TAMPA, Fla. – The Blackhawks were six and a half minutes from losing Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, so they leaned on all the experience they had built up over the past six seasons. It was just a matter of which grizzled veteran would step up.
And of course it ended up being … Teuvo Teravainen?
Correct. A 20-year-old man-child with a phantom of a playoff beard would lead them because, well, there’s no explaining it. The Hawks have been known to do crazy things to win games, but this has to be among the craziest storylines yet.
Think about it. The Lightning were the young, inexperienced team that might not be able to handle the pressure of the Stanley Cup Final. The Blackhawks were the experienced team that would take advantage of their two Cups and make all the right veteran moves.
Yet it was the Lightning who had the quick, morale-building start Wednesday night. More importantly, it was Teravainen, the Hawks’ young, inexperienced rookie who stole the game from Tampa Bay in the third period. First he scored on a shot from the left side that snuck past Tampa Bay goalie Ben Bishop, who was screened by Marcus Kruger. Then he lunged to knock the puck loose from the Lightning’s J.T. Brown, setting up Antoine Vermette’s game-winner with 4:34 left.
“I know we have a great team, we have a lot of experience,’’ Teravainen said. “But myself, being a young guy here, I try to bring some energy.’’
The young guy brought a lot of energy to a team in desperate need of jumper cables early in Game 1. And all that manic energy comes from a kid with game face devoid of human emotion.
“He doesn’t seem to have a heartbeat,’’ Hawks forward Marian Hossa said. “He’s so calm. He’s Finnish cold.”
If only the Hawks could start hot. The Lightning took a 1-0 lead on Alex Killorn’s beautiful redirect of an Anton Stralman shot. Killorn had his back to goalie Corey Crawford and actually backhanded the puck out of midair, off the ice and into the net.
“They got maybe a lucky one in the first there,’’ Teravainen said. “But we bounced back. We started playing our game. We have to just start in the first (period) like that.’’
He’s right. The Hawks weren’t all there in the first. The question was whether that was their doing or the Lightning’s. The sleep in their eyes or Tampa Bay’s pure skating ability? A bit of rust on the Hawks or extra adrenaline for the Lightning from being on home ice for Game 1? The Hawks couldn’t seem to get the puck out of their own zone. Tampa Bay was skating on ice; the Hawks, apparently, on sandpaper.
But then came the kid, who changed everything with one wrist shot from just above the left circle.
“That goal had eyes,’’ Lightning coach Jon Cooper said.
Maybe so, but the Hawks seem to have a knack for scoring goals when they need to and doing so on improbable shots. If the Lightning want to suggest the goal was fluky, they wouldn’t be wrong. Hockey is fluky. The Hawks did fluky better than the Lightning did Wednesday, and they weren’t apologizing.
“A good team found a way to get two goals,’’ Cooper said.
“We’re never out of any game, despite the score or how it looks out there,’’ Hawks forward Patrick Sharp said.
Crawford was excellent Wednesday night. In those wild last four minutes, he stood tall, holding off a fierce Tampa Bay assault. And the Hawks win the award for the most-improved team after that bad first period.
“The last half of the game, I thought we were fine,’’ coach Joel Quenneville said.
It took a relative child to lead them. This is the time of the season when young legs should be an advantage. That’s supposed to be Tampa Bay’s advantage in this series. We forgot that it could be the Hawks’ too.
“I felt great out there,’’ Teravainen said. “Of course I’m a young, so I have to be fresh out there. We had a couple days off there. Now we’re in a new series. I felt good.’’
The scariest part for the rookie was not the big game or the big moment, but the big media contingent standing in front of him afterward. He’ll have to get used to that. There’s too much talent inside his 5-foot-11, 178-pound body for him to be left alone.