When viewed from a Uni Watch perspective, the Stanley Cup finals matchup between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Tampa Bay Lightning features some pretty obvious themes: Original Six versus expansion, red versus blue, old-school versus new-school, a team name that ends in an "s" versus a team name that doesn't (well, usually).
Pull back the curtain a bit further, however, and a bunch of small details and subplots emerge. Here's a top 10 list of uni-related storylines regarding the Cup combatants to keep in mind as you watch the games unfold:
1. Singin' the blues: When the Lightning entered the NHL in 1992, their colored jersey (which was worn on the road, because the league followed a white-at-home protocol in those days) was black. That made sense -- black skies signal stormy weather, and stormy weather produces lightning, right? But in 2011, the team switched its primary colored jersey (now worn at home) to blue, which makes no sense at all -- blue skies and lightning don't mix. The team still has a black alternate jersey, but using blue as a primary jersey color is a bit of a head-scratcher.
2. Home whites: No team makes a better case for the NHL needing to go back to the old white-at-home uniform protocol than the Blackhawks. Take a look at their two uniforms side by side -- the chest logo on the white jersey crackles with vitality, while the logo on the red jersey gets overwhelmed by the loud background color. The white version deserves to be worn at home (and the same is true for most NHL teams, but that's another story).
3. Raise your hands: For the Lightning's first two decades of existence, all of the team's jerseys included little underarm stripes. These were called Victory Stripes, because you saw them primarily when a player reached skyward to celebrate a goal -- a bit of a cheeky gimmick, although it paid off when the team finally hoisted the Stanley Cup in 2004.
4. A stitch in time is mighty fine: The uniform industry keeps coming up with new high-tech performance fabrics, sublimated graphics techniques and so on, but the Blackhawks are among the very few pro sports teams that still use chain-stitching, an old-school embroidery technique that really makes those colors pop. Here's hoping they never move away from it.
5. You talked, we listened: When the Lightning unveiled their new uniforms in early 2011, fans immediately noticed something missing. The familiar lightning bolts on the sides of the pants had been replaced by plain white stripes. Response from the fan base was swift and nearly unanimous: Give us back our bolts! And sure enough, when the new unis were ready to hit the ice for the 2011-12 season, the side bolts had been restored. (The fans also asked for black trim to be added, and that was done as well.)
6. Through thick and thin: Here's something to watch for during the games played in Tampa: For reasons that have never been satisfactorily explained, the black sleeve stripes on the Blackhawks' white jerseys are thicker on the goalies than on the non-goalies. It's been like this ever since the league switched to Reebok's Edge template, as you can see in this 2009 shot of Nikolai Khabibulin. Weird.
7. And speaking of Blackhawks goalies and stripes: For a while there, Blackhawks backup netminder Scott Darling was wearing the team's uniform stripe patterns on his pads and gear, a very cool move that more goalies should try. Unfortunately, he abandoned that design and now wears partial versions of the stripes. Not as satisfying.
8. Can't tell the players even with a scorecard: From 1995-2001, the Lightning wore a custom uniform number font. The good news was that the numerals looked very lightning-like; the bad news was that they were hard to read. After years of complaints from fans, the team switched to a conventional block number font for the 2001-02 season.
9. Mirror, mirror: Most teams' home and road jerseys are more or less the same designs rendered in different colors. But the Lightning's current set takes a different approach: The home blues have a logo on the chest, while the road whites have that same logo along with the words "Tampa Bay." It's not a radical difference, true, but consider this: Only one other team in the league -- the Minnesota Wild -- has any difference between its home and road chest marks.
10. What's in a (nick)name? Plenty of teams have nicknames -- Habs, Sens, Pens, Caps, Preds, Isles, Canes, and so on -- but none of them had ever worn a nickname on a their jerseys until 2008, when the Lightning came out with their "Bolts" alternate uni.
Honorable Mention: Motor City echo: When the Lightning switched to a simpler, more sedate uniform scheme in 2011, many observers noted that the new design looked a lot like the Detroit Red Wings' uniforms -- presumably reflecting the influence of Tampa Bay general manager Steve Yzerman, who spent his entire 22-season playing career in Detroit.
OK, that should be enough to keep you busy. Now let's drop the puck.
(Special thanks to Mike Engle for his research assistance.)
Paul Lukas has never fully adjusted to the NHL's color-at-home format, which was introduced in 2003. If you liked this column, you'll probably like his Uni Watch blog, plus you can follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Want to learn about his Uni Watch membership program or his Uni Watch T-Shirt Club, be added to his mailing list so you'll always know when a new column has been posted, or just ask him a question? Contact him here.