Having rested up after losing a close decision in Game One of the Stanley Cup Final, the Tampa Bay Lightning will take to the ice at Amalie Arena for a second go-around with the Chicago Blackhawks tonight. While tonight’s game is not technically a must-win for the Bolts, the tone of the series moving forward will largely depend on its outcome.
While they did drop the first game at Amalie, somewhere they have struggled to put up wins in the postseason, the Lightning proved a lot in the first game of the Final. They showed that they have the ability to compete with the Blackhawks, shut down their big stars, and limit shots on goal against. They also proved that they can make the Hawks run a little bit when they are skating and playing their game. Doing those things once doesn’t guarantee that they will happen again, though. Tampa will need to bring its A-game this evening.
Another thing we learned, or rather confirmed, is that Chicago can do to Tampa what few teams have been able to do. Mainly, the Blackhawks can pin the Lightning in their own end and force them to defend. The Hawks can roll four lines comfortably, and generate offense from all corners of the roster. There was a lot of talk about Tampa’s forward depth during the regular season, but it’s nothing compared to Chicago’s.
The key, then, will be for the Lightning to minimize the impact of that Chicago forward depth. Holding Jonathan Toews (38%CF) and Patrick Kane (40%CF) at bay isn’t going to be enough on most nights. Though, it’s absolutely worth mentioning that the Lightning’s work against that dynamic duo was stellar. Only Niklas Hjalmarsson had a worse five-on-five Corsi percentage than those two in Game One.
If they are going to play defense as a five-man unit and beat the Blackhawks in Game Two, it would appear as though Jon Cooper’s Lightning will go with a lineup similar to the one that dropped the first game. From yesterday’s practice:
Today’s optional morning skate begins at 10:30. Cooper will likely give fans and media some hints about tonight’s lineup when the skate begins. I won’t be around to report on it, unfortunately, as I have a flight to catch in just a few moments here. Thankfully it lands just before puck drop!
One of the things to look for tonight, aside from which team puts the puck in the net more than the other team, is how the groups settle in after the feeling-out process that was Game One. There won’t be too many surprises tonight, as players on both sides know that both teams can play with speed, tenacity, and offensive flare. Chicago has been on this stage before, and thus knows how to respond. This is a new situation for Tampa Bay. The question now is how they react to it.
As always, thanks for reading.
Michael Stuart has been the Tampa Bay Lightning writer for HockeyBuzz since 2012. Visit his archive to read more or follow him on Twitter.