10 observations: Youthful Lightning have speed to burn, but the moxie to kill

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The Tampa Bay Lightning’s speed and skill will be a challenge for the Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Final, but it’s their gumption that could pose the biggest threat to their hopes of winning a third Stanley Cup in six seasons.

The Lightning aren’t the Ducks, a talented team with former Cup winners that lived down to its reputation of crumbling in crunch time. They’re a young team (their average age of 26.0 is three years per man lower than the Hawks’ 29.1) that already is showing the kind of mental toughness that has carried the Hawks through one playoff series after another since 2010.

The Lightning overcame series deficits of 1-0, 2-1 and 3-2 against the Red Wings in the first round. They won 5-2 in Game 6 at Joe Louis Arena and 2-0 at home in Game 7.

They were even better at responding in Hawks-like fashion in the Eastern Conference final against the Rangers. After losing 5-1 in Game 4 at home, they won 2-0 in Game 5 at Madison Square Garden. After losing 7-3 in Game 6 at home, they won 2-0 in Game 7 at the Garden to win the series.

“We’ve been a pretty resilient group all year,” veteran defenseman Matt Carle said. “I don’t think we ever really had a long losing streak. We respond well to adversity. You saw that in the last series — we played like crap in Game 4 and didn’t really play great in Game 6 and we were able to bounce back in Games 5 and 7.

“Even looking back in the first round, we lose Game 5 here at home to Detroit and we were able to respond well there. You build on those experiences. I know the L.A.’s and Chicago’s, they’ve been able to do that over a longer period of time. But we’ve got a young team here and we feel like we can draw on those experiences in the amount period of time that we’ve been going through this.”

2. On the other hand, the Hawks see a lot of themselves in the 2015 Lightning and at least have an idea of what they’re up against.

“I could remember in 2010 we were pretty young too,” forward Patrick Kane said, “and I think I made a comment back then saying we were kind of too young and stupid to even realize the magnitude of the situation we were in, so that could go for them too.

“They’ve had a great playoffs. They’ve had some big games, some big wins in Game 7s. They’ve had a lot of players step up and it seems like they have a lot of offense and skill and speed to their team too. It seems like it’ll be a fun matchup and a fun series for the average fan to watch and a fun series to play in as well.”

3. The Lightning have youth on their side, but the Hawks have a rested Marian Hossa. The 36-year-old veteran has been noticeably more effective when he’s coming off a lighter workload. After playing 20:00 or more in the playoffs the past two season, Hossa has three points (one goal, two assists) in 10 games and is a minus-8. After playing fewer than 20:00, he has 25 points (five goals, 20 assists) in 26 games and is a plus-13.

But the eye test told the story in Game 7 of the Western Conference final against the Ducks. Coming off two days rest after playing 15:03 in Game 6, Hossa showed a burst of speed after a takeaway that drew a penalty that led to Brent Seabrook’s back-breaking goal for a 5-2 lead in the third period.

Hossa enters the Stanley Cup Final with three days rest after the Hawks’ clinched against the Ducks on Saturday. There also will be two days off prior to Game 2 on Saturday at Amalie Arena.

4. The Hawks veteran core of players in their third Stanley Cup Final (Toews, Kane, Keith, Sharp, Hossa, Seabrook and Hjalmarsson) has accounted for 36-of-56 goals (64.3 percent) and 97-of-153 points (63.4 percent) in 17 games through three rounds this season — a pretty impressive total considering three members of the core are defensemen.

That’s even more than last year, when the core combined for 31-of-58 goals (53.4 percent) and 91-of-162 points (56.2 percent) in 19 games and three rounds of the playoffs.

5. Without home-ice advantage, the Hawks will have to win a road game to win their third Stanley Cup in the last six years — not an overwhelming chore for them. The Hawks are 24-22 on the road in the playoffs since 2010 and have won at least one road game in their last 16 playoff series.

The Lightning had the best home record in the NHL in the regular season (32-8-1). They outscored opponents 141-80 — their goal-differential on home ice of plus-52 easily led the NHL (the Blues were second-best at plus-31).

But the Lightning are just 5-5 at home in the playoffs, and have been outscored 33-27.

The Hawks, by the way, are 5-3 in playoff series under Joel Quenneville when they do not have home-ice advantage — including victories over the Predators and Ducks this year.

5a. Why are the Lightning not as good at home in the playoffs as they were in the regular season. Carle’s answer was familiar to those who watched the Hawks struggle at home at times in the Kane-Toews era.

“I wish we had that answer. It would be easy to fix if we did,” Carle said. “One thing we talked about —sometimes at home we try to get too cute and want to put on a show for our fans and get away from our structure and get away from playing a patient game. So that’s something we’ll try to get back to in Game 1.”

6. Patrick Sharp did not score a goal in the Western Conference final against the Ducks, ending an impressive streak of 19 consecutive playoff series in which he had scored at least one goal. Sharp had 41 shot attempts against the Ducks, with 20 shots on goal.

Sharp had three assists and was a minus-1 against the Ducks and has 12 points (four goals, eight assists) and is a plus-2 for the postseason.

6a. For what it’s worth, Patrick Kane has the longest streak of playoff series with at least one goal —nine. Kane had three goals and four assists and was a minus-2 in the conference final.

7. With his two-goal performances in Games 5 and 7 on the road in the Western Conference final, Jonathan Toews now has scored 17 goals and 37 points and is a plus-12 in Games 5-7 of a playoff series in his career (35 games). In games 1-4 of a playoff series in his career, Toews has scored 21 goals and 60 points and is a plus-3 in 76 games.

8. Joel Quenneville has clinched a Stanley Cup by splitting up Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews (in 2010 vs. Chris Pronger and the Flyers) and by putting them together (2013 vs. Zdeno Chara and the Bruins).

It appears he’ll stick with the “nuclear option” in Game 1 against the Lightning. Quenneville said it’s a match-up thing and no reflection on 2013, when he split up the duo in the Final against the Bruins after they had sparked the victory over the Kings in the Western Conference final.

Kane and Toews combined for no goals and points in the first three games as the Hawks fell behind 2-1. He put them back together in Game 4 and Kane and Toews combined for five goals and nine points as the Hawks won three consecutive games to clinch their second Stanley Cup.

9. Quenneville has been the dean of Chicago coaches since the Bears fired Lovie Smith after the 2012 season. With Tom Thibodeau getting fired last week, White Sox manager Robin Ventura —hired way back in 2012 during the Obama administration — is second on the Chicago coaches/managers seniority list. The Thibodeau firing is the ninth coaching change among the five major sports in Chicago since Quenneville abruptly replaced Denis Savard in 2008.

10. Pick to click: Blackhawks in 6.

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