The 2015 Stanley Cup playoffs have featured plenty of exciting and unpredictable series, but it all comes down to the Stanley Cup Final beginning on June 3.
While the Chicago Blackhawks and Anaheim Ducks are still battling it out to decide who will represent the Western Conference, the Tampa Bay Lightning punched their ticket to the Stanley Cup Final with a road win in Game 7 against the New York Rangers on Friday.
The location of each Stanley Cup Final game has yet to be decided since it hinges on what happens in the Western Conference Final. Also, the specific channel each game will be on hasn't been determined, but NBC and NBCSN will air the contests, according to SI.com.
Here is all the information available regarding the Stanley Cup Final thus far as well as a closer look at the Eastern Conference champion Lightning.
Stanley Cup Final Schedule
|Info for 2015 Stanley Cup Final|
|1||Wednesday, June 3||8 p.m.|
|2||Saturday, June 6||8 p.m.|
|3||Monday, June 8||8 p.m.|
|4||Wednesday, June 10||8 p.m.|
|5*||Saturday, June 13||8 p.m.|
|6*||Monday, June 15||8 p.m.|
|7*||Wednesday, June 17||8 p.m.|
|Games 5-7 if necessary, schedule via NHL.com|
Lightning Players to Watch
The Bolts have been lauded all season long for their offensive explosiveness, but when push came to shove in the Eastern Conference Final, it was defense and goaltending that ultimately helped them seal the deal.
Goalie Ben Bishop was fantastic after a couple of shaky outings in a row, as he posted a shutout at Madison Square Garden. He previously shut out the Detroit Red Wings in a Game 7 as well, which puts him in elite company, according to NHL Public Relations:
While the big American has had his peaks and valleys over the course of the postseason, he has managed to rise to the occasion when the stakes are at their highest. Because of that, there is reason to believe that he will be a difference-maker in the Stanley Cup Final.
On a team that boasts elite talent like Steven Stamkos, Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat among others, forward Brian Boyle believes Bishop is the team's most crucial player, per David Satriano of NHL.com:
He's probably our MVP. He's our backbone back there. He's won us games. He's gotten us to advance. ... (Bishop) stood in there and has been phenomenal.
Regardless of who Tampa faces in the Stanley Cup Final, Bishop will have a huge test on his hands. Both the Blackhawks and Ducks can light up the scoreboard, so the Bolts need Bishop's form to carry over.
If he plays like he did in Game 7 against the Rangers, then the odds are very much in favor of the Lightning hoisting Lord Stanley's Cup.
While he is a fairly unassuming player due to his diminutive size, forward Tyler Johnson has been anything but anonymous during the postseason, as he leads all players with 12 goals and 21 points.
If the playoffs were to end today, then the rising American star would almost certainly be named the Conn Smythe Trophy winner as MVP of the playoffs. Considering how many great players he has around him, standing out above them is no small feat.
The 24-year-old All-Star put up 72 points during the regular season, which is an impressive number in the current era of the NHL. He has taken his game to another level in the playoffs, though, and is arguably the biggest reason why the Lightning have made it this far.
Johnson has thrived personally and made those around him better. Continuing that trend will be key in the Bolts' pursuit of a second Stanley Cup in franchise history.
Steven Stamkos is one of the most offensively gifted players in the NHL. As a two-time 50-goal scorer and four-time 40-goal scorer, he is arguably the most dominant offensive player in the league aside from Washington Capitals winger Alex Ovechkin.
Even so, it took Stamkos some time to round into form during the playoffs. After a slow start, though, he is now firing on all cylinders at the perfect time. According to ESPN Stats & Info, he has been great over the past 10 games, especially Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final:
Stamkos has garnered plenty of accolades over the course of his career, but there is no question that winning the Stanley Cup is his primary desire.
After eliminating the Rangers, he made that abundantly clear, per Joe Smith of the Tampa Bay Times:
The Bolts' depth kept the team afloat when Stamkos struggled early in the playoffs, but now that he is playing like one of the top stars in the NHL once again, Tampa is a dominant offensive team that may prove nearly impossible to stop.
Stamkos is starting to show that he can get the job done in big moments, and winning the Stanley Cup would undoubtedly cement his status as one of the top all-around players in hockey.
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