TAMPA -- It's been seven years since Tampa Bay Lightning center Valtteri Filppula won the Stanley Cup. He's ready for another celebration.
Filppula won the Cup in 2008 with the Detroit Red Wings and he's the only player on the Lightning roster with a Stanley Cup ring. Now 31, Filppula wants to relive the excitement all over again.
The Lightning will face the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final at Amalie Arena on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports).
"This is what you play for; this is where you want to be," Filppula said Tuesday of winning the Cup. "In my first three years in the [NHL], we made the conference final and the [Cup] Final twice. So you think it's going to happen again, and it doesn't. I'm just happy to be back here."
Filppula said he'll talk about his experience with the Red Wings in 2008 if a teammate asks, but he said the two teams are very different in how they reached this point.
"It's always different with different teams," Filppula said. "With Detroit there was a lot of guys with experience in playoff games. But this team is playing well right now and they have won two Game 7s, so they've gained experience with that."
It's important for every member of a team with Stanley Cup aspirations to make sacrifices, and Filppula has been no different. He spent much of the season on the third line as a defensive center, often matched against the opposition's top line. Despite the focus on defense, Filppula had 12 goals and 36 assists in 82 regular-season games.
But in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Second Round against the Montreal Canadiens, Filppula was shifted to top-line center and tasked with being the playmaker for Steven Stamkos and Alex Killorn.
The move paid off immediately; Stamkos scored a goal in the 4-1 win that sent the Lightning to the conference final. Against the New York Rangers, Filppula scored the game-winning goal in Game 5, a 2-0 victory, and had an assist on Killorn's game-winning goal in Game 7, another 2-0 victory.
In eight games since the line was put together, Killorn has four goals and four assists, and Stamkos has five goals and three assists.
"Once Filppula got put on our line, it just seemed like things started opening up," Killorn said. "He likes to put me and [Stamkos] in positions to shoot the puck. And he's just a great veteran presence on the team. He doesn't let anything bother him whether he's on the third line or whatever."
Stamkos said the line has developed strong chemistry and credits Filppula for having the versatility to jump right in and make things easier for him.
"We're giving teams a different look. And for me it's creating a lot of space," Stamkos said. "[Filppula] is taking on a lot more responsibility as the center than I have as a wing, but he's capable of doing it. He's a smart player, a puck distributor, he's good on draws and very good defensively. It's been good for me. And [Killorn] has had a little coming-out party in the playoffs. Although we always knew what he was capable of."
Center - TBL
GOALS: 3 | ASST: 8 | PTS: 11
SOG: 24 | +/-: -6
The move also has helped Killorn and Stamkos with their play in the defensive end. Coach Jon Cooper has credited all three players several times during the Stanley Cup Playoffs for their play at both ends of the ice.
"I just try to do everything real well defensively," Filppula said. "And it's a lot easier with guys like Stamkos and Killorn playing hard on that end as well. We're trying to be effective two-way players."
Filppula has three goals and 11 points in 20 playoff games this year, including one goal and four assists since moving up to play with Stamkos and Killorn. However, he feels like he hasn't played his best hockey yet.
"Every player wants to be the best they can this time of year," Filppula said. "[Stamkos] has been unbelievable in the playoffs and he's just so much fun to watch. Killorn has come in his own, and the playoffs is the time for that to happen. We all know it's going to take our best to win the Cup."