CHICAGO -- The Tampa Bay Lightning are halfway to the parade, but getting there will be the hardest thing they will try to do this season because the Chicago Blackhawks have long been the best team in the Stanley Cup Playoffs as the series gets deeper.
The Blackhawks are 30-30 in Games 1-3 of a playoff series under coach Joel Quenneville since 2009; they're 40-14 in Games 4-7.
Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final is Wednesday at United Center (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports). The Lightning have a 2-1 lead in the best-of-7 series. Now is usually the time when the Blackhawks find another gear.
"It's not part of the plan, but we have confidence when we get in those situations that we can take it one game at a time, focus on the next game, continue to put pressure on the other team," Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said. "Here we are down 2-1. We're confident we can go out there and find a way to even it up."
To do so, the following three keys will be important for them to follow. For the Lightning to stop them from doing it again, they ought to follow the three keys listed below those for Chicago.
1. Time for Kane to get going
Three games is too long for Patrick Kane to be off the score sheet in the Stanley Cup Final. In the regular season a three-game pointless drought would be considered a mini-slump and might not even make it into even the last line of a story; in the Cup Final it's huge news.
Kane was better in Game 3 than he was in Game 2. He had three shots on goal and appeared to have the puck more in Game 3 than he did in Game 2, when he had no shots on goal, snapping a streak of 99 consecutive playoff games with at least one. But he was still playing too much on the periphery.
The Lightning deserve credit for defending him well, but Kane simply has to find some holes to get better chances. The Blackhawks need him to be a big threat; so far he hasn't been enough of one.
2. Make Bishop move
Lightning goalie Ben Bishop appears to be bothered by an injury, perhaps to his lower body. The Blackhawks can see it. They have talked about it. They need to take advantage of it, which Quenneville thinks they didn't do enough of in Game 3, when Bishop made 36 saves.
"We've got to get to the net more," Quenneville said. "He did a good job, but I thought we made it relatively easy on him."
One way to make it harder on Bishop is to make him move laterally, which he was struggling to do at times in Game 3.
A key to that is to move the puck from side to side, maybe fake a shot to freeze Bishop in a position before passing the puck to the slot or across the ice. That's how Brandon Saad scored his go-ahead goal in the third period of Game 3.
Duncan Keith had the puck at the right point and found Marian Hossa in the left circle with a pass, forcing Bishop to move laterally. Hossa then quickly dished the puck to Saad in the slot for a one-timer. Bishop couldn't move back in time.
Antoine Vermette had a chance to make Bishop move on his breakaway at 5:44 of the second period, but he didn't pass the puck to a wide-open Hossa in the slot. He kept it, which allowed Bishop to hold his ground at the left post. He made a relatively easy save.
Other opportunities to make Bishop move in Game 3 were thwarted by the Lightning.
"Chicago's a team that creates a lot of offense from moving the puck east-west. They like that possession game, the kind of team that can move across the ice the way they do," Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman said. "I think we have done a really good job on putting pressure on them, making them move the puck maybe a little bit quicker than they want, making sure our forwards pressure well throughout the middle and making sure we keep them on one side of the ice."
3. Van Riemsdyk's ice time
Blackhawks defenseman Johnny Oduya is likely going to play in Game 4, coach Joel Quenneville said, but it doesn't change the fact he's dealing with an upper-body injury, which means it's fair to wonder how much he will play. Kimmo Timonen is also in, but how much he plays is also in doubt because of his mobility.
That could leave a lot on the shoulders of rookie Trevor van Riemsdyk, who it stands to reason will play more minutes than the 9:01 he was on the ice for in Game 3, his first NHL game since Nov. 16.
"I'm prepared for that," van Riemsdyk said about the potential to play more minutes. "The coaches have told me to be ready for whatever they may ask of me and that's what I'll try to do. Whatever minutes it may be, however few or many, I just have to be ready when I go on the ice."
1. Stamkos' time
The Lightning are up 2-1 in the series, so there is barely any talk about how their best player, captain Steven Stamkos, doesn't have a point in three games. On the other hand, the Blackhawks are down 2-1, so there is a lot of discussion on how Kane has been silenced with no points.
Stamkos has been helped by the third line. Cedric Paquette has goals in back-to-back games and Ryan Callahan has a goal and four points in the past two games. J.T. Brown has an assist and has barely missed a couple of Grade A scoring chances.
The odds of the third line continuing to give the Lightning that level of production are as slim as the odds of Stamkos and Kane going four straight games without a point.
"It's tough to come up with a magic solution," Stamkos said. "You keep generating the chances, you keep working hard, eventually it's going to come. I've been through it before."
2. Protect Bishop
The Lightning know whatever is ailing Bishop means he can't do the exact same things he always does, most notably handle the puck. They need to be sure to protect him so he doesn't have to move too much or face too many rush chances for the Blackhawks.
They did a good job of that from the second period on in Game 3. Bishop survived the first period despite leaving some juicy rebounds and twice deserting his net, leaving it open because he couldn't scurry back in time.
"To be honest I don't think we started that bad [in Game 3], they were better in the first," Lightning center Valtteri Filppula said. "They came really hard and we didn't have a lot of room. In the second I feel like we started skating better and we were able to get some pucks in their zone, so it always helps for sure."
3. Cooper needs to trust his instincts
It's hard to find a more confident coach than Jon Cooper of the Lightning. His belief in his players and his systems are unwavering. His philosophy is to not be overly concerned with matchups because the last thing he wants to do is take his team out of its rhythm.
That's why it was somewhat surprising Cooper played the matchup game so much in Games 1 and 2 at home, and tried to do it again in the first period of Game 3. It worked at home because of the last-change advantage he had, but it clearly didn't work in the first period of Game 3.
The Blackhawks outshot the Lightning 19-7 in the first period. Cooper went away from the matchup game in the second period and the Lightning outshot the Blackhawks 17-7.
"That second period got going, we were rolling," Cooper said. "When your team is rolling, you don't want to disrupt the apple cart. Things were going well. Every line was clicking. Didn't matter which line they were going against, everybody was working.
"Believe me, I'm the last one to sit here and overthink the game. Boys are rolling, you let them go. I thought that's what happened in periods two and three."