The Bolts and B’Hawks are knotted at 2. Who wins the best of 3?Make sure to check back next week for a special BW in which we discuss who’s the greatest of all time, Lebron or Jordan, and/or if an animal could/should be athlete of the year!
Chicago vs Tampa Bay
HOW WE GOT HERE
If the game ended after the first period, Tampa Bay would be up in this series 3-1. In every opening stanza except game 3, Tampa has out shot Chicago 31-20 and outscored them 3-1 overall. Unfortunately for the Bolts, there is generally at least another 40 minutes of playing time in most hockey games. Their passive, Rocky Balboa approach (let your opponent pound the hell outta you and hope to score a solid hit or two) to the 2nd and 3rd periods in game 1 proved to be ill founded, and the ‘Hawks stunned them with 2 goals in under 2 minutes to take an early series lead. Game 2 was similar in my mind to game 1, only this time Tampa was able to take advantage of some Chicago mistakes and escape with a game I felt they should have lost.
I recently heard a certain national sports journalist, we’ll just call him Rim Jome, (hey, at least I didn’t call him Cris) comment that he is still waiting for the real Chicago Blackhawks to show up in this series. Mr. Jome must not watch the ‘Hawks much because this is exactly who they are. They’re rarely able to put a team away immediately, seemingly playing down or up to the competitive level of their foe, but are well rounded and talented enough to stay close and eventually get the win. Upon occasion they bust open a can of beat down, but more often than not they stalk their prey like a pack of Velociraptors from Jurassic Park, luring you into a false sense of security by presenting the seemingly befuddled, open mouth , child like stare of Jonathan Toews, then rushing you with a Patrick Kane snipe or what can only be described as tertiary scoring form members of their 4th line. The only proven defense against this is to find a motor cycle riding Chris Pratt, who is willing to calm these beasts by gently extending his arms and making clicking sounds. No, seriously, according to this movie I just watched, that’s how you train groups of highly intelligent killing machines. Chicago were their usual selves in the first two games and were the victims of some defensive break downs and bad goaltending in game 3. Despite not having a great game 4, Chicago kept it close per their norm and some how found a way to even the series.WHAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN
I consider myself to be a solid chess player, I said I’m solid, I don’t consider myself a prodigy, anyway I don’t often use the bishop as a pivotal piece in my attack. For Tampa though, their Bishop has been very meaningful to their defense. Ever since a somewhat shaky round 1, Ben Bishop has been extremely reliable for the Bolts. He’s faced over 600 shots in this postseason and still boasts a gaa of under 2.20. But the saga which has been created regarding his mysterious lower body injury, (well not so mysterious, everybody knows it’s a knee) might just be what sends Tampa down the path of ruin and Chicago down the path of glory. A strange scene occurred in the 3rd period of game 2 when Bishop was pulled and temporarily replaced with rookie Andrei Vasilevskiy. When Bishop returned a few minutes later most people assumed there was an equipment problem of some sort. Then Bishop left the game again, this time for good and Vasilevskiy had to man the net of a 3-3 Stanley Cup final game. Andrei was up to the task that night and allowed no goals to help his team to a 4-3 victory. Bishop returned the following game and appeared to be laboring at times, but still managed to post a 36 save win. Bishop was held out of game 4 and is now officially listed as day to day. To his credit, Vasilevskiy didn’t have an awful game 4, but he did give up a tough five-hole goal that seemed to shake the confidence of both himself and his team. Perhaps he may have a had a more difficult night had the Blackhawks managed to put more than just 2 shots on net in the first period, and only 19 overall. Still, while those totals clearly display that the Lightning defense has stepped up in this series, they may have to act as a desperate last line of defense should Bishop not return for game 5.
