There also are a few historical elements to this series. The Blackhawks are playing in their third Cup Final of the salary cap era (2005-06 to the present). No team has ever done that, and winning a third championship in the cap era would be a remarkable accomplishment and might force us to redefine what we consider a dynasty in the modern NHL.
Here’s a preview of this season’s Cup Final.
How They Got Here Round 1: Lightning defeat Red Wings in seven games; Blackhawks defeat Predators in six games Round 2: Lightning defeat Canadiens in six games; Blackhawks sweep Wild Round 3: Lightning defeat Rangers in seven games; Blackhawks defeat Ducks in seven games
Leading Scorers: Blackhawks — Patrick Kane (10 goals, 10 assists, 20 points); Lightning — Tyler Johnson (12 goals nine assists, 21 points)
Key Player for Blackhawks: Duncan Keith has played like the reigning Norris Trophy winner throughout the playoffs with 18 points (two goals, 16 assists) in 17 games, five power-play points and a league-leading 31:35 of ice time per game. The ‘Hawks also are controlling more than 55 percent of 5-on-5 shot attempts when Keith is on the ice.
Keith plays in every situation, including both special teams units, and fulfills a crucial role in Chicago shutting down the opponents’ top lines and starting his team’s own offense with quick, accurate breakouts. Despite his astounding ice time totals, Keith doesn’t appear to be fatigued. After all, he has all summer to recover.
Key Player for Lightning: This is the stage where the best players must perform at a high level, and that’s what’s expected of Lightning captain Steven Stamkos. He’s playing in the first Cup Final of his career and enters the series with 17 points (seven goals, 10 assists) in 20 games. After scoring just one goal in his first 11 games of the postseason, Stamkos has six tallies in the last nine games. His seven points in seven games last round played a pivotal role in the Lightning defeating a Rangers team that had been a defensive juggernaut leading up to the conference finals.
Tampa Bay needs another strong series from Stamkos to beat a Chicago offense averaging more than a half goal more per game in the playoffs.
Fancy Stats Overview
This Cup Final features two teams that finished in the top 10 of puck possession (using even strength Corsi-For percentage) during the regular season. Teams who possess the puck more often than their opponent are likely to win, and since the start of the 2007-08 season, only two teams — the 2008-09 Pittsburgh Penguins and 2010-11 Boston Bruins — won a championship despite giving up more unblocked shot attempts at even strength in the Cup Final
Here’s an overview of how the Blackhawks and Lightning compare in key fancy stat categories. As you can tell, they are pretty evenly matched.
Goaltending Preview: Corey Crawford still has his critics, but he’s risen to the occasion in important games since starring in Chicago’s championship run in 2013. Crawford has a mediocre .919 save percentage in these playoffs, but he owns a .933 save percentage during games in which Chicago has faced elimination or has had the chance to eliminate an opponent.
Tampa Bay netminder Ben Bishop has a .920 save percentage and has given up three goals or more in six playoff games, including three five-goal games. In his defense, Bishop is 2-0 in Game 7s with shutouts in both of those contests. He’ll face his toughest challenge in the Cup Final against a Blackhawks team with a deep, highly skilled offensive attack.
Prediction: The Blackhawks win at the United Center in Game 6 to clinch their third Stanley Cup title of the decade. Chicago has more talent, more experience and the motivation to win before the salary cap forces changes to its roster this summer.