Chicago Blackhawks (+115) at Tampa Bay Lightning (-127, 5 o/u)
After coming back from a 3-2 deficit to oust the top-seeded Ducks, Jonathan Toews and the Chicago Blackhawks (48-28-6) will make their third Stanley Cup finals appearance over the last six seasons against Steven Stamkos and the Tampa Bay Lightning (50-24-8). Game 1 goes tonight at Amalie Arena in Tampa (8:00 PM Eastern).
Thanks to a better regular season record, the Lightning will have home ice advantage, but the experienced Hawks are slight favorites to hoist Lord Stanley’s mug.
The Chicago offense has stepped up its game in the postseason, averaging 3.2 GPG (up from 2.7 in the regular season). The return of Patrick Kane to the lineup has boosted what was already a dynamic attack; the diminutive winger leads the team with 20 points, while Toews is right behind with 18.
Despite already having two cups to his name, Toews remains as hungry as ever to finish the year on top.
“You never want to rest on your laurels,” the Chicago captain said to the Associated Press on Tuesday after practice. “You want to keep creating new moments and new memories.”
Toews was huge in Game 7 against Anaheim, scoring two first-period goals to put his team up early on the road.
On the other side, the Lightning also won a Game 7 on the road to advance to their first Stanley Cup finals since 2004, beating the Rangers at the Madison Garden (2-0). While Stamkos – one of the most lethal snipers in the league – will garner most of the attention from Chicago’s top checkers, it’s been the “Triplets” line of Tyler Johnson (21 points), Nikita Kucherov (19 points), and Ondrej Palat (15 points) that has done the bulk of the damage for Tampa to date.
For Stamkos, the series is an opportunity to expand his legacy from prolific goal scorer to proven leader and champion, everything that Toews and the Hawks already represent.
“There’s no doubt [Chicago is] a team that you measure yourself against,” Stamkos said to the AP. “They’ve been on top for so long, it seems like they were always there.”
Stamkos and company have the trends on their side, taking three of the last four from Chicago (dating back to 2013). But Chicago’s offense has been putting on a show in this postseason. Look for the veteran Hawks to come out hard, making Chicago (+115) the better value.
Pick: Blackhawks (+115).
(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.)