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Media Day new for Lightning, old hat for Blackhawks

by Arpon Basu

TAMPA -- Tampa Bay Lightning forward Alex Killorn was on one knee, listening to coach Jon Cooper go over a drill on the whiteboard at practice Tuesday when his eyes drifted into the stands behind him at Amalie Arena.

The reason Killorn was distracted was because there were at least 20 cameras recording the moment, a fairly routine talk between a coach and his team.

"Jeez," Killorn thought to himself, "what are they filming?"

Welcome to the Stanley Cup Final, Alex.

The first official event of the NHL championship series was Media Day on Tuesday, with every player from the Lightning and Chicago Blackhawks available to speak to reporters about the series, hockey in general, or about any subject under the sun.

It can be an overwhelming experience for players who haven't gone through it.

One Lightning who has is defenseman Anton Stralman, who played in the Final with the New York Rangers in a five-game loss to the Los Angeles Kings last year.

"The message is to block all the media out, honestly," Stralman said. "I guess there is quite a bit of madness around right now, and I think you just kind of have to block it out as best you can and just focus on your game on the ice. That doesn't really change. When the puck drops and you're on that ice, the game is the same as the 100-plus games we've played this year. It is just everything around it that is quite a bit different and entertaining and a little like a circus. You really just have to focus on the task on not float away and not get distracted."

Blocking out the media was not easy Tuesday, unless you were Andrej Sustr.

The Lightning defenseman was at his stall, which was placed next to the one awaiting the presence of captain Steven Stamkos. There were approximately 50 reporters and camera-people standing around the empty Stamkos stall while Sustr sat alone at his, looking at his phone.

"Thanks for coming," Sustr said when he was finally approached for a question.

Lightning forward J.T. Brown was doing much the same thing, sitting at one of the tables in the middle of the room where some of the players who were less in demand were stationed. Brown said his table didn't even have a microphone like the stalls did, but he was enjoying the Media Day experience because of what it means: The Lightning are playing for the Stanley Cup.

"For us it's a little bit different," Brown said. "I've never been in front of this much media. This is more than we've ever had to deal with in Tampa. I guess we're on a little bit bigger stage now. It's nice, you have to enjoy it. This doesn't happen too often."

It does, however, happen quite often for the Blackhawks. This is the third time in six seasons they have been on this stage, and for the core players who were on the team in 2010, 2013 and now, the media crush is nothing new.

Duncan Keith
Defense - CHI
GOALS: 2 | ASST: 16 | PTS: 18
SOG: 46 | +/-: 13
"I don't look at it as a distraction or anything," Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith said. "We've been here before, and if we hadn't been here before, sitting here and talking to you guys isn't going to make me play different [Wednesday], you know?"

True, but there is something to be said for knowing exactly what to expect from the external environment at the Final, and more importantly knowing how to avoid letting it affect your play on the ice. The Blackhawks, for the most part, have that knowledge.

"We've got a bunch of guys on this team who have been in this room before, so I try to listen to them and look at what they're doing before games and during games," said Blackhawks defenseman David Rundblad, who will play in his first Final. "I think that helps a lot."

Did he get any advice for Media Day?

"No. Nothing," he said. "I'm on my own right now."

The lack of experience in the Tampa Bay room has been an overriding theme of the matchup against Chicago, and the Lightning are not running from it. The players readily admitted how Media Day was an eye-opening experience, one they appreciated because it underlined the magnitude of the situation.

But the Lightning remain convinced that when the puck is dropped for Game 1 at Amalie Arena on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports) that lack of experience will be largely washed away.

"There's so many things going on, but at the end of the day we still have to play hockey," Stamkos said. "We still have to play the game. That's been our job since we started this season, and we've done a great job of going in to some really tough cities and winning hockey games. So that's first and foremost on our minds. I think we have a group that realizes this.

"I know we're young, I know we don't have the experience that the other team does, but we believe in ourselves. Guys are going to enjoy this today, but come game time [Wednesday] we're a focused group and we know what we have to do to win."

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