The 2014-15 National Hockey League season has come down to the final two teams left standing in the Stanley Cup playoffs. The Tampa Bay Lightning and the Chicago Blackhawks will meet, starting Wednesday night, to decide who will take home one of the oldest trophies in sports.
Tampa Bay survived an intense seven-game Eastern Conference final series with the defending Eastern Conference champion New York Rangers. This marks the franchise’s second trip to the Stanley Cup Finals in their history. The last time the Lightning made it this far, they beat the Calgary Flames to capture the NHL championship in 2004.
Chicago is back in the Stanley Cup Finals for the third time in the past six seasons. The Blackhawks won the Cup in both 2010 and 2013. They also needed all seven games in the Western Conference finals to defeat the Anaheim Ducks.
During these 2015 NHL playoffs, the Lightning have been led in scoring by Tyler Johnson, who has 12 goals in 20 postseason games. That leads all scorers in the playoffs. Also, Nikita Kucherov, Alex Killorn, Ondrej Palat, and team captain Steven Stamkos have all potted at least seven goals each during Tampa Bay's playoff push.
In hockey, the successful teams also need good goaltending to reach the championship level. The Lightning have been well-served by six foot, seven inch Ben Bishop in net. He has backstopped Tampa Bay to all 12 victories, including three shutouts, during the postseason.
Tampa Bay understands how much past playoff success helps the Blackhawks as they come into the Stanley Cup Finals.
"We're up against, obviously, one of the best teams in the league. One of the most experienced teams. To see what they've been able to do the past six years is pretty impressive," Stamkos said to reporters at the NHL Stanley Cup Final Media Day Tuesday.
As for the Blackhawks, the veteran group is led in playoff scoring by Patrick Kane with ten goals. He also has ten assists in the postseason. Team captain and center Jonathan Toews is right behind Kane with nine playoff goals. At the other end of the ice, Corey Crawford has been in net for nine of Chicago's 12 playoff victories this spring.
Looking ahead to the Stanley Cup Finals, the Blackhawks captain says the Lightning are a quality opponent.
"We know they're fast, they're skilled, they play a good team game, their d[efense] join the play, they've had great goaltending. They don't have a whole lot of weaknesses," Jonathan Toews told reporters Monday.
The Lightning and Blackhawks begin their best-of-seven series Wednesday night at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida. Game 2 will also be in Tampa on Saturday night, followed by at least two games in Chicago, starting next Monday evening.
You can watch Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals, beginning at 8 p.m. Eastern time Wednesday, on NBC.