Showdown on Cooper's Pond; Tampa Bay Lightning versus Anaheim Ducks preview

A clash of conference leaders is on tap tonight at the (awkwardly corporate named) Tampa Bay Times Forum, where the Lightning have been dominant for the most part this season.

Where:  Tampa Bay Times Forum, Tampa, Florida
When: 7:30 PM EST | Tickets: Check availability
Media: Sun Sports (cable) | 970 AM WFLA (radio)
Opponent Coverage: Anaheim Calling

Corporate naming rights on sport and entertainment venues are a mainstay in society at this point in our existence. Not only are you inundated with ads for products or services tendered by major corporations/institutions or conglomerates, but your forced to root, root-root for your home team (and sometimes rock out at concerts) in venues sporting their name too.  Pure Florida orange juice by way of Tropicana and, hey! Let's go see a Rays game at Tropicana Field!  I need to get a pay-day advance so I can buy Orlando Magic tickets at the Amway Center.

There are so many better (worse) examples that could be cited here, but that's not really what I'm after. Sometimes the names work, and I don't mean that in the sense that we learn to tolerate them. It just works. And one of those examples is the former name of the home venue of tonight's Tampa Bay Lightning opponent, the Anaheim Ducks.

The Ducks, celebrating their 20th anniversary, were once "mighty" with their name (directly tied to the Disney movie franchise set in Minnesota).  And while they play (at this point) in Honda Center at home in Anaheim, they used to have what could be deemed as the most subtle and fitting corporate names for a venue in hockey:  Arrowhead Pond.

"Ducks", "Pond"... You get that, it helps hide the "Arrowhead" part, which probably doesn't even read as a naming-rights type of deal. "Arrowhead Pond" sounds like an oddly placed (because it's Southern California) reference to Minnesota or some other traditional northern climate.

Being in the east as we are (or in foreign places - hello readers in Europe, Australia and elsewhere!), we are exposed to certain brands of bottled water...  One brand that isn't marketed to us so much is Arrowhead brand water, which can be found widely in California and out west.  While this game is being played in Tampa and naming rights to the Ducks home building shouldn't be relevant here... I just couldn't pass up the opportunity to pine about the old name ; it just fit so well.

But what is in a name? If we were to call a rose by any other would it not smell just as sweet?

Back to the game at hand, the Lightning are making only a pit stop at Times Palace (or shall I call it Cooper's Pond? The Bolts are 7-2-0 so far this season at home) before heading out on a western sojourn through Arizona and California.  This isn't just your normal pit stop though - this is a clash of the titans that probably won't get it's just due in the hockey media with thanks to neither team being in traditional markets.

"Clash of the titans" is an apt description seeing the Ducks and the Lightning are currently leading their respective conferences. Our old foe Bruce Boudreau (former head coach of the Washington Capitals, who took over the Anaheim Ducks in 2011 after his dismissal in Washington) has his team flying high; in 20 games this season they are 15-4-1. That's not as good a win percentage as the Colorado Avalanche (14-3-0 in 17 games played), but their current 31 points in the standings trumps the rest of the league.

This is also likely the last opportunity Tampa Bay hockey fans will get to see Teemu Selanne. Despite showing that he still has the ability at the tender age of 43 (3 goals, 4 assists in 15 games), the Finnish Flash is hanging them up after this season. You can read more about Teemu and why he's calling an end to his career here.

So here's what we're going to do (and I tend to reserve this for our own returning heroes, but there's a weight to this one that I think it's appropriate):  When the Ducks roster is announced and a certain fun Finn's name is called out...  Do the sport a favor and stand up and cheer.  You stand up and you cheer loud, and you cheer long, paying him the ovation and respects that he deserves for one hell of a career.  Selanne is probably one of the most understated stars (not nearly underrated though) in this league, and if the NHL would rather dole out kudos to a scant few players in the east, it's up to fans to show ample respect to pay proper respects to those in the west.

Maybe I'm being too mean to the league on this one.. Just my humble opinion though. He's accepted, he's admired, but too many other players take precedence over him regarding league marketing.

With that out of the way, when the puck drops it's down to business. That business, besides the showdown between conference leaders, is game two of life-without-Steven Stamkos and trying to continue to find the right balance and the path forward. That journey started off well enough in Montréal on Tuesday night... But one game doesn't make a larger trend.

Ben Bishop gets the start in net for Tampa Bay, which should make some of you feel much more comfortable. Ben's a remarkable 12-2-0 in 15 games played, his GAA dropped to 2.02 after his effort on Tuesday night in Montréal, and his save percentage is bubbling at .938. Lightning goalies have not produced numbers like that in a very long time. If ever.

For the Ducks, it'll be Jonas Hiller in goal. The Swiss netminder has shared the bulk of duties with Fredrick Andersen this season (having 17 of 20 game starts between them.) Hiller's got a 2.47 GAA and .908 save percentage. Don't let the numbers fool you; when Hiller is on he is on. Andersen's statistics are formidably on par with that of Bishop's: 1.66 GAA and a .943 save percentage in 7 appearances (6 starts) this season.

Also in the goalie department worth noting is that our old friend Dwayne Roloson has been working with the Ducks goalies this season. I don't know if he's made the trip with the club to Tampa but I wouldn't be surprised to find out the fact.

This game has the makings of being a good one. Boudreau knows some of the Lightning from days past, and his team is potent in a way that compares to the Capitals that we were so used to seeing as division rivals; Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry have a combined 43 points and lead the Ducks offense, Mathieu Perreault (5 goals, 9 assists) and Dustin Penner (3 goals, 9 assists) also shouldn't be overlooked (among others).

One last note: Sami Salo has resumed on-ice practice with the Lightning (in the red, no-contact jersey). He'll be a scratch tonight, but it's reassuring to know that one of the Bolts top defenders will make his return sooner rather than later.

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