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Defying impossibility; Tampa Bay Lightning versus Chicago Blackhawks game 1 preview

For the second time in franchise history, the Lightning play in the Stanley Cup Finals. They contend against misperceptions as well as their fourth Original Six opponent of the playoffs, the Chicago Blackhawks.

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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Where:  Amalie Arena, Tampa, Florida
When: 8 PM EDT | Tickets: Check availability
Media: NBC (local) | 970 AM WFLA (radio) | Twitter Live Stream
Opponent Coverage: Second City Hockey, The Committed Indian

To attain a Stanley Cup Final berth may very well be a once-in-a-career opportunity for a professional hockey player in North America. So many never even get close, contending in the playoffs is as close as they come to achieving final contention... Let alone winning the Finals and raising the Stanley Cup in victory.

For the Lightning, just getting this far is a huge accomplishment. For the franchise to be doing it for the second time in its existence is also a feat, as many a club haven't been at this point in decades (if not ever).

The last time the Lightning got this far, it had to contend against a Canadian team in the Calgary Flames (who cling to this day to a disallowed goal being what prevented the Flames from winning the Cup). A confrontation with a lot of the stereotypes of hockey in non-traditional markets (it doesn't belong here, they - Canada, the north, etc - own the sport, we don't appreciate the game, we can't appreciate a Cup win, etc.) came out to play. It was fitting in that instance because the Lightning had never gotten that far.

The Lightning became the longest tenured Stanley Cup Champion after winning the Cup on June 7th, 2004. Not by way of repeating, but by way of the 2004-05 NHL lockout, which wiped away a season as well as another go at top-tier contention for Tampa Bay. Getting to the playoffs didn't stop until the 2007-08 season but getting beyond the first round wasn't happening. That's all in the distant past, though, history that's irrelevant at the moment.

Now a subtext to the Stanley Cup Final is that the Bolts squaring off against their fourth Original Six opponent of the playoffs, the Chicago Blackhawks. It is a feat that's never been done before in the NHL. It's been part of the reason why the old stereotypes have reared their ugly head in conversations about the series or the plain old fact that the Lightning are here. Unlike other members of the Original Six, the Blackhawks barely have had to deal with the Lightning on a regular basis.

I would think that, to Chicago fans, we're just another obstruction in the way to the Cup for them. While doubts are tossed at Tampa Bay because the team is too young, too inexperienced, too arrogant, and far too confident, etc, the fact is they're in the exact same boat as Chicago - the Blackhawks are just the final roadblock in the way of a Championship title. The difference is perception: a storied franchise versus a 90's expansion team.

Perception doesn't win titles, nor does mystique or history. History gets made.

It was an optional morning skate at the Amalie for Lightning players, with what amounts to a second media-day afterward. Instead of trying to key in on the chatter post-skate (praise for Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews from Steven Stamkos and Jon Cooper, excitement expressed to Stamkos from friends and contacts, etc) a relevant question leading in to the game still hasn't been asked or talked about: Will the Lightning continue to utilize a 11 forward, 7 defenseman lineup or will coach Jon Cooper switch back to the traditional 12 forward, 6 defenseman alignment? It's been both for insurance as well as employing another two-way threat that Tampa Bay has employed the 11/7 split many times in the playoffs. It was a tactic Cooper used regularly in 2013-14 but did not touch during the 2014-15 regular season. Rookie Nikita Nesterov will be the extra defenseman if 11/7 is employed, while forward depth doesn't make it clear what the lineup would be with a 12/6 roster split; Jonathan Marchessault, Vladislav Namestnikov and Jonathan Drouin have all flirted with the nightly playoff lineup when 12/6 is in place.

Don't expect a high-scoring affair tonight; it's more likely to be aches match like we saw in game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals... Unless, that is, either club comes to the game ill prepared or underestimating their opponent.

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