Monday, May 25, 2015 was Memorial Day. This was also the day the Anaheim Ducks pushed the Chicago Blackhawks to the brink of elimination in the Western Conference Final round of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs. This came on the heels of the Tampa Bay Lightning having done the same to the New York Rangers just one day earlier, in the Eastern Conference Final. Both Anaheim and Tampa Bay now find themselves with a 3-2 series lead and just one victory away from playing in the Stanley Cup Final. Tampa Bay will have the opportunity to close out with a victory in Game 6 at home on Tuesday, May 26, while Anaheim will have a chance to close out with a victory in Game 6 on the road on Wednesday, May 27. So far, both series have been terrific.
The Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Rangers have had a real seesaw battle, which has seen both teams alternate between being great, and not so good. One need look no further than the second, third, and fourth games of the series. Having lost Game 1 by a score of 2-1, Game 2 was a 6-2 victory for Tampa Bay. Game 3 was a 6-5 overtime victory for Tampa Bay, which left all the pundits atwitter with speculation of how and why the great Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist had given up 12 goals in two games. Then came Game 4, which was a 5-1 victory for New York. Just that quickly, the speculation on the decline of Lundqvist was dropped, and the new narrative was regarding how and why Lightning goalie Ben Bishop had given up 10 goals in two games. Not to mention, Rangers forwards Rick Nash and Martin St. Louis, had accounted for three of the team’s five goals. Then came Game 5, which was played in Madison Square Garden in New York.
In Game 5, Bishop responded the way Lundqvist had. The result was a 2-0 shutout win which gave the Lightning a 3-2 series lead, as the teams head to Florida for Game 6, where the Bolts posted the best home record in the NHL during the regular season. If the Rangers are to get this done, they will have to do it the hard way, as they did in the previous series when the fell into a 3-1 series deficit against the Washington Capitals, before taking the series by winning three straight games. If the Rangers have any playoff magic left, now is the time.
The Western Conference Final series between the Anaheim Ducks and Chicago Blackhawks, has been just as memorable, if no more so. The only lopsided win, was the 4-1 win by Anaheim in Game 1. Game 2 was a triple overtime victory for Chicago. Game 3 was a 2-1 win for Anaheim. Game 4 was a wild ride which saw Anaheim fall behind 3-1 in the 3rd period before scoring three goals in just 34 seconds to take the lead. The Blackhawks eventually tied the game 4-4, and then won it in double overtime. Game 5 was just as dramatic as it’s predecessor. In Anaheim, Chicago trailed 4-2 with less than two minutes left in regulation, but their sensational team captain Jonathan Toews scored twice in a span of 1:12 to tie the game and send it into overtime. This time, the extra session was over quickly. Anaheim forward Matt Beleskey pounded in a rebound of a shot by teammate Ryan Kesler, just 45 seconds into overtime, to win Game 5.
The series now moves to Chicago. The resilient Blackhawks will now try to extend the series to a deciding Game 7, while the Ducks have every intention of going through a final handshake line on Wednesday night in front of what will undoubtedly be a standing-room-only crowd of over 20,000 fans at United Center in Chicago. The Blackhawks seem a bit overmatched, given the depth of the Anaheim forwards, and the lack of depth Chicago has on the blueline, though Chicago has shown no signs of quitting. In Game 5, Chicago defensemen Kimmo Timonen and Kyle Cumiskey only played a combined total of 18:54, while defenseman Duncan Keith alone, logged 27:23 of total time on the ice. In that game, Timonen and Cumiskey had a combined plus/minus rating of -3, while Keith was a +2.
Here is a look at the remaining schedule for the Conference Final round. Tampa Bay and the Rangers will play Game 6 on Tuesday, May 26 at Amalie Arena in Tampa Bay. If necessary, Game 7 will be played on Friday, May 29 at Madison Square Garden in New York. The Anaheim Ducks will be at United Center in Chicago for Game 6 on Wednesday, May 27. If a Game 7 is needed, it will be played on Saturday, May 30 at Honda Center in Anaheim. No matter how everything turns out, this will be a terrific week for hockey fans.