Two of the highest-scoring teams in the playoffs are set to play a back-and-forth, high-paced, goal-happy series. Defence may win championships, but this one will be decided by Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Steven Stamkos and Tyler Johnson, stars who can fill the net in bunches.
"You look up and down their lineup, just about everybody can put the puck in the net. You look up and down ours, about the same," Tampa Bay goaltender Ben Bishop said. "Their defence, they move quick, too. I don't know how fast you can get but this will probably be as fast as it goes."
The Blackhawks and Lightning share a need for speed. Each likes to create off the rush and turn an opponent's mistakes into scoring chances.
Chicago has averaged 3.29 goals a game in the playoffs compared to 2.75 for Tampa Bay. But the Lightning boasts the "Triplets" line of leading scorer Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov that looks like it can't be stopped.
"On both sides there's high scorers," Chicago winger Marian Hossa said. "Definitely both teams got a lot of offensive power. Both teams like to play a puck-control game."
Bishop and counterpart Corey Crawford expect to be on the defensive beginning with Game 1 on Wednesday night at Amalie Arena. Bishop said the Blackhawks remind him of the Lightning with their style of play, which has been a hallmark of their regular-season and post-season success.
The Cup final always has talent, but this kind of offensive star power is rare.
"You don't advance this far without having game-breakers," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "Both teams are fortunate enough to have those guys."
The Lightning used their high-end talent to get past the defensive-minded Detroit Red Wings, Carey Price and the Montreal Canadiens and the defending Eastern Conference-champion New York Rangers. But several players pointed to a 2-0 Game 7 victory against New York as an effort they want to duplicate in the final.
"I think when you play a team like that, you have to be careful because we like to play that sort of game, too, a run-and-gun game," winger Alex Killorn said. "You look at our Game 7 against New York, we tried to shut it down and kind of not force anything and realize the chances were going to come.
"I don't think we want to play run-and-gun with the Chicago Blackhawks."
In the Cup final as a group for the first time against the Blackhawks, who are there for the third time in six years, Tampa Bay feels confident it can play different styles of hockey. The high-powered Lightning's focus right now appears to be defence first.
"We have to have a 1-0 mentality," defenceman Jason Garrison said. "It's no surprise our team can score goals, but you're not going to score as many goals each and every night."
The Blackhawks might be able to score plenty of goals every night, thanks not only to Kane and Toews but stronger offensive depth than the Lightning. Scoring is what Chicago does best.
"It's so much fun out there," rookie forward Teuvo Teravainen said. "It's two great teams playing each other, a lot of skill, a lot of pace."
But Teravainen and his teammates are still coached by Joel Quenneville and were quick to emphasize checking and defence. Kane wants the Blackhawks to be patient and defensively stingy like they were during a sweep of the Minnesota Wild.
"The more patient we were, the better we were and the more chances we got offensively," Kane said. "You realize sometimes good defence can lead to more offence."
More offence may be "ulcer-building" to Cooper and Quenneville, but it's good for the entertainment value. It's easy for the NHL to sell its brand with this final.
"It's great for the game that the two teams in the final are this much focused on being offensive, have this amount of skill, have this amount of high-quality offensive players," Kane said. "It's good for the game and makes the game more exciting when you see teams like this win."
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