TAMPA – As teams are wont to do during the playoffs, the Tampa Bay Lightning shed absolutely no light on their injury situation going into Game 3 of the Stanley Cup final. But No. 1 goalie Ben Bishop took part in the skate, went side to side in his net and was the first goalie off the ice, all indications he’ll be good to go for the game.
“One of them is playing,” said Lightning coach Jon Cooper. “It’s Vasi (Andrei Vasilevskiy) or Bish (Bishop). That will be determined tonight.”
Well, that clears things up. Chances are, it will be Bishop and chances are the Lightning will give the Blackhawks everything they can handle in the next two games. Actually, the two games at the United Center will provide an interesting backdrop for the series. The Lightning has been a far better team on the road than it has been at home in these playoffs, going 7-3 away from the Amalie Arena. The Lightning was 2-1 at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit in Round 1, 2-1 at the Bell Centre in Montreal in the second round and 3-1 at Madison Square Garden in New York in the Eastern Conference final. None of them would be considered an easy place to win a game.
The Blackhawks, on the other hand, have been golden at home in these playoffs. They are 7-1 at the United Center in this post-season, with their only loss coming to the Anaheim Ducks in Game 3 of the Western Conference final. One thing working in the Blackhawks favor in the next two games is they will have the last change, which means they’ll have a better chance of getting Jonathan Toews away from Cedric Paquette and Patrick Kane away from Victor Hedman.
Kane struggling against Hedman is something we can all understand. But those of you who predicted before the series that Paquette would have such a collaring effect on Toews, raise your hand. Then go to the head of the class and collect your gold star.
For the Lightning, this ability to win on the road has come as something of a surprise. During the regular season, the Lightning was just 18-16-7 on the road, which was the worst among teams that qualified for the playoffs. But it has managed to find its game in the iconic Original Six buildings where you’d think it might be a little intimidated.
The turning point, according to Lightning captain Steven Stamkos, came in the first round when the Lightning faced a must-win situation in Game 6 of the first round against Detroit. Facing elimination and going into Joe Louis Arena, the Lightning emerged with a statement-making 5-2 win.
“After that Detroit series, there was a real calming influence on the guys,” Stamkos said. “We went into that building and it was loud, an octopus thrown on the ice and all the distractions you can think of and guys really embraced that and I think since that series, there’s been just a real calm demeanor on our team when we’ve come on the road. And there’s no panic. No matter what happens, we’re comfortable playing in very tight checking games and that’s why we’ve been successful.”
The Lightning has had a couple of statement games on the road. You might recall that in Games 5 and 7 of the conference final, they beat the Rangers 2-0 in both games. In fact, the Lightning enters tonight’s game having not given up a goal on the road in 145 minutes and 43 seconds.
“We’ve embraced the challenge of playing on the road this playoffs, whatever the reason may be,” Stamkos said. “I know we want to win at home in front of our fans, but guys were excited to get on the road and we’re going to try to continue to play the tight-checking games and feel confident in our ability, like we have all playoffs.”
The Blackhawks will also likely have some different looks for Game 3. Trevor van Riemsdyk will likely draw in on defense, replacing David Rundblad. And Bryan Bickell is expected to make his return in place of Kris Versteeg. And while the Lightning has a question of which goalie will play, the Blackhawks know Corey Crawford will be there for them. But they need him to be better than he was in Game 2.
“The one thing about ‘Crow,’ he moves on to the next challenge,” said Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville. “I don’t think he’s influenced by what’s happened in the prior game. I think he rebounds as good as any goalie in the game. We expect him to be sharp tonight and ready.”