Kevin Weekes will be offering his pluses and minuses for the Chicago Blackhawks and Tampa Bay Lightning prior to each game in the Stanley Cup Final. He'll also assist fans with three must-watch elements of the game.
CHICAGO -- The one thing we have learned so far in the Stanley Cup Final is what we should have already known coming into the series; the Tampa Bay Lightning are not afraid and they're not going away.
The Chicago Blackhawks are finding out the hard way so far. They're down 2-1 in the best-of-7 series heading into Game 4 at United Center on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).
The Blackhawks have to find a way to change the storyline if they want to hang with the Lightning, who are proving it on a national stage, or rather an international stage considering how broad our game is, how good they are.
The Lightning have shown that they are crazy good and they've got a goalie in Ben Bishop who is one gutsy dude.
Here is my breakdown for Game 4:
Pluses: The "Triplets" are on their game. They have scored in multiple games now. This is huge for the Lightning that Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat are producing.
What that does for Tampa Bay is you have the best line in the NHL playing like the best line in the NHL. When you can get production from the line that was the best in the League on the highest scoring team during the regular season that usually leads to something positive. Yeah, that's usually a good thing.
What it also does is it takes pressure off of Steven Stamkos. But then again, pressure has been taken off of him all year long. At the same time he was still able to score 43 goals in the regular season. And in the playoffs it allowed them to get to where they got before he scored against Montreal.
So production from the "Triplets" alleviates the pressure on Stamkos and allows them to play the style of game that they want to play because they're getting production.
Another plus for the Lightning is the play of Cedric Paquette, and getting production from the bottom-six overall. Prior to this series, the production from the bottom six was not there. I know they are capable, but they weren't producing the way they are capable of producing so the onus of scoring fell on the "Triplets" line, Stamkos, Alex Killorn, Valtteri Filppula and the defense.
Now they're getting production from Paquette and Ryan Callahan, and that's huge.
And let's talk about Paquette. First he was matched up against Jonathan Toews, it doesn't get any more difficult than that, and he did a great job against him and scored against him in Game 2. Then in Game 3 he gets matched up against Patrick Kane after Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville split up Kane and Toews, and all Paquette does is go out and score the winning goal while also shutting down Kane.
I know that he's a sandpaper kind of player now, but this is a major bonus for them to get production from him. More importantly, for him to relish the matchups against two of the best players in the world says a lot.
Minuses: I think the only minus right now is that Bishop isn't at full strength, but he pulled a Willis Reed out of his hat in Game 3 with the show he put on. That was impressive. He is clearly hurting and made 36 saves in a 3-2 win.
I said this on the air, being a goalie, say you have an injured shoulder and you're practicing, a lot of your teammates are shooting there because they know your shoulder is hurt. Now, they're not shooting to hit you there, but they're shooting toward the area where you're injured to try to score on you. It's just human nature. So if your own teammates are doing that, imagine how hard it is to do that in a game, to play wounded as a goalie.
I think he has a lower-body injury. I don't know for sure. I think it's one of his legs, or something like that. The mere fact that he's playing is really impressive, and then to adapt and adjust your game in a Stanley Cup Final is crazy.
But this goes into the minus category only because he's not playing at full strength. That much is obvious. He had more than 19 touches in Game 1, around 13 or 14 in Game 2, and hardly any in Game 3 because he's limited. The minus is he can't play the way he wants to. When he does play the way he wants to, he gets the puck and he helps Tampa Bay’s transition game. He can't really do that now so that's the minus.
Pluses: Marian Hossa was an absolute beast in Game 3. He was the best player on the ice. He was so good. He was huge. He was a bull.
That, to me, is him leading and now the rest of the players have to follow. He clearly is motivated. Follow this guy. Play like this guy. He was great. He has been great.
Right Wing - CHI
GOALS: 4 | ASST: 12 | PTS: 16
SOG: 63 | +/-: 6
Another plus for the Blackhawks was their first period in Game 3. Yes they got scored on first, but they outshot the Lightning 19-7. That's crazy. It was 16-2 after the goal. That's crazier.
It's a plus that the Blackhawks can play that way, but they need to take advantage of it. They didn't do that enough in Game 3.
Minuses: I know Kane hasn't gotten on the scoresheet yet and since they're down 2-1 in the series that is a minus, but I'm going bigger picture here. I think the minus is that they're playing against a team that is basically as skilled, as fast, as smart and as well coached as they are, and I think they have been surprised by it so far in this series.
I don't think there is another team in the Western Conference that plays the style of game that Chicago does, so the Blackhawks haven’t faced this yet. From a matchup standpoint there are a lot of similarities.
Let's be fair, the Blackhawks have been the standard, along with the Los Angeles Kings. They really have. But all things being equal, Tampa Bay plays somewhat of a similar game to the Blackhawks and I don't think they have faced that yet in a playoff series.
It seems to me that they have been taken aback by it a bit. They most definitely can come back and win the series, but they have been surprised by it, as if to say, 'Wow, we never knew these guys were this good.' Now they know.
THREE THINGS TO WATCH
1. Kane and Toews
Will Quenneville have them together or apart? Can they get on the scoresheet?
2. Ben Bishop
How is his mobility? Is he hurt even more after playing Game 3? How does his health affect this game? Can he do what he did again? Can he double down?
3. The start
I think the team that takes the first lead in the game will win. I know the Lightning have given up the lead in the last two games, but they still went on to win. The Blackhawks are finding out how good Tampa Bay really is. Their confidence, playing at home and keeping the fans into it, leveraging their experience, all of those things are aided by the lead.