TAMPA, Fla. — Here are five things to watch in the Stanley Cup final between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Chicago Blackhawks:
1. Experience X-factor
Lightning players are tired of hearing they’re less experienced than their opponent, a common refrain since the first round. But it’s true: While Tampa Bay has earned valuable experience in these playoffs, the Blackhawks have a core with two Stanley Cup rings. The Anaheim Ducks found out what that meant when Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane took over Games 6 and 7.
2. Testing the depths
Chicago’s top four defencemen — Duncan Keith, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Brent Seabrook and Johnny Oduya — are top notch, but things get hairy when they’re not on the ice. The Lightning would be wise to try to get either the “Triplets” line — led by centre Tyler Johnson — or Steven Stamkos’s line against the third pairing as much as possible at home with the last change.
3. Who cracks first?
Corey Crawford and Ben Bishop have flashed brilliance, but each goaltender has also faltered at times this post-season. Crawford gave way to Scott Darling in the first round and has allowed five or more goals twice. Bishop’s glove hand has created some misadventures, too. With so much offence on either side, these goalies will be tested early and often.
4. Testing the depths part II
The Lightning have the edge in blue-line depth, but a vast majority of their goals have come from top-six forwards: 45 of 55 in the playoffs, six for defencemen and four for bottom-six forwards. The Blackhawks can exploit that because of their more balanced scoring: 31 goals from their top six, nine from their defence and 16 from bottom-six forwards.
5. Johnny be good
Tampa Bay centre Tyler Johnson was a Calder Trophy finalist last year and productive in the regular season, but the playoffs have been a showcase for the 24-year-old. Johnson is listed at five-foot-eight but no opponent has been able to slow him down, and that’s the Blackhawks’ biggest challenge.
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Stephen Whyno, The Canadian Press