The Tampa Bay Lightning’s postseason run has gripped the region’s attention, and Sun Sports analyst Bobby Taylor says the excitement will increase for the Stanley Cup Final. After a memorable seven-game series against the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Lightning will face the Chicago Blackhawks, who survived a dramatic seven-game matchup against the Anaheim Ducks in the Western Conference Finals.
There will be buzz off the ice, of course. But Taylor knows the Lightning must be disciplined on it to claim the franchise’s second title.
Taylor gave his thoughts on the series in a recent question-and-answer session …
FOX SPORTS FLORIDA: What do you think it means for the community to be part of a Stanley Cup Final?
TAYLOR: I think the people who weren’t around in ’04 … they heard all the great stories about how much fun it was and how you never had any sleep, and you partied like rock stars. They get to do it now. They get to do it. So they’re not going to miss out on it. This has become a very good hockey town anyway, as we well know. They draw well. They’ve got a really good fan base, and it’s just going to add to it. I just think it’s really going to add to it. And it’s a great showcase around the world, because you have the international feeds, you have the Canadian feeds, for our city. That’s the best part of it.
FSF: This team has been tested in different ways at various times in the postseason. What’s the greatest takeaway you’ve gathered in recent weeks?
TAYLOR: How resilient they are. They’re like the ’04 team. I used to get calls all the time from my so-called cronies and broadcasters in other cities, and they said, "Are they tough enough? Are they hard enough to get to the finals? Are they hard enough to get through?" And I said, "You know what? I’m not sure about that, but all I can tell you is this, ‘They don’t quit. And you can run them over with a bulldozer, and they’ll get up and still keep playing.’" And this team is that way. … When they’ve had to play good defense, they’re really good at it. Game 7 (against the Rangers) is a prime example of that, and Game 5 (against the Rangers) is a prime example of that. … For me, this team never ceases to amaze me. So what I’ve really drawn from this is, "Don’t be surprised."
FSF: What do you see from the Blackhawks, and how do you picture this series going?
TAYLOR: I think it’s going to be great. We’re like Chicago was six, seven years ago with (Jonathan) Toews and (Patrick) Kane. They were just starting to come up, and we’ve got Stammer (Steven Stamkos) and (Tyler) Johnson and (Nikita) Kucherov and those guys. So I think we’re just like that. But they have a very, very mobile defense. And that’s the one thing that I think could be a big difference. But if we take care of the neutral zone — when we’re playing our best, we really limit the opposition in the neutral zone. Both teams are going to have to do that. So we could probably be seeing this series played between the blue lines.
FSF: Johnson, with 12 goals, has been the big story of the Lightning’s playoff run. Did you expect him plus linemates Kucherov and Ondrej Palat to elevate their game the way they have?
TAYLOR: When we were playing Montreal (last year), they were really upset about going out in four straight. You know what? Everybody talked about that. They said, "You know, we were embarrassed with how we handled last time." You know, that’s a major motivator. They have more confidence now. And you know what? Those guys have scored, what, over 58 percent of the goals (in the postseason)? They get the best checkers against them. They get their best defense pairing against them. And they had the two best goalies in the league against them, and they still scored. So you don’t think that they’re confident? They’re starting to understand that they can’t do as much of that Sweet Georgia Brown, but they can still do it to the point where they score a lot of goals.
FSF: What’s the main thing the Lightning must do to win this series?
TAYLOR: Obviously, if they score first. They’ve been great when they score first. But I think they’ve just got to get out and approach it like Game 7. You always play for Game 7. Like I’ve told people, you never play for Game 5. … You can only score the winning goal in Game 7. So if they approach it with that kind of mentality and do all that kind of stuff, they’ll be fine. There are going to be nerves. There’s going to be a lot of hoopla. Of course, it’s the Stanley Cup Final. Everybody has been watching since they were a kid, and now they’re there. The first period will be a real factor, because the Hawks have been there, done that. This is their last hurrah, because the Hawks have cap problems. They’re probably going to have to do a lot of changes in their team next year. For our guys … "Just win baby."