CHICAGO — To walk around a city such as this one is to feel history. To step inside the United Center, and to watch a hockey game, is to feel the hair on your neck stand at attention.
There is an aura about these Chicago Blackhawks and it’s well-earned.
So much of their history is stored in recent memory, from the Stanley Cup celebrations in Grant Park with millions of fans to Patrick Kane’s golden goal to the sound of “Chelsea Dagger” echoing through the streets.
Now we are here again. Anticipation is high for Game 3.
“This is where they’ve wanted to be all year,” Toews said Sunday of the team’s fanbase. “You see those signs: ‘Bring back the Cup.’ Everyone has been waiting for this moment.”
But here’s the problem with history: It doesn’t forecast the future. So often we get locked in the idea that the past tells us what is coming next, and the Tampa Bay Lightning are now into their sixth week of proving otherwise.
Few in the wider context seem to think it’s possible.
They are seemingly ignoring that this is the best Eastern Conference representative in the championship series for some time. The Lightning are young, and relatively inexperienced, but they are not just here to provide cannon fodder for Chicago’s third Cup in six years.
“I feel like our team’s been playing more mature than we necessarily (are),” said Valtteri Filppula.
The Finnish centre is the only player on the Lightning roster with a Stanley Cup ring. If they win this series, they’ll be the least experienced champion since the 1989 Calgary Flames (coach Terry Crisp was the only prior winner with them).
This is where history comes in once again: How much does that matter?
What has been most noticeable in this series so far is how little Chicago has dictated the terms. Sure, they stormed back late in Game 1 to register a victory, but the overall margin has been razor-thin.
The game-breakers, thus far, look to be Tampa’s triplets line. Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov — first and second in playoff scoring — each found the back of the net immediately after the Lightning fell behind in Game 2.
That has been the most consistent line in the entire playoffs.
“They’re willing to play the game uncomfortable, if you know what I mean,” said Cooper. “They go outside of probably what’s the norm.”
They are so good that teammate Brenden Morrow recently called it the most complete line he’s ever played with.
Each successive opponent has seemingly had to adjust to that reality. Morrow said the only thing he’s seen close is the former Dallas Stars trio of Mike Modano, Brett Hull and Jere Lehtinen — two Hall of Famers and a three-time Selke Trophy winner.
“Modano and Hull were speed, and Lehtinen did the grunt work,” said Morrow. “Modano made the finesse plays and Hully got open to shoot it, but these three, they’re interchangeable. (Ondrej) Palat plays like a man possessed at times, he’s physical, but they all have skill and they all have speed. I don’t know if I could compare it to a line that I’ve ever seen.”
In this series we are witnessing the shifting sands of a fluid sport; a place where speed and skill are again being shown as a viable path to success.
That idea will be challenged elsewhere, as it always is, but the Lightning are unwavering in their approach.
“We believe these guys have these abilities, why not take advantage of them?” said Cooper. “I’m a big believer in literally playing the whole game skating forwards. I think you can do that.”
What was lost in the pseudo-controversy around the ice time given to captain Steven Stamkos earlier this week is that the Lightning are a team. They have played one fewer game than the maximum possible to this point and the minutes have been spread around fairly evenly.
That is a positive, not a negative.
The Stanley Cup is tied 1-1 and there should be lots of energy left to chase a championship. That, after all, is why they’re here.
“Are we the perfect team? No, we’re not,” said Cooper. “I think we’re a fun team. I think we’re a committed team. I think we play as a group. When the game is on the line and those guys got to buckle down, they know how to do it.
“When it’s time to go win a hockey game, these guys find a way to do it.”
On the road, in a hostile environment, they have to shake free from the ghosts once again.