2015 Stanley Cup Finals Preview

2015_stanley_cupThis year the Stanley Cup Playoffs have been a whirlwind of action as some teams have dominated all the way through while others battled their way through.

It hasn’t always been easy for teams but they persevered through and created another memorable playoff run in the NHL.

All of the battles and the sacrifice has paid off for two teams as the Chicago Blackhawks and the Tampa Bay Lightning face-off for to take home the Stanley Cup.

It is an interesting match-up and one that has been seen a few times before. The classic match between a team that has been here many times before and a team that has not been here for a while.

The Chicago Blackhawks have been the team to beat for the last five years as they have ruled the 2010s in the NHL. In 2010 they won their first Stanley Cup in 49 years but they did not stop there.

They took another championship in 2013 and have staked a true claim to being the dynasty of the 2010s as one of the best teams every single year.

That has been a tough task as championship teams rarely seen their best players stay after a championship.

The cost is often too high to keep Stanley Cup winning players but the Blackhawks have created a system that allows them to continue to be successful.

With Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane leading the way up front and the Duncan Keith-Brent Seabrook pairing on the blueline the Blackhawks have long had a great base.

Meanwhile they continued to find replacements for lost players and continued to find contributors everywhere on the ice.

That has kept them a constant contender and once again those four players and their supporting cast have guided them to the Stanley Cup Finals where they look for their third Stanley Cup in six seasons.

The other side of the spectrum is represented by the Lightning who have only ever been to the Finals one time.

That year they took home the championship but the problem is that the year was 2004 and the majority of the team were not even in the league that year.

Unlike the Blackhawks the Lightning severely lack experience in the Finals. That doesn’t mean they lack talent though as Steven Stamkos is one of the greatest players in the NHL and Tyler Johnson has been on fire throughout the playoffs.

They have also received a boost from Ben Bishop in net who outduelled Henrik Lundqvist in the Conference Finals. It is a clear division between the two teams as one team has been there and done that while the other will get their first taste of the Finals in over a decade.

The classic matchup will try to continue what happened in the Conference Finals that both went seven games and was a back and forth battle.

If this series can get anywhere close to the Conference Finals, it may go down as one of the greatest but both teams are hoping for a different result as they try to dominate the other so that they can raise the Stanley Cup after winning only four more games.

tampa_bay_lightning

The Tampa Bay Lightning are a young team and a team that has not been in the Finals with this group. The majority of their team was not in the NHL the last time they won the Cup and so they enter their first Finals now. It has been an interesting year for the team as they came into the year as one of the favourites. They met those expectations throughout the year as they never found their way out of the top three in the Atlantic Division. Throughout the season they remained a tough team to beat with a powerful offence led by captain Steven Stamkos who continued to solidify himself as one of the best in the league. They were steady all year and that helped them earn their spot in the playoffs and became one of the top teams in the playoffs. Throughout the playoffs they gained the moniker of the Original Six Killers after eliminated Original Six teams in every round of the playoffs. The first round saw them go head-to-head against the Detroit Red Wings in another series that was experience against youth. It wasn’t easy as they went back and forth against the team that had made 23-straight playoffs. They took the final game and moved on to their second Original Six member in the Montreal Canadiens. Throughout the season they had dominated the Canadiens winning all four of their regular season games against the Canadiens. They continued that dominance early in the series when they won the first three games putting Montreal in a bad spot. The Canadiens won the next two to make it a series but in Game 5 the Lightning finally took the fourth win to take the series. In the Conference Finals they took on the New York Rangers who had won the Eastern Conference Finals last year and still looked good this time around. They proved to be one of the biggest challenges for the Lighting as both teams had their bad games and their good games. Lucky for the Lightning they experienced a good game in Game 7 to get the series win. Now they enter the Finals with a chance to beat four of the Original Six teams on their way to the second franchise Stanley Cup.

