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article imageOp-Ed: Blackhawks have Stanley Cup edge based on experience

By Mark J. Allan     Jun 2, 2015 in Sports
There are compelling arguments that suggest the Chicago Blackhawks are about to become as close to a dynasty as possible in an NHL salary cap world.
The surging Tampa Bay Lightning have enough going for them to hint that they might give Chicago a run for its Stanley Cup money.
Chicago Blackhawks
Captain Jonathan Toews is the single strongest advantage the ’Hawks have as they seek their third Cup in the past six seasons under coach Joel Quenneville.
The crème de la crème of Chicago’s storied nucleus of champions, Toews is making a case that he is the standard by which NHL leaders must be judged.
He’s not a threat to top regular-season scorers due to his selfless, exemplary defensive play (he sometimes backchecks all the way back to his own goal line). Nonetheless, Toews has four goals and one assist in his past four games in the playoffs, which is where he’s at his best.
In 111 playoff games, Toews has amassed 99 points, good for 92nd place. He’s plus-15 with 10 game-winning goals. In these playoffs, he’s tied for fifth with 18 points, including nine goals.
Toews is hardly the only reliable playoff stud on the Chicago roster, and is not even the top scorer.
Veteran Chicago winger Marian Hossa is higher than all other players in this Stanley Cup final in career playoff scoring. In 188 post-season games, he’s totalled 49 goals and 91 assists for 140 points, good for 34th all-time.
Peripherals? How about plus-27 and 12 game-winning goals?
Explosive winger Patrick Kane is playoff money in the bank for Chicago. In 68th place all-time with 111 points, Kane has more than a point per game in the post-season.
In the current post-season, Kane is tied for second in goals (10) and points (20).
Veteran Chicago center Brad Richards is in 84th place all-time with 101 playoff points.
Besides experience and depth up front, Chicago boasts a strong four-player nucleus on defense, led by Duncan Keith.
Keith, currently leading all playoff performers in plus-minus at plus-13, excels with a huge workload. At an average of 31:35 minutes per game in these playoffs, he’s a fraction of a second behind Nashville’s Roman Josi in ice time, and Keith has done it for 11 more games.
Oh, yeah, Keith has a remarkable 18 points in 17 games as he makes a strong case for his first playoff MVP trophy.
He, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Brent Seabrook and Johnny Oduya are averaging more than 25 minutes per game, as Quenneville shows a lack of trust in his other blueliners.
If the Blackhawks have an Achilles heel, it’s their reliance on this quartet, although they’ve come through repeatedly.
Corey Crawford has regained the starting goaltending job for Chicago after losing it briefly to towering youngster Scott Darling. Like the other go-to Blackhawks, Crawford has demonstrated an ability to deliver in the clutch.
Tampa Bay Lightning
The highest-scoring team in the regular season has enviable depth, speed and creativity up front at the disposal of personable coach Jon Cooper, who seems to say the right things at the right times.
Although 43-goal sniper Steven Stamkos has begun to reassert himself in the past few games after a low-scoring start to the post-season, Tampa’s most-productive trio has been its “second” line.
Undrafted and undersized center Tyler Johnson is leading all playoff scorers with 12 goals and 21 points. Nikita Kucherov is fourth with 19 points while linemate Ondrej Palat has 15 points.
With Stamkos (17) and Alex Killorn (16), that gives the Lightning five of the 12 highest point-getters in the playoffs, two more than Chicago.
A third line centered by Valtteri Filppula has given Tampa impressive scoring depth, although Filppula has been promoted to the Stamkos line recently, dropping captain Ryan Callaghan to the third line.
On the blueline, imposing Swede Victor Hedman is becoming a force. The Lightning don’t have the high-end core of defenders that the ‘Hawks boast, but GM Steve Yzerman has built a solid corps in front of massive netminder Ben Bishop.
Bishop has played well, outlasting superstar counterparts Henrik Lundqvist, Carey Price in the past two series. The Lightning need him to come up big again.
Prediction
There is no substitute for experience, and the ‘Hawks have a huge edge.
For instance, they have three playoff MVPs (Toews, Kane and Richards) on their roster. Ironically, Richards won his trophy in 2004 when Tampa won its only Cup.
Once again, the ‘Hawks are extra motivated to win it all this season because a looming salary dump will eat into their championship core.
Blackhawks in six.
Last round: Nailed ‘Hawks in seven and just missed
Rangers in seven.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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