The matchup between the Tampa Bay Lightning center Tyler Johnson and Chicago Blackhawks right wing Patrick Kane highlights what could be a thrilling Stanley Cup Finals beginning with Wednesday night’s Game 1 at Amalie Arena. Johnson leads all players with 21 total points and 12 goals throughout the postseason, while Kane is right behind in both categories with 20 points and 12 goals as the two sides prep for the opening clash of the best-of-seven series.
No bad blood has been spilled between the teams in the short buildup to the series. Instead, admiration for the counterpart's skills and the prediction of a high-flying series has made up most of the build up.
“We play different styles, for sure, but he’s an amazing player,” Johnson said to the Chicago Sun-Times in reference to Kane. “He’s a guy that I really love watching on the highlight tapes and seeing what he can do. It’s going to be fun playing against him. He’s going to be a challenge. He’s a great player and I like to be challenged like that. So if we’re matched against him, it’s going to be fun.”
If Kane carries over his incredible performance against the Anaheim Ducks in the Western Conference Finals, Johnson might not consider it so much fun in the end. The 26-year-old Kane lit up the Ducks net three times and assisted four more goals, including three in the decisive 5-3 Game 7 victory that advanced Chicago to a third Cup Finals in the last five years.
Johnson’s also had his share of moments in these playoffs that could give the Blackhawks top defensemen Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook fits. Appearing in his first championship round after only two full years in the league, Johnson’s hat trick in Game 2 against the New York Rangers in the East Finals eventually resulted in four total goals and five assists in the series.
But if either is ruled in effective, there is plenty of scoring up and down Tampa Bay and Chicago’s lines to make this one of the highest scoring Finals in years. Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov is fourth among all players with 19 total points, including 10 assists. Half of those came against a Rangers defense that was third in the NHL this year.
Tampa Bay’s loaded and young front lines are led by veteran Steven Stamkos, who led the team with 43 goals during the regular season, but has stepped back to let the speedy Johnson and Kucherov take over.
Kane is still running with his usual and proven line mates Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, and Marian Hossa, with Keith serving as top playmaker with 16 assists. Toews has racked up nine goals in these playoffs, two of broke the Ducks back in the first period of Game 7.
With so much talent all over these attacks, the series could very well come down to the goalies, Chicago’s Corey Crawford and Tampa Bay’s massive net-minder Ben Bishop. Crawford has the experience edge, with 68 career postseason starts and two Cups. He also withstood several difficult tests from Anaheim to allow only five goals over the final two games of the series for a .919 save percentage in the postseason.
Bishop though stands as one of the biggest goalies in the NHL at 6-foot-7, and in the first playoff run of his career he leads all keepers with 12 wins and three shutouts. The Denver native even silenced the Rangers the formidable attack twice.
Start Time: 8 p.m. ET
TV Channel: NBC
Live Online: A live stream is available at NBC Live Extra here
Betting Odds: Lightning -1.5; over/under 5 goals
Prediction: Chicago over Tampa Bay, 4-2