Blackhawks Face Lightning in Game 1 of Stanley Cup Finals
Wednesday night June 3, the puck will be dropped to open the NHL Stanley Cup Finals between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Lightning outscored Chicago in two games during the regular season 6-2 during regulation, winning once during regulation and losing during a shootout.
Chicago despite its reputation as being an offensive juggernaut was of the league’s best teams defensively all season. The Blackhawks gave up just 186 goals, which were the second fewest in the NHL. Their efforts on defense were led by Duncan Keith.
Tampa Bay is a young club but led the NHL in scoring with 259 goals during the regular season. During the playoffs, the Lightning has been led by its Triplets – Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov. The three have accounted for 28 of the 55 Tampa goals during the playoffs.
The two captains Jonathan Toews for Chicago and Steven Stamkos for Tampa Bay are amongst the best NHL centers. Toews had 66 points during the regular season to lead Chicago, while Stamkos was second in the NFL in goals with 43.
Both captains have played well during the postseason with Toews scoring 18 points and Stamkos scoring 17.
Chicago reached the finals despite deficits in a number of key statistics. They have been out shot on goal by 73 shots and scoring chances by 24. Chicago has also taken 43 hits on average per game during the postseason, the most amongst all playoff teams.
However, Chicago is disciplined and had a plus-52 differential in penalties during the regular season and plus-1 during the playoffs.
The success of Chicago during the playoffs has been driven by Toews and the talented Patrick Kane, as the two have combined to score 38 points.
Beyond outscoring the rest of the NHL, Tampa Bay dominated the scoring changes during this past regular season. The Lightning averaged 29 scoring chances every 60 minutes, which was fourth in the NHL. Tampa Bay’s 10.9% shooting percentage was the highest in the NHL during the regular season.
In the postseason, Tampa Bay misses the net on less than 9 shots per game, which is the fewest of all playoff teams.
A key player for Chicago will be goaltender Corey Crawford who started the postseason slow but has come back to play very well the past two series facing 32 shots per game and stopping .933 of them.
Nikita Kucherov will be key for Tampa Bay. The triplets line dominated thus far in the playoffs, but Kucherov’s play might be the best of the trio. He has helped to generate 88 more chances to score than given up, a difference that is 28 better than the next closest skater.
Game 1: Chicago 2-1
Series: Chicago 4-3