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Ride The Lightning: Our Blackhawks Stanley Cup Final Preview

By Rob Winn in News on Jun 3, 2015 3:45PM

The Blackhawks will take the ice in the hockey hotbed of Tampa Bay Wednesday, looking for their third Stanley Cup Final victory in six years.

Many fans are already making plans for the victory parade, but the Tampa Bay Lightning aren't a team to be looked over. They have two lines that can rack up goals in a hurry and a goaltender that can stymie the opposing offense in any given game. That said, if the Hawks play as well as they did in Game 6 and 7 against the Anaheim Ducks, fans can get their cup-tracker ready for the cup to return and make its way around the bars of Chicago in the near future.

Defensive Drop off

For most of the Western Conference Final, every hockey expert with a microphone talked about the lack of depth on the blue line for the Blackhawks. The physical Anaheim Ducks were supposed to wear down the top four defensemen, allowing them to take the series. That didn't happen. Niklas Hjalmarsson, Brent Seabrook and Johnny Oduya took the hits and kept on playing a solid defensive game. Duncan Keith meanwhile excelled, especially late in the series. Tampa Bay will not be as physical, but the defense will again have their hands full with the talented top two lines of the Lightning. The third pairing of David Rundblad and Kyle Cumiskey (it's unlikely Kimmo Timonen will get another shot after several disastrous games) will play sparingly but they faired well in the later part of the series against the Ducks. As long as they can turn in a few minutes every night, the top four should be fine.

One wildcard is the return of rookie Trevor van Riemsdyk. He earned the trust of head coach Joel Quenneville's at the start of the season, but hasn't played since Nov. 16 due to injuries to his knee and wrist. Sending a rookie into the Stanley Cup Final who hasn't played in months is iffy at best, but if Quenneville likes what he sees at practice and thinks he can handle the pressure, van Riemsdyk is a solid option.

Fighting Fire With Fire

Let's not beat around the bush; the line of Kane, Toews and Saad was unstoppable during Games 6 and 7 against the Ducks. But that left the second line a little messy, especially after Bryan Bickell was planted firmly on the bench for the later portions of Game 7. Most assumed Kane and Toews would be broken up to bring some offensive balance to the table but that hasn't been the case in practice this week. So for now, look for the Kane/Toews combination to be in play again. The third and forth lines will likely remain the same and the fourth line could even draw the matchup against the top line of the Lighting at times. Speaking of which, the Lightning offense is no slouch. Steven Stamkos netted 43 goals during the regular season and is on streak of 14 points in 12 games. That's not to mention the Triplets line, who have scored 28 goals, lead by Tyler Johnson with 12. The outcome of this series will likely be determined on who's stars shine brighter.

Battle of the Big Goalies

Corey Crawford's post season has been up, down and everything in between. He struggled against the Nashville Predators, was great against an offensively-challenged Minnesota Wild and was decent against the Ducks. Crawford has stood out during pressure-packed overtime games, which has given Hawks fans a little relief. On the other side, Ben Bishop's performances have been similar to Crawford's. He was chased from several games, only to come back and shine in others. And that's not to mention the two shutouts in Madison Square Garden, which were no easy task. So who will play better over the course of the Stanley Cup Final? It's a toss up, but Crawford has a Stanley Cup ring and benefits from the battle-tested defensemen in front of him.

This series will likely be decided on which team's offense can break through and score in bunches. The Lighting are a solid hockey team with top-end offensive talent and will be good for years to come. These games will be tight, but look for the Blackhawks to rely on their experience and talent to outlast the Lighting. Hawks in 5.