Blackhawks vs Lightning: an exciting Stanley Cup Final ahead

There's a well-known Stanley Cup ad from a few years ago titled "No Words". In it, grizzled, dazed hockey players fumble for words, shake their heads, and fight off tears as they struggle to express what winning hockey's Holy Grail means to them.

And only the players will ever truly know what it feels like to win the Stanley Cup. The iconic trophy is often referred to as "the most difficult trophy to win in sports", and "No Words" illustrate why. The NHL playoffs are a battle of attrition - sixteen teams whittled down over two months to the final two, who meet up in a winner-take-all, no-holds-barred, best-of-seven. You can see how much the playoffs take out of the players - men who looked like the athletes in their prime that they are going in get spit out at the other end looking like heavily-bearded wild men wearing hockey uniforms. Blood might be dripping from their brows; sweat soaks their hair; they look like they aged fifteen years instead of ten weeks.

The Stanley Cup is the pinnacle of a lifetime of work: skates on their feet usually before they were in kindergarden; years of early-morning practices; the grind and the devotion and the sacrifices that sculpted them into athletes. The exhiliration of being drafted, or the heartbreak when they aren't. Some have a meteoritic rise because they have been blessed with extraordinary talent; others take the scenic route, playing on multiple teams in their career as they search for a perfect fit.

The lucky few - the ones blessed by the hockey gods - earn a Cup early in their career; some are lucky enough to hoist it high as a rookie. Others spend their career in eternal pursuit, the Cup just an eternal dream, or the ones who come oh-so-close, but just out of reach.

This year, like every year, the two teams playing for the Cup are loaded with these kinds of stories.

On the Chicago side, the Blackhawks have at least 15 players who have already won a Cup with their team (2013) and half that number were around for the 2010 Cup run as well. Additionally, Brad Richards won a Cup with Tampa early in his career, more than ten years ago. Then there is 40 year old Kimmo Timonen, searching for a Cup win in the final year of his career after losing one in 2010 to the team he now plays for. And how can you forget Scott Darling, who almost washed himself out of a hockey career, and now is about to head into the Stanley Cup Final in his rookie year for the team he dreamed of playing for as a kid?

On the Tampa Bay side, it is a team full of bright hopefuls, led by the dynamic Steven Stamkos. Stamkos wasn't able to participate in either the 2010 or 2014 Olympics, and you can tell from his Media Day interviews that his drive and willpower to win just might carry his team through the battles ahead. The majority of the Lightning are inexperienced at going this deep in the playoffs; the deepest Tampa Bay has gone was the Eastern Conference Final in 2011, where they lost in game 7 to the Bruins, who eventually went on to win the Cup.

It's not to say that the Lightning players are all inexperienced. Valtteri Filppula won a cup with Detroit in 2008. Like Chicago's Timonen, Matthew Carle and Braydon Coburn were on the Flyers team that the Blackhawks defeated in 2010 for the Cup. Brian Boyle went deep with the Rangers twice, including the Final last season, but has never won a Cup. Brendan Morrow - the "old man" of the Lightning at 36 - was closest to a Cup win in his 1999-2000 rookie year with the Dallas Stars.

The men pursuing the first Stanley Cups of their careers isn't limited simply to those on the ice, however. Blackhawks assistant coach Kevin Dineen and Lightning associate coach Rick Bowness had lengthy NHL careers and now have both spent several years behind NHL benches.

This Final is expected to be fast and uptempo, with potentially high-scoring games as two powerhouse teams with similar playing styles are the last two standing. Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane and other proven playoff performers on the Chicago side, versus Stamkos and the "Triplets line" and the dynamic firepower of the youthful Lightning.

While Gary Bettman and the NHL might have hoped for a Chicago versus New York Rangers Final, this Final is going to be far more exciting hockey - the kind of high-speed, amazing-goal hockey that should remind viewers of the gold medal games from the past two Olympics. The Lightning advancing to the Final is just good for Southern hockey - and the Florida market in particular.

And Steven Stamkos finally gets his time in the spotlight. Despite his outstanding scoring prowess, year after year, the Lightning have slid under the radar for most of his career. No longer. This might be Tampa's first time at the big dance in a decade, but they'll continue to make noise in the East going forward.

Whichever team wins this Final, it's a great story: either the Blackhawks winning for the third time in sixth years, defining what a post-salary cap dynasty team looks like; or the Lightning, bringing the Cup back to the South, crowning another team which will help define the look of future teams.

May the best team win.