Stanley Cup Preview

These NHL playoffs have been amazing.  They were amazing last year.  This year, they’re beating out the NBA, in terms of excitement.

The NHL landed the dream scenario in the Conference Finals, which was something I wrote about Friday.  Neither Game 7 was great, but having two out of two series head to seven games is a huge win.  The league may have not landed the Cup matchup they wanted, but this Cup is sure to be exciting, more exciting then the NBA Finals (stay tuned for that preview).

Stanley Cup Final:  Chicago Blackhawks vs. Tampa Bay Lightning

These are two of the better offensive teams in these playoffs.  Chicago is scoring 3.29 goals a game this postseason, while Tampa Bay is scoring 2.75.    That’s a little down for Tampa Bay, especially for a team that plays so fast and gets a ton of shots.  Tyler Johnson has taken the league by storm, scoring 12 goals in 20 games.  He’s been unguardable, and Chicago will have to keep their eye out.  They have the defensemen to do it, it’s a matter of strategy.

In the East Finals, Steven Stamkos kept setting his guys up behind the net.  He’s patient with it, and waits for Johnson or Nikita Kucherov to come up the side.  When one of them break off, he fires the pass, and then they score.  It’s worked every time, and it killed the Rangers last round.

Chicago does a great job getting guys and pucks deep, and then capitalizing on it.  They run screen plays in front of the net, to distract the goalie.  They then set up from back end, and fire a shot.  Againist Ben Bishop, who’s a tad below average league wise, this has to be a play Chicago goes to.  They really get a lot off of it, and then add to their lead later.

In Chicago’s seven games against the Ducks, they scored four goals or more four times.  Anaheim responded, as expected…they put up four or more three times in the series.  The Blackhawks, with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews (who had a great Game 7), have made it know they’re not all about defense.  They can put up a large amount of goals, and that’s a good thing against Tampa Bay.

Special teams is a big key is this series.  Tampa Bay commits a lot of penalties, and Chicago has the chance to really capitalize off of them.  The Rangers failed to do that.  The Lightning are 8th in penalty kill this postseason, hanging around 81%.  Chicago is a different team on the power play.  Like Anaheim (in earlier rounds), they go 110%.  It’s a different style of play, and it’s super hard to defend.  The Lightning have let up the most power play goals this postseason with Chicago right behind them.  These games may not get physical, but whenever an un-even opportunity comes up, that team better get something out of it.

I’ve been very harsh on Corey Crawford this postseason.  I don’t like goalies who’ve been sketchy.  In the first round, he was sketchy, but now he’s a new player.  He’s been unstoppable since that first round against Nashville.  His GAA is 2.56, which is pretty good for a team that’s been scoring a lot.  He’s 9-4, but his team is helping him out.  That should continue, and if so, Chicago looks pretty good.

Ben Bishop has been outstanding this postseason, with a GAA of 2.15.  He’s tended three shutouts, compared to Crawford’s one.  Bishop hasn’t had all the help like Crawford, which makes him look more impressive.  However, Tampa Bay isn’t going to score as much as usual in this series.  With Chicago being physical, it’s gonna be tougher to score.  Bishop is gonna be by himself; no help.  That could be problem, it could be an advantage.

I think this is going to be fun, lengthy series, unlike the NBA Finals (hint hint).  Both teams are very good at scoring.  Both have good goalies.  The defense is the key for both teams, and will both have to help their goalies.

You know I like experience, and trust me, in hockey, a chemistry-infused game, you have to have it.  Chicago has it, and Tampa Bay lacks it.  Chicago’s players have been here before.  They’ve won a Cup.  It’s been 11 years since Tampa Bay won (in 2004.  Side note: That roster was loaded).  No one is here anymore from that team.  This is new ground for Tampa Bay, and it needs roots.

I don’t hate Tampa Bay.  I’m not happy they beat my Rangers, but I don’t hate them.  I hate Boston and Pittsburgh.

I think the Lightning are really, really good.  They’re good enough to get here.  However, Chicago has the experience.  Chicago has better defense.  They have more do-it-all guys.  That’s the difference.  Guys who make impacts everywhere are so valuable.  Chicago has countless players like that.  Tampa Bay has two, and maybe only one.  You need multiple impact guys to win a championship, and it doesn’t matter what sport it is.  Chicago has them.  The Lightning lack them.  That’s why the Blackhawks win the Cup.

Prediction: Blackhawks in six

NBA Finals Preview coming later this week….