3 Reasons Why the Chicago Blackhawks Will Win the Stanley Cup
The Chicago Blackhawks have had a rollercoaster season that included emotional strife, injuries and time as a wild card team (yes that was an issue for about a week). Despite impending roster changes and playing in the gauntlet known as the Central Division, the Hawks are on the verge of becoming the closest thing to a dynasty that weâ€™ve seen in the NHLâ€™s salary cap era.
A lot of opposing fan bases may be getting tired of seeing Chicago make these types of deep runs, but a number of teams stating their cases for sustained success going forward, seeing this team cycle through players while maintaining a competitive core is awe-inspiring. Tip of the cap to Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman and his team for tap dancing around major concerns.
That said, Chicago is a slight underdog in the Stanley Cup Final with a 49.6% chance of raising Lord Stanleyâ€™s Cup, according to our algorithms. How can the best team in the salary cap era cement their place in hockey lore with a third Cup since 2010?
No team is equipped at forward from top to bottom better than Chicago. Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Brandon Saad and Patrick Sharp are first line players on every team in the league. All five can score and defend their own zone as well. Sprinkle in a mix of youth and experience to this core forward grouping and life is much harder for opponents.
This season, 12 of 15 forward to lace up the skates for Chicago had a Corsi For percentage above 50%. The team as a whole had a CF% of 53.6% at even strength, second best in the NHL. Only six teams had a better Goals For percentage than Chicago with one of those teams being Tampa Bay. The Hawks sustained enough pressure in the offensive zone to earn themselves a league-leading 35.9% of faceoffs in the offensive zone.
The addition of Brad Richards has paid dividends as he has been the center Kane has been craving over the past few seasons. Richards is also a healthy 8-0 in Game 7â€™s that he plays in.
The bottom six includes a concoction of grit, speed and sneaky offensive talent. Teuvo Teravainen may have the best vision on the Blackhawks roster at 20 years old and is cutting his teeth on the third line alongside Antoine Vermette, a skilled face-off specialist and excellent defender. The â€œfourthâ€ line of Andrew Desjardins, Marcus Kruger and Andrew Shaw has been the most constant line for Chicago despite facing opponentâ€™s top lines every night. Desjardins was supposed to be a guy to help relieve cap space at the trade deadline and has shown that he can shut down opponents and skate with the scoring forwards in a pinch.
Letâ€™s not forget that Kane, recovering from a broken clavicle, wasnâ€™t supposed to come back until roughly the Western Conference Final. Heâ€™s played each playoff game and is second in goals and points this postseason. His scoring has also aided the Hawks in staying in front on the scoreboard. When leading, Chicago has three players in the top 10 of shots for. When the Hawks lead, they will more often than not keep the pressure on in the offensive zone.
Fun facts: Chicago eliminated two Vezina Trophy finalists in consecutive rounds and the â€œhot-handedâ€ Frederik Andersen. Sometimes offense is your best defense. The Blackhawks have one of the most mediocre power plays considering the talent that skates on it. After scoring on 17.6% of their chances during the regular season, the Hawks shot up to 19.6% this postseason. It is one of the real head-scratchers with this team and something that could land them in trouble if they cannot capitalize. Tampa Bay has shut down 81.2% of man advantages, a respectable number.
Four-Man Defensive Crew
Ryan Kesler made the mistake of saying that hits would wear down a team like Chicago. Teams arenâ€™t supposed to be able to endure that much punishment, right? Teams can apparently (and have for a while), and the main targets of that punishment in this case have been a top-heavy Blackhawks defensive group. Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya are playing well over 20 minutes a night, leaving the remaining scraps for Kyle Cumiskey and David Runblad.
Should there be concern about the length of the playoffs finally wearing on three defensemen 30 years and older? Well no, thanks to the NHL for scheduling extra days off in between multiple games. If youâ€™re not familiar with Duncan Keithâ€™s conditioning program, youâ€™ll also know why more minutes are welcomed by the Conn Smythe Trophy favorite.
Seriously, as Keith has gone, so have the Blackhawks. He carried Seabrook through his rough patches and has teamed up with Hjalmarsson to shut down top lines nightly. The re-emergence of Oduya cannot be brought up enough. For majority of the 2014-15 season, he looked like he had lost a step and was regressing on both ends of the ice. His play in the defensive zone against Anaheim was rivaled only by Keith.
The defense will have to do their best to stay out of the penalty box against the Lighting. The top four is also depended to spend majority of the time on a poor penalty killing unit. Chicago has seen their top-10 83.4% penalty kill drop to a miserable 75.5% in 17 playoff games. Tampa can score on the man advantage, and the loss of any blueliner gives the Lightning that much more of an advantage.
When it comes to shutting down a teamâ€™s offense, few do it like Chicago. Ask Nashville, ask Minnesota who never led in their second round match-up, and ask Anaheim who exited in traditional Game 7 fashion.
Crow Says No
Corey Crawford earned a seat on the bench in the Nashville series. He lost his net and the team in front of him lost their grip on NHL-caliber defense. It happens, and since Crawford has regained his net, heâ€™s been the calming presence that helped lead the Blackhawks to the 2013 Stanley Cup and has earned him a share of two Jennings Trophies for allowing the fewest goals during the regular season.
Crawford showed just how good he can be no matter the situation. In the two overtime games against Anaheim that lasted a combined 201 minutes and 41 seconds, he stopped 107 of 113 shots on goal, good for a 93.8 save percentage. Crawford also had two games where he had a save percentage below 90.9% upon his return from his demotion. No matter what criticism he has or has not deserved, the soft-spoken netminder will play an integral role in a Stanley Cup win.
Odds and Ends
Richards is one of three New York Rangers from the 2013-14 team playing in this yearâ€™s Cup Final. The Lightning signed forward Brian Boyle and defenseman Anton Stralman in the offseason. Richards could win his second Cup in his career with the first coming in 2004 with Tampa Bay. Richards signed with Chicago to show he can still contribute and knowing that the end of his playing time could be near. It would be something to see him win another championship after few teams were willing to take a chance on him this past offseason.
Love them or hate them, the Chicago Blackhawks are on the verge of their third Stanley Cup in six seasons. The roster is lined with great players and future Hall of Famerâ€™s looking to strike again before the business side of hockey takes over. Now is the time to cement a few legacies on Chicagoâ€™s West Side.