TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Victor Hedman whacked the sideboard with his stick in frustration before retreating to a disappointed locker room.
The Tampa Bay Lightning let Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final slip away — 2-1 to the Chicago Blackhawks — with a bad third period Wednesday night.
After playing solid defense in front of goalie Ben Bishop and keeping Chicago stars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane from getting open looks on the net most of the night, the Eastern Conference champions saw a 1-0 lead disappear in less than two minutes.
“Maybe we took the foot off the gas a little bit, sat back a little bit, gave them time and space with the puck,” Hedman said.
“It’s a really good team on the other side and they tied it up. Then we iced the puck and got stuck in our own end a little bit (before giving up the second goal),’ the Tampa Bay defenseman added. “It’s a tough one. But we’ve been in this situation before losing the first game. We just have to rebound.”
The quick turnaround was particularly startling because Chicago’s top offensive players were not involved in either goal. Toews didn’t get off a shot in the first two periods and finished with one. Kane took three shots, none in the third period as the high-scoring Lightning stuck with the defensive-minded game plan they used to shut out the New York Rangers twice to close out the Eastern Conference finals.
“I think for 45 of the 60 minutes we were pretty great, actually,” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. “We just let a team stick around that’s experienced in these situations and that probably knew that if they keep it to one, they had a chance. We just got away from playing smart defensive hockey and keeping pressure on them.”
Both teams advanced to the Final with Game 7 victories on the road and welcomed having a short break to get ready for the Final, which finds the Blackhawks seeking a third NHL title in six years and the Lightning trying to win their first since 2004, second overall.
Chicago has 19 players who have made previous trips to the Final, 14 of them from the team that won the Cup two years ago. That big-game experience is one of the reasons many favor the Blackhawks.
But the young Lightning didn’t show signs of jitters. They took an early lead on Alex Killorn’s eighth goal of the playoffs and Bishop, who finished with 19 saves, made it stand until Tuevo Teravainen and Antoine Vermette scored for Chicago in 1:58 span in the third period.
The Blackhawks have more playoff wins than any team in the NHL since the start of the 2009 postseason, so there was no reason to believe they’d get out of character after failing to score first. They patiently went about their business, gradually applying more pressure on Bishop.
“For most of the game we saw we can hang, and we can be better. You’ve got to go through these situations to learn from them,” Stamkos said. “It comes down to the small details, and it comes down to a bounce. And this is what we have to expect. ‘They’re a team that’s won in many different ways over the course of their run, and we’ve done it as well.”
The Lightning lost for the first time this postseason after scoring first. They were 9-0 through the first three rounds of the playoffs.
The Blackhawks are 4-4 when the opposition scores first.
“‘We had chances to put them away, and we didn’t put them away. And once you do that, to me, that was letting them hang around,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said.
“Ultimately at the end, Teravainen’s (goal) is a seeing-eye single. … That goal had eyes. Then we turn pucks over on the second one. I thought we hung in there, but sometimes you’ve got to get more than one. If you’re going to give up two in a game, you should have a chance to at least win that game.”
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