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Three keys for Lightning, Blackhawks to win Game 6

by Dan Rosen / NHL.com

CHICAGO -- The Stanley Cup might be in the building at some point Monday night. It also might not be.

It's not a foregone conclusion that the Cup will enter United Center at any point during Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final between the Chicago Blackhawks and Tampa Bay Lightning (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports). The score dictates its potential arrival.

The Lightning want to do everything they can to keep it out. The Blackhawks want to raise it up.

Here are three keys for each team in order to accomplish what they want to make happen:

LIGHTNING

1. Step up Stamkos

The Lightning have waited long enough for their captain to get going in the Cup Final. If it doesn't happen in Game 6, it might not happen at all.

Steven Stamkos has had his scoring chances through five games, several of the Grade A variety, but he has no goals on 12 shots, which is not enough shots from Stamkos through five games.

The Lightning don't necessarily require a goal from Stamkos to win Game 6, but it would certainly go a long way if they got one. Even if he set one up it would be big. He has only one assist in the series.

"I want to help our team win in any way possible," Stamkos said. "We've struggled to score, obviously myself personally, as a team the last couple games. We'll find a way. There's really no choice that we have. For me, definitely want to go out there and have my best game.

"I definitely want to be a guy that can go out there and help our team get a game back home."

2. Hedman's ice time

Cooper insists he's not a big matchup coach, but it was obvious in Game 5 at home that he was trying to get defenseman Victor Hedman on the ice as often as possible against Blackhawks right wing Patrick Kane.

Kane played 9:17 of his 14:38 even-strength ice time against Hedman, according to War-on-Ice.com. Kane didn't generate much, but the matchup was basically even, with the Lightning generating 11 shot attempts and the Blackhawks 10 in those situations.

As a result of being matchup driven in Game 5, Hedman was limited to a series-low 23:38 of ice time after playing at least 26:05 in every other game, including a series-high 27:18 in Game 4.

Limiting Hedman's ice time is a win for Chicago regardless of whether Kane scores. That's why coach Joel Quenneville separated Kane from Jonathan Toews after Game 1. It forced Cooper to make a decision on who to play Hedman against.

"We say you still got to absorb an assignment that is definitely consuming for the opponent," Quenneville said.

"Sometimes when you think too much about playing against one certain guy, it can backfire on you a little bit," Kane said.

The Lightning being on the road might actually benefit Hedman's ice time, because Cooper can't get consumed with a matchup he's not likely to get every time he wants it, as he could at home, so he can put Hedman on the ice for faceoffs whether he thinks Quenneville will use Kane's line or Toews' line.

That's good, because Hedman needs to play more than he did in Game 5.

3. Power-play production

It's not necessarily surprising teams go through slumps on the power play at this stage of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, because the focus turns so much to defending and penalty kills typically have roughly an 80-percent advantage anyway.

But the Lightning are already struggling to score, so getting production or at least gaining momentum from their power play would go a long way in Game 6.

Tampa Bay is 1-for-12 on the power play in the series. Chicago isn't much better at 2-for-13, but it also has a 3-2 lead in the series.

"As this series has gone, there hasn't been a lot of penalties called, so when there is one called, the stakes are a little bit higher," Cooper said. "When it comes down to special teams, we talk about winning the special teams war. Regardless of penalties, power-play goals, shorthanded goals, you got to win that war. When you're not scoring, it's tough to do that."

BLACKHAWKS

1. Strong start

The Blackhawks are the best closers in the NHL, but a key to finishing off the Lightning in Game 6 will be how they start the game. A strong start would put the Lightning on their heels and potentially force them to start chasing the game. That's exactly what Chicago wants.

"Of course you want to come out and you want to feel good about yourself after the first period, feel confident and kind of take it from there," Chicago defenseman Johnny Oduya said. "We've seen some games where we have a worse start and we have the ability to come back, but that's not something you want. You want to have a good start."

Chicago had a good start in Game 5 with a 14-5 edge in shots on goal and a 1-0 lead after the first period. It wound up making a big difference in what became another tight game. It was the first time since Game 2 that the team that had the stronger start ended up winning the game.

The Lightning had a strong start in Game 4, outshooting the Blackhawks 9-2 in the first period, but it didn't matter because they couldn't capitalize on it. Chicago won 2-1.

The Blackhawks had a dominant start in Game 3 with a 19-7 advantage in shots on goal in the first period, but it was 1-1 after 20 minutes. Tampa Bay won 3-2.

2. Crawford the closer

Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford has done well with the opportunity to close out a team in the playoffs so far.

He made 13 saves against 13 shots in relief of Scott Darling to win Game 6 against the Nashville Predators. He made 34 saves in a 4-3 win in Game 4 against the Minnesota Wild and he made 35 saves, including 25 on 26 shots through two periods, in a 5-3 win in Game 7 against the Anaheim Ducks.

Crawford's save percentage in those games is .931, including .920 in the two he started. The Blackhawks have helped him out by scoring 13 goals in those games, but overall Crawford has done his job, which is give his team a chance to win.

That's all he really needs to do in Game 6. That's all he's really ever asked to do. He's done it quite well in this series with a 2.03 goals-against average and .926 save percentage. He has allowed two goals on 57 shots (.964) in the past two games.

"He's a competitor," Quenneville said. "I think bigger settings and big stages … he rises to the challenge, makes the big save, moves forward. Goaltending really gets magnified on some of the ones you don't stop. One thing about [Crawford], he always moves forward in a positive way. That battle in him finds a way to get through it. He just seems to move forward in the right way."

3. Ignore their history

The Blackhawks know all about their history in these types of situations in seven postseasons under coach Joel Quenneville. Not only have they lived it, they've been reminded of it since the end of Game 5.

They're 5-0 in Games 5 and 6 of the Stanley Cup Final. They're 17-1 in Games 5-7 after splitting the first four games of a series. They're 42-14 in Games 4-7 of a series.

The best thing they can do with all of that information is draw from those positive experiences. The worst thing they can do is rely on history repeating itself in Game 6. That's why Oduya said the Blackhawks don't internally talk about all of their success in these situations.

"Every situation is a new one," Oduya said. "Obviously, you draw from some of the things that you've done before, but I think the strength is the mindset, where you need to be present, you need to want to win more than having the fear. That's something that is contagious and we have a lot of guys that like to be in these situations."

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