NHL Stanley Cup Finals Game Six: Tampa Bay Lightning at Chicago Blackhawks

2015 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs
Stanley Cup Final Game #6
#2 Tampa Bay Lightning at #3 Chicago Blackhawks
Blackhawks Lead Best of Seven Series 3-2
Monday, June 15, 2015, 8:05 pm Eastern, TV: NBC
United Center – Chicago, Illinois
Opening Money Line: Chicago -165 / Tampa Bay +140
Current Money Line: Chicago -165 / Tampa Bay +140
Opening Total
: over 5  -110 / under 5  -110
Current Total: over 5 -130 / under 5 +110

The Blackhawks are one win away from their third Stanley Cup in six seasons.
The Blackhawks are one win away from their third Stanley Cup in six seasons.

For only the second time ever and not since 1951, the first five games of the Stanley Cup Final have been decided by one goal. In fact neither team has even had a two goal lead in any game. The Chicago Blackhawks lead the series 3-2 and can clinch their third Stanley Cup in six seasons with a win at home Monday against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Chicago looks to win the Cup on home ice for the first time since 1938. A Tampa Bay win would force a game seven Wednesday night in Florida.

Chicago, coached by Joel Quenneville, finished third in the Central Division with a 48-28-6 record and 102 points. The Blackhawks beat the #2 seed Nashville Predators in six games in the first round, and swept the wild card Minnesota Wild in four games in the conference semifinals. The Blackhawks beat the #1 seed Anaheim Ducks in seven games in the Western Conference Finals, including a game seven win on the road. Chicago is looking for the sixth Stanley Cup in franchise history.

Tampa Bay, coached by Jon Cooper, finished second in the Atlantic Division with a 50-24-8 record and 108 points, two points behind the Montreal Canadiens. The Lightning beat the #3 seed Detroit Red Wings in seven games in the first round, despite trailing 3-2 in the series. Tampa Bay took a 3-0 series lead against the Canadiens in the second round, but ended up winning the series in six games. The Lightning beat the New York rangers in seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals, including a game seven win on the road. Tampa Bay  returns to the Stanley Cup Final for only the second time in franchise history after winning the Cup in 2004.

In game one, Chicago scored twice in the last seven minutes of the game to win 2-1. Tampa Bay responded with a hard fought 4-3 victory in game two. The series moved to Chicago for games three and four. Tampa Bay would regain home ice with a 3-2 victory in game three. Chicago tied the series in game four with a 2-1 victory. Chicago would win game five Saturday night in Tampa Bay 2-1 to take control of the series. The Lightning had been 8-1 in the playoffs after a loss before Saturday.

Tampa Bay goalie Ben Bishop suffered a lower body injury in game two. He left the game twice in the third period of that game. Bishop would start game three but looked to be in discomfort when getting up and down and moving in the crease. He was listed as probable in game four, but was a late scratch in favor of 20 year old Russian rookie Andrei Vasilevskiy. Vasilevskiy got the win in game two in relief of Bishop, but that was his first career playoff start. Bishop was listed as questionable for game five but did start. He will also start game six unless he suffers a setback.

A minute into game five, Tampa’s star right wing Nikita Kucherov crashed into the net with either his shoulder or head. He would not play again for the rest of the game, and is listed as questionable for game six. Six minutes into the first, Bishop mistakenly left the crease and left the net wide open. Patrick Sharp would capitalize on the gaffe and scored for Chicago assisted by Teuvo Teravainen and Jonathan Toews. Chicago outshot Tampa Bay 14-5 in the period.

Valtteri Filppula tied it up for the Lightning midway through the second period assisted by Jason Garrison and and Anton Stralman. The Lightning outshot the Blackhawks 12-8 in the period.

For the third straight game the two teams entered the third period tied. Chicago center Antoine Vermette scored two minutes into the third assisted by Kris Versteeg. Tampa Bay would have 15 shots to 7 for Chicago in the third, but couldn’t get the game tying goal past goalie Corey Crawford. If the Lightning lose this series, they will have off-season nightmares about all the chances they missed in the third period of both games four and five.