What else can you say about Corey Crawford? The guy might win his third Stanley Cup, yet he’s still thrown under the bus every time Chicago loses. He’s certainly this generations Chris Osgood. Who himself has 3 cup rings, yet I still consider him to have been just above average for most of his career. That ’08 cup run was legit though. Like Osgood, Crawford is occasionally self defeating in his defense by allowing some questionable tallies. Game 3 was not good for him. Tampa’s 2nd goal was terrible and even though there was a example of awful defensive net coverage in front of him for goal #3, I still believe he should have seen that pass coming. But it’s a mistake to place all of the blame on Crawford. The Tampa D has absolutely stifled Kane and Toews in this series. Toews finally lit the lamp in game 4, but the usual ‘Hawk dynamic duo has been limited to a mere 3 points between them. They need to find a way to break out. They’ve done it before at this time of the year and if they can put it together now, they not only win another cup, but have to be considered as playing for, a rarity in today’s modern age of sports, a dynasty. I think my mom used to watch that show.
WHAT TO EXPECT
Every game in this series has been decided by just one goal, but I’m not sure that trend continues if Bishop doesn’t return or has been Skyrimmed as referenced above. That’s a catchy tune though. Kudos to whoever had enough time on their hands to make it. Despite what you think about Crawford or Vasilevskiy, that’s a clear advantage for Chicago.
Something else you can expect is Duncan Keith never leaving the ice. In fact, despite it being an off day, I’m relatively sure he’s still out there right now. He’s played over 500 minutes this post season and is an astounding, league leading +15. He’s a major reason the Hawks have been able to keep some of the league’s best forwards in check, see Perry, Getzlaf and now Stamkos, while also providing offensive firepower of his own, leading the playoffs with 18 assists.
Speaking of firepower though, nobody has been able to slow down Tyler Johnson or his line mates Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov. Johnson leads the playoffs in both goals (13) and points (23), while Kucherov is just behind him at 10 goals and 22 points. Palat has 8 goals, good for 8th best thus far. Together they have formed a Tampa version of the 1980 US Olympic Conehead line, and are affectionately called the triplets. Which is probably a better nickname, since this way they won’t ever have to gnarfle a Garthok.
Overall I believe Tampa has been the better team. They’ve had more shots, more offensive pressure and seem to be weathering the grind of a long playoffs better. It’s too bad they chose the turtle approach in game 1. Had they continued to press, they might be up 3-1 in the series right now. Chicago, especially in the last two games, has looked tired at times. Perhaps the grind of several years of long playoff runs is starting to take hold or, perhaps their doing what they usually do, lulling you into a false sense of security and then pouncing for the kill. For that to happen though they need heir stars to step up again. Toews and Kane need to take this series over and it would be helpful if Hossa could find the twine as well. But the Bishop injury will probably be the major factor determining the outcome of this series. Does Tampa win game 4 if Bishop is in? Tampa Bay only scored once in that game, but did they tighten the defensive reigns too much and stifle their own attack knowing Big Ben wasn’t in net? Even if he plays, how game ready will he be and will his injury be a constant distraction for him? I’d love to see one of my childhood heroes, Stevie Y, win a cup as a GM, but I just don’t see Chicago losing 2 out of 3 to a 20 year old rookie goalie, despite some fatigue and having to play 2 games on the road. If Bishop is in, this series goes to the wire and game 7 is a toss up. If he’s out, it still goes to game 7, but the Blackhawks create a dynasty. Prediction before the series: Chicago in 7 – Prediction after 4 games: Chicago in 7
Well, that’s all for now folks. It’s been an enjoyable finals thus far and here’s to a memorable final 3 games. Don’t forget our next edition when we discuss James and Jordan and/or take a look at (gasp) horse racing!
Until then, you have been warmed.
(Note from the author: Sports incite great passion and emotion in all of us, which is why they are so popular the world over. I encourage you to share your opinions in the comments section, on Twitter or Facebook, but please do it responsibly. I have no agenda with Bench Warming other than to share my love of sports and perhaps get a few people to grin from time to time. Thank you for stopping by and I hope you enjoy reading this column as much as I enjoy writing it.)