Stanley Cup Finals: The Arrived v The Arriving
It's a testament to why the Chicago Blackhawks and Tampa Bay Lightning will be playing for North America's oldest team trophy this spring.
Both teams winning road games in Game 7 of their conference finals is an incredible endorsement of their all-encompassing resilience.
The Lightning upset New York's Rangers, 2-0, on Fri 29 May to punch their ticket to the finals as Ben Bishop stopped 22 shots for his second Game 7 playoff shutout this year.
Then, the Blackhawks went into Anaheim and upset the Ducks, 5-3, to reach their fifth conference final in seven years.
Tampa Bay, who finished five points behind the Presidents' Trophy-winning Rangers during the regular season, took three out of four games at Madison Square Garden, becoming the first team ever to beat the Blueshirts in a Game 7 there. It earned the Bolts their second-ever trip to the finals, with the first being in 2004, when they raised the Cup.
Chicago, which finished third in the Central Division and overcame Corey Crawford's early struggles in goal, will now play for their third Stanley Cup in six years after not winning one in the previous 49.
Dudes have been finding a way for a while now.
The normal names did it again against the Ducks. Jonathan Toews' two goals in the first period got the Blackhawks going, while Patrick Kane added three assists. Crawford made 38 saves and seems to have regained his steady play after being relieved in the first round by Scott Darling.
And how's that for depth? He was 3-1 in the first round against Nashville. Without him, the Lightning would be playing someone else in the finals.
Chicago is peaking at the right time and has unfinished business after losing in overtime last year at home to Los Angeles in Game 7 of the Conference Finals. Tampa Bay was better than the Rangers for most of the series and is young, fast, and in possession of a goalie seeking for his first Stanley Cup in his first playoff season.
The Blackhawks will be favored by virtue of their experience, but the Lightning look like they're about to embark on the same story arc that launched Chicago to its current years of dominance. It's a tough call to choose between the two.
So the storylines are there, but none are more poignant than that of Brad Richards. He's playing steady for Chicago now after being bought out by the Rangers last year, where he did his bit to aid their run to the finals. Richards could've faced New York if they'd won on Friday but instead will face the Lightning, where he played his first eight years and was a key to their winning the Cup.
It'll be interesting if he sees any similarity between his early self and any of the up-and-coming Bolts.
Then again, maybe not.