The defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning will open defense of their title when they host the Chicago Blackhawks on Wednesday night.
The Blackhawks are coming off of a down year, finishing seventh in the conference but able to sneak into the playoffs with a record of 32-30 with 72 points. They were eliminated in five games in the first round of the playoffs by the Las Vegas Golden Knights.
Tampa Bay, on the other hand, is looking towards the present and future as they’re the defending Stanley Cup champions. They did it all without the help of star forward Steven Stamkos, who was hurt for the entirety of the playoffs until Game 3 of the finals, where he played only 2:47 but scored on his only shot of the game.
Experience is priceless
The Blackhawks are past their hockey prime as they dominated the front half of the 2010s, winning three championships in five years. Captain, first-liner, and former first overall pick Patrick Kane will return for his 14th NHL season, along with star defenseman and linemate Duncan Keith, who is returning for his 19th and probably final NHL season.
The Blackhawks do have a nice young core of players like 22-year-old Alex Dibrincat, 23-year-old Dylan Strome, and the relative of the coach that won them three championships, 24-year-old John Quenneville. They are cousins and share the exact same name.
The Blackhawks’ young core will mix with proven, championship pedigree veterans and a promising head coach in Jeremy Colliton, who the team just signed through 2023. This team will surprise some people in a good way or a bad way.
Lightning Hurt By Injuries
Just as Tampa Bay won the Stanley Cup without its star first liner Stamkos, it looked as though the Lightning would have the offseason to get everyone healthy and make a run at back-to-back Stanley Cup championships. Well, that didn’t last long.
Star forward and Stamkos linemate Nikita Kucherov announced in late December that he will miss the entirety of the 2021 season after getting season-ending hip surgery.
To show you how big of a blow that is to the Lightning, let me lay out his stats from last season. Kucherov compiled 33 goals, 51 assists, 205 shots on goal, with a plus/minus of plus-25. That kind of production is irreplaceable.
Luckily, the Lightning still have one of the best defensemen in hockey in Victor Hedman. They also have a Vezina-winning goalkeeper in Andrei Vasilevsky to help keep them in games.
Without Kucherov, it’ll be tough, but getting Stamkos healthy and the fact they won it all last year without their superstar bodes well for Lightning fans.
Odds and Lines
Tampa Bay has a moneyline of -245 in this one, with the over/under set at 6.5.
The picks here are Tampa Bay at home and under 6.5.
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