Into The Great Wide Open – Stanley Cup Final Preview: The Tampa Forwards

This is where it might get to be tough reading for everyone. It is rare that you would find yourself saying, “Boy, I’m not sure the Hawks want to get into a track meet with these guys.” Generally games against Colorado have fallen into that category. Dallas is sort of edging that way. And generally that’s about it.

But Tampa would almost certainly be on top of that list. While the Preds tried to go plaid and wear the Hawks out that way, the Lightning will try and do some of the same things Nashville did. Except they’ll try it with a consistent 40-goal scorer who once pierced 60, two Calder finalists from last year who are Conn Smythe contenders this year, and a some pretty clever centers. Yeah, little worrying.

But much like the defense, there’s an upper echelon here and then a Looney Tunes cliff-like drop. Let’s get into the nitty gritty.

Alex Killorn-Valtteri Filppula-Steven Stamkos

Oh goodie, a week or two of trying to spell “Valtteri Filppula” without looking it up. Joy. 

Not only do the Lightning have a ton of talent in their top six, but their coach John Cooper has made some interesting choices throughout the lineup. Somewhere around March, Cooper flipped Stamkos to the wing with Filppula moving up from his 3rd line center role to the top line. The thought was it would open up Stamkos’s scoring chances more, where he would be able to get out of his own zone earlier, and spend more time finding space in the offensive zone instead of wrangling below the net. The Lightning aren’t blessed with a bevy of miners and diggers along the boards, so leaving Filppula to do it would be a boon to Stamkos.

The results have only been ok. Stamkos has 17 points in the playoffs, but their possession numbers are only just barely on the positive side with Killorn and Stamkos carrying a mark of 51% in the playoffs and Filps at 48% and that’s with pretty cushy zone starts for this line (Filpulla comes out for some draws defensively without these linemates when needed).

That’s not the whole story, of course. Filppula was a major nuisance when he was in Detroit for the Hawks, either through big goals or through quietly sitting on the Hawks goalie while someone else scored. He’s been a solid defensive center with a sprinkling of offensive dash. Still, if Ryan Kesler couldn’t keep a lid on Toews throughout a series, Filps isn’t going to either if that’s the way Cooper wants to play it.

But clearly the focus will be on Stamkos, and I wonder if he’ll stick at wing. Because if he is going to continue as a right-winger, well that’s where Duncan Keith lives. Ask Jarome Iginla how that’s worked out for him in the past. Stamkos is more than just a bomb from the circle and has really become adept at creating his own shot more. He has murdered the Hawks in his career, with 11 goals and 17 points in just nine career games against them. Good lord stay out of the box, because he’s going to get enough looks at evens and you know what a weapon he is on the power play. As a winger though, there is a chance to cut off his chances at the source, by getting the best of Filppula. And that’s a job that will fall to all Hawks centers.

Ondrej Palat-Tyler Johnson-Nikita Kucherov

Yes, you may have heard of these Triplets. They saved the Bolts’s ass against the Wings. They tore apart the Canadiens. They didn’t drop off much against the Rangers. Yes, quite imposing. 

Tyler Johnson has caught the eye since he came up last season, playing a big game at high speed even though he’s listed at only 5-8. It always seems like Johnson is just on the puck no matter where it is or where he came from. D-men get to a puck and Johnson is just there. A mistake at the defensive blue line and it’s Johnson that’s streaking away. He’s the one popping up in scoring areas from nowhere. It’s just an all-action style that is nearly impossible to hold down.

Kucherov and Palat aren’t nearly as straight line as Johnson, but are the creators. Both can finish as well, with Kucherov having one of the more lightning (get it?) releases on his shot in the league. What is striking about these three is just how fast they play. It’s not just on the rush either, which the Hawks have to be careful about. They’re so quick on the forecheck that they don’t come to hit down low but to win the race which they often do. If they do, they can cycle and move around the zone so quickly that you’re forever in their wake.

Obviously these guys are the possession leaders for the Bolts at forward, as a threesome with this much speed is hard to contain. When it comes to the Bolts’ top six, the Hawks have to really be careful at the T.B. blue line. Any bad pinch, or the third forward getting caught too low, and this team is gone. You can’t catch them from behind and squeeze their space. Which could limit the Hawks’ attack, as it’s built on Keith and Oduya tightening the space in the offensive zone to keep things going and being able to stand up at their own line with pressure from behind. One bad step and the Hawks will lose the opportunity to do either and will let these six into space, which is death.

And now the fall….

Ryan Callahan-Cedric Pacquette-J.T. Brown

This would be something of an energy line on most teams, I guess. The bottom six for Tampa is kind of fluid, as Brian Boyle and Brenden Morrow do take shifts with these three at times in games.

