No, it's not that Steve Yzerman, Vice President and General Manager of the Lightning, is still known around Detroit as "The Captain", though that narrative is fun, too.
Yzerman brought Ken Holland's slow-burn draft-and-develop strategy to the Lightning almost 5 years ago, and both teams have benefited from success experienced by their prospects at the AHL level. Jon Cooper, now head coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning, famously coached a Norfolk Admirals squad to a record-setting 28-game winning streak and a Calder Cup. Rob Zettler led the same core the next season -- now in Syracuse -- into the Finals again, this time against Detroit's top affiliate -- the Grand Rapids Griffins.
The Crunch fell in a big hole in that series, going down 3-0 after a weary Cedrick Desjardins struggled out of the gate, ceding, 2, 6, and 4 goals in the first three games and with Zettler unable to turn to untrusted backup Pat Nagle.
Unsurprisingly, in the two years since that series, many of the prospects involved have made their way to the NHL, and will face off again in playoff games starting Thursday:
Players that played for Grand Rapids and are expected to play for the Red Wings include: Gustav Nyquist, Joakim Andersson, Riley Sheahan, Tomas Tatar, Tomas Jurco, Luke Glendening, Danny DeKeyser, Landon Ferraro and Petr Mrazek.
For the Crunch/Lightning: Andrej Sustr, Mark Barberio, Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, Vlad Namestnikov, Cedric Paquette, and J.T. Brown.
Of course, none of this is telling you anything you likely don't already know. Detroit and Tampa Bay like to draft and develop their own talent, so it makes sense that AHL standouts from two years ago are big contributors in the NHL now. There's really nothing to see here; both teams benefited from playoff experience in the AHL, and both teams will look to guys who played in this series to make a difference in the Detroit-Tampa Bay series as well.
Ultimately, Grand Rapids coming out on top in 2013 doesn't mean Detroit is destined to win in the NHL re-match. Far from it, in fact. The AHL feeds the NHL, sure, but so much happens at the NHL level, too. Some of the most important players -- Victor Hedman, Steven Stamkos, Anton Stralman, Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, just to name a few -- did not play in this series. Their impact will be just as important -- if not more important -- than that of the kids who faced each other in the AHL Finals in 2013.