Each Wednesday throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Kevin Weekes has been offering his pluses and minuses for the teams competing in the game that intrigues him most that night. Now that it's the Stanley Cup Final, Weekes will be following the same format to breakdown the matchup between the Chicago Blackhawks and Tampa Bay Lightning while also assisting fans with three must-watch elements of the game.
TAMPA -- This should set up to be an amazing Stanley Cup Final between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Chicago Blackhawks.
The matchups that we could see and the styles of play that we will see, I think it's set up to be incredibly entertaining.
We're about to see two fast, fun, aggressive teams that fly up and down the ice, can score a lot of goals, but also play an exciting brand of shutdown hockey. This is the treat hockey fans have been waiting for all season. This is the NHL's gift to you.
It starts with Game 1 on Wednesday at Amalie Arena (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports). Here is my breakdown:
Pluses: One of the things that is so impressive for them through three rounds is how the Blackhawks been able to overcome adversity.
You start off in the Eastern Conference First Round and how tough it was for them to get by the Nashville Predators with Corey Crawford not playing up to his standard. But Scott Darling came in with an amazing performance and Duncan Keith played extremely well, so they found ways to win against a very good, much improved, offensive Nashville team.
Then they get to the second round against the Minnesota Wild, but Crawford got back in the net, fought through that adversity and was just outstanding.
And, of course, in the Western Conference Final, they played against a very physical team and a much nastier team in the Anaheim Ducks. They didn't have Michal Rozsival because of his injury in Game 4 against the Wild, and they were able to find a way to get by without a lot from a third defense pair.
Rozsival, by the way, is a very valuable player, more than his role on a third pair suggests. He was their Michal Handzus this year, and you remember how valuable Handzus was when they won the Stanley Cup in 2013. Joel Quenneville and Stan Bowman said that Tuesday. Rozsival had a critical job in a depth role, but they were able to overcome his loss.
And now as they head into the Stanley Cup Final, I think it's quite obvious that the Blackhawks' biggest plus is they're great. I think that's the biggest thing they have going for them against anybody in the world at any time.
They're great. They know they're great. They work hard to be great. They expect to be great. They go out and play great.
How do you put a price on that? You can't. To know you're great and then go out and be great, that's really rare.
Minuses: I don't really have too many minuses for the Blackhawks. I guess it's just the fact that they're on the fly, game-to-game, trying to figure out their fifth and sixth defensemen. That's all it is, defensive depth. That would be the one.
But I will even counter myself on that because even though there is strength in numbers, when your top four is a world-class top four it makes up for it. There aren't many teams that Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya would be the three-four.
Is it a negative that their depth isn't what they want it to be on the back end and that it's being tested? Sure, but if you're able to offset that one guy in Keith who is putting together a Hall of Fame career, another in Brent Seabrook who is one heck of an NHL defenseman, and then a second pair that features two Olympians, that's a pretty darn good way to offset it.
Let me put it into perspective. You remember when the Ducks won the Cup in 2007; between Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer they were playing basically the entire game. Well the Blackhawks have four guys who are excellent.
The only thing they have to do now is ride them, but there's nothing to save them for either. This is it.
Pluses: The Lightning's style of play is impressive to everyone, including the Blackhawks, which should tell you something. They're so talented and gifted offensively. It's just impressive to see how many players on their team think the game as well as they think the game.
In addition, it's also impressive to see when they take care of their net how good they are. They are the most explosive and highest scoring team in the NHL but they are all in on the how, why and more importantly when they have to lock it down. That tells me a lot.
I know the Blackhawks have that same quality, but this is their third time in the Cup Final since 2010. It's just impressive that you can have that quality in the Lightning this quickly from a group that is this skilled.
Their biggest advantage going into this series is their fresh, young legs. Look at the age of these players, especially all of their core players, they're young guys. This is a young team. They can skate up and down the ice, they can fly. And they don't have a lot of mileage on them, at least not in their core.
The Blackhawks are great, but they've got a lot on their legs. The Lightning can be great and they have fresh legs. That's very big.
Minuses: Again, I don't have a minus really other than inexperience at this stage, but that's not really a minus.
They don't have much experience per se. They have only six players who have played on this stage (Valtteri Filppula, Braydon Coburn, Matthew Carle, Anton Stralman, Brian Boyle and Brenden Morrow).
But it's much like when you go for a job interview and they say to you, "Well, you don't have the experience for this job." The reply should be, "How am I going to get the experience if I don't get the job."
The Lightning have done all they can to earn the job. They're here. Give them credit for getting here. Now is the time for them to get the experience.
THREE THINGS TO WATCH
1. I'm looking to see what the Blackhawks do to exact their will on the Lightning, to basically say, "Hey, this is our third time here, you're new. We're where we are supposed to be. This is our spot. Good luck proving that you belong."
2. I'm looking to see the matchup game. Who does Lightning coach Jon Cooper want the "Triplets" line to play against, and who does he want Steven Stamkos to play against? The same goes with Quenneville. Does he go with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews together? How long do they go with that if they go with that?
3. I'm looking to see the pace. If you love speed, skill and star power, this series is for you.