Blackhawks

Blackhawks-Lightning: Who has edge in the Stanley Cup Final?

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Blackhawks-Lightning: Who has edge in the Stanley Cup Final?

Here we are again, folks, another Stanley Cup Final featuring the Blackhawks.

It’s getting to be a habit, with the Blackhawks making their third trip here in the past six seasons. Awaiting them is the young, fast and talented Tampa Bay Lightning, who came back from a 3-2 series deficit against the Detroit Red Wings in the first round and beat the New York Rangers on enemy ice in the Eastern Conference Final.

The Lightning will be a challenge. But you know this story well, it’s about who has the edges in particular categories. So with Game 1 quickly approaching, let’s look at those edges.

FORWARDS

Neither of these teams lacks firepower. The Blackhawks combined some of theirs in the later Western Conference games when Patrick Kane joined Jonathan Toews on the top line. Toews was stellar against the Anaheim Ducks, scoring four goals in his final three games against them. Brandon Saad has also lifted his game as the playoffs continued; he has six goals this postseason and his speed and scoring potential were problematic for the Ducks.

[MORE HAWKS: Stanley Cup Final feeling never gets old for Blackhawks]

As for the Lightning, Steven Stamkos obviously wasn’t hurting early in the postseason; he was just off to a slow start. He picked up in the Eastern Conference Final, during which he recorded four goals and three assists in seven games. Tyler Johnson has been the big surprise and he still leads the Lightning with 21 postseason points, including 12 goals. His linemates Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat aren’t hurting, either, with nine and seven goals, respectively. Have fun with both these teams’ forwards, goaltenders. EDGE: Even

DEFENSEMEN

There were concerns of how the top four defensemen would handle the extra minutes in Michal Rozsival’s absence, as well as the hits they took from the Ducks. From all appearances, they held up just fine. Duncan Keith seems to get better despite the plethora of minutes and Brent Seabrook is once again a clutch playoff performer, scoring six goals to compliment his work on the other side of the puck.

[MORE HAWKS: Jonathan Toews continues to lead by example for Blackhawks]

Tampa’s top pair of Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman has been strong. Hedman has nine assists to go along with his steady defensive play. The Lightning used seven defensemen during the Eastern Conference Final with good results. Whether or not they take the same approach against the Blackhawks remains to be seen. Regardless, the visitor gets the nod. EDGE: Blackhawks

GOALTENDERS

This is an interesting category, mainly because both goaltenders have had their triumphant and forgettable moments. Corey Crawford had an awful start to the postseason before regaining the net against the Minnesota Wild. His best game was arguably Game 2 against the Ducks, when he stopped 60 shots in a triple-overtime thriller. Tampa’s Ben Bishop has had his ups and downs, too. He allowed the Rangers five goals in three separate games. On the flip side, he shut out the Rangers in Games 5 and 7 at Madison Square Garden, so he can buckle down when need be. EDGE: Even

[MORE HAWKS: Lightning ticket policy attempting to block Blackhawks fans out]

POWER PLAY

This one is closer than you think. Despite the Blackhawks’ power play struggling at times (please see one shot on five chances in Game 3 vs. Anaheim) and being the subject of Twitter punch lines (“Can’t we decline the penalty?”) it has come up big at necessary times. The Blackhawks, who are converting 19.6 of their postseason opportunities, got two power-play goals in Game 7, with Brent Seabrook’s score being the dagger. The Lightning has six more power-play goals than the Blackhawks this postseason (16 to 10) but they’ve also been on the job a lot more often (72 opportunities to 51). Close, for sure, but the Bolts may still have a more advantageous advantage. EDGE: Lightning

PENALTY KILL

Remember when the Blackhawks took this category running away? Their kill was terrible against Nashville, giving up six goals to the Predators. We’ll give them credit for how they did against Anaheim. They held the Ducks’ power play, which clobbered Calgary for six goals, to just three, and one was on a 6-on-4 advantage at the end of Game 7. Tampa Bay’s penalty kill was great during the first two rounds of the playoffs, allowing just six goals to Detroit and Montreal combined. Then they allowed seven power-play goals to the Rangers. So hit and miss for both. EDGE: Even

[NBC SPORTS SHOP: Get your Western Conference Champs gear here]

EXPERIENCE

We trot this category out a lot but there is plenty to be said for having it at this time of year. Both teams are coming off great conference series showings, both needing a Game 7 to advance. Some have compared the Lightning to the Blackhawks of a few years ago, and you can certainly see that. Tampa is rebuilding nicely, with young, strong players as part of their core. Perhaps they handle the growing spotlight with ease; they’ve done well thus far. But on this stage ... EDGE: Blackhawks 

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Senators

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NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Senators

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Ottawa Senators tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Trade chips.

The Blackhawks have reached the point in their season where they have no choice but to become sellers before the Feb. 26 deadline, and we saw that when they traded Michal Kempny to the Washington Capitals on Monday for a conditional third-round pick in 2018. Tommy Wingels could also be an attractive piece for a team looking to fill out their depth.

The Senators will definitely be sellers, and wow do they have some names potentially on the market that can fetch large returns: Derrick Brassard and Mike Hoffman are two players who log top-six minutes on a nightly basis and also have term left on their contract, which is great for teams looking to load up for this year and beyond.

The biggest name to watch, probably in the league altogether, is Erik Karlsson, who could be on the move if a team offers a big enough package for the Senators to pull the trigger now as opposed to in the offseason if they feel him re-signing is a long shot. He was the best defenseman last season, and if a team steps up to get him, they're getting two possible postseason runs out of him.

2. Artem Anisimov's experiment at left wing not working.

Joel Quenneville has tried rekindling the magic between Anisimov, Nick Schmaltz and Patrick Kane as of late, only this time Anisimov is playing the wing and it just hasn't been very effective. The trio was on the ice for each of the two 5-on-5 goals the Kings scored on Monday, and Anisimov completely lost his man on the first one.

It's important to establish a consistent left winger for Schmaltz and Kane, and maybe putting Alex DeBrincat up there is something you consider going forward as part of a long-term solution. Move Anisimov back down as the third-line center to play in more of a defensive role and continue using his big body on power plays for his offensive abilities might be the best bet.

3. Win the special teams battle.

In their last meeting against Ottawa on Jan. 9, the Blackhawks went 4-for-6 on the power play and 4-on-4 on the penalty kill in an 8-2 win. And those are two areas to look out for again.

The Senators own the 28th-ranked power play with a 16.1 percent success rate and 29th-ranked penalty kill with a 74.5 percent success rate. Get ready for another offensive outburst?

Podcast: Which Blackhawks could be on the move before trade deadline?

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USA TODAY

Podcast: Which Blackhawks could be on the move before trade deadline?

On the latest Blackhawks Talk Podcast, Adam Burish and Pat Boyle discuss which Blackhawks could be on the trading block and what players are building blocks for the Hawks future.

Burish also shares a couple memorable trade deadline days and his “near” return to the Blackhawks in 2012. Plus, he makes his bold trade deadline prediction for the Hawks.

Listen to the full Blackhawks Talk Podcast right here: