Why you should care about the Stanley Cup Finals

WASHINGTON — The Stanley Cup Finals begin on Wednesday, without any classic rivalry or history at stake. Sure, there are two talented teams, each with at least one title in the past dozen years. But many casual hockey fans, especially in D.C., may be left feeling uninspired about a matchup between the Chicago Blackhawks and Tampa Bay Lightning.

So, why should you care about the Stanley Cup Finals? To answer that question, WTOP enlisted the expertise of sports reporters J. Brooks and Ben Raby, the latter of which is also a radio broadcaster for the Washington Capitals. Here’s what they had to say.

Why should we care about this matchup?

J. Brooks: I’m not a fan of the local team or any of the teams that are here, but I will watch them because I’m a hockey fan. I think it will go seven. I’d like every series to go seven — don’t we all? I think this one could go seven, because of the experience of the Blackhawks. They know what they’re doing. Look what they did against Anaheim, how they got there. And Tampa Bay, upsetting the President Cup-winning Rangers with King Lundquist. Yeah, it’s not the sexy matchup of a team from California and a team from New York, or Chicago and New York, but it is a team that has already won a Stanley Cup, with Tampa Bay in ’04 against a team that has been raising it enough that their arms are starting to get a little tired.

Ben Raby: Probably because there’s still a lot of top-end talent involved. The NBA’s got LeBron James, Steph Curry. I wouldn’t say this is hockey’s equivalent — there’s no (Sidney) Crosby, there’s no (Alex) Ovechkin, etc. — but Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Stephen Stamkos, 20 or 30 years from now, these guys are going to be in the Hall of Fame. There’s a lot of that sort of high-end talent, which to me, that is appealing.

What Toews and Kane and the core of the Blackhawks are doing, trying to get their third Stanley Cup in six years, in the salary cap era, and parity and all that, it’s pretty impressive. It’s funny, because if the Rangers had gotten to the Cup, the narrative would have sort of been the opposite, their stars were stinking up the joint and they were winning in spite of it. They were winning because of Lundquist, who was pretty good, but Rick Nash, and their top guys weren’t. But with these two teams, and especially the Blackhawks, their top guys have been awesome. What everybody wants the Capitals to do in the playoffs, the Blackhawks have been doing for years, but this year even more so. Their top guys are just so good, so great. I think that’s a pretty cool storyline.

What makes this series a good matchup?

JB: I think it’s refreshing to see a different team in there with Tampa Bay. It isn’t the same two teams every year, like in other sports. In baseball terms, a lot of people are getting sick and tired of the Cardinals, because they’re always there. And the Giants, now that they win a World Series every other year, so to speak. You get to see a different team. And being in this area, there’s people from Florida and from Illinois in the District rooting for this, but for any other kind of hockey fan, I think it’s pretty cool that it’s the Lightning and the Blackhawks.

BR: A lot of the Lightning’s success — and I mentioned Stamkos is the face of that team, and the leader — they have a lot of young guys on their first contract … The Lightning are winning with guys on their entry-level contracts. Eventually, they’re going to get their paydays, and the team might disperse. Even the Capitals, to bring it back locally, you’ve got to have your success with your Kuznetsovs, your Burakowskys, even Braden Holtby, who was making just over 1 (million), and who’s going to cash in now … The Blackhawks are a perfect example of that. When they won, in 2010, they had to get rid of a bunch of guys, Troy Brouwer being one of them. Part of the Lightning narrative of success is that they’re young, but those young guys are going beyond their paycheck.

What player might emerge from this series as a new star?

JB: To me, it’s Ben Bishop. The way he’s, as they say, stood on his head in this series. Very calm … very resilient. I remember going to a Caps game when Bishop was in the pipes and he was just very sturdy, just looked like a leader. It comes down to me to the goaltenders in the Stanley Cup Finals, and I’d pick him over Crawford.

BR: He is a star, he’s a nominee for the best defenseman in the league, but Duncan Keith. He may not be the sexiest name, because he doesn’t get all the goals and stuff. Basically the storyline with the Blackhawks, too, is that they’ve played triple overtime, doubles overtime, and this guys has literally played 40-45 minutes a night. You can get away with that in basketball, obviously you can’t in hockey. I mean, they’re basically going four defensemen, and they have been for a good chunk of the playoffs … Maybe it takes a hockey dork to fully appreciate that, but the minutes they are playing, it’s pretty admirable.

Who should Caps fans root for?

JB: Chicago has gotten there based on their experience, and the Lightning have gotten there with their speed and skill. Which proves to me that if the Capitals want to get to that Stanley Cup Final — and raise the Cup, of course — they don’t have to worry about, per se, the experience. It can be won or attained a different way, by a solid goaltender in Ben Bishop, what he’s been able to do. That’s why I think that if you’re a Caps fan, you’re kind of rooting for the Lightning, a different sort of team that hasn’t been there three out of the last six years. It gives Caps fans a little bit of hope.

BR: I think Caps fans should maybe appreciate what the Blackhawks have built … Toews was picked one pick ahead of Backstrom (in 2006). There are some similarities there, how they’ve sort of been, with those faces. Both teams were at the bottom of attendance, bottom of TV ratings, bottom of the standings, and have sort of built themselves up with young cores, to different degrees of postseason success. The regular seasons have been very similar.

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