Blackhawks

An early look at Lightning and a few ties to Blackhawks

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An early look at Lightning and a few ties to Blackhawks

We’re just about at the month of June. And this year, much to their liking, the Blackhawks will be playing through the start of it.

One year to the date after the Blackhawks wrapped up their 2014 postseason, they’re continuing their 2015 run when they face the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Stanley Cup Final. The series starts Wednesday at Amalie Arena, with Game 2 there on Saturday.

[MORE BLACKHAWKS - Patrick Kane: 'We haven't done anything yet']

But with all the focus we’ve had on the Blackhawks and their Western Conference foes, what do we know about the Lightning? We’ll save our edges for when the series begins later this week. For now, however, here are a few tidbits about the Lightning, and a few connections to the Blackhawks.

— Familiar faces. Lightning goaltending coach Frantz Jean knows Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford very well. Jean coached Crawford when the latter played for the Moncton Wildcats (QMJHL) from 2001-2005. Last postseason, Jean spoke of how far Crawford’s come since those early days. “I’ve seen him grow from a teen to a man,” Jean said. When I see the work he had to go into the minors, to pay his dues and learn to be a consistent goaltender and then to be able to duplicate that in the pros, I’m very proud of him.”

— Seems like old times. Brad Richards will experience “a lot of different feelings” in facing his former team this series. Richards played his first seven seasons with the Lightning, winning the Stanley Cup – and the Conn Smythe Trophy – with them in 2004. The Lightning were going through severe financial issues when Richards was traded to the Dallas Stars in February of 2008, and he’s impressed with the team’s turnaround. “I’m very happy that it is back on track and doing what they’re doing down there,” Richards said. “It is going to be special, but I want to win [a Cup] so we’ll worry about friendships later.”

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— Unsung hero. Every postseason has a surprise outstanding performer, and Tyler Johnson has been that for the Lightning. The undrafted Johnson has scored 12 goals in 20 playoff games, including a hat trick in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference final against the New York Rangers. Johnson isn’t the biggest player out there, but he’s been a tremendous force for the Lightning.

— Former captain on current captain. Brenden Morrow, who signed with the Lightning last summer, is making his first Stanley Cup Final appearance since 2000, when he was with the Dallas Stars. In 2010 Morrow, then captain of the Stars, was Team Canada teammates with Jonathan Toews, who had just gotten the Blackhawks captaincy that offseason. A few months later the Blackhawks would win their first Stanley Cup in 39 years and Morrow saw the effect Toews had on the team. “I think at that point, they already had success,” Morrow said. “So you could tell that team was on its way, and [Toews] was the guy catapulting it.”

— Heating up at the right time. Show of hands: who was convinced Tampa Bay captain Steven Stamkos was hurt as the playoffs began? We were, and the no goals and three assists Stamkos had in the first round against the Detroit Red Wings seemed to back that up. Well, apparently he’s OK, because Stamkos has gotten better as the playoffs have continued. He scored four goals in as many contests (Games 2-5) against the New York Rangers. He also had three assists in that series.

— Bishop over King. Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop outdueled Henrik Lundqvist in the Eastern Conference final. Yes, we realize it’s not truly goalie against goalie but Bishop won out regardless. He had his rough outings, including giving up five goals to the Rangers in Game 6. But he shut out the Rangers on their home ice in Game 5 and again in Game 7. That’s pretty darn impressive.

Drake Caggiula on what it’s like to play alongside Blackhawks idols Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews

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Drake Caggiula on what it’s like to play alongside Blackhawks idols Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews

Drake Caggiula has been with the Blackhawks for only three weeks. But he's quickly worked his way up the lineup.

On Sunday in a nationally-televised game against the reigning Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals, Caggiula found himself in a dream scenario. He was promoted to the top line with Jonathan Toews, which happened to be the same game the Blackhawks captain was reunited with Patrick Kane. 

Why was it so special for Caggiula? Because these are two players he looked up to as a kid.

