Getting past the Tampa Bay Lightning hasn’t been easy, as this series is about as close as they come.
The Blackhawks took Game Five on Saturday night with a 2-1 victory. Antoine Vermette had the game-winner, his second game-winning goal in these Stanley Cup Finals.
Chicago also took Game Four with a 2-1 victory, evening out the series at that point. Game Three belonged to Tampa, with a 3-2 win, while Game Two also went in the Lightning’s favour with a 4-3 victory. Chicago won the first game of the series and the score was, you guessed it, 2-1.
Nobody has had a two-goal lead in these Finals and that’s something that has never happened in NHL history. Pick any game in the series and it’s been impossibly close all the way down the line. Shots in Game Five were 32-29 for Tampa. Blocked shots were 18-16 for the Blackhawks. The only real disparity in Game Five came in the hits department, with the Lightning having twice as many as their opponents.
As close as things have been thus far, there are good reasons to think Chicago could close this thing out on Monday at home.
For one, the Lightning are bruised and battered. The “Triplets” line took a hit with Nikita Kucherov leaving Game Five with an injury. And Tampa goalie Ben Bishop is hurt too, although he pulled through it. Some wondered if that was a good idea, what with a major error giving Patrick Sharp a goal and what with some serious problems noted with Bishop going side-to-side.
The Blackhawks will exploit that, too, and that could be a problem. Tampa coach Jon Cooper has said that Bishop will play if he’s healthy, but what does that really mean? The netminder claimed to be feeling better after the game, but that seems unlikely.
Still, Bishop hung in and made some critical saves. And the status on Kucherov won’t really be known until later, although it certainly looked bad when he slid into that post. Jonathan Drouin will likely get another chance if Kucherov can’t play on Monday.
Chicago is hoping to win their first Stanley Cup at home since 1938 and they’ve got an awful lot of momentum going into the big game. They’ve gotten goals from their secondary scorers and have been able to contain Steven Stamkos. And now they have the chance to pick apart a wounded team.
Tampa will not go down without a fight, but you have to wonder if Game Six will be as close as the rest of the series.