High Aggression, Deliberate Pace Marks Game 2 Of The Stanley Cup Finals

The play was much more aggressive in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals then it had been in Wednesday’s series opener, and that was reflected in the goal totals, as Tampa Bay nipped Chicago 4-3 to the series at a game apiece. But the more you dig into the numbers, the more it’s apparent that this is still more of a grind-it-out series.

I believe 30 shots per game is a good threshold mark for whether the ice is open or whether it’s more of a grind. For the second straight game, both teams were under that mark. Chicago got close, with 29, so I don’t want to split too many hairs, but it indicates that even as the play is more aggressive, the defenses are still preventing odd-man rushes.

For those that don’t watch hockey regularly, think of it like this—it’s like a basketball game where the action seems fast and furious until you realize that there aren’t any fast-breaks and it’s all aggression within the half-court. In this case, the goals came because offensive players consistently won battles for inside position on rebound shots—notably Andrew Shaw’s goal for Chicago in the first period.

I felt at the start of these Finals, and continue to feel now, that this would be more likely to work in Tampa’s favor.

It did in Game 2, as Chicago goalie Corey Crawford messed up what should have been a couple easy saves and let the Lightning off the mat when the Blackhawks had just scored twice in succession and were in positon to take the life out of the home team.

And while Crawford gave up a couple more, including the game-winner with about eleven minutes left, that were good redirects by Lightning players, they weren’t impossible saves.

The tough night for the Chicago goalie matched a tough outing by Tampa counterpart Ben Bishop, who left the game twice, including in the closing minutes and left untested Andrei Vasilevskei to face the most important shots of the season for the Lightning.

Bishop’s problem is undisclosed and we may not know until Monday’s Game 3, but I do have to say that unless this is a really serious injury, it rubbed me the wrong way. Bishop is an immensely talented goalie that has enjoyed great regular season success. He’s a big reason I picked Tampa at the start of the playoffs to win the Stanley Cup. But what’s he doing leaving the ice in these crucial situations?

If it turns out that he’s seriously hurt, I’ll eat my words. There’s enough phony machismo in sports that we don’t need another guy risking long-term physical health just to be out there (as a Redskins fan in the NFL, I’m all too familiar with the consequences of this with RG3).

But asking someone to gut it up with a minor injury or if they’re sick is entirely different than fake machismo. On a week where the sports world marveled at tennis star Serena Williams gutting her way through a French Open semifinal despite having a nasty flu bug, was there anything so wrong with Bishop that he couldn’t have played the end of the game?

We’ll find out. Maybe this injury is serious. Maybe he was benched—he wasn’t playing very well. All I’m saying right now is that this is rubbing me wrong the way and making me wonder if Bishop is someone you pick with confidence in big moments. I look forward to hearing the rest of the story.

I also look forward to Game 3. A great NHL playoffs run is getting a good Finals so far, with a pair of one-goal games and a 1-1 series tie. The Finals resume Monday night in Chicago (8 PM ET, NBC Sports Network).