Throughout the regular and even into the playoffs the Lightning have been one of the best offensive teams in the league. The regular season was led by Stamkos who put up 43 goals and 72 total points to lead the Lighting. The playoffs have been a bit of a different story though as it has been Tyler Johnson who stepped up. With 12 goals and 21 points this year, Johnson has led the league in scoring throughout the playoffs. Stamkos remains a strong scorer with 7 goals himself while Nikita Kucherov has added 9 goals. These three are the base of an offensive attack that has rarely been shut down. That is what the Lightning depend on as they are a team that can unleash a very potent offence which has led to great success this year. The issue that they have had all season and throughout the playoffs is that their defence is not necessarily the strongest. They rank 8th in GAA per game and Victor Hedman marks their only solid blue liner. Ben Bishop has performed great this year but has had bad games and has looked shaky every now and then. Still they do rank above the Blackhawks in the defensive ability with Hedman ranking second to Duncan Keith in +/- this playoffs. The biggest issue they might have is the pressure of performing in the Finals. They have a few players that have been under tremendous pressure before but few of their best players have ever been this far in the playoffs. They will either crumble under the pressure or not even realize the pressure and play like normal. The Lightning have the best offence of the playoffs and a defence that has been shaky but overall has played well. If the Lightning can perform as they have and not crumble under the pressure of the Finals they may very well take home their second Stanley Cup.

chicago_blackhawks

The Chicago Blackhawks have been the team to beat for a long time as they have continued to be one of the top teams in the league since winning the Stanley Cup in 2010. This year they struggled to remain at the top of the division falling in and out of the top three throughout the year. Near the end they fought to earn their way into the top three where they ended the year as the #3 team in the Central Division. That was good enough to earn a playoff spot and they took that playoff spot to take on the Nashville Predators in the first round. The Blackhawks took the series getting out to an early lead and finishing the series off in six game. They moved on to the Minnesota Wild and had the best series of their playoffs. It was a sweep for the Blackhawks as they fought with the Wild every game but took the series in four games. The Conference Finals would feature their best test in the Anaheim Ducks who had been dominant throughout the playoffs. It was going to be a tough test for a team that had fought through some serious injuries that left them with four defenceman. They had to take on the biggest and toughest team in the playoffs in what turned out to be a seven game battle. The series went to overtime three times including a triple overtime that marked the longest playoff game in Blackhawks history. They showed heart though and took the series in seven games in a battle that sent them back to the Finals for the third time in five years. The playoffs have been a battle throughout for the Blackhawks as they have been a part of the two longest games in the playoffs. They have constantly battled through injuries and poor performances while taking out three teams that seemed ready to challenge them. In the end the Blackhawks once again find themselves sitting at the end of the road in the Finals where they will once again try to grind out a win with a team that has been here before and a team that has faced adversity throughout every round of the playoffs so far.

The Blackhawks are a much more balanced team than the Lightning as they have the young talent to compete with the Lightning and the defence to beat them. Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane make up one of the toughest pairs in hockey and both sit among the top ten in the playoffs. Kane is right behind Tyler Johnson in points and goals with 10 goals and 20 points this year. He has proven that he remains one of the best scorers in the game while Toews has come up at the biggest times for the Blackhawks. That included scoring twice in Game 7 against the Ducks. Meanwhile on defence the Blackhawks have simply shown guts at every turn. The team played only four defenceman throughout the Conference Finals with the last pairing only getting minor minutes. Duncan Keith almost reached 50 minutes in that series and is averaging 31:35 throughout the playoffs. He has been the best defenceman throughout the playoffs and despite being played longer than any other defenceman has remained a solid anchor for the Blackhawks. The goaltending has been suspect at times though as Corey Crawford struggled at the start of the playoffs allowing Scott Darling to come in and play great until he struggled himself. Crawford has steadied himself recently but is still not the best goalie this year as there is a possibility of failure in the net. The Blackhawks’ stars have all been here before though and have two Stanley Cup rings to show for it as they remain the building blocks of a franchise that has seen the most consistent success in recent years. The Blackhawks have proven throughout these playoffs that they are no easy out and that no matter what they will fight through all adversity to get the Stanley Cup which bodes well for them heading into another Stanley Cup Finals.

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