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SportsMondayWednesday: Stanley Cup Preview

Others will provide you with the position-by-position match-ups, the careful calibrations of which team has which advantages heading into Hawks versus Lightning and finally a prediction of what will happen.

Hold on a second, I can certainly do the prediction part. Here it is: Hawks in 6. But I then have to admit, that is my prediction because that is what I want to happen.

But beware of those delightful analysts who go on and on about what is going to happen, get it wrong and then without fail come back and do it again the next week.

It all comes down to one simple truth: when the rubber hits the ice, especially when the series is on the line after we get the first few games out of the way, all of that stuff won't mean squat.

Only one question matters: How do players react to the all-encompassing pressure when the series is on the line?

This Blackhawks team just finished handling it as well as any Chicago team I can remember. When they faced elimination, the Hawks played their best five periods of the season (the second and third in Game 6 and all three in Game 7) against the Ducks.

Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau was out-coached as well, and Duck goalie Frederik Andersen went south as the series wore on, but really, up and down the rosters, the Hawks found a final, extra gear throughout those last two contests and the Ducks did not.

The tricky part here is that the Lightning also reacted well to pressure in their series against the Rangers - and did so on multiple occasions earlier in these playoffs. While the Hawks did get a break from it in the second-round (the four-game sweep of the Wild), the Lightning were barely squeaking by the whole way. Then, finally, In Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals, they tightened the screws defensively led by powerhouse blue-liner Victor Hedman, and strangled the Rangers 2-0.

So which team will handle the pressure most effectively in the Finals? Anyone who gives a definitive answer is a buffoon. Past performance would indicate the Hawks have the edge. They have more considerably more end-of-playoffs experience after all, don't they?

But what do they say about past performance and future results? The bottom line is, great teams break eventually break through. And there is a great chance the Lightning are a great team.

So let's get back to what I would like to see happen in this final series. Well, I'd like to see Bryan Bickell score a goal. He was unfairly maligned after that Game 5 overtime loss to the Ducks and while it has been disappointing he hasn't scored in these playoffs like he has in the past, the Hawks have a whole bunch of players with more skill than he has who have an even bigger responsibility to produce offensively.

Bickell's job for these Hawks has been to be a physical presence, and he has led them in hits in the playoffs. But didn't we just get a great example of "hits" being overrated? The Ducks led every conference final game in hits and they were certain they were wearing down the Hawks. Not so much.

There is a place for being physical but, especially in crunch time games, there is a bigger place for not taking penalties and for grinding grinding grinding to set up scoring chances rather than cruising around trying to set an opponent up for a bruising.

As I sign off, the main thing I would like to see is what cannot help but happen - two great hockey teams with pleasing styles of play facing off with everything on the line. Drop the puck already.


Official Trailer Of The Stanley Cup Finals!


Comments welcome.

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