Chicago Blackhawks (+105) at Tampa Bay Lightning (-125, 5.5 o/u)
The Chicago Blackhawks (48-28-6) and Tampa Bay Lightning (50-24-8) are knotted at two games apiece in the 2015 Stanley Cup Finals. With the series now a best-of-three, the winner of Game 5 tomorrow (8:00 PM Eastern Amalie Arena) will take a huge step toward claiming the title.
Statistically, there is very little to separate the teams through four games. The Blackhawks have 107 shots and nine goals, while the Lightning have 104 shots and nine goals; neither team has held more than a one-goal lead at any point in the series.
However, the Hawks may have the edge over the final three contests as the status of Tampa goalie Ben Bishop, who has been dealing with an unknown lower body injury, remains in doubt. There’s no update on whether he will play in Game 5, meaning rookie Andrei Vasilevskiy may be back between the pipes for the young Lightning squad.
The Russian wasn’t terrible in Game 4, letting in two goals on 19 shots. But he is a significant downgrade from Bishop, who was playing Conn Smythe-worthy in the Tampa net before going down with his undisclosed injury.
In addition to his puck-stopping abilities, Tampa will also miss Bishop’s puck-handling if he remains on the bench in Game 5.
“As an opposing team, when you know you’re playing against a goalie that can handle the puck like Bish, it changes the way you play,” Bolts d-man Matt Carle told YahooSports.com. “You have to be conscious of dumping pucks in and keeping it away from the goaltender.”
Chicago managed to take Game 1 of the series in Tampa (2-1) but, in reality, stole that one late after playing poorly for most of the night. If they’re going to emerge from Florida with a 3-2 series lead, they’ll have to continue to limit Tampa’s chances. Games 2 and 3 – both of which went to the Lightning – saw the teams trade scoring chances with Tampa’s league-leading offense capitalizing at a higher clip.
“I think we got caught up thinking it would be run-and-gun,” Chicago forward Brad Richards said to the AP. “And if we do that, we just feed them. We’ve got to be more patient than them.”
The health of Ben Bishop will likely be the difference-maker over the last three games of the series. Even if Bishop suits up tomorrow, he hasn’t looked comfortable since Game 2 which makes the Blackhawks (+105) the better play.
Pick: Chicago (+105).
(Photo credit: By Leech44 (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. Photo has been cropped.)