As a player I always enjoyed analyzing the way both Stanley Cup Final teams were built. It was a good way to compare my own team to the elite squads in the league and to see how far (or close) we were to real success. There were springs where I felt my team wasn’t too many pieces away. There were other springs where I just stopped the process entirely.
It doesn’t take a genius to look at the strengths of both teams – Chicago and Tampa Bay. The top six, for both sides, are elite groups. Skate, score, create, lead — any team would be happy with either of those groups in their own squad. There is no doubt that you need a lot of talent on your first two lines to win at the NHL level.
In net, I happen to like Crawford more than most people. I really don’t understand all the negative press that he gets. He has won big games on the biggest stage. He is a Stanley Cup champion. How many goalies in the NHL can say that? Very few. I would be happy to have Crawford as my goalie. Sure, he lets in some bad goals but show me a goalie that doesn’t. It isn’t about the bad goals. It is about how a goalie responds and bounces back from those from game to game. Crawford has shown he can bounce back. That is a skill that not every goalie has.
Bishop is a monster in the net. How can a shooter even see the net when he is in position? He does not have the resume of a Crawford but he has put some good teams and goalies out to pasture this post season. Pretty impressive. He is building his resume. It will be interesting to see what happens in the near future with Vasilevskiy coming on strong behind him. Many people I respect who really know goalies think Vasilevskiy could be a great goalie. Nice problem for Yzerman to have going forward.
A good goalie is required to have a deep run in the NHL playoffs. I don’t think a great goalie is needed. At this point in their careers I would not consider either Crawford or Bishop a top five NHL goalie. I am sure their team mates would disagree but I would have them after the top five, probably closer to ten. Still pretty good but not Price or Renne.
These goalies are helped by a good group of D in front of them. Keith, Seabrook and Hjalmarsson are elite as are Hedman and Stralman. These guys move the puck, defend with their feet, log a lot of minutes and contribute offensively with their shots or by jumping into the play.
Watching Hedman at his size carry the puck up the ice last night, skate around Seabrook to set up the winning goal was a thing of beauty. How Seabrook gets open in the offensive zone to tee up a slap shot from the ladies tees pretty much every game is impressive. Keith — do I even have to waste the space to say how good he has been these playoffs? It is incredible how much he plays at such a high pace and level. Hjalmarsson and Stralman are very steady. They make very few mistakes.
Elite Dmen are needed for a deep playoff run. That is clear. They help the goalie so much. I would take a very strong top four on D over an elite goalie. I think that a strong group of D make the chances against more predictable for a goalie. His chances of stopping those shots are much higher. A weaker group of D make life crazy for a goalie. He never knows where or when chances against are coming from.
In a perfect world I would take both but given the choice I would go with the D.
That leaves the bottom six forwards. Going into this series I felt that the Hawks had a clear advantage in this area. They have more skill in that group. I felt this area of weakness for Tampa. It doesn’t take Don Cherry to figure out that players with skill sets like Sharp,Teravainen, Shaw and Kruger should outscore the likes of Morrow, Boyle, Brown and Callahan.
It was no secret the bottom six of Tampa have not scored much in these playoffs. After last night Paquette is the leading score of his group with three goals in over 20 games. That isn’t much production and it puts pressure on the top six to score.
It seems to go against conventional wisdom that a team built like Tampa without much depth of scoring can have success in the playoffs. Most people think that three scoring lines are required and than an energy line. So how are they up 2-1 in the Stanley cup finals?
As I watch Tampa play I keep coming back to their third line. It changes a little but from game to game but Callahan, Paquette and Brown are having an impact on the games even though, other than last night, they aren’t scoring often. These three have limited the time and space of the Hawks’ forwards. Every time the Hawks get the puck they are being pressured but one of these three when they are on the ice. If the D do get it on the blue line they are taking away shooting lanes with their bodies and not their sticks. They finish their checks.
For players like Toews and Kane they want space and the ability to create in that space. These are elite players but their lives are much easier when get the puck with room to move. Neither player has created much for the Hawks offensively so far in this series. Tampa is doing a nice job of stepping up on them. If you need to get a clear picture of what I am talking about watch the last three minutes of game three.
When the game was in the critical moments last night it was the third line who were out there for Tampa. They were not flashy but they got the job done. For head coach Cooper they are comfort food. He trusts them to make the right decisions. They block shots like crazy, chip pucks out and are in solid position to defend or fore check.
Clear roles are a huge part of success for a team. There is no better feeling for a player than being put into a role on a team that you know you are able to fulfill. There must not be a better feeling for a coach to see your player accept his role and perform it. This is a pretty basic way to create success.
I like a third line like this on a team. A line that a coach trusts against any opponent. A line that is pretty consistent in its effort and delivery. Many of you will say I am wrong. That a third line needs to score and contribute more offensively. That the bottom six need to score more goals as a whole. That this chemistry will not work.
To you, I say Tampa is two wins away from a Stanley Cup.