The NHL’s ratings dream of a 2015 Stanley Cup Final between the Rangers and Blackhawks didn’t materialize as New York fell, 2-0, in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final on Friday to Tampa Bay. An Original 6 matchup could potentially done record numbers for the league. Then again, they also dodged a major bullet since a Ducks-Lightning Final would have been – likely - the lowest rated championship series ever. Saturday’s 5-3 win by Chicago at Anaheim in Game 7 of the Western Conference Final sets up what, at least on paper, appears to be an intriguing Stanley Cup Final: Blackhawks vs. Lightning. Game 1 is Wednesday (8 p.m., NBC).
Chicago will be appearing in its third Final in the last six years (2010, 2013) which has only been done by three teams in the past 25 years: Detroit (twice) and New Jersey. If the Blackhawks capture another Cup and improve to 3-0 in the Cup Final in this remarkable run, it will be fair to start talking about them as one of the great clubs of all-time since nobody is this consistent anymore in the pro sport that has - by far - the most parity.
Meanwhile, it is not a fluke that Tampa Bay has reached its second Final in the franchise’s 23 years of existence (they won the 2004 Cup). They rallied from down 3-1 against. Detroit in the first round then knocked off what were generally regarded as the top two teams in the East - Montreal and New York - in consecutive series.’
By virtue of all their victories over the years, Chicago’s top players like Jonathan Toews (9 goals, 9 assists), Patrick Kane (10 goals, 10 assists) and Duncan Keith (18 points, plus-13) really don’t need an introduction. For the casual fan, this series could be where they realize just how good Lightning captain Steven Stamkos (7 goals, 10 assists) is, along with breakout star Tyler Johnson (12 goals, 9 assists), who leads the NHL in points this postseason.
Good news comes in the fact that both of these teams play wide open, exciting styles that emphasize offense (what a concept!). That means that Chicago goaltender Corey Crawford (9-4, 1 shutout, 2.56 goals against average, .919 save percentage) and Tampa Bay goaltender Ben Bishop (12-8, 3 shutouts, 2.15 goals against average, .920 save percentage) figure to be facing a barrage of quality scoring chances from truly world-class players in each and every game.
“I think the thing that stands out to me is their team speed and their skill level,” said Keith about the Lightning. “As a team, we’ve got a lot of respect for them. They’re here for a reason. They’ve got big defensemen that can move the puck and skate and a big goalie that can stop the puck too.”