Tampa Bay Lightning (+155) at Chicago Blackhawks (-175)
Looking back to Game 1 of these Stanley Cup Finals, the Lightning must be thinking, “what might have been?” If the Bolts had not blown a third-period lead in Game 1, they would have a chance to hoist Lord Stanley’s mug tonight when they visit the Blackhawks at the United Center for Game 4 (8:00 PM Eastern).
As it stands, Tampa is still in a great position after wrestling home-ice advantage back from Chicago with a gritty 3-2, Game 3 win to put them ahead 2-1 in the series. The Bolts got a late goal from third-liner Cedric Paquette – the second of the game from his line – and 36 saves from Ben Bishop to seal the victory.
Bishop was a question mark to play on Monday after exiting Game 2 with an undisclosed injury. Whatever was bothering him, it couldn’t have been helped when Brandon Saad crashed into his head in the second period. Expect the Blackhawks to take more liberties with Tampa’s netminder in Game 4, since their offense needs all the help it can get.
Patrick Kane is still without a point in this series and captain Jonathan Toews has just a single assist. The best offensive players for Chicago have been rookie Teuvo Teravainen and fourth-line pest Andrew Shaw. The depth contributions are nice, but if their big guns (who play over 20 minutes a night) aren’t getting it done, they’ll need to play tighter defense and hope to win more 2-1 affairs.
However, tightening up on the back end could be an issue, too, after Johnny Oduya had to leave Game 3 with an injury. His status is up in the air for tonight and that’s bad news for a Chicago team that plays its top four D-men into the ground. If Oduya can’t go, rookie Trevor Van Riemsdyk will likely be asked to step up, since Kyle Cumisky and David Rundblad have been awful these playoffs.
Chicago still has some positives to take from these early games: they’ve dominated in the faceoff circle 101-77; they’ve kept Steven Stamkos and Tampa’s top line in check (though the second line is another story); and, most importantly, they are still very much alive in the series even though they have yet to play their best.
So, despite Corey Crawford’s inability to handle shots from the goal line, Patrick Sharp’s inability to stop his stick from getting stupid penalties, and the general disarray on the blueline, this is still a core that has won the Cup twice in the past five years. I’m not saying Tampa won’t still win the series, but I can’t see them winning two straight at the “Madhouse” against this group.
Pick: Chicago (-175)
(Photo Credit: Lisa Gansky from New York, NY, USA (IMG_7545) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.)
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