenseman in the NHL with the ability to jump up on an offensive rush. Their goaltender Ben Bishop has seen great success since becoming the starter for the Lighting, but has been slightly inconsistent looking back at the Eastern Conference Finals. However, he does seem to step up in big games. A weakness I see in Tampa is a lack of playoff experience when compared to Chicago, but they continue to prove their doubters wrong and defeat high quality teams.
This will be a lengthy series with big hits and a lot of scoring. I expect it to be a very exciting one because both of these teams have a blueprint for success. We could very well see the Lightning turn into Chicago in the next few seasons as far as producing success on a consistent basis. They have a fearless leader in Stamkos and have built an incredible supporting cast around him with a goaltender that could likely see a Vezina Trophy in his future. However, it is difficult to bet against the Blackhawks because all they do is win. The real winners will be everyone who watches these games, because mark my words this Cup final will be one for the ages.
Heart says: Tampa in 7
Head says: Chicago in 6