Callahan has somehow become the most celebrated third liner in the game. Being a Ranger helped, and being able to moonlight on a 2nd line and produce goals is the rest of it. But really, Callahan’s skill-set is one of a checking forward, plays a hard game and is good in the corners and on the wall. He’ll block shots, get to the net, look good yelling at someone, but he’s not going to create much on his own.

Pacquette is a nasty little shit but has been getting his head kicked in possession wise in the playoffs, with a 37% Corsi for this spring. As as the Bolts really only roll nine or 10 forwards, he finds himself getting the short end of time a lot.

J.T. Brown is really fast, always looks like he’s doing a lot and making things happen, is one of the bigger physical presences the Lightning have even though he’s 5-10, and then it’s all over and you ask yourself if any of it meant anything. And generally, it hasn’t.

This unit, no matter what three of five has comprised it, have been rolled over. That shouldn’t change this series.

Brenden Morrow-Brian Boyle

Cooper has gone with a seven d-man look for most of the playoffs, so these two round out the forwards. Morrow, as you probably know, was clinically dead last year for the Blues against the Hawks, and this series should pass him by in a fucking hurry. He’s been getting clocked in possession as well these playoffs, and hasn’t registered a point. As he watches things go past him you can expect him to do something stupid to justify his existence, be it a slash or running Crawford or some hit from behind. Cooper will be doing the Hawks a favor by dressing this fossilized horse turd.

There’s a part of me that’s always wanted Boyle to be a Hawk, not because I like his game but just because I wanted to see how much Hawks fans would despise him. And they would. While he is 6-7, good at the dot, and defensively solid, he’s not a hulking physical presence. A favorite metaphor of McClure is calling someone a big mattress out there, and that’s what Boyle is. He’s unwieldy but not forceful, meaning much smaller players can actually joust with him and get the better of him. And once you’re away from him, he’s not going to catch you. The only danger with Boyle is that he can lean on you in his zone and prevent the Hawks from getting things going. But considering the speed of the Hawks, I heavily doubt Cooper is going to try him as a checking center.

As you can see, there’s a major difference between the Bolts’ top six and bottom. And considering Pacquette and Boyle are outgunned here, Cooper probably just has to fight fire with fire in Tampa and get his top two lines out against the Hawks’ top two lines. If he tries to get cute and Toews and Kane and Hossa and Richards and Saad are getting looks as this bottom six with the bottom pairing d-men behind that, it could get away from the Lightning in a hurry.


  • Bob Lanz

    Correct me if I am misinterpreting this but it seems like our third line could do some serious damage in this series. It’s time for Sharp and Vermette to get off and possibly Teuvo’s coming out party. GO HAWKS!

    • Hags

      that’s what I am sensing. Ya-Ha time for that line.

    • rhodes

      That is the conclusion I have been coming to over the past 24 hrs. All the overview articles I’ve read seem to agree that the Lightning don’t have much outside of the top-six.

      Seems like Cooper will have to pick his poison with match ups and just won’t be able to cover the number of scoring threats the Hawks can spread out.

      If the Hawks can limit the goals by staying out of the box and get good play from their goalie–two things they accomplished in the Anaheim series–I’m optimistic.

    • Jim

      Ditto 11-16-65

      • Joe Banks

        The ANDY line… Andy Desjardin, Andy Shaw, and Andy Kruger

        • Jim


          Bottom 6 of Tampa Bay – 8 Playoff Goals
          Shaw – 9 Playoff Goals

          It could also be TiVo time….and you know Sharp wants to go out strong.

          If the top 2 lines cancel each other out…it can bode well for the good guys…

    • Dangles-a-Plenty

      If sharp decided to shoot anywhere else but the chest, he might start scoring. As for TiVo, it’s only a matter of time before that sneaky little bastard starts raking in points. That kid can fucking play hockey eh?

      • ZigZags82

        Here’s to hoping Sharpy has a big last series with the Hawks to lift his 3rd

        • Dangles-a-Plenty

          I second that notion. He’s done great things for us. We all know his time has come :/

          • Brandon Murray

            Ditto, Handsome Man needs to lift the Cup once more in a Hawks sweater.

      • Jim

        Sharp also needs to elevate pucks on breakaways. The goalie tries to protect the 5 hole with his pads on the ice, and Sharp always hits the pads. Sharp seems to be at his best when he shoots for the corners.

  • Hags

    Reading through today’s forwards post, I think splitting up 19 and 88 on the road makes a lot of sense. Ideally, I would like to see the Toews line take on Stamkos line, and have Kruger’s line up against the Triplets when possible, easier said than done on the road.

    That leaves Kane’s line and Sharp’s line to take on a bottom 6 and bottom 4 D that isn’t going to have the answers over a 7 game series.

