So far in the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Chicago Blackhawks have shown that they are almost mirror images of each other. The difference between winning and losing has been razor-thin.
Both teams have an abundance of talent at the forward position and have some very talented defensemen. The goaltending has been solid as well. That dynamic has made all the games close.
Through the first four games of the series, each contest has been decided by one goal—the first time that has happened since the 1968 Stanley Cup Final.
Each team has nine goals through four games.
Each team has won two games, which makes it a best-of-three series from here on out, starting tonight in Game 5 at Amalie Arena in Tampa.
One factor has tilted in a big way in favor of the Blackhawks: winning faceoffs.
In Game 1, the Bolts had the edge in that category by winning 30 faceoffs to 27 by the Hawks. But since then, the Hawks have dominated.
In Game 2, the Hawks had a 35-19 advantage. In Game 3, Chicago won 39 faceoffs, compared to just 28 by Tampa Bay. In Game 4, the Hawks almost doubled the Bolts by having a 38-20 edge.
Not only that, but in their 2-1 victory on Wednesday night, both goals scored by the Hawks came right after winning a key faceoff battle.
The game-winning goal by Brandon Saad came after the Hawks won a faceoff in defensive zone of the Lightning. After the faceoff win, as Saad navigated forward toward the net, Brad Richards of the Hawks blocked the stick of defenseman Anton Stralman of the Bolts, which allowed Saad access to the net, where he put in his own rebound.
Faceoffs aren't always won due to who wins the initial battle among the two players, who are usually centers. Sometimes it comes down to getting help from other forwards or defensemen in the faceoff zone.
In the regular season, the Lightning won basically 50 percent of their faceoffs. In this series, the Bolts would be happy with that number. Unfortunately, the Bolts have won only 41 percent of the time so far in the Stanley Cup Final.
Looking back on the regular season, center Valtteri Filppula won 52.4 percent of the faceoffs he was involved in. The next best player on the Lightning was center Brian Boyle, who won 50.8 percent of his faceoffs.
Both Steven Stamkos (49.7) and Tyler Johnson (48.7) were slightly under 50 percent in faceoffs in the regular season.
Johnson took 1,103 faceoffs in the regular season. But as of late, he has not taken part in many at all. In fact, in the last three games of the Stanley Cup Final, Johnson has only taken part in just one.
Why? Most likely due to an upper-body injury. The production of Johnson in this series has not been as pronounced as it's been throughout the rest of the playoffs, where he leads all players with 23 points and 13 goals.
But in the Stanley Cup Final through four games, Johnson has just one goal and one assist.
With Johnson not taking faceoffs, the Bolts have used winger Ondrej Palat instead, and the results have not been good. In fact, Palat lost 10 of 14 faceoffs in Game 4. That's a 29 percent success rate.
With a series this close and with each game coming down to a one-goal differential, the Bolts need to start winning more faceoffs. At least get it close to 50 percent.
In the NHL, a player from the visiting team is required to place his stick on the ice for the faceoff first. That should give the advantage to the player from the home team. But that wasn't the case in Game 2 in Tampa, where the Hawks had a 35-19 advantage in faceoff wins.
Bottom line: With just three games remaining to decide who will win the 2015 Stanley Cup, the Lightning need to get more productive in winning faceoffs.
Like in Game 4, the success in that area could decide the fate of the winner or the loser...and the team that gets to hoist Lord Stanley.