Lightning learn harsh lesson from Game 1 loss to Blackhawks

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Antoine Vermette celebrates his go-ahead goal in the third period of Game 1 on Wednesday night. (Getty Images)

TAMPA, Fla. — Eleven years ago, the Tampa Bay Lightning stormed to the Stanley Cup behind coach John Tortorella’s “Safe is Death” philosophy —an attacking, aggressive mentality that favored high-risk, high-reward play at both ends of the ice.

And on Wednesday night, safe indeed killed the Lightning. After a dominant, uptempo first period and a solid second period, Tampa Bay sat back and played not to lose in the third period. And they lost, with Teuvo Teravainen and Antoine Vermette scoring two minutes apart late in the third to steal Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final. In the harsh light of the next day, one thing was clear: The Hawks were fortunate to get a win, and the Lightning let a big one get away.

“You wake up int he morning, you should be a little angry, a little pissed off that we had a chance to take Game 1,” Brian Boyle said. “You shouldn’t have any regrets in the morning when you wake up. We might today because there are things we could have done a little bit better that were in our control, that we didn’t do.”

As Boyle added, it’s only one game, and neither team came in to this series expecting a sweep. But Thursday’s spin sessions, er, press conferences showed the lingering effect a third period like that can have on the rest of the series. The Lightning talked big, saying that Game 1 was still a positive and that Game 2 is not a must-win, given the team’s success on the road. The Hawks, meanwhile, downplayed their intimidation factor and their massive edge in Stanley Cup experience, with Joel Quenneville saying that they had to play Game 2 as if it were a must-win.

The Lightning were insisting they don’t fear the Hawks, and the Hawks were insisting they’re not overconfident against the Lightning. They both sounded like they were trying to convince themselves.

“We played extremely well, especially the first two periods,” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. “If we’re in that position again [with a third-period lead], we’ll make the necessary adjustments. … This group has bounced back all season. So I don’t expect anything to change at this time of year.”

Added coach Jon Cooper: “I thought we did a really good job. I can’t sit up here and say, ‘Oh, Chicago outplayed us.’ … If we continue to play the way we did, we’re going to be OK.”

Indeed, there was plenty to like about Tampa Bay’s game, and plenty to be concerned about for the Hawks. Besides getting blanked on three straight power plays, the Hawks had precious few high-quality scoring chances on Ben Bishop. Vermette’s game-winner, triggered by Teravainen’s quick stick forcing a turnover in the offensive end, might have been the only one. Teravainen even called his seeing-eye equalizer “kind of lucky.” The Hawks only got 21 shots on goal, and Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp were all kept off the scoresheet, even as Quenneville juggled his lines to get something going offensively.

And before Tampa Bay took its foot off the gas in the third, sagging back and seemingly deferring to the Hawks’ offensive prowess and just hoping to stave them off for 20 more minutes, the Lightning were all over the Hawks — fast and aggressive. But they couldn’t cash in on a few chances in the frantic opening minutes, Stamkos was stopped cold by Corey Crawford twice late in the second, and Ryan Callahan’s breakaway in the third was turned aside by Crawford — a turning point in the game, and possibly in the series, as Teravainen scored moments later. If any one of those pucks had gone in, everything changes.

The Lightning had Game 1. Then they gave it away. They showed that speed can kill, but safe is indeed death. It’s a costly lesson against a team that doesn’t offer many second chances.

“We know that we didn’t play our best game,” Jonathan Toews said. “We finally started to find our game late in the game. … We definitely understand that, and know we need to be much better in the next one.”

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

Twitter: @marklazerus

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