TAMPA, Fla. — No matter how much you prepare for a Stanley Cup Final, you never really know what you’re up against until the games begin.
“Lesson learned,” Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman said after the Blackhawks rallied from a 1-0 deficit with two goals in the final seven minutes for a 2-1 victory in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Wednesday night at Amalie Center.
“You can’t take anything for granted against a team like that. You can’t give them the room and space we did for 15 minutes in the third period. We just sat back too much and got away from our game a little bit — not putting pressure on them and doing all the right things like we did for [the first] 40 minutes.”
The Hawks likewise know they have adjustments to make after the Lightning swarmed them with speed in the opening period. The Lightning had a 24-11 edge in shot attempts in the period and led 1-0 on Alex Killorn’s incredible backhand re-direct that surprised Corey Crawford.
“I think we’re going to look to do better next game at the start,” Hawks defenseman Duncan Keith said. “Whether it was having time off [between series] or what, we had a slow start.
“I’m not making any excuses because that team has speed and skill and they make plays. We need to be ready from the get-go. We need to be moving our feet against this team.”
The Hawks recovered from their slow start to neutralize the Lightning’s advantage in speed. The Hawks had a 20-12 edge in shot attempts in the second period and dominated the third, leading 21-9 in shot attempts. Teuvo Teravainen and Antoine Vermette scored 1:58 apart in the third period to give the Hawks the lead and the game.
It was an opening game on the NHL’s biggest stage that will test the championship mettle of the Lightning. They lost for the first time in the 2015 playoffs when scoring the first goal (9-1) and they lost for the first time when leading after two periods (8-1).
But it’s unlikely they’re going to curl up and fade away, despite their youth and relative inexperience in the Stanley Cup Final. The Lightning have responded to adversity all season. They never lost more than two consecutive games. They are 6-0 in the playoffs following a loss when they are trailing or tied in a series (their only back-to-back losses in the postseason came in Games 4 and 5 against the Canadiens in the second round after they had built a 3-0 series lead).
From captain Steven Stamkos on down, they are undaunted.
“We just sat back too much,” Stamkos said. “We still didn’t give them much. Seeing-eye shot [by Teravainen] and a tough turnover [that led to Vermette’s goal] for us that is very uncharacteristic and they pounce on them.
“We pretty much didn’t give them a lot of time and space —two instances where the puck finds the back of the net and that’s the game. We can’t dwell on that. We’ll learn from that. This group has found a way to bounce back all year.”
The Lightning were left to lament missed opportunities and take solace in the fact that they were oh-so-close to winning.
“We didn’t really give them much the entire game,” coach Jon Cooper said. “Did they have a little more puck possession in the third period? They did, no question. Could we have made a few more poised plays? I suppose we could have. But I thought we had chances to put them away. We didn’t put them away.
“Against a team like Chicago, you can’t let them keep coming at you the way we did. But in saying that — reel off the Grade-A chances they had. You know what I mean? It’s not like we’re sitting there saying, ‘Oh my god, did they have chance after chance after chance.’ They had a little bit of time-of-possession. But they weren’t getting good-time chances.”
But that’s what the Hawks do. This is a team that is used to responding to adversity on the road and used to winning close games. With their Game 1 victory, the Hawks are 6-4 on the road in the 2015 postseason. They have won at least one road game in 17 consecutive playoff series.
In the 2015 playoffs, 16 of the Hawks’ 18 games have been one-goal games or tied in the third period. The Hawks are 11-5 in those games, overcoming one-goal deficits twice to win. Over the past three postseasons, the Hawks are 33-9 when they are leading by one goal or tied in the third period.
They’re used to this.
“Playing catch-up against a team that was comparable [to] the last two series,” coach Joel Quenneville said, “when they get a lead on you, [they play] prevent defense, tough to get through. They check well, got good sticks. They’ve got quickness.
“Basically we had to get through. But finding a way was a good illustration of what this team’s all about. Finding ways to win, probably a good example of that [Wednesday night].”