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Blackhawks to play Lightning in Stanley Cup Final

by David Satriano

The Chicago Blackhawks advanced to their third Stanley Cup Final in six seasons with a 5-3 win against the Anaheim Ducks in Game 7 of the Western Conference Final on Saturday.

Chicago will play the Tampa Bay Lightning, which defeated the New York Rangers in seven games in the Eastern Conference Final.

Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final is Wednesday at Amalie Arena (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports). Tampa Bay has home-ice advantage because it had six more points than Chicago during the regular season (108-102).

"Another great test," Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews told NBC of the Lightning. "If we can remember the other games we had against them this regular season, if that's any sort of foreshadowing, it's going to be a tough one. But we'll be ready for 'em."

Chicago was 1-1-0 against Tampa Bay in the regular season, winning 3-2 in a shootout on Nov. 11 and losing 4-0 on Feb. 27. Lightning goalie Ben Bishop stopped 65 of 67 shots; captain Steven Stamkos had two goals and three points. Blackhawks forwards Brad Richards and Marcus Kruger scored.

"I think the thing that stands out to me is their team speed and their skill level up front," Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith said. "... I think as a team we've got a lot of respect for them. They're there for a reason. Like I said, they've got a lot of speed up front. They've got big defensemen that can move the puck and skate, and a big goalie who can stop the puck too.

"I think we're confident in our team, but at the same time looking at their team, you know, I think those are the things that stick out to me."

Tampa Bay will be the first team to play four Original Six teams in one Stanley Cup Playoff.

The Blackhawks trailed the Ducks 3-2 before winning Game 6 at United Center and Game 7 at Honda Center. Chicago is 8-0 in series that were tied 2-2 since the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Blackhawks defeated the Philadelphia Flyers in six games in the 2010 Stanley Cup Final and the Boston Bruins in six games in 2013.

Forward Patrick Kane, who missed 21 games with a fractured clavicle before returning in the playoffs, leads Chicago with 20 points. Toews, who scored twice in Game 7, and Keith each has 18 points.

Chicago has relied heavily on its top four defenseman since Michal Rozsival fractured his ankle in Game 4 of a second-round sweep of the Minnesota Wild. Keith, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Brent Seabrook and Johnny Oduya each averaged more than 25 minutes per game.

Corey Crawford began the playoffs as Chicago's No. 1 goalie but was replaced by Scott Darling in the first round. Crawford reclaimed the job and is 9-4 after making 35 saves in Game 7.

Chicago defeated the Nashville Predators in six games in the first round.

Richards won the Conn Smythe Trophy when the Lightning won the 2004 Stanley Cup.

The Lightning, who defeated the Calgary Flames in seven games to win that Cup, are the first team since the Boston Bruins in 1988 to reach the Stanley Cup Final after being swept in the first round the previous year (by the Montreal Canadiens).

Tampa Bay advanced for the same reasons it was successful in the regular season. The "Triplets" line of Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov combined for 28 of the 55 goals the Lightning have scored. They were three of Tampa Bay's top four scorers in the regular season: Johnson had 29 goals, Kucherov 28 and Palat 16.

Stamkos, who led the Lightning with 43 goals, didn't score in the first eight games of the playoffs but has been on a tear since. He has a goal in four of six games, six of his past nine, and has 14 points (seven goals, seven assists) in 12 games.

The Lightning finished one point behind the Atlantic Division-winning Canadiens, who they defeated in six games in the second round, and coach Jon Cooper's impact on the Lightning should be noted. In his first two full seasons, he has led Tampa Bay to the playoffs twice and was a Jack Adams finalist for coach of the year last season. He isn't afraid to make unorthodox moves, such as moving Stamkos from his natural position at center to wing (a role that restarted Stamkos' scoring) and using seven defensemen and 11 forwards, which has been the case in nine of the past 11 games.

The Lightning are 9-0 when scoring first in the postseason.

Bishop has played his best games at the right time, including his 22-save, Game 7 shutout against New York. Following a loss in the playoffs, he is 7-1 with a 1.25 goals-against average and .951 save percentage. He had a 31-save shutout in a 2-0, Game 7 win in the Eastern Conference First Round against the Detroit Red Wings and a 26-save shutout against the Rangers in a 2-0 win in Game 5. That followed two straight games when Bishop allowed five goals.

In each round, a different Lightning player stepped up. In the first round, Johnson had six goals. In the second round, Kucherov had six goals, and in the conference final, Stamkos and Alex Killorn each had four. Five players have at least six goals and 15 players have scored.

Game 2 is at Tampa Bay next Saturday. Game 3 is at United Center on June 8, followed by Game 4 on June 10.

Game 5, if necessary, is at Tampa Bay on June 13; Game 6 is at Chicago on June 15; and Game 7 is at Tampa Bay on June 17.


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