May 21, 2015

This week in sports: NHL Playoffs

Four Teams, One Cup:

We’re several games into the NHL Conference Finals, and the Stanley Cup Final stage is still open to all. It’s the playoffs, the series is close, and anything can happen.

Chicago Blackhawks Will Win If…

1. The defense, lacking depth, doesn’t wear out. Thirty-one-year-old Duncan Keith played a career high 49 minutes and 51 seconds in Game Two, a feat typically reserved for freaks of nature. The Blackhawks’ four top defensemen played roughly 85 percent of Tuesday’s triple-overtime thriller. Specifically, that is 85 percent of a 116-minute, 12-second-long game, the longest in Blackhawks playoff history. With Michal Rozsival injured, the Blackhawks are forced to keep the pressure on these top four defensemen, three of whom are above 30. Will they keep it up long enough to win another seven games to capture the Windy City its third Stanley Cup in six years? If you look back at Chicago’s two Cup runs (2010 and 2013), Keith, Seabrook, and Hjalmarsson were playing a combined 73.5 minutes a game. This year, we’re talking 84.5.

2. Experience pays off. Chicago, of course, won the cup twice in recent years.

“Experience definitely helps,” netminder Corey Crawford told reporters on Tuesday. “We’ve gone through it before. Maybe less nerves. But for sure it definitely helps when we’ve been through a bunch of these situations.”

Anaheim Ducks Will Win If…

1. The Ducks continue to get the same kind of depth scoring as they’ve been getting so far this postseason. The top line with Maroon-Getzlaf-Perry gets a significant chunk of defensive attention, so it’s crucial that the second and third lines put something on the board. Ryan Kesler could step up and be huge for Anaheim; he’s one of the best two-way centers in the game, and if he plays likes it, the Ducks’ odds of victory go through the roof.

2. They keep playing physical and tire out their opposition. The Ducks have thrown 115 hits at the Blackhawks over two games—71 of them on Tuesday alone. The Blackhawks, meanwhile, threw 78 combined. These hits could start wearing down the Hawks, who’ve pretty much played two games in one on Tuesday, dishing out heavy minutes to their top players. 

New York Rangers Will Win If…

1. Henrik Lundqvist and the New York defense find their game. In their last two games, they’ve let in 12 goals, compared to only nine goals over their last six games combined prior. If the Rangers figure out how to stop scrambling all over the place and helplessly watching the Tampa Bay Lightning own their net, they’ll get back in the series and maybe even move on. Six times Lundqvist has allowed six or more goals in a game this year; four of them have been to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Lundqvist just needs to figure out Tampa Bay, and New York might have themselves quite a run here.

2. Rick Nash gets hot. The man just can’t seem to perform in the postseason. The Rangers’ leading scorer in the regular season has only two goals this far in the postseason. It won’t hurt if Martin St. Louis (0 goals) started putting some in the net as well.

Tampa Bay Lightning Will Win If…

1. It keeps scoring. The Lightning is to a goaltender what thunder is to a little child—a crawl-under-your-bed nightmare. Just ask two of the NHL’s best, Carey Price and Henrik Lundqvist. We already talked about Lundqvist’s struggles, but Price also found the Bolts troublesome on his way to a 0–4–1 record against them in the regular season. In the playoffs, the Lightning scored 16 more on Price in a six-game series. Add in what it’s doing to Lundqvist, and it seems like Tampa Bay just has no care for elite goaltenders; it’ll ruthlessly find the back of the net regardless.

2. Ben Bishop doesn’t expose himself. Though his team won on Wednesday, he let in five goals on only 28 shots. If the Rangers manage to tighten up defensively, or if the Lightning gets past these series and finds itself up against an opponent that finally stumps its offense, it might have trouble relying on Bishop to carry it the rest of the way.