With the Stanley Cup Final having returned to Tampa for the first time since 2004, there was plenty of buzz in the building when the Tampa Bay Lightning took to the Amalie Arena ice for game one on Wednesday. Feeding off of the energy of the charged up crowd, the Lightning were the faster team, the better team…at least for the first 53 minutes.
Tampa Bay limited the powerful Chicago Blackhawks offense to seven shots in the first period. The Lightning would also strike first, as Harvard graduate Alex Killorn would tally on a brilliant tip of a fluttering puck. With the crowd, the momentum and the score tilted in their favor, the Bolts had taken control of the contest.
The Blackhawks were similarly stymied in the second period, only able to muster six shots against the stout Lightning defense. Their passes weren’t connecting. They were spending far too much time in their defensive zone. They were watching game one slip away.
The final frame began with more of the same, but the Blackhawks held steadfast. They didn’t panic. They didn’t stray from their approach.
“It doesn’t matter how the game is going, doesn’t matter what the score is,” said forward Patrick Sharp. “I think there’s a belief in our room that things are going to happen when we stick to the game plan and trust the process.”
The Blackhawks also placed their trust in their goaltender Corey Crawford; who, aside from the Kilorn goal, was stellar. He proved up to task in the third period; holding strong to stop Ryan Callahan on a breakaway.
“It’s tough. Obviously you know if you score there it’s a different game, but a lot of plays happened before that, a lot of plays happened after that,” said Callahan. “It’s just one play in the game and you’ve got to move past it.”
Immediately following Crawford’s save on Callahan, the Blackhawks would switch gears. A team that thrives in transition, they would go on the attack; striking soon thereafter.
20-year-old rookie Teuvo Teravainen would tally to tie the contest; showing great patience before sneaking a wrist shot behind a screened Ben Bishop. The game was tied. The Lightning were stunned.
Back on their heels, the Bolts would cough up the puck in their own zone. The Blackhawks would capitalize, with Antoine Vermette quickly firing a twisted wrister off of the post and in. It was Teravainen who had pushed the puck to Vermette; showing veteran poise to pick up his second point in two minutes.
“He doesn’t seem to have a heartbeat,” teammate Marian Hossa said of the rookie. “He’s so calm. He’s Finnish cold.”
Having led for the majority of the contest, the Lightning let their lead, and home-ice advantage slip away. Savvy playoff veterans, the Blackhawks didn’t panic and their patience paid off. The Bolts did and they paid the price. They could not recover in the waning moments of game one. One has to wonder if they will be able to recover in the series. Or with the Hawks’ postseason guile and penchant for comebacks prove to be too much?
“There’s a fine line between respect and fear,” said Lightning forward Brenden Morrow. “I think we respect them, but you can’t fear them. It looked like in the third we were holding on and the fear of what might be coming or what might happen [set in].”