When the 2013-14 playoffs ended 13 months ago, the Blackhawks’ glaring issue against the Los Angeles Kings was their depth at the center position. In the wake of that crushing defeat, Chicago GM Stan Bowman made a point of addressing the weakness when he added veteran center Brad Richards early in free agency. And the deadline deal to bring Antoine Vermette on board further bolstered the Hawks at the position.
Before the Stanley Cup Final began, we wrote about the impact Chicago’s excellent centers could make in the faceoff circle. As the Final has played out, it has been the Blackhawks’ depth at center that has been the difference, and has the Hawks one win away from glory.
Stanley Cup Final: 5 games, 1 goal, 2 assists, 3 points, 20:15 ATOI
There isn’t a better leader in the National Hockey League than Toews, and he has once again shown himself to be the best clutch player of this generation during these playoffs. Toews has taken 101 of the 298 faceoffs in the series through five games, and has won 61 of those draws; by comparison, no Tampa center has been involved with more than 79 faceoffs.
Stanley Cup Final: 5 games, 1 goal, 0 assists, 14:31 ATOI
We wrote about Richards excellent performance in the Western Conference Final and his return to Tampa, where he won the Conn Smythe in 2004, before the series. Skating on the evolving second line for the Blackhawks, Richards has won 53.4 percent of his faceoffs in the series.
Stanley Cup Final: 5 games, 2 game-winning goals, 0 assists, 10:42 ATOI
Vermette has been outstanding throughout these playoffs (when he’s not a healthy scratch). In the Cup Final, he has been Chicago’s best faceoff man, winning 42 of 64 draws (65.6 percent), and has become the first player in franchise history to register two game-winning goals in a Cup Final series.
Stanley Cup Final: 5 games, o goals, 1 assist, 13:25 ATOI
The Kruger-led fourth line for Chicago has been a difference maker throughout the series, and Kruger has been a key to the Hawks exceptional penalty killing as well. Kruger has won 57.4 percent of his faceoffs in the series.
Andrew Shaw has also been consistently impactful as an occasional center for the Hawks in the Final series. He has won 16 of 29 faceoffs in the series.
In these playoffs, Tampa two best faceoff men had been Valtteri Filppula and Tyler Johnson. Johnson was just above 50 percent at the dot coming into the Final, while Filppula had won 54 percent of his faceoffs in these playoffs. During the Cup Final, however, Filppula has been dominated and Johnson has been almost fully removed from faceoff duty by Tampa coach Jon Cooper.
Through five games, Johnson has won six of only 16 faceoffs (37.5 percent) while Filppula, who has remained Tampa’s best in the circle, has won only 45 percent of his opportunities.
Chicago has won 58.7 percent of the faceoffs in the series as a team, and have carried the offense. The Hawks four centers have accounted for four goals and three assists thus far in the series, while Tampa’s top four centers (based on number of faceoffs taken in the series) have scored four goals with two assists.
Tampa forward Nikita Kucherov traveled to Chicago with the Lightning on Sunday, but he is questionable for Monday night. If he isn’t able to go, the Blackhawks depth up front will hold an even stronger advantage.
As the Blackhawks look to close out the series on Monday night, their strength at center figures to once again drive their success.