    • ZigZags82

      Nice to have Hossa on 2nd line as a 2 way presence actually so they have support and don’t get buried.

      • ‘hawks58

        Exactly my thinking as well. Bickell-Richards-Hossa should be able to handle themselves defensively (though not sure how Richards and Bickell will look if they are out there with the triplets).

        If the Hawks can steal one on the road and the 4th line can shut down half of the Bolts top 6 (the same way they have shut down a top line all post-season), Richards and Vermette’s lines should have a ton of opportunities at the UC.

        I am deathly afraid of Stamkos though….

        • ZigZags82

          Jonny and Saad come in handy against Stamkos…….

      • Shooter

        ^Right here. I was having fits watching kane and bickell try to play against the ducks top line. As much of a superstar as kane is, “two way forward”, is one phrase you’ll never hear attached to his name.

        Now that being said, tampa’s top lines are a lot more speed based than Anaheim’s “hide behind the net” approach. So maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to move him back. But I think a Kane, Toews, Saad line will end up on the positive side of whoever they face. So it just leaves the rest of the lines to make up for it.

        • Sopel the catfish

          A line of 19-88-20 will end up roughly 6 feet higher than any line they face. (cuz the other line will be 6 feet under…get it?…get it?… OK bad joke)

  • SuperHawk27

    The “Triplets Line” name annoys the hell out of me for some reason. It needs to go away.

    • Leo W

      better than that bs 70s line.

  • Jim

    Crow is going to have to bring his “A” game.

    • ZigZags82

      As is Bishop. Hawks will break him.

      • Dangles-a-Plenty

        But Bishop is better because he isn’t Crow. Crow gets rattled. Crow is so bad, wow how is he even a goalie. CRAAAAAWFORD CRAAAAWFORD. I hope he stands in his crease and waves his glove to his ear, “Say my name again, fuckers”

        • Sopel the catfish

          You spelled it wrong, its Crapford or Crawstink. People are stupid (not you, the mouthbreathers who chant his name and spell it funny)

          • Dangles-a-Plenty

            Honestly I love the shit he gets cause at the end of the day, he’s in the Stanley Cup Final for the second time in his short career. He out-dueled Rinne, Dubnyk, and the ever-so-calm-can’t-be-rattled Andersen. Get fucked on. Unleash the Crawken boys!!

        • Brandon Murray

          Cue every mouth breather who loves to blame Crow for every fucking thing that goes wrong and wants DAT LOCAL GUY BETWEEEEEN DA PIPES…..

  • JKM13

    Game 1 would be an excellent time to bench Tuevo and dress Versteeg.

    • Sopel the catfish


    • rhodes

      Funny guy.

    • ZigZags82

      Please God no.

    • Had the game 3 debacle not happened in the WCF this might have been funny

    • William Retseck

      No !!!!

    • Bannerman

      All part of the plan to win the series in 6 instead of 5 and getting the cup on the road.

  • Matt

    I feel like the Hawks have generally done a good job shutting down other teams’ offensive superstars. I can’t think of anyone who would match “You know who really torched the Hawks in the playoffs? _______, that’s who.” Maybe the Kings’ third line from last year, but that’s it.

  • HawkIPA

    I was definitely worried when Tampa beat the Rangers. This is the type of team that has given the Hawks fits in regular seasons’ past. That said, after reading these previews, I think the Hawks can withstand the charge. The Bolts are scary, but their bottom six will eventually be exposed, and their blue line is nothing the Hawks can’t handle. I foresee a tough series, but Hawks take it in 6.

    • I think it was Fork on the Hockeenight puckcast that said it best – the Blackhawks have decided they’re going to win the Stanley Cup this year and there’s nothing any other team can do to stop them.

      • ZigZags82

        Yes sir! Let’s Go Hawks!

      • Dangles-a-Plenty

        Fucking beauty

  • TitanTransistor

    The Triplets line is terrifying. So much skill, and at such a high pace. I don’t even know how they stick-handle when they’re moving that fast. Most players with that kind of speed, their hands can’t keep up. These guys, they keep up and more.

    • Sopel the catfish

      See Kane, Patrick and The Targarian, Teuvo.

      • ZigZags82

        And a host of others………

        • Brandon Murray

          Yep and Nashville was the hottest team in the NHL for 3/4 of the season AND Dubnyk was the best goalie in the NHL playing for a much better Wild team AND Anaheim was so skilled, so deep, and so physical…….

          Tampa has some serious fucking skill, but so does 19, 88, 81, 20, 86, 2, 7, etc……

  • GoldenJet

    Wonder if we’ll see some Steeger in place of Bickell…

    • ‘hawks58

      I wouldn’t be opposed to that, if it were the defensively responsible version of Steeger we have seen at times this year.

