The Stanley Cup Finals begin tonight.
Perennial contenders the Chicago Blackhawks are there, aiming to seal a third Stanley Cup in six years. While for the Tampa Bay Lightning it is a first finals appearance since they lifted the Cup in 2004. As a result, the Blackhawks start as clear favourites to win the series at 1.72 compared to Tampa's odds of 2.10.
For Chicago this will be a different challenge after surviving the physical onslaught laid on by the Anaheim Ducks. Teaming up Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews has led to the pair yet again leading the way in the defining moments. Toews's pair of goals in Game 7 against Anaheim added to his reputation as "Captain Clutch".
On the blueline, Duncan Keith has to be in the running for the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. His odds for the award are currently 4.75, behind Toews at 2.40. Entrusted with the tough situations and contributing over a point per game, Keith is the Hawks' marathon man averaging over 30 minutes of ice time. It's hard to pick out a weakness in their roster, but the clearest target for Tampa will be the Hawks' bottom defensive pair which receives very sheltered minutes.
There is pressure on the Lightning's leading men to perform. Steven Stamkos, Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov have had great postseasons, but it can all be forgotten if you do not show up when it matters most. Look out for Alex Killorn and Ondrej Palat too, despite matching Stamkos for goals they are each at 4.60 to score in Game 1. Tampa can call upon two high-powered forward lines but not a lot else, production from their other forwards has been borderline non-existent. Swede Victor Hedman leads a well-rounded defence which shut down the New York Rangers at key moments in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Analysing the goalie duel is similar to the matchup overall. Tampa's Ben Bishop has relished his first playoff campaign and at 6ft 7in can be an imposing figure for shooters. Between the pipes for the Blackhawks Corey Crawford cannot match Bishop's stats but has handled the immense pressure before.
Overall it's tough to go against Chicago for the series win, but back the Lightning to get off to a good start in the opening clash at 2.35.