Breaking down the Stanley Cup Finals
The 2015 NHL playoffs began with 16 teams and as of last night, it is down to the final two, the Chicago Blackhawks and Tampa Bay Lightning. The match-up will feature two of the NHL’s most exciting teams that both share similar styles of play.
Both teams play at an extremely fast-pace and feature some of the most talented forwards in the league who know how to put the puck in the net. On Chicago’s side there are Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, and Patrick Sharp just to name a few. Tampa Bay’s elite forwards include Steven Stamkos, Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov, and Ondrej Palat.
Tyler Johnson is leading the playoffs with 12 goals while Patrick Kane is a close-second with 10 goals of his own. Chicago’s team as a whole has been averaging 3.29 goals per-game while Tampa Bay has been averaging 2.75 goals per-game.
If the forwards from each team didn’t bring enough star power to the game, let me mention a few of the defensemen for each team. Chicago has Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook manning their points, while Tampa Bay has Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman.
Duncan Keith has been logging huge minutes on the blue line for the Blackhawks while playing at an extremely high level. Keith is a +13 in the plus/minus department while averaging 31:35 minutes per-game this postseason. Even with all the ice time Keith has only committed four penalty minutes which proves he can play aggressive while staying out of the penalty box.
“He’s kind of a freak as far as his metabolism and conditioning level,” Chicago Coach Joel Quenneville said. “I think the more he plays, the more efficient he is, the more he gets going.”
Not only has Keith been able to provide strong defensive play, but he has also been contributing to the offense as well. Keith has 18 points already in the first 17 games of the playoffs.
At 6′ 6″, Hedman is a very big physical force, but he’s good for more than just his size. Hedman has proven to be valuable defensively and offensively all season long. He was able to rack up 38 points in just 59 games in the regular season and been able to muster up a +11 in the plus/minus category while contributing 10 points so far in 20 games played this postseason.
“When Hedman is going, our team’s going,” added Cooper. “Sometimes when he’s not, our team isn’t, and that says a lot about a player, that he has that much effect on our team.”
With the big name superstars playing in front of the goaltenders, people tend to overlook the arguably the most important position in all of sports which is a NHL goalie. Both goalies in this series have been shaky at times but have come up strong in big situations.
Ben Bishop, the goalie for the Lightning, holds a 0.92 save percentage and a 2.15 goals-against average through his first NHL playoff run. Corey Crawford has a .919 save percentage and a 2.56 goals-against average. It’s tough picking one goalie over the other, but Crawford gets a slight edge just based on his experience.
The experience of the Chicago Blackhawks could be the decisive factor in this series. It starts with the coach Joel Quenneville who has been a head coach in the NHL since 1996 and winning two Stanley Cups. Standing on the opposite bench is Tampa Bay’s Head Coach Jon Cooper who is only in his second full year of coaching at the NHL level.
Jeremy O’Neill covers the NHL for MFST, you can follow him on Twitter @MFSTJeremy