TAMPA, Fla. —In the beginning, the Lightning were the Lighting.
But in the end, the Blackhawks were the Blackhawks.
The Hawks lived up to their reputation as a team that takes your best shot, gets back on its feet and reels you in. It usually happens in the course of a playoff series. But it’s exactly what transpired in a 2-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Wednesday night at Amalie Arena.
“That’s not how you draw it up. It’s just a great comeback,” forward Kris Versteeg said. “You always want to keep yourself within striking distance —that’s the biggest thing. We just tried to stick to the game plan and find a way. I think everybody who’s been here before understands that we’re a team that can do it.”
It didn’t look good early. The Lightning came out with all their speed and skill and made the Hawks look slow and a little overwhelmed at the outset. The Lightning had four shot attempts in the first 33 seconds.
Then the Lightning showed off their skill, with Alex Killorn deftly back-handing a fluttering shot by Anton Stralman past a surprised Crawford to give Tampa Bay a 1-0 lead just 4:31 into the game. It was an amazing play the Hawks aren’t used to seeing against them — kind of the offensive equivalent of Frederik Andersen’s stop on Patrick Kane in Game 1 of the Western Conference final against the Ducks that indicated the Hawks were in a little tougher than they’re used to.
“I don’t think anyone was surprised,” forward Patrick Sharp said. “They have a good team. They’re quick. They’re good in all areas and it’s tough to get to the net. We know what kind of opponent we’re up against.”
But among the Hawks’ many qualities as a postseason contender is that they learn well. “First game of a playoff series, there’s always a little bit of a feeling-out process,” Sharp said. “As the series goes along you start to know the guy you’re up against. You know the line, the team you’re up against more and more very night.”
But once the Hawks weathered that storm, this game had all the earmarks of what they do in the postseason. Corey Crawford kept them in the game, stopping 22-of-23 shots, including a clutch stop on Ryan Callahan’s breakaway in the third period. The unlikely heroes: rookie Teuvo Teravainen and veteran Antoine Vermette — the two guys benched in Game 3 against the Ducks —scored goals 1:58 apart in the third period to give the Hawks the lead.
And it left the Lightning with some familiar laments: Tervainen’s goal was “a seeing-eye single,” coach Jon Cooper said, with justification.
And the inability to take advantage of opportunities that ultimately cost the Lightning. “I thought we had chances to put them away,” Cooper said. “We didn’t put them away.”
But that’s what the Hawks do. If anything, the Lightning showed they won’t go easily. They will be back. But so will the Hawks. This is only the beginning of an entertaining series between teams that do what they do best.