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2015 Stanley Cup Final: Cedric Paquette and the unlikely shutdown line

There was no reason to expect Cedric Paquette to handle the assignment handed to him by Jon Cooper in the Stanley Cup Final to go so well ... and yet, here we are.

Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Game 1, Stanley Cup Final. At Amalie Arena.

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Chicago Blackhawks, for the Cup, and Jon Cooper is trotting out Cedric Paquette, a 21-year old rookie, to shutdown the best players for the best team in the NHL.

It was a seemingly ludicrous decision at the time. Paquette, though always a good energy guy who plays physically, had been woefully overmatched in the previous three rounds against the Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens, and New York Rangers. The secondary scoring he offered during the regular season (12 goals in 64 games) had all but dried up entirely.

His possession numbers through the first three rounds were dreadful (37.81% Corsi For, 34.68% Chances For) -- Tampa Bay was getting absolutely buried on his shifts. It was ugly. If he was going to one day develop into a strong two-way bottom-6 center, it certainly wasn't going to happen this year during this playoff run, and certainly not against the Hawks, of all teams.

And then it did.

Those numbers, in 5 games vs. Chicago? Up to 55.56 Corsi For% (Victor Hedman territory), and an absurd 67.50% Chances For%. Some of the credit here is owed to more minutes playing in front of Hedman and Anton Stralman, who have been dominant, but don't take credit away from Paquette and his linemates, who became something resembling a quality shutdown line overnight. Hedman sets the table, sure, but Paquette isn't riding coattails; he's making good plays and putting pressure on the Hawks top lines down low. A little offense has even returned to Paquette's game; he has 9 individual scoring chances and a pair of goals in 5 games vs. Chicago.

Meanwhile, the competition he's been tasked with stopping has been largely quiet; Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews have 1 goal and 3 assists between them in the 5 games so far. It's been the bottom-6 for Chicago -- Teuvo Teravainen, Patrick Sharp, Antoine Vermette -- that have been the difference.

If Tampa Bay is going to win Game 6, the focus need not be on whether Paquette can handle his assignments -- but whether the Lightning's top forwards can win their match-ups, too.