Jun 3, 2015 6:52 PM
The Latest: Stanley Cup, Southern Style
The Associated Press
The latest from Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final at Tampa, Florida.
6:45 p.m. EDT
It's almost time for the opening faceoff in Tampa.
The streets and plazas around Amalie Arena began filling with hockey fans several hours before the Lightning took on the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Final opener Wednesday.
Downtown Tampa is festooned with banners, flags, sidewalk stickers and fans supporting the Eastern Conference champions, who are in their first final since 2004. Dozens of people gathered around a merchandise trailer before it even opened outside the arena on a humid afternoon, hoping to purchase souvenir pucks before they were out of stock.
Yet dozens of fans in red Blackhawks jerseys already were roaming the Tampa streets on the morning of Game 1, and their numbers will only multiply despite the Lightning's ticketing policies designed to limit the number of road fans in the arena. Chicago has one of the NHL's best traveling fan bases, and thousands of transplants live within easy driving distance of every Sun Belt NHL city.
"You can't stop Blackhawks fans, so why even try?" asked Jennifer Smythe, a Schaumburg, Illinois, native now living in Tampa.
6:35 p.m. EDT
Kris Versteeg made an important detour on the way to the Stanley Cup Final.
While his teammates flew to Tampa, the Chicago Blackhawks forward stopped in Toronto on Monday to be with his wife, Brittany, for the birth of their first child, son Jaxson James Versteeg. A few hours later, Versteeg rejoined his teammates in Florida.
"She was induced into labor right basically when she called me, so I got there in time," Versteeg said. "I called the team and they took care of the rest. I couldn't thank them enough for what they did for me. It was pretty amazing how they went above and beyond to help me get there."
Versteeg has played just once for the Blackhawks since the first round, but remains focused on getting his second title despite the tiny distraction back home.
"It was hard to leave him, but it's part of your job, and that's why you get paid to be a professional," Versteeg said. "It's to show up and focus on what you need to do."
5:35 p.m. EDT
The Chicago Blackhawks' defensive depth problems have come to this: Trevor van Riemsdyk is likely to play at some point in the Stanley Cup Final, even though he hasn't played an NHL game since Nov. 16.
Van Riemsdyk had surgery on his left kneecap and his right wrist during the winter, and he has played only sparingly in the AHL since his injuries. But he is practicing with the Blackhawks in Tampa, and coach Joel Quenneville said after Wednesday's pregame skate that van Riemsdyk is likely to make his NHL playoff debut soon.
"Not playing (in Game 1), but he's real close," Quenneville said. "We asked, 'Could he play today?' He's sitting there. He's that close. We expect a very good chance he's going to be in the series."
Van Riemsdyk has played only 18 games in his NHL career, but the Blackhawks apparently can't wait to try another strategy to replace injured Michal Rozsival. In the Western Conference finals, Chicago relied heavily on four defensemen; Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya.