BLACKHAWKS at LIGHTNING
TV: NBC, CBC, TVA Sports
Game 1 of best-of-7 series
The puck drop will turn theoretical strategizing into reality, and then it will be up to each team to adjust accordingly.
"It's one thing to look at video, but to actually get it in the game, from your perspective on the ice, is a lot different," Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford said Tuesday at Media Day. "There will be a little feeling out at the beginning, but we're well aware of what they do. They're a fast team with tons of skill. They play at high tempo. They have a five-man offensive attack. We almost play the same way. It's going to be a fun series."
Tampa Bay is being compared by some to the Chicago team that won the 2010 Stanley Cup with a contingent of homegrown young players. Tampa Bay's top two lines have a lot of speed and skill, just like Chicago, and each team has quality depth among the remaining forwards.
One of the biggest questions heading into the series opener is which line the Lighting will use to check the Blackhawks' top line of Brandon Saad, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, who were put together toward the end of the Western Conference Final against the Anaheim Ducks, which Chicago won in seven games.
Kane and Toews typically are split on the first and second lines, but Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville is hoping they pick up where they left off in Game 7 of the conference final. Toews and Saad scored at even strength, and Toews scored on a power play in Chicago's 5-3 victory.
Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper might start out matching his top line of Alex Killorn, Valtteri Filppula and Steven Stamkos against Toews' line. Cooper then could look to spring his second line, centered by high-scoring Tyler Johnson, on one of Chicago's bottom two lines. The matchup game will be something to watch all series.
"That team, they have a really good team, and they have a skilled team," Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov said of the Blackhawks. "In all those years, they've done a good job. They won twice (also in 2013), and I know they can win the Cup. They know how to win it, but we don't care. We're hungry to win it and we're going to work hard to get it."
The Blackhawks at times this season fell into lapses without something to motivate them. That shouldn't be a problem now, considering what's at stake.
"The opportunity that we have is right there in front of us," Toews said. "This is the last series. We want to have a great start to it. So that is something that we can definitely focus on, is just having that desperation that we've had late in the series and applying that right off the start."