There really aren't too many games you circle on the dreadfully long NHL schedule each year, but one of them absolutely arrives Saturday in Chicago as the Blackhawks host the Tampa Bay Lighting for the first time since last season's Stanley Cup Finals. And it wouldn't shock me to see a rematch this June, either. Many people think the young, talented Lightning are where the Blackhawks were in 2010 when they won their first Cup. Saturday's game should have live betting at some books as it's nationally televised by the NHL Network, although obviously opposite college football and the MLB playoffs, so it will be buried somewhat.
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Chicago won Game 1 of the 2015 Finals in Tampa but dropped the next two. Then Hawks goaltender Corey Crawford really raised his game, allowing just two total goals over the next three, and Chicago tallied two exactly in each of those three to win its third Cup this decade. The Blackhawks clinched the Cup on home ice for the first time in 77 years -- it's been a great year for Chicago teams to clinch things at home as the Cubs recently clinched a playoff series at Wrigley Field for the first time ever.
Duncan Keith was named the Conn Smythe Trophy winner and became the second defenseman in history to win the Conn Smythe and score the game-winning goal in the Cup-clinching game. Hall of Famer Bobby Orr did it for the Boston Bruins in 1970 and 1972. The series easily could have gone the other way. It was only the second Stanley Cup Finals to begin with five one-goal games and no team enjoyed a two-goal advantage until the third period of Game 6. Lightning superstar Steven Stamkos didn't score at all in the series.
Bovada oddsmakers expect a rematch this summer as the Lightning are +400 favorites to win the Eastern Conference again and Chicago is the same price to repeat in the West.
Here are some other games to watch this week.
St. Louis at Montreal, Tuesday: As storied a franchise as Montreal is, you would think it would have won five straight games to open a season several times, yet this was the first season it had happened. The three previous times that Montreal started a season with four wins in a row (1955-56, 1970-71 and 1977-78), the Canadiens won the Stanley Cup. The Habs are actually 6-0 now after Saturday's win over Detroit; five of those victories are by at least two goals. Habs goalie Carey Price was named the NHL's First Star for last week as he went 3-0-0 with a .963 save percentage. Interesting statistic in that the only two teams left that entered the NHL in 1967-68 or earlier that have yet to start with five straight wins are the Blues and Los Angeles Kings. St. Louis winger Vladimir Tarsenko was the Third Star for last week as he had three goals and three assists as the Blues went 4-0. This game ends a six-game trip for them. The Habs are -135 favorites with a total of 5.
Florida at Pittsburgh, Tuesday: The big individual story line thus far in the early season is that Penguins star Sidney Crosby, who was your Hart Trophy favorite at sportsbooks, doesn't have a single point in the Penguins' five games. That ties a career-worst stretch, set in 2009. Crosby, who has led the NHL in points per game in each of the past five seasons, has only attempted eight shots. The Pittsburgh power play has yet to score as well. Coach Mike Johnston is shaking up his top power-play unit. That group will now be Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, Patric Hornqvist and Kris Letang. The Penguins led the league in power-play goals last year. They are -170 favorites for this game.
Anaheim at Nashville, Thursday: Many NHL experts liked the Ducks to win the West this season, but they enter this week with just three points in five games and they already have played four at home. Maybe they figured something out Sunday in a 4-1 win over the Wild. Anaheim entered that game with only one goal all season. This trip to Nashville starts a five-game roadie. The Predators have lost only once thus far. They lead the NHL in penalty-killing percentage at 92.9. The status of Nashville defenseman Ryan Ellis is in question. He blocked a shot off of his right knee in the third period of Saturday's game and had to leave.
Boston at NY Islanders, Friday: What is wrong with Bruins netminder Tuukka Rask? He has allowed at least three goals in all four starts and is 1-3-0 with a 4.29 goals-against average and .851 save percentage. Boston is second in the league in scoring and first on the power play but is struggling because it's 29th in GAA and 26th in killing off penalties (72.2 percent). The Islanders lost their Brooklyn debut on Oct. 9 but have since won three straight at the Barclays Center. No. 1 goalie Jaroslav Halak made his season debut off an upper-body injury on Saturday and beat the Sharks 6-3. This game is nationally televised by the NHL Network so should have live betting at the books.
Easily the biggest injury of last week was to San Jose center Logan Couture. He broke his leg during practice, but it's actually not a terrible break and Couture is projected to miss only 4-6 weeks. Couture had one assist through three games while centering the second line between Patrick Marleau and Joel Ward. Couture played all 82 games last year for the first time in his career and had 27 goals and 40 assists.
It might be time for excellent-but-injury-plagued Red Wings forward Johan Franzen to consider retirement because he's hurt again -- and it's concussion-related again. Franzen, 35, had an assist in the first of the two games he played this season, but all of a sudden he started dealing with concussion-like symptoms from a head injury suffered in January, at least the fourth concussion of his career. He only played in 33 games last year because of the problem and also suffered from them in 2006 and 2008. Franzen has five years and $12.5 million left on his contract. He has been placed on long-term IR, which gave the Wings salary-cap relief and opened a roster spot.
Calgary has lost center Lance Bouma indefinitely has he broke his fibula in a game last week against St. Louis. Don't look for him to return for about three months. "It's a big loss for us," coach Bob Hartley said. Bouma was scoreless in three games after setting career-highs with 16 goals and 34 points last season.
Dallas lost center Patrick Eaves to injured reserve with a lower-body injury. He was scoreless in three games after scoring 14 goals and 27 points in 47 games last season, his first with the Stars.
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