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.
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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.