By Shane Nicholson
The Tampa Bay Lightning showed their speed in Game 1, and then showed just how fast they could crawl into their shell.
After out-skating the Blackhawks over the opening quarter-hour the Lightning seemed content to hold on to a 1-0 lead at home.
What Coach Jon Cooper apparently forgot was just what he was up against.
The Hawks were able to speed up their game and at the same time bring the high-flying Lightning back down to a more manageable pace. From there it was just a matter of time until Chicago’s depth and patience broke down a home side willing to play the entire third period in their own end.
“I think we learned a lesson there,” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said on Friday. “We’ve got to continue to pressure. (The way) we look at it, maybe if we were able to generate a couple more chances to get that second goal, maybe it would have been a different game.”
But Tampa Bay generated very few clear chances, and outside a 1-in-a-million deflection for their opening goal Blackhawks’ goalie Corey Crawford looked more than up to the job.
That level of delusion about the task before them seems to be permeating the Lightning dressing room the past few days. “Maybe we’ve got a little bit more panic since we were down in Game 1,” said Cooper. “I don’t know, there’s maybe some more focus in Game 2.”
Maybe some more focus in what now has to be a must-win game if Tampa Bay hopes to stay alive in the series.
“Everyone wants to talk about this Blackhawks team that keeps coming back to the Stanley Cup Final,” Chicago captain Jonathan Toews said Friday, “the common players that have been on those teams, what they do well.
“It’s not talked about enough, the support that we have, guys that have come in and really made a huge difference. I think when you’re trying to find ways to win a tough series, you can rely on your best players, but at the same time you need guys to come out of the woodwork. Maybe guys that you don’t expect firsthand to make big plays.”
And therein lies the problem for the Lightning entering Game 2 tonight: even the lesser players on the Blackhawks are capable of rising to Tampa Bay’s level on the occasion, whilst Cooper’s team seems to think it did nothing wrong other than fail to score more goals on Wednesday.
It wasn’t Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa or even Brandon Saad who made the difference in Game 1. It was two players who weren’t even in Chicago when the calendar turned to 2015.
Former IceHogs forward Teuvo Teravainen, called up the first time in January, and March addition Antoine Vermette form the core of the line who gave the Blackhawks their 2-1 win in the opener.
“I try to be pretty calm out there, do my thing,” Teravainen said Thursday. “Don’t have to stress too much about it. I think I play better if I’m just calm and ready.”
The calm was the undoing of the Lightning as Teravainen and his line mates cycled the lower pairings of the Tampa Bay defense to sleep, meticulously searching for space.
The diminutive 20-year-old Finn found it with just under seven minutes to go in the opening leg, beating Ben Bishop high to his right side through a screen, a goal Cooper called “lucky” Thursday which was anything but.
“I’ve always been playing with the little older guys, always been like the smallest guy out there,” said Teravainen. “I heard that before: ‘You’re small, you might never make it.’ I always try to work hard, do something else better, like skating and skills. Just work hard and get my chance. Just trust myself.”
He got his chance and buried it, and created another to set up Vermette for the game-winner just 90 seconds later.
“That’s the evolution of trusting him and putting him in situations before,” Blackhawks Coach Joe Quenneville said. “But you earn that. … We like the progression.”
That progression – just one of many this Blackhawks team is capable of in a given period, game or series – gave them the class and confidence to see off Tampa Bay in Game 1.
And if the public response out of the Lightning camp in the build up to tonight’s Game 2 is anything to go by it should be enough to see them through to their third Stanley Cup in six years.
Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals is tonight at 6:15 p.m. on NBC.