If one random die-hard Tampa Bay Lightning fan were given a pregame sneak peek at the Game 1 stat lines of the best Chicago Blackhawks players, how excited would they be with the following, which all turned out to be true:
Jonathan Toews: Zero goals, zero assists, one shot on net. Patrick Kane: Zero, zero, three shots: Marian Hossa: Zero, zero, two shots. Brandon Saad: Zero, zero, two shots. Brad Richards: Zero, zero, two shots. Patrick Sharp: Zero, zero, two shots.
You'd feel good as a Bolts fan, eh? You'd face the "OK, so this will be the final score" verdict given to you with much greater confidence than one might normally expect for a playoff game against the Blackhawks, right? Final score: Chicago 2, Tampa Bay 1 in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.
Lightning players, coaches and fans now go into the two off days before Game 2 knowing they didn't win despite shutting down Chicago's star core of forwards. They go into the off days knowing they couldn't win at home despite having the lead with under seven minutes to play. But while the Lightning kept Chicago's big guns silent, they let role players such as Teuvo Teravainen and Antoine Vermette beat them in the clutch.
What a wasted opportunity for Tampa, as Chicago's top players won't stay quiet for much longer in this series.
If we have learned anything by now about Chicago's top offensive stars, such as Toews and Kane, it's that they don't much like being blanked on the scoresheet. They'll take that all day long if they keep winning, but they know they need to score consistently for their team to win. They know they got away with one on Wednesday night, and will try their best to avoid that in Game 2.
The optimistic Lightning fan can come back with, "Hey, our top guys didn't score either, and we almost won that thing." And that's valid. Except does anyone want to really compare Chicago's top forwards with Tampa Bay's, especially when it comes to experience and championship pedigree?
This is to take nothing away from Chicago's depth forwards, mind you. The Blackhawks are in the Stanley Cup Final for many reasons, one being the quality of their third and fourth lines.
Teravainen, the 20-year-old Finnish rookie, scored the equalizer and then assisted on Vermette's game-winner to steal the headlines. It was quite the compliment he got after the game from Slovakian teammate Hossa, per Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun-Times:
Marian Hossa on Teuvo Teravainen: "He doesn’t seem to have a heartbeat. He’s so calm. He’s Finnish cold.” #Blackhawks— Mark Lazerus (@MarkLazerus) June 4, 2015
The quote of the night also belonged to the shy Finn, via Lazerus:
Teuvo Teravainen: "When I scored the goal, I think the first thing was, ‘Oh, no, I have to go do media now.” #Blackhawks— Mark Lazerus (@MarkLazerus) June 4, 2015
For Vermette, acquired from Phoenix at the trade deadline by Chicago general manager Stan Bowman, he is fast becoming something of a clutch postseason player, according to NHL Public Relations:
The Lightning couldn't have played a much better defensive game for 50 minutes. Alas, the game is 60 minutes long, not 50, as Lazerus pointed out in his postgame summary:
And for 50-some minutes, the Lightning stood tall, and dominated for stretches. They did not shrink from the spotlight, nor did they stumble on the big stage. They were fast and aggressive early, smart and conservative after that. …
But they sat back too much in the third period, and the Hawks made them pay, as they have to so many teams over the years.
Lightning coach Jon Cooper lamented his team's missed chances to put the Blackhawks away when up 1-0.
"I thought we had chances to put them away," Cooper said, per Lazerus. "We didn't put them away."
But other than Ryan Callahan's good opportunity against Corey Crawford beyond the midway point of the third, what chances were those? The fact is, the Lightning got too conservative with the one-goal lead, trying to milk it like it was some regulation game in February against the Panthers or something.
Tampa Bay finished with only five shots in the third period. Cooper sat his players back too far, allowing Chicago to gain more zone entries. Ben Bishop wasn't up to the task in the otherwise minimal traffic he faced.
The Lightning won't get a much better chance to steal one against a team like Chicago than they did in Game 1 on Wednesday. They blew it, and now Chicago's top players get to think:
"We didn't even play our 'C' game tonight and we still won. That's a good sign for our club, boys."