      • Dangles-a-Plenty

        Also if he learned to play a north-south game instead of a drunken east-west….

    • To Saad be the glory

      The only version of Steeger I want to see is the one with mustard stains on his tie.

  • jordyhawk

    There is a lot of excitement around the league about this one. As Bob Cole, the dean of HNIC announcers is wont to say, “hockey baby.”

    If you’ve not been around that long consider yourself truly lucky to have landed with the Indian Head. If you’ve been around a bit longer then you know this is as good as it gets and better than any of us likely ever imagined. It’s our time.

  • Matthew Blecha

    Skate for blood

  • Sopel the catfish
    • rhodes

      Yeah, well eat shit, Ryan, and get over it. Skate harder next time.

    • seabsrat

      What a taint.

      “Obviously we lost to a good team. Should we have ended it in Game 6? Absolutely.”

      I don’t like his phrasing. He makes it sound as if they didn’t try in game 6, when in reality, they tried and got shit on by a superior team. Enjoy mediocrity.

      • Dangles-a-Plenty

        THIS^ fuck off Kesler! 19 fucking owns you

    • To Saad be the glory

      Guess he forgot about the gift Q handed them in game 3 when he had to out-dumb BB.

    • Sopel the catfish

      Now this is someone who’s (whose? fucking dumb english language) opinion I respect more. Soupy misses The Captain.

    • Brandon Murray

      Breaking news, Kessler is an asshat but can thankfully be consoled in the warmth of Perry’s asshole.

      • Stop. This will not be tolerated.

        • Sopel the catfish

          I know we don’t support sexism but what did Murray say that’s not allowed?

          • Brandon Murray

            Yeah, what did I say that 1000 others haven’t said (or said worse) about Perry and Kessler? It’s not reality, it’s a message board and it was baout as non-threatening as you could be.
            Also, I don’t get this sexism rant people go on. In every post I have ever made, I have never been nor have I said anything sexist. I made one post anout a week ago where I commented that my wife was pissed at me because of my language during a game and I could be sleeping on the couch.
            Immediately people were saying cut the sexist crap, my comments weren’t sexist, they were marriage. Period.

          • CurvedBlade

            Sanity is GONE in this world. Gone. You must not ever make anyone feel bad. You are required to think through every possible way that could happen.

            Remember when you were little and everyone said “sticks and stones will break your bones but names will never hurt you”? That’s no longer true. Apparently the judges have all weighed in and decided words are like machine guns and grenades.

  • To Saad be the glory

    Kesler+butthurt=good times.

    • Sopel the catfish

      Gotta love some status quo

    • I, too, enjoy that knob’s pain.

    • Jim

      More Schadenfreude:

      BB might be gone today.

  • To Saad be the glory

    Maybe we should bring Road Warrior Animal to even the score.

  • GoldenJet
  • Shooter

    Less than 24 hours ladies and gents!! Get your game faces on!!!!

  • Jane Doe

    So, how come I’m not hearing about the Bolts forwards being tired since they lean on the top 6 so much?

    And, as nicknames go, “Triplets” is about as non-hetrosexual as it gets.

  • Brandon Murray

    This whole no tickets without a Floria zip code or no Hawks gear in certain sections of the stadium or you will be moved to another section is fucking stupid. Nashville tried it and spent so much time worrying about it they forgot to win 4 games. I remember the one and only game in Tampa this season and at Puck drop the Let’s Go Hawks chant was so loud, if you closed your eyes you would have sweared it was the UC.

    Fuck Tampa that city has crabs.

  • Although my feelings are subject to change over the next two weeks, I’m having a hard time working up a healthy distaste for John Cooper. Pretty interesting and chill guy, from what I’ve seen the last couple of years.

    • Hockey Newbie

      agree, and the team as a whole seems fairly decent, especially when compared to the bags we just played. Guess that could all change, once the puck drops and the announcers find their player to dote about. who will be the new ANA 4th line this series?

      • Dangles-a-Plenty

        Well my guess would be the Johnson line… Unrelated, I feel like I’m gonna fucking hate Boyle when this series is over.

        • Hockey Newbie

          I do imagine that line will be hyped, but the difference to me is that line is actually good, as opposed to the mythical Ducks 4th line and their great d lines I kept hearing about.

  • Sopel the catfish

    Everything about their team still resembles sentient garbage, I’m not sure if I should be proud they can speak or ashamed we consider most of them Americans

  • GoldenJet

    That didn’t take long

    • rhodes

      I want one.

      • GoldenJet

        These are definitely available…and you’ll see some at the game tonight.

    • Dangles-a-Plenty

      LOLOL yes

  • GoldenJet