By Left Field
My peerless playoff predictions have been about as accurate as an air traffic controller on crack having a heart attack. While I did pick the Hawks I also banked on the Rangers, so it looks like my glass is more shattered than half full. Nevertheless, my fortune teller alter ego has nudged me along sufficiently enough to boldly take another kick at the can, or in this case, the Cup Final.
Tampa Bay has captured lightning in a bottle through three gruelling rounds and bolted past Carey Price and Henrik Lundqvist in the process, arguably the two best goalies in the league. While Ben Bishop has at times looked far from bullet proof during his inaugural playoff run, he seems to have mastered coming up biggest when it matters most. For a playoff first-timer, his bounce back after bad games has been phenomenal, underlined by shutouts in game sevens against Detroit and New York. I just don’t see Bishop’s bubble bursting in the finals. Corey Crawford seems to be cut from the same cloth, despite looking a little ragged and Wild in the first round. Although he has a Stanley Cup ring on his finger and a sizable edge in playoff experience, Crawford hasn’t shown enough to make you believe he’ll get the better of Big Ben. The outcome may be decided by the keeper who manages to steal a game he has no business winning. When it gets down to the short hairs in this series, picking one goalie over the other is closer than Kim Kardashian’s bikini shave.
Now that I’ve unsettled the netminding issue, it’s time to take a look at the offence. Both teams feature high octane forwards who can score like George Clooney before he tied the knot. Chicago may have the edge here, if you’re a believer in the importance of contributions from the third and fourth lines. Whenever Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane have struggled, Marian Hossa, Andrew Shaw and Brandon Saad have stepped up with timely regularity. On the other side of centre ice, Tampa Bay has done fine filling the net with pucks from just two lines. This playoff has been a coming out party for the vertically challenged trio of Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov. Calling them Smurfs might be a stretch, but they are challenging the wisdom of the majority of general managers who preach that you can’t win with a line that doesn’t have a six foot four centre and a couple of wingers who push the scales past 220. Even scarier for Chicago, it looks like Steven Stamkos and Alex Kilorn have grown a couple of inches with each round.
If there is a paper-thin edge in the upcoming fray, it would appear to be on Chicago’s blue line. As well as Tampa’s D has played, especially Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman, they can’t match the lights out level of defending and offending that Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith harness in the games that decide a series. So that’s why I am going to fly with the ‘Hawks in seven, with three games going into overtime. And if I’m wrong remember, you read it here first.