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.
TAMPA -- Four games in the books in this Stanley Cup Final and the one thing that is so very obvious to me is that neither the Chicago Blackhawks nor the Tampa Bay Lightning are able to do what they want to do offensively, ideally speaking.
They are in many ways mirror images of each other, so they know how to shut each other down too. There have been momentum swings, no doubt, but overall this series is as even as it gets heading into Game 5 on Saturday at Amalie Arena (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports).
The best-of-7 series is tied 2-2 with each team generating nine goals. Since they can't do what they want to do, it becomes a question of making the adjustments to do what they have to do to win.
The team that does that better will move within one win of the Stanley Cup by the end of the game Saturday.
Here is my breakdown:
Pluses: They needed either Jonathan Toews or Patrick Kane, Batman and Robin as I call them, to pop out in Game 4. They got the delivery with Toews scoring. One of them always delivers.
Another plus is they got outplayed, outshot, out-everything in the first period of Game 4 and they wound up winning the game. Seriously, did they even come to play in the first period? They had two shots on goal. But they're still 2-2 in this series and they've got a chance.
Brandon Saad is another plus. He's been outstanding.
Patrick Sharp played a strong game in Game 4. He was fast and aggressive. I don't think he had been playing anywhere near his capability prior to that. That's a plus.
Andrew Shaw gives them a netfront guy. He might be their only one right now, but he's going there all the time. That's a plus.
Visibly they're not getting frustrated by not having a lot of chances off the rush. The Lightning are doing a good job shutting that down, but it doesn't appear to be frustrating the Blackhawks. That's a plus.
And for the most part they have not been sloppy defensively, although they did have a lot of uncharacteristic turnovers in Game 4. But they have not allowed the Lightning to just freewheel. That's a plus.
Lastly, their penalty kill has been good. You want to keep a team like the Lightning down on the power play and the Blackhawks have been good at it. That's also a plus.
Minuses: It's the matchup right now. They're matched up with another team in the Lightning that is a skilled team that can check, that defends well, that's hungry, motivated, and in certain respects is a mirror image of the Blackhawks stylistically and even with talent and personnel.
It all makes me wonder if the Lightning are where the Blackhawks were when they were on their run to their first Cup in 2010. I don't know. It's hard to say. But I know it's not good for the Blackhawks if that's the case.
The other minus that I can see is it appears that the Blackhawks' 'D' might be slightly wearing down. I thought that in Game 4, especially in the first period, when they were really struggling to get out of the zone and there were those uncharacteristic giveaways. Those are signs of that.
They're just not as active, but I also think they're not as active because they know if the Lightning get to go the other way with speed and in odd-man situations they will put up some goals. There is a little bit of knowing they can't be as aggressive offensively because they know how good the Lightning are offensively. You've got to be smart, right?
But I do think there are examples of fatigue on the backend starting to set in.
Pluses: They're not intimidated. They respect the Blackhawks for all that they've done, all that they still can do, and who they are, but the Lightning are not intimidated by them. That's impressive to me. We have seen that through four games.
Psychologically it would be easy to be a little overwhelmed by the stage, not as confident, but these guys are fully confident and they're definitely not overwhelmed. That's a big positive.
Another positive is the play of the third line with Cedric Paquette, Ryan Callahan and J.T. Brown. Those guys are relishing the matchup. That line is going head to head with either Toews or Kane. They love it. And they're winning the matchup.
I'd have to imagine if Joel Quenneville continues to keep Toews and Kane apart, and goes with a line of Toews with Marian Hossa and either Saad or Sharp that the Lightning's third line will match up against that line.
Minuses: The uncertainty with their goaltending is a minus. They have to play through this with Ben Bishop's injury. I'm sure all things being equal, ideally speaking they'd wish that their ace is healthy, but they're fortunate that they have Andrei Vasilevskiy and this kid is as good as he is.
It's not lip service when they say that they believe in both guys. They genuinely do believe in both guys. It's just tough that it has come to that. You never want to see one of your guys injured.
Another minus is they had a chance to really put the Blackhawks on the ropes with the way they played in Game 4, especially in the first period, outshooting them 9-2, but they didn't do it. The fact that this series is even is a minus to the Lightning because they could and maybe should be up 3-1.
That was a missed opportunity in Game 4. Not that it's over by any stretch, but when you've got a team like the Blackhawks not playing at their best and you're playing as well as you are, you've got to try to put those guys away. You can't give them life. The Blackhawks have life now.
THREE THINGS TO WATCH
1. Lightning's goaltending
This is obvious. Who starts? Is Bishop going to be ready? Will it be Vasilevskiy again? They want Bishop; they're comfortable with Vasilevskiy.
2. Matchup game
As I mentioned above, I think the Paquette line will play head to head against Toews' line, regardless of his linemates. The Lightning have the last change now so they have the advantage. But Quenneville went to the blender right from the opening of the game in Game 4, and he might do it again in Game 5.
3. Neutral zone
I'm a big believer in the team that is better through the neutral zone, meaning the team that causes the most turnovers, is going to win this game and ultimately win the series.