TAMPA, Fla. —The Los Angeles Kings, with their grind-it-out, punishing style, didn’t make the playoffs. The Anaheim Ducks, with their physical, imposing style, lost in the conference final. As did the New York Rangers, with their defensive-minded, shutdown style. The borderline trapping Minnesota Wild didn’t make it to the Stanley Cup Final, either.
The teams that did? The speedy, offensively gifted Blackhawks, and the speedy, offensively gifted Lightning. Buckle up.
“It seems like they have a lot of offense and skill and speed to their team, too,” Patrick Kane said. “You look at it, it seems like it’d be a fun matchup, and a fun series for the average fan to watch. And a fun series to play in, as well.
Chicago-New York might have been the ratings bonanza NBC and the NHL wanted. But Hawks-Lightning should be the highest-octane Final in years. Even the players can’t wait.
“They’re one of my favorite teams to watch on TV, and play against,” Lightning winger Ondrej Palat said. “It’s just fun to watch what Kane and [Jonathan] Toews and the other guys are going to do. It’s going to be a challenge for us to match their skills, and I’m looking forward to it.”
Lightning center Tyler Johnson is looking forward to going head to head with Kane — both are small on stature but big on skill.
“We play different styles, for sure, but he’s an amazing player,” Johnson said. “He’s a guy that I really love watching on the highlight tapes and seeing what he can do. It’s going to be fun playing against him. He’s going to be a challenge. He’s a great player and I like to be challenged like that. So if we’re matched against him, it’s going to be fun.”
With all the talent on both rosters — Toews and Steven Stamkos, Kane and Tyler Johnson, Marian Hossa and Nikita Kucherov, Duncan Keith and Victor Hedman —there’s sure to be some offensive fireworks.
That said, neither team wants to turn this series into a total track meet. The Hawks are at their best when they’re playing suffocating defense, and creating offense off of turnovers. And Tampa Bay proved it’s not just a one-dimensional team with a 2-0 lockdown of the Rangers in Game 7 at Madison Square Garden.
“I like those games when we played against the Rangers and it was 6-5,” Palat said. “But we can’t play like that every [game]. We can’t give up five goals a game. We’re going to win the way we played in Game 7 against the Rangers. That’s what we have to do.”
Line them up
Kane skated on the top line with Brandon Saad and Jonathan Toews during Tuesday’s practice at Amalie Arena, which means they’re likely to stay together for Game 1 on Wednesday. The defensive pairings remained unchanged, too, with Kyle Cuimskey and David Rundblad in, and Kimmo Timonen and Trevor van Riemdsyk out. How van Riemdsyk’s surgically repaired right wrist responds to the practice could determine his availability for Game 1, or for the series.
Kane, asked to think back to when he was first drafted by the Hawks: “I remember the first day I was in Chicago, going through traffic. I was like, ‘I don’t even know if I can live here, let alone play here.’ When you go through the draft and things like that, you don’t think about going to a certain team. But I don’t think it could have worked out any better for myself than going to Chicago.”
Lightning winger Alex Killorn graduated from Harvard. A reporter asked if he ever wonders what he’s doing playing hockey with a Harvard degree. “Maybe when I was in the minors,” he said. “[Now] I look at what my friends are doing, in an office from 5 in the morning to 9 at night, and I’m pretty happy with what I’m doing.”