For additional insight into the Tampa Bay Lightning and Chicago Blackhawks during the Stanley Cup Final, NHL.com has enlisted the help of Dave Farrish to break down the action. Farrish will be checking in throughout the series.
Farrish was an assistant coach for the Anaheim Ducks and Toronto Maple Leafs from 2005-14. He won the Stanley Cup with the Ducks in 2007. He also coached 1,027 games in the minor leagues, including the American Hockey League. In addition, Farrish, a former defenseman, played 430 games in seven seasons in the NHL.
Dave Farrish said he was curious to see how or if the extra day off between Games 4 and 5 in the Stanley Cup Final would benefit the Chicago Blackhawks' minute-heavy top-four group of defensemen.
He figured out quickly that they used the time wisely.
Whereas Farrish thought after Game 4 that defensemen Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya were fatigued, he said he thought the opposite as he watched Game 5.
"They looked like a much more energized team coming out and really controlled the first period," Farrish said Sunday, the day after Chicago took a 3-2 lead in the best-of-7 series with a 2-1 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 5 at Amalie Arena. "They were up 11-2 in shots to start the game. They established their game early. I thought that was the biggest difference. They dictated the flow right away. Tampa looked a little confused or disoriented at the start."
The Blackhawks outshot the Lightning 14-5 in the first period and had a 1-0 lead on Patrick Sharp's goal off of the puck-playing blunder between Lightning goalie Ben Bishop and defenseman Victor Hedman.
Chicago had an 11-2 advantage in shots on goal at the time of Sharp's goal. The Blackhawks had seven shots on goal through the first 3:22 of the first period.
"The defensemen were in on the pinch to keep the offensive play going," Farrish said. "They were much better in the neutral zone, real tight in their gap, not giving Tampa any room to make plays in the neutral zone to get their forecheck going. All of that led to their success early."
The Lightning were able to turn the momentum around in the second period. They were also able to tie the game on Valtteri Filppula's goal at 10:53. That goal came 51 seconds after a whistle stopped a stretch of 8:22 of non-stop play.
Even though the Lightning tied the game, Farrish said he thought that long stretch without a whistle in the second period benefitted the Blackhawks, and allowed them to stay fresher for the final 30 minutes of regulation.
"The game seems to fly by in those situations and there is not as much pushing and shoving off of faceoffs like normal," Farrish said. "There is a lot of battling that goes on on faceoff plays. You expend a lot of energy. When you can just move up and back, especially as a defensemen, you're really just following the play or keeping your gap tight defensively, and it's a lot less taxing on you. That was certainly to Chicago's advantage."
To his point, the Blackhawks had four shot attempts to Tampa Bay's none and two faceoff wins in the final three minutes of the second. Chicago carried that momentum into the third, and capitalized on it when forward Antoine Vermette scored the eventual game winner two minutes into the period.
"The key to was they really finished strong in the second period," Farrish said. "I think they controlled the last four or five minutes and that was a big momentum swing going into the third."
Now the Lightning have to win another game on the road to keep their season alive. Game 6 is Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports) at United Center.
Farrish said he thinks it's an advantage for Tampa Bay to be on the road in this must-win game because of how good it has been on the road in the playoffs (8-4). However, there will be some decisions to make if forward Nikita Kucherov is unable to play in Game 6.
Kucherov was injured and left the ice at 5:22 of the first period, when he collided hard into the left goal post with what appeared to be his right shoulder. He did not return.
Lightning coach Jon Cooper mixed and matched his lines to replace Kucherov, eventually settling on using Steven Stamkos on a line with Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat after putting rookie Jonathan Drouin there for a while too.
If Kucherov can't play, Farrish said he wouldn't be surprised if Cooper moved forward Ryan Callahan up from his bottom-six role into a top-six role because of his experience and offensive capabilities.
"You put Drouin up there and then defensively you might have some issues, but Callahan has been there before, he's a battler and a proven winner," Farrish said. "Or do you go with Drouin in the offensive zone faceoffs and Callahan in the defensive zone faceoffs? It also depends on the score. If they're leading it will probably be Callahan, and if they're trailing it probably will be Drouin."
Regardless, Farrish said he expects it will again be difficult for the Lightning to generate a lot of offense. They have scored two goals on 57 shots in the previous two games, each 2-1 losses.
That's why Farrish said he thinks it's imperative that the Lightning stick with their defensive structure, which has been good, particularly on the road in the playoffs.
Tampa Bay had shutout wins in Games 5 and 7 of the Conference Final against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden. The Lightning also faced a must-win in Game 6 at Detroit in the first round and won that, and are 1-1 on the road in the Cup Final.
"They have to stress to keep doing what they're doing and hopefully they get rewarded," Farrish said. "If they're not able to score or get that many chances, it's a matter of continuing to work through it. That's the mental toughness part. Can you persevere? Obviously the advantage has to go to Chicago because they've been there and done that. But Tampa has certainly persevered through the first three rounds."