It’s the debate that never really ends – which NHL position do you absolutely need a star at in order to win a Stanley Cup championship? – and it likely won’t end by the end of this column. But the impact of Chicago’s Duncan Keith and Tampa Bay’s Victor Hedman on the 2015 Cup Final adds more evidence to what many see is an overwhelming pile of it that favors one position: you can win a Cup without a traditional No. 1 superstar center, and you can win one without a cream-of-the-cream-of-the-crop goalie, but you cannot hoist the most storied trophy in professional sport without the presence of a workhorse, perennial Norris-Trophy-candidate defenseman.
Keith has averaged more than 31 minutes through 22 games, and Hedman is leading his team with nearly 24 minutes of ice time on average. Both are arguably the respective Conn Smythe Trophy candidates as playoff MVP. They’re out there virtually every other shift, usually taking on the opposition’s top players. And considering how Steven Stamkos and Patrick Kane have had scoring issues in this series, Hedman and Keith are doing what they’re being asked to do in all aspects.
This isn’t a new phenomenon. Seven of the past eight Cup-winners employed a blueliner who could command control of the play in a manner few of his peers could. Two of the past three years, the L.A. Kings have sent the gazelle-like Drew Doughty over the boards more than 27 minutes per playoff game. In Chicago’s most recent two Cup wins, Duncan Keith has averaged nearly 28 minutes a game. When Boston won it all in 2011, Zdeno Chara was on the ice some 27.5 minutes a night. When the Red Wings won their last championship in 2008, Nicklas Lidstrom gave his team nearly 27 errorless minutes per game. The Pittsburgh Penguins were an anomaly in 2009 – Sergei Gonchar was their most-utilized defenseman at 23:02 per game – but when the Ducks won it in 2007, they had an incredible three defensemen averaging more than or a shade within 30 minutes each game (Scott Niedermayer and 29:50, Chris Pronger at 30:11, and Francois Beauchemin at 30:33). Take away just about any player from their aforementioned championship squad, and there’s no assurance that squad would have its name etched on the Cup. Read more
CHICAGO – If you want to see two of the most impressive hockey statues you’ll ever lay your eyes on, do yourself a favor and go to the United Center one of these days. Just outside of Gate 3 ½ – not to be confused with Platform 9 ¾ in the Harry Potter series – are beautiful statues of Blackhawk legends Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita.
Hull and Mikita were all-time greats, to be sure. But they won just one Stanley Cup at a time when it was a heck of a lot easier to win one than it is now. And as legendary as they are, neither was able to do what the current group of Blackhawks has the chance to do Monday night. The Blackhawks have not won the Stanley Cup on home ice since 1938. Not a single player on the Blackhawks or the Toronto Maple Leafs who played that night is alive, and anyone who might have been in attendance as a child would be well into his or her 80s today.
At the trade deadline, the Chicago Blackhawks shipped defensive prospect Klas Dahlbeck and a first-round pick to the Arizona Coyotes for center Antoine Vermette. Through five games of the post-season, that deal couldn’t look better for the Blackhawks.
In Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final, Vermette notched a tally late in the third period to lift Chicago to a 1-0 series lead. He came up clutch again in Game 5, scoring two minutes into the third period and giving the Blackhawks a 2-1 lead that they would hold to take a 3-2 series advantage as the series gets set to shift back to Chicago. Check out the goal: Read more
There’s no more secret about who will be starting Game 5 for the Tampa Bay Lightning: Ben Bishop will be between the pipes in the pivotal fifth game of the Stanley Cup final.
For the length of the two-day break between Game 4 and 5, the Lightning and coach Jon Cooper were mum about who would start in goal. However, as the teams took the ice for the pre-game warm up, it was Bishop who led his club out. Andrei Vasilevskiy, the Lightning’s 20-year-old rookie netminder, started Game 4, but will be backing up Bishop Saturday evening. Read more
TAMPA – At this point in the Stanley Cup final, it appears the prospect of world peace hinges on the Tampa Bay Lightning keeping a complete secret Ben Bishop’s status for Game 5.
This much we know. Bishop took part in the morning skate, which means he might be playing. Had he not skated, he wouldn’t have been playing. We also know that progress is being made in the mysterious injury. Bishop made that clear during his availability after the skate. And lastly, we also know that for some reason, the Lightning thinks it can gain a competitive advantage by keeping everyone guessing about its goaltender’s status for tonight.
Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper is adamant he wasn’t lying when he said he didn’t know who would be his starter for Game 4 of the Stanley Cup final. He admits he may have held back information but, heading into Game 5, he says he’s still not sure about Ben Bishop’s status.
“Okay, I’ll be truthful in this scenario,” Cooper said following practice Friday. “This is regarding Ben Bishop or all injuries. I don’t know sitting here today if Ben Bishop is playing on Saturday. I hope he plays. I don’t know if he’s going to. He’s got to get back on the ice. If he’s not in the pregame skate tomorrow, that’s a pretty good indication of whether he’s going to play or not.” Read more
CHICAGO – Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Matt Carle acknowledged that when Steven Stamkos had the puck on his stick in front of the net with 1:14 left in Game 4 and Chicago Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford out of position, the players on the Lightning bench started celebrating.
But somehow Brent Seabrook got his stick on the puck and it missed the net. Then with 51 seconds left, Stamkos was stopped cold by Crawford as the Lightning tried desperately to tie the game.
“It is shocking,” Carle said of Stamkos’ trouble scoring goals in the Stanley Cup final. “You bury your head in your hands in disbelief knowing it didn’t go in. He doesn’t miss those.”
CHICAGO – Arizona Coyotes co-owner Anthony LeBlanc thinks I think he’s nuts for fighting to keep the Coyotes in the desert. For the record, I don’t think Anthony LeBlanc is nuts. I admire him for his determination and his willingness to stand up for what he thinks is right.
But like so many other people, I’m absolutely flummoxed at why LeBlanc, and the NHL for that matter, seems so insistent on fighting for a hockey market that has bled millions of dollars and one now, where even the local government has made it clear it no longer wants you around. Both the NHL and LeBlanc have fought the good fight and both can now leave the desert – at least this part of the desert – with a completely clear conscience.