Honestly, I think this series between the Lightning and Blackhawks, which starts Wednesday in Tampa Bay, has all the makings of a great series. Two vastly underrated goaltenders, a couple of elite defencemen, and a pile of offensive talent will congregate for four games or more in this Stanley Cup Final, and it has me thinking that a number of goals might be scored if both teams bring their offensive best.
I'm not going to break down this series, though. For three previous rounds, you've seen these two teams put on great offensive and defensive spectacles in getting to this point, and a number of players have raised their games on both sides. These two teams earned their way into this year's Stanley Cup Final and no one can take that away from them at this point nor does it need me to tell you who to watch for in this series. The usual suspects will all be on display: Stamkos, Johnson, Hedman, Bishop, Kucherov, Toews, Kane, Hossa, Keith, and Crawford.
Brad Richards, who won a Stanley Cup and the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2004 with the Lightning, will be on the other side this time, and it will be interesting to see how the Lightning fans treat their former hero. While I'm sure they won't be cheering for him, will he be booed? Will Lightning fans even care if Richards isn't an impact player in this series? Don't expect any MVP chants in the crowd when Richards touches the puck this time around.
Like Anton Stralman and Brian Boyle on the Lightning side who left through free agency, the Rangers cut Richards loose last summer when they bought out his contract. Becoming a free agent, he was able to sign with any team that wanted him, and the Blackhawks got him fairly cheap to be their second-line centerman. He's had a season of ups and downs, but he certainly wasn't the dynamic scorer he once was with the Lightning. He'll be relied up for his defensive game again in this series, and the Blackhawks are fine with that side of his skill set.
All-time, the Blackhawks hold a 16-10-10 record against the Lightning. They have 106 goals-for in that span versus 94 goals-against. These former Norris Division rivals have had a few battles in their times, but this one is literally for all the marbles. The Lightning are seeking their second Stanley Cup in franchise history while Chicago looks for its sixth Stanley Cup in its history, and third Stanley Cup in the last six years. Chicago is as close to a dynasty as the NHL has right now while it appears that the Lightning are on the verge of starting their own era of success.
For those of you in the HBIC Playoff Pool, I will post the Stanley Cup Final round spreadsheet tomorrow. I need to go through and total up everyone's round from Round Three, and we'll see if Andy S. is still leading after three rounds of hockey. Tune in tomorrow afternoon for that!
Wednesday night, the biggest games of the season start for two teams. Who's your champion?
Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!