The Stanley Cup Finals are on the horizon! If the Finals are anything like the Conference Finals were, we’re all in store for something great. I mean, even if its half as good as those last two series were, it’ll be the best Cup Final we’ve had in quite some time. It’s been noted a few teams, but in case you didn’t know, 2015 was the first time since 2000 that each Conference Final series went to a seventh game. We haven’t seen a Final go to a seventh game since the Bruins beat the Canucks in 2011, and we haven’t seen a suspenseful Stanley Cup Game 7 since 2009 when Pittsburgh edged out Detroit 4-3.
If the Hawks win this one, it’ll be safe to call them a dynasty. Well, they’re a salary cap era dynasty at the least. A win here will give them three Cups in the past six seasons, which would be the most we’ve seen in such a short span since Detroit won three times between 1997 and 2002. This may be the last time we see the Hawks here in a while, though, as their cap difficulties are going to make it difficult for them to keep this group together, but hey, we said that in 2010 and they managed to come back twice with a completely different supporting cast. The Lightning come into the series as the ones looking to prove themselves as the newest member of the NHL’s elite. It’s their first trip back since they won it in 2004, and they’re hoping this can be the beginning of many Cup runs.
Who has the edge in this series? Can we expect something as good as we were treated to in the Conference Finals?
The Hawks and Lightning have never met in the playoffs, obviously. These are two teams that play each other very infrequently, which is usually the case in a Finals matchup. I mean, look at that goddamn picture I used, when was that even from? 2004! There isn’t really a hell of a lot to talk about here, but I’ll break down the two games Tampa and Chicago played this season anyway. So if you aren’t interested in what happened in those two games, I suggest you just skip past this section.
Their first of two games this season came on Nov. 11 in Chicago. Tampa Bay opened up the scoring with a shorthanded goal in the first period in what was a game littered with penalties. Tampa received eight penalties, while Chicago was handed five, yet neither team managed to score a goal on the power play. Brad Richards tied the game in the second period, then Chicago pulled ahead early in the third off a goal from Marcus Kruger. Nikita Kucherov responded about half way through the third period. The game went to overtime, nothing happened, and Chicago eventually won in the shootout, as Patrick Kane had the only successful attempt.
The Hawks dominated the Lightning pretty hard this game. Chicago had 39 shots on goal, while Tampa had 27. Only five skaters on the Lightning had a Corsi For percentage above 50 per cent and all of those players started more than 50 per cent of their shifts in the offensive zone. Andrew Shaw, Marian Hossa, and Brad Richards ran the show this game. The Hawks had twice as many shot attempts as their opponents when these guys were on the ice, and they had 24 for and eight against when Shaw himself was playing.
The second game, played on Feb. 27 in Tampa Bay was a lot tighter in terms of shots and possession, but it sure as hell wasn’t on the score sheet. Scott Darling allowed four goals on 29 shots, while Ben Bishop stopped all 28 shots he faced on the way to a 4-0 Lightning shutout. The Lightning scored two goals in the second period, then added two more in the third on the power play. Steven Stamkos was the star of the game, scoring two goals on seven shots, and putting up a wicked 76.7 Corsi For percentage including 13 individual Corsi events. The possession game was much more evenly distributed than it was in the other game, which makes sense, because the shots were pretty much equal. Each team had a few guys really dominate their matchups, and of course, had a few guys who got dominated.
So, yeah, there isn’t much to see here. Chicago dominated one game, the other was tight, but Chicago had poor goaltending. Moving along.
Before looking at how these two teams have done in the playoffs, I’ll take a look at what their even strength performances are results were like in the regular season. When adjusting for score, Tampa Bay and Chicago were second and fourth respectively in Corsi For percentage in the league this season. Their scores are pretty much the same, as the Lightning had a 53.9 Corsi For percentage, while the Hawks were right there with a 53.7 percentage. The only real difference when looking more in depth into their percentages was that Chicago both had and allowed more shot attempts per 60 minutes, while the Lightning allowed fewer but also had fewer of their own. So yeah, both of these teams played some of the most dominant possession hockey throughout the season. Oddly enough, Tampa Bay scored 179 goals at even strength, while Chicago scored 150. Why?