"You come to the rink and you see your number next to two Blackhawks legends, it's a pretty cool thing," Caggiula said. "It's a little extra special for me because I grew up idolizing those two players. The biggest reason why I went to North Dakota was because of Jonny Toews. And I used to watch Patty Kane's highlights on YouTube and then go in my basement and try to copy them. It's pretty special to come in the room and see your name is beside theirs."

Most young players would be starstruck. Maybe Caggiula was. But he knew he needed to get past that phase quickly in order to be effective on their line.

"It was a pretty special thing for me to play with them," Caggiula said. "But at the same time you just got to remember you're playing hockey, you're on the same team and you have a job to do. You can't get caught up in that starstruck moment. You've got to make sure you're doing what you're capable of doing. That's just playing the game the right way and try not to get caught up in who you're playing with."

It's safe to say Caggiula didn't get too caught up in it. He turned in his best performance in a Blackhawks sweater in that 8-5 win over the Capitals, and did so while logging 16:40 of ice time. Oddly, he didn't make it on the score sheet despite linemates Kane and Toews combining for 10 points (five goals, five assists).

But he deserved to be.

"He played a perfect game," Kane said of Caggiula. "Won a lot of battles, did a lot of good things. It's unfortunate that he didn't show up on the score sheet more than he did, but he played a great game for us. It takes commitment and courage to try for those 50-50 battles, to go to the net to screen the goalie and I'm coming in there and I'm just shooting it on net trying to pick a corner and he did a great job to screen."

Toews concurred, and envisioned Caggiula's style of play working well with his going forward.

"He's got a lot of skill and he's not afraid for his size to be strong with the puck in the lane and traffic," Toews said. "I told him he needs to be a little more selfish when he has a chance to score. Don't hesitate to shoot the puck. I thought he was a good complement for myself. He's one of those types of guys I enjoy playing with."  

Caggiula isn't a stranger when it comes to playing with star players. He played in Edmonton with Connor McDavid, who became a close friend of his. And the two produced together. 

In the 141:31 minutes they spent at 5-on-5 together, the Oilers controlled 57.7 percent of the shot attempts and had a plus-2 goal differential, according to naturalstattrick.com. When Caggiula was away from McDavid, that percentage dipped to 46.3 and a minus-7 goal differential. 

Playing with McDavid is a little different than playing with Kane and Toews as a linemate, but the main goal is the same for Caggiula: get them the puck.

"Connor plays with a lot of speed," Caggiula said. "And his passing ability is so high end that for the most part I would just try to play a fast game with him and create space for him, and win loose pucks for him as well. But he's such a good passer that I just tried to put myself in good shooting opportunities and I ended up on that line with him being a shooter more than anything. The biggest part of my game is creating good forechecks, creating second opportunities and trying to have the puck a little more on my stick. And if we do turn it over, just find a way to get it back."  

That's what Caggiula brings on a line with Kane and Toews. While those two work their magic with the puck, Caggiula's job is to make sure they keep it. And when they don't have it, be aggressive in getting it back. Then go straight for the dirty areas to make life difficult on their opponents.

"I wouldn't say I'm necessarily a driver of the line, but I can definitely complement them and find ways to create open ice for them, create space for them, create time, create second opportunities by winning loose puck battles," Caggiula said. "They're obviously extremely skilled and extremely smart players, and if I have to go out there and do some of the dirty work and get in front of the net and take a few checks or whatever, I'm more than happy to do that. You're playing with some of the greatest players in the world right now, and you want to do whatever you can to stay there."

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SportsTalk Live Podcast: The Blackhawks' big win over the Capitals

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SportsTalk Live Podcast: The Blackhawks' big win over the Capitals

David Haugh, Jason Goff and Jordan Bernfield join David Kaplan on the panel.

0:00- Pat Boyle and Patrick Sharp drop by to talk about the Blackhawks' big win over the Capitals. Plus, Sharpie talks about the young Hawks who will be stars in the future.

12:00- Super Bowl LIII is set after a dramatic and controversial Championship Sunday. Does the NFL need to expand instant replay to include pass interference after a no-call cost the Saints a Super Bowl bid? Plus does the league need to change its overtime format after Patrick Mahomes didn't get to touch the ball at the end of the AFC title game?

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below:

Sports Talk Live Podcast

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