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« Blackhawks Force Game 7 on Shoulders of Duncan Keith Blackhawks Match Lightning Speed to Take Game 1 »

Blackhawks Mon Jun 01 2015

It's Blackhawks & Lightning for the Stanley Cup

Chicago Blackhawks After battling though six unforgettable games against the Anaheim Ducks in the Western Conference Final, the Blackhawks managed to calm everyone's nerves after the first 20 minutes of play in the deciding Game 7. The feeling was either the Hawks in a close one or the Ducks mow right through in a laugher.

Instead, it was captain Jonathan Toews scoring the game's first two goals, which resulted in Bruce Boudreau's team playing on the backs of its skates in yet another disappointing finish to a Game 7. The 5-3 final from the Honda Center Saturday evening may look close, but the game was pretty much over after Toews' second and now his team finds itself playing for its third Stanley Cup in six years.

The Ducks took the Hawks to the limit, and things looked pretty bleak after a 5-4 Game 5 loss in overtime in Anaheim -- heck, things started to look bad after Joel Quenneville's decision to sit Antoine Vermette and Teuvo Teravainen in Game 3, which came back to bite him in the rear end. But after bringing them back, finally deciding to sit Kimmo Timonen and bringing in the "Nuclear Option" of Patrick Kane, Toews and Brandon Saad, the tide began to turn.

Not to mention, the Ducks' physical game plan seemed to bite them in the end as well. They pounded the Hawks along the boards, which was meant to intimidate and wear them out. By the time Game 7 was half over, it was the Ducks who looked tired and beaten, perhaps fatigued from delivering so many blocks to a faster team.

With this series now in the rear-view mirror, the Blackhawks look ahead to a team built similarly to theirs with speed and high numbers in shot attempts being the key. Longtime thorn-in-the-side of those 1990s Hawks teams, and legend, Steve Yzerman, has put together a solid team, including a line you'll be hearing a lot about, if not already, aptly named: The Triplets.

The Triplets have come into their own this postseason, scoring a pile of goals serving on Tampa Bay's second line. The line consists of Ondrej Palat with seven postseason goals, Nikita Kucherov with nine postseason goals who are both centered by Tyler Johnson, who leads all postseason skaters with 12 goals. Johnson also leads all skaters in total points with 21 (nine assists), but Kane is right on his heels with 20 points (10 goals, 10 assists).

The Lightning are led by captain Steven Stamkos, who is a goal-scoring machine. He's a two-time recipient of the Maurice Richards award (top-scoring player during the regular season) when he led the league with 51 and 60 goals during the 2009-'10 and 2011-'12 seasons, respectively. This last season, Stamkos scored 43 goals and notched 29 assists for 72 points.

The Lightning won the Stanley Cup in 2004, the last team to do so before the 2004-'05 lockout, which resulted in a salary cap. Of that team, only one player remains in this upcoming season: Brad Richards. This time around, Richards will center the Hawks' second line and look to keep Kane going in this series when not on the dreaded "Nuclear Line."

Richards in fact won the Conn Smyth during that postseason, scoring 12 goals and 14 assists for 26 points, as the Lightning took the Calgary Flames to Game 7, winning 2-1 (you might recall former Hawks goalie Nikolai Khabibulin being the net minder).

The Hawks will have their hands full with Stamkos' top line as well as the Triplets' line, but it'll be potential Conn Smyth winner in goalie Ben Bishop that might be the difference maker. Bishop, thus far, has 12 wins this postseason and has three shutouts, including not one, but two deciding Game 7s, with the most recent being his masterful blanking of the New York Rangers last Friday by the final of 2-0. (The other Game 7 shutout came against the Detroit Red Wings in the first round, another 2-0 final.)

Bishop, much like Hawks' backup goalie Scott Darling, is a big man in between the pipes. He stands 6 feet, 7 inches, and weighs just over 200 pounds, which doesn't allow a lot of room for the puck to sneak through. However, much like Darling, when things aren't going well for Bishop, they really fall apart.

In Game 4 against the Rangers, Bishop gave up five goals on 24 shots (.792 percent) in a 5-1 loss. He settled for Game 5 only to play badly again in Game 6, allowing five goals on 26 shots (.808 percent), and was pulled for backup Andrei Vasilevskiy, in a 7-3 pasting.

This series shouldn't be anywhere near as physical for the Hawks, but will represent a track meet, much like their series against the Minnesota Wild -- only the Lightning are more efficient. Where the Ducks had their speed, it was matched with physicality. This series should be easier on the Hawks' bodies, which should allow for more possessions up the middle.

Yzerman won three Cups as a member of those Red Wings teams and has something special going on in Tampa Bay for what looks to be a long time to come. It'll take containing their speed and limiting scoring chances for the Hawks to come out on top and supplant itself in the dynasty discussion in the salary cap era.

 
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