Crawford made 31 saves on 32 shots. Bishop made 27 saves on 29 shots. The Blackhawks were 0/2 on the power play and the Lightning were 0/1. Tampa Bay had 37 hits to 15 for Chicago. The Lightning had 24 turnovers to 18 for the Blackhawks. Chicago won 36 faceoffs to 26 for Tampa Bay.

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Chicago is outscoring teams 3.04-2.73. The Blackhawks are 12/64 (18.8%) on the power play and 48/61 (78.7%) on the penalty kill. Chicago has 3 short handed goals and hasn’t allowed any. The Blackhawks average 31.4 shots per game and opponents average 34.7 per game.

Chicago has used 2 goalies in the playoffs. Corey Crawford struggled against Nashville in the first round and was benched in favor of Scott Darling for four games in that series. Darling struggled too, and Crawford has started every game since. Crawford is 12-6 in the playoffs with 2.42 GAA. He has a save percentage of .920 with one shutout. Darling is 3-1 with a 2.22 GAA. He has a save percentage of .936.

Patrick Kane has 10 goals and 11 assists.  Duncan Keith has 2 goals and 18 assists. Jonathan Toews has 10 goals and 11 assists.  Marian Hossa has 4 goals and 13 assists. Patrick Sharp has 5 goals and 10 assists.  Brad Richards has 3 goals and 9 assists. Brent Seabrook has 7 goals and 4 assists. Andrew Shaw has 5 goals and 7 assists. Teuvo Teravainen and Brandon Saad have 10 points in the playoffs. Defenseman Michal Rozival is out for the season with an ankle injury. Chicago is mainly using only four defensemen, but got a lift when Kimmo Timonen returned to the line-up after missing the first three games. .

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Tampa Bay is outscoring teams 2.60-2.40 in the playoffs this season. The Lightning are 17/84 (20.2%) on the power play in the playoffs and 67/82 (81.7%) on the penalty kill. Tampa Bay has been on special teams far more than any team in the playoffs, both on the power play and penalty kill. The Lightning have 3 short handed goals and have allowed 2. Tampa Bay averages 28.2 shots per game and opponents average 27.9.

Goalie Ben Bishop is 13-10 in the playoffs with a 2.18 goals against average. He has a save percentage of .920 with three shutouts. Bishop was benched twice in the playoffs in favor of Vasilevskiy before this series in blowout losses for the Lightning. Vasilevskiy is 1-1 in the playoffs with a 3.19 GAA and an .895 save percentage.

Center Tyler Johnson has 13 goals and 10 assists. Nikita Kucherov has 10 goals and 12 assists. Steven Stamkos has 7 goals and 11 assists. Alex Killorn has 9 goals and 9 assists. Ondrej Palat has 8 goals and 8 assists. Victor Hedman has a goal and 13 assists in the playoffs. Valtteri Filppula has 4 goals and 10 assists. The line of Johnson, Kucherov and Palat is nicknamed the Triplets, and has accounted for most of the scoring in the playoffs, even though they are the second line.

Tampa Bay is 5-0 in Monday games, 4-1 in road games, 12-5 on one day rest, 2-5 against Central and Western Conference teams, and 1-4 after allowing 2 goals or less. The under is 6-1 in this series overall and the last six games in Chicago between the teams have gone under the total.

Chicago is 6-2 in Stanley Cup Finals games, 11-4 in Monday games, 8-3 on one day rest, 49-19 against teams with losing road records, 5-2 after allowing 2 goals or less, against teams with winning records, and overall, 94-42 at home, 15-7 against Atlantic teams, and 39-19 after scoring 2 goals or less. The Blackahwks are 9-4 at home against the Lightning recently.

The series has been agonizingly close, and apart from game two every game has gone under the total. I think both trends continue in game six. I think the Lightning find a way to win on the road and force a game seven. Such a competitive series deserves a game seven.

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