The End Draws Near

The Stanley Cup will be awarded in three games or less. The NHL season is all but complete. The playoffs have been fantastic. Again. The Finals have featured an Original Six powerhouse looking for dynasty status and the upstart, young, non-traditional market team on a run.With the teams tied at two games a piece, it’s two out of three for the Stanley Cup!!!

Starting the series, most pundits picked the Chicago Blackhawks to skate the cup. With the uber talented forward corps, the Conn Smythe favorite on defense Duncan Keith, the more experienced goaltender Corey Crawford in net, and the Head Coach with the third most wins all time against the young coach with just three years NHL experience. All signs pointed to the Hawks winning their third Cup in six years. Smart money was on the Hawks in Las Vegas, with the series price opening Hawks  -$1.40. That means to win a dollar, you had to bet one dollar and forty cents. Or, nearly a 1.5 to one favorite. After their game one win, the price soared to -$2.70.

But the pesky Lightning have had their say in this series so far. Going into Game Four, the Lightning have lead for 174:21 out of 180 minutes. After losing the first game at home, they rebounded to win the next one at home, then took game three in Chi Town, recapturing home ice in the process. Unfortunately, Ben Bishop who left Game Two twice in the third period, became increasingly immobile during the game.Then, in Game Four, the Lightning were forced to go with Andrei Vasilevskiy, their twenty year old backup. Tampa responded with their most solid defensive start to a game in the playoffs, holding the vaunted Blackhawks offense to just two shots on goal in the first period, and nineteen overall. They lost two to one. “Tampa was the better team today no question about it,” said Hawks defenseman Kimmo Timonen. “It doesn’t matter though, because we won.”

With just three games to go, and two of them at Amalie Arena in Tampa Bay, here are four reasons why the Lightning will win the Cup.

Number One: They have dominated the series, having led or been tied for about 221 out of 240:00 minutes played so far. The games have all been one goal games, but credit that to Crawford. He has been his best when the Hawks have needed him most. For large portions of all the games played so far, the ice has been tilted in Tampa’s favor. All the fancy stats favor Tampa thus far.

Number two: History. The home team tied at two in the Stanley Cup Finals has won Game Five 81% of the time, and have won the series 81% of the time. Given the chance, I’m sure both teams, their fans, and all other players in the league for that matter would take two out of three on home ice for the cup in training camp. Tampa has that chance.

Number three: Physical play. The Lightning have carried the bulk of the physical play so far out hitting the Hawks 154-110. After a very physical series with the Ducks where they were outhit in that series as well, the Hawks looked a step slow for most of Game Four. With Coach Q only rolling four defenseman, the physical pounding of the last month may be taking its toll.

Number Four: More consistent depth scoring. With both teams star forwards kept off the score sheet, Towes with one goal, Kane, Hossa, Sharp 0 goals, and Stamkos, 0 goals, the series will be decided by the second and third liners. Tampa has a decided edge here, with Kucherov, Palat, Callahan, Paquette, and Johnson all tallying goals in this series.

With  two Stanley Cup Championships in the last five seasons, the Chicago Blackhawks won’t go away quietly, that’s for sure. Here are four reasons the Blackhawks can win the series.

Number One: Goaltending. Corey Crawford has elevated his play from early in the playoffs, where he had lost his job to Scott Darling. He has kept the Hawks in every game, and can be thanked for the series being tied at two. With the Lightning’s Ben Bishop injured and the 20 year old rookie Andrei Vasilevskiy possibly starting the rest of the way, Corey Crawford can steal this series for Chicago.

Number Two: Experience. With the Blackhawks looking to extend their Championship run to three Cups in six years, the edge here goes to the Hawks. They will not panic. They will not break. They may bend, as we saw in the Ducks series, but you have to kill a Champion, or they will keep fighting. These Hawks posses an intangible calmness and poise to their game that the Lightning haven’t yet cultivated. The core group for Tampa is mostly 26 years old and under. The future is bright, but is the future now?

Number Three: History. The Hawks have never lost a series tied at two in the Kane-Toews era, and are riding an eight game winning streak in the postseason when tied at two. If that continues, the Hawks could be looking to close things out on home ice Monday night. Don’t look for the stars of Chicago to be shutout for an entire seven game series,either. They are too good, and have been there before. They have always come through in the past.

Number Four: Coaching. Coach Q has been tested this post season. He has answered the bell every time. Willing to bench a Stanley Cup Champion goalie, creating positive matchups for his team at home or on the road, and moving his lines around when his team has needed a spark. He has been masterful throughout the playoffs. Coach Cooper is a fantastic coach, but this may be the Master and the Apprentice.

The series resumes tonight at 8 PM Eastern Time in Tampa. There are plenty of questions left to answer and only a short time left to do so. The team that remains strong to the points listed above should come out on top. Right now it’s a toss up, with Tampa holding home ice. The Stanley Cup will be awarded soon. To whom? Tune in and find out! It’s been hell of a ride so far, don’t miss the rest!

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