Chicago Blackhawks (+110) at Tampa Bay Lightning (-120)
As the Stanley Cup Finals shifts back to Tampa to begin a now best-of-three series, the Blackhawks and Lightning have proven to be a closer match-up then most would have anticipated. Not only are the teams deadlocked in games, they have the same number of goals (9) and penalty minutes (24), and are nearly deadlocked in shots (107-104 in favor of the Hawks). Tampa’s youngsters are pushing Chicago’s experienced squad to the brink and, with home ice advantage over the final stretch, youth may be served in 2015.
The story entering Game 5 tonight (8:00 PM Eastern at Amalie Arena) will be whether Ben Bishop is ready to go in net for the Bolts. After getting run into a few times during Game 3, Tampa’s netminder was shockingly absent from the crease in Game 4. Head coach Jon Cooper is mostly to blame for that surprise, as he apparently knew Bishop couldn’t go, but waited until the last second to tip his hand.
Rookie Andrei Vasilevskiy was serviceable in Bishop’s stead in Game 4, stopping 17 of 19 shots in a 2-1 loss. Like the first time Vasilevskiy appeared in Game 2, Chicago failed to really challenge him, but luckily they received a stellar effort from their own Corey Crawford (24 saves) to secure the win.
Tampa has helped its rookie netminder – and Bishop, before him – by getting in the shooting lanes; they’ve blocked 60 shots already this series. But, if Vasilevskiy is in net again for Game 5, expect Chicago to make a concerted effort to throw more rubber his way recognizing that the Russian has an .895 save percentage.
The Lightning tried to slow the pace of the game in front of their rookie netminder, limiting the chances for both teams. But both games Tampa has won this series were more open, and saw the Bolts’ shooters make more of their opportunities. They may revert back to that style if Bishop is ready to go.
No matter who they’re playing in front of, though, Tampa will need to improve when they have the man advantage, going 0-4 on Wednesday and 1-11 in the series.
For Chicago, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane finally got off the schneid in Game 4; Kane assisted on Brandon Saad’s game-winning goal, while Toews had the other marker. The Hawks got more good news when Johnny Oduya, who’s battling an upper body injury, was able to suit up for Game 4 and log significant ice-time. The Hawks continue to rely heavily on their top four d-men (Oduya, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, and Nick Hjalmarsson) with each one playing over 24 minutes in Game 4.
The Lightning’s chances in this game will depend on Bishop’s ability to play, and play well. As much as the team wants to wax poetic about Vasilevskiy, with the rookie back there, they can’t play the confident attacking style that has gotten them this far. But even if Bishop is a go, take Chicago on the road; the Blackhawks’ have experience on their side and their big-time forwards are trending upwards.
Pick: Chicago (+110)
(Photo Credit: Lisa Gansky (Flickr: IMG_9865) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.)
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