By Mike Harrington
NEWS SPORTS REPORTER
TAMPA, Fla. – A quick look at five things to watch during the Stanley Cup final:
Been there, done that: The Blackhawks are in their third final in six years with a core of stars full of playoff experience. The Lightning have a team full of first-timers and until this spring had not even won a postseason series since 2011. Will the surge of energy from being on hockey’s biggest stage prove too big for the Bolts?
Star power: Steven Stamkos, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Nikita Kucherov, Tyler Johnson, Marian Hossa. And that’s just the forwards. The Lightning are trying to become the first team to lead the league in scoring in the regular season and win a Cup in the same year since the 1991-92 Penguins. The Blackhawks are averaging 3.29 goals per game in the postseason. Our long spring nightmare of 2-1 games seems to be over.
In the nets: Tampa Bay’s Ben Bishop has a pair of Game Seven shutouts to his name this postseason and Chicago’s Corey Crawford has was mostly stellar in the second round against Minnesota and the Western final against Anaheim. But Bishop is prone to giving up the rub-your-eyes goal and Crawford actually lost his crease to Scott Darling for a couple of games in the first round against Nashville. With two big offenses at work, a funk by either goalie in this series would be a major sore spot for his team.
On the Chicago blue line: The Blackhawks are pretty much down to four defensemen they can rely on, with each of them averaging more than 25 minutes per game in the playoffs. Duncan Keith is averaging 31:36 – which would be a record since the NHL started tracking minutes in 1998. How will Keith & Co. hold up against the fast-paced Tampa attack? Or will the fact there are a pair of two-day breaks in the series mitigate the fatigue factor?
Coaching: It’s much like the teams they lead. Chicago’s Joel Quenneville is the grizzled veteran with the rings to go with his experience. He doesn’t get ruffled. Tampa Bay’s Jon Cooper is just over two years removed from coaching the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch. But Cooper has already beaten Detroit, Montreal and the New York Rangers in this postseason. Quenneville was widely praised for his quick line change after three seconds of Game Seven in Anaheim. Who gets the better of the matchups?
Prediction: The Blackhawks’ experience will make a huge difference. So will their deeper group of forwards. The schedule will allow the defense to rest as well and a slow start in any game by Bishop will be irreversible. Kane & Co. make it 3 for 3 over the last six years as the Blackhawks will win it in six games.