For additional insight into the Tampa Bay Lightning and Chicago Blackhawks during the Stanley Cup Final, NHL.com has enlisted the help of Dave Farrish to break down the action. Farrish will be checking in throughout the series.
Farrish was an assistant coach for the Anaheim Ducks and Toronto Maple Leafs from 2005-14. He won the Stanley Cup with the Ducks in 2007. He also coached 1,027 games in the minor leagues, including the American Hockey League. In addition, Farrish, a former defenseman, played 430 games over seven seasons in the NHL.
In breaking down the coaching matchup in the Stanley Cup Final, former NHL assistant coach Dave Farrish concluded that the X-factor for the Tampa Bay Lightning could be the guy standing next to coach Jon Cooper behind the bench.
Farrish is talking about associate coach Rick Bowness, who was on Alain Vigneault's staff with the Vancouver Canucks during the heyday of their Stanley Cup Playoff rivalry with the Chicago Blackhawks.
The Canucks and Blackhawks played each other in three straight postseasons (2009-11). Vancouver lost to Chicago in 2009 and 2010 but won their first-round series in seven games in 2011.
"Rick has had a lot of experience in the West with Vancouver, so he's got a pretty good track record," Farrish said. "I'm sure Cooper will be leaning heavily on Rick."
It's hard to argue with Farrish's assessment, but he also said that with the amount of scouting that goes on these days, there shouldn't be any real secrets between Cooper and Chicago coach Joel Quenneville.
However, because this is the first time they're facing each other in the playoffs (they have faced each other four times in the regular season; Cooper is 3-0-1), Farrish expects a feeling-out period, starting with Game 1 at Amalie Arena on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports).
"They've had some time to study the other team, and I'm sure they watched a lot of [the other's] games between their own games as well, so they have a pretty good idea of the adjustments that have been made, but you're talking about a whole new animal when you start looking at a different team again," Farrish said. "They have already made a lot of adjustments, but there will be more adjustments made now, whether it be power-play stuff, regular line matchups. It's going to be interesting to see how they do start off and who is going to be matching against who. You have to have some preparation in mind when you go into the games -- Plan A, Plan B, Plan C -- depending on what the other team does."
Cooper has not been a big matchup coach in the playoffs, but he also doesn't want his third defense pair of Matthew Carle and Andrej Sustr to play a lot of minutes against Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad, if Quenneville decides to keep that line together.
That, in fact, is a big question for Farrish. He's not sure if Quenneville will keep Toews and Kane together for Game 1 because it depends on the type of matchups Cooper gives him considering he has the last-change advantage with the first two games in Tampa.
"I don't know if he worries about matchups at all," Farrish said of Cooper. "He feels comfortable that his team is pretty good from top to bottom and he can roll with most teams."
Farrish, though, is sure that the Lightning coaching staff will have matchup discussions. It's only natural in a playoff series, he said.
"There will be matchup stuff," Farrish said. "There is a rhythm to the game, and if you don't like a matchup, you try to maybe double-shift a line to get away from it. A lot of times that's confusing for the coach trying to keep the matchups. You saw last game in Anaheim, where Chicago was changing the lines quickly to get away from the matchups and all of a sudden the home coach is at a disadvantage because he's more worried about the matchups because of all the line changes. It gets confusing and it takes you out of rhythm."
Putting Kane and Toews back on the same line was the most important adjustment Quenneville made in the Western Conference Final. He made the adjustment based on matchups for Game 6, and it clearly made a big difference in Chicago winning the series.
Kane had two points, including the game-winning goal, in Game 6 before assisting on three goals in Game 7. One of his assists came on the first of Toews' two goals in Game 7.
"I'm sure he separated them initially to spread his offense around, but when he saw what the matchups were with [Ryan] Kesler and all the other factors, he ended up putting them back together," Farrish said. "Obviously there is a spark there. There is a great track record. It's not hoping that something will work; that's an age-old formula, and it certainly worked for them again, and it was a huge change in the series."
Dave Farrish thinks the X-factor for the Tampa Bay Lightning could be associate coach Rick Bowness, who was on Alain Vigneault's staff with the Vancouver Canucks during the heyday of their Stanley Cup Playoff rivalry with the Chicago Blackhawks. (Photo: Scott Audette/NHLI)
Quenneville also masterfully got through the conference final with four defensemen he truly trusts (Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya) and two that he tries to steal minutes from.
That he has, Farrish said, is a testament to his coaching because he's finding the soft spots in the game to play Kimmo Timonen and Kyle Cumiskey. David Rundblad has also played.
Keith, Seabrook, Hjalmarsson and Oduya each is playing more than 25 minutes per game. Keith is averaging 31:35.
"Really the only time they get in trouble is when they get stuck out there on an icing call, so you have to make sure whatever line is with them does everything it can to avoid the icing so they don't get those mismatches," Farrish said. "Their top four, that'll be a test for them if it's a long series again. They've played a lot of hockey, but they're all thoroughbreds, so it should be OK."
Farrish feels Cooper's most important adjustment of the playoffs came in the second round against the Montreal Canadiens, when he moved Steven Stamkos from center to right wing. He felt Stamkos needed to get freed from the added defensive responsibilities that a center takes on in order to get his offense going.
Stamkos has six goals in the past nine games after scoring one in the first 11. He's playing right wing on a line with Valtteri Filppula and Alex Killorn, who had four goals in the Eastern Conference Final against the New York Rangers after scoring three goals in the first two rounds combined.
"I'm sure he talked with Stamkos about it, and he's the type of guy that would do anything for the hockey club, so I'm sure there weren't any problems," Farrish said. "It seemed to spark him and he took off. It was obviously a great move."
Farrish also likes how Cooper has continued to play seven defensemen, with the offensive-minded Nikita Nesterov, who has six points in 14 games, as No. 7. He said it's a coaching tactic he and Randy Carlyle liked to employ when they were with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
"Our philosophy was are you going to get more significant minutes and more minutes overall out of a seventh defenseman than you are a 12th forward?" Farrish said. "A lot of times special teams came into play, where the seventh defenseman was a power-play guy or a penalty-killing guy. To me, I think that's more important than a lot of times a 12th forward is in a lot of situations. If you got down to it, and say a forward got hurt, I'm sure he's capable of moving up to play shifts at forward as well."
Regardless of what Cooper and Quenneville have already done, Farrish is expecting them to tinker when necessary in this series. Their track records suggest they're pretty good at it. Cooper's right-hand man will also help him.
"Rick has faced Chicago many times with Vancouver," Farrish said. "He's a great resource to have."