(Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
The Chicago Blackhawks stole Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final, and the Tampa Bay Lightning aren’t going to go down easy in back-to-back games. Ahead of Game 2, here are five things to watch for in what is setting up to be an outstanding contest.
Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final somehow seems like a distant memory as we get buckled in and prepared for what should surely be an incredible Game 2, and there are several great storylines in the series already.
As such, there are a number of things you should watch for in the second game of the best-of-seven battle to take home the Stanley Cup, one of which isn’t whether or not Victor Hedman gets his revenge on Andrew Shaw following an alleged biting incident in Game 1.
If we had writtin a similar list of Game 1, surely one of the points would have been to watch each team’s stars to see which group gets going first. Unfortunately, we would have walked away disappointed, because Steven Stamkos, Tyler Johnson, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews were all missing from the score sheet in the first game of the series. Instead, it was Tampa Bay’s Alex Killorn with a fantastic deflection and Chicago’s Teuvo Teravainen notching two points and making everyone wonder how he was ever a healthy scratch.
Here’s what to watch in Game 2:
Really, there are two things to watch when it comes to Paquette, who most wouldn’t have thought would even be a talking point coming into the Stanley Cup final. The first is Paquette’s health. He missed Game 6 of the Eastern Conference final with an injured hand following a shot block, then played less than his post-season average in Game 1 after getting the first shift of the game against the Jonathan Toews line.
At one point in Game 1, Paquette blocked another shot with the inside of his left hand and was seen on the bench being attended to by a trainer. He looked in significant pain, but he was out there after having his hand frozen.
If Paquette’s hand takes much more abuse, there’s no telling what his effectiveness will be or if he’ll even be able to suit up for the full series.
4) Tampa Bay bringing pressure
Game 1 was the tale of two distinctly different contests: there was the first half, in which the Lightning looked lethal, and the second half, when Tampa Bay pulled back into a defensive shell to try to kill the clock. By now, we all know what happened – Chicago struck twice late and pulled off the Game 1 victory, while Tampa Bay went long stretches without mustering a shot on Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford.
In Game 2, if the Lightning get the lead, do they put trust in what they were doing in Game 1 and attempt to play the defensive-style game that ended up being their downfall in the series-opening contest or do they push for a second goal?
From everything we’ve heard, Tampa Bay doesn’t seem keen on attempting to hold a one-goal lead and attempting to defend Chicago to death. If the opportunity arises, the Lightning will likely try to keep attacking until the Blackhawks crack.
3) Blackhawks breaking Lightning’s neutral zone defense
In 18 playoff games, the Blackhawks have only been held to 45 or fewer shot attempts five times. Only the Minnesota Wild held Chicago below 45 attempts more than once and Anaheim is the only other team to hold them under 50 twice in a series this post-season. In Game 1, the Lightning limited the Blackhawks’ offense to exactly 45 attempts, and they did so with an incredibly stifling neutral zone checking scheme that choked off Chicago’s space and forced them to dump the puck in and battle to retrieve it.
The Blackhawks at times seem steadfast – almost stubborn – in sticking to what has worked for them throughout the past few seasons, and against the Lightning, carrying the puck through the neutral zone wasn’t working. If Tampa Bay can continue to frustrate Chicago that way, it will result in turnovers and, in all likelihood, chances the other way for the Lightning.
Should the Blackhawks figure out how to break through the Lightning’s neutral zone defense, it could result in the Blackhawks producing scoring chances with regularity. However, in the regular season, Tampa Bay twice held Chicago under 45 attempts. That might not bode well for Joel Quenneville’s troops.
With all the firepower in this series, few expected a goaltending duel in the series-opening contest, but that’s exactly what happened. Crawford and Bishop combined to allow just three goals on 44 shots and not a single tally was one either netminder had a chance at stopping. Alex Killorn’s game-opening goal was a ridiculous backhanded deflection, Teuvo Teravainen’s marker was deflected on the way in and Antoine Vermette’s game-winner came with him all alone in front of the net.
Crawford had an excellent regular season and Bishop has come up huge in the playoffs, even if his campaign had been mediocre. Both netminders have something to prove, too – Crawford that he is worthy of his monstrous contract, Bishop that he can win on the game’s biggest stage.
If Game 2 was anything like Game 1, both benches will be full of frustrated shooters and it could mean the first goal is more important than either team would have imagined. Chicago showed their ability to come back from in the first game and, should the Blackhawks manage the first goal in Game 2, Tampa Bay is going to need to follow suit.
1) Top players heating up
The Blackhawks don’t often win when Toews and Kane are held off the score sheet, yet they managed in Game 1. The same can be said for the Lightning when it comes to star sniper Stamkos, who also went pointless in the first tilt of the series.
Tampa Bay needs it’s top two lines to get going if they want to come out of Game 2 with a victory and Chicago needs to have Toews and Kane playing some of their best hockey if another Stanley Cup is to become a reality.
Unlike the Lightning, the Blackhawks have gotten production from their bottom six, but that could eventually dry up. When a game comes where the depth players simply can’t muster any offense, it has to be the stars that come to life. Winning Game 2 – and the Stanley Cup – is going to take a four-line attack, but it’s easier to steal games when the top six is producing.