Tampa Bay breaks ahead in both Scoring Chances For percentage and High Danger Scoring Chances For percentage according to War-On-Ice. The Lightning had the highest percentage of scoring chances for in the league this season, and were third in high danger chances. The Hawks, on the other hand, were right at 50 per cent in terms of high danger chances. This certainly explains Tampa Bay’s league leading 9.3 shooting percentage. Them and the Hawks were pretty much neck and neck in terms of every peripheral stat, they were both towards the top of the league in terms of percentage of shot attempts that made it on net, yet the Lightning scored way more goals than Chicago did. The law of averages would suggest that Tampa can’t keep up a 9.3 per cent shooting percentage, but if they manage to get so many chances in high danger zones, maybe it’s actually sustainable.
How about in the playoffs? Did that luck translate?
It did, somewhat. The Lightning have a slightly inferior shooting percentage in the playoffs at 8.0 per cent than they did during the season. This is probably due to goaltender and team defence survivorship, as the best goalies and team defences make it into the playoffs. Interestingly enough, the Lightning are getting quite a bit fewer high danger chances in the playoffs than they were during the year, which is putting them right in the middle of the pack in terms of teams who made it to at least the second round. The Hawks, on the other hand, are getting slammed in high danger chances for percentage, as they own the second lowest percentage of any team who made it past the second round, with the lowest being the Flames. Anyway, the Hawks and Lightning average a similar amount of high danger chances per 60 minutes, and the two teams own nearly the same shooting percentage so far in the playoffs. Go figure.
The Lightning didn’t own a great power place percentage during the season (18.8 per cent, which was league average), but that didn’t stop them from scoring the seventh more power play goals in the league. Tampa’s power play success is largely a result of them getting a lot of opportunities. This was the case during the year, and it’s continuing through the playoffs. I wrote a preview about Tampa’s first round series with Detroit suggesting they needed to score more at even strength because you can’t expect to get so many power play opportunities in the playoffs, well, I was very wrong. Tampa has been given 72 power play opportunities so far, in comparison, the Rangers have the next most at 26, then Chicago at 51. Of those 72 chances, they’ve scored 16 goals, which has been pretty huge to their success, as it accounts for almost 30 per cent of their goals.
They also have the most penalty kill opportunities of anybody in the playoffs, as they’ve taken 69 penalties. They’ve allowed 13 goals on the penalty kill, giving them an 81.2 per cent efficiency rating. Their percentage in the regular season was 83.6 per cent, so they aren’t too far off target. One thing that’s different though is the amount of penalties they’re taking. The Hawks have had a much worse time on the penalty kill, as they’ve allowed just one less goal than Tampa in 20 fewer penalty kill opportunities. That gives them a penalty kill percentage of 75.5 percent, which is a far cry from their regular season percentage which was top 10 in the league at 83.4 per cent.
To be honest, I wouldn’t really give either team the advantage here. Bishop has allowed 42 goals on 525 shots, Crawford has allowed 37 on 455, nearly identical save percentages, and very similar goals saved above average ratings. There doesn’t really appear to be a huge difference between their regular season stats, as Bishop posed a 0.916 save percentage and Crawford had a slightly better score at 0.924, but Crawford had much more goals saved above average than Bishop did.
It’s been pretty well documented that both goalies have had a pretty interesting time in net throughout the playoffs. Corey Crawford actually lost the starting job in the first round against the Predators, while Ben Bishop has been up and down and all over the grid. All said and done, each goalie heads into the Stanley Cup Finals with almost the exact same save percentage at 0.920 and 0.919. To be fair, though, Bishop has faced quite a few more shots, but this is largely because he didn’t lose the starting gig, and his team has been in more games.
Again, the only thing Crawford really has over Bishop is experience. Both guys have proved they can be good in the regular season, both have proved they can bee good in the playoffs, but both have also shown they can get absolutely lit up too. They are what they are, good, but not elite goaltenders.
I predict this is going to be a really good series! Both of these teams are really good, and they play really well. That’s put very simply, but both play a very high quality of hockey and it’s fun to watch. I have a feeling we’re going to see a high shooting affair, but it may not be a high scoring one. There aren’t many places you can find differences or advantages between these two teams in the regular season or in the playoffs. As a result, I’ll have to give a gut prediction (I was 2/2 in the Conference Finals FWIW) When it’s all said and done, Tampa wins in seven.