The NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs are down to the final two teams: the Chicago Blackhawks and the Tampa Bay Lightning. Both teams are coming off pretty convincing game 7 wins. The Lightning blanked the New York Rangers 2-0 in their game 7, while the Blackhawks rode two quick goals on the way to a 5-3 game 7 victory against the Anaheim Ducks. For Anaheim, that was their 3rd consecutive game 7 loss at home.
The collapse came abruptly for Anaheim, which went a record-tying 14 games into the postseason without a regulation defeat until losing the last two games by a combined score of 10-5. The Ducks blew a 3-2 series lead each time, although on the bright side for them, each year they made it one step closer than the last. Game 1 is slated Wednesday night in Tampa as they had the better regular season record. If you had put money on the Lightning back when there were 4 teams left, they were 4-1 to win the Cup. Now they are a +150 underdog, while Chicago is -130. I think there will be a similar story line this year as last in that the team who wins the West will win the Cup.
Last year, the Blackhawks and Kings played an epic 7 game series that was decided in overtime, and Los Angeles went on to win the Cup. This year, I think whoever won that Chicago-Anaheim series would go on to win, no matter if they played New York or Tampa. Chicago has the experience. Their average age is just under 29 years of age, but this will be their 3rd Cup Finals in 6 years. They have won the Cup in each of their previous two appearances.
This is the first long playoff run for Tampa captain Stamkos, who was still a young player when the Lightning lost to the Bruins in Game 7 of the 2011 conference finals. After a slow start this spring (one goal in his first 11 playoff games) he has heated up and been a difference maker for the Tampa, at one point scoring in four straight games against the Rangers. I don’t think this series will go 7. I would take Chicago in 6, and see them winning a Cup at home finally.