TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — When the Chicago Blackhawks were seven minutes away from losing the Stanley Cup Final opener, it wasn’t Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane or Duncan Keith who stepped up and perpetuated this team’s reputation for big-game grit.
Teuvo Teravainen, a 20-year-old Finn who suited up for the Blackhawks for the first time this season in January, scored the tying goal. He then set up the winner by Antoine Vermette — who didn’t pull on a Blackhawks sweater until March. Corey Crawford, the goalie who briefly lost his job six weeks ago, quietly shut out Tampa Bay for the final 55 minutes of a one-goal win.
The Blackhawks are going for a third title in six seasons because they’re much more than a cluster of stars.
No matter what style they must play to win, the Blackhawks have a culture that sets them up for steady success in the cauldron of the Stanley Cup Final, which continues with Game 2 on Saturday night.
The Chicago captain thinks it’s about time to recognize his ever-changing supporting cast and the coaches who keep it all together.
“Everyone wants to talk about this Blackhawks team that keeps coming back to the Stanley Cup Final, the common players that have been on those teams, what they do well,” Toews said. “It’s not talked about enough, the support that we have, guys that have come in and really made a huge difference. I think when you’re trying to find ways to win a tough series, you can rely on your best players, but at the same time you need guys to come out of the woodwork. Maybe guys that you don’t expect firsthand to make big plays.”
Deep in their third straight lengthy playoff run, it’s clear the Blackhawks have done a remarkable job collecting enough talent to thrive in the taxing NHL postseason. Other teams have stars, but nobody else has developed enough depth to beat almost any opponent at its own game while still sticking to their basic principles of defensive responsibility.
They can grind. They can pick up the pace. They can do both in the same game, if necessary. They simply adapt and excel.
When the Blackhawks were matched up with the bruising Anaheim Ducks in the Western Conference finals, they met the physical challenge with minimal trouble. When they drew the speed-demon Lightning in the next round, they got off to a slow start before revving up and blowing past Tampa Bay in the third period.
And it wasn’t Toews or Kane leading the way.
“Since I got here, it’s something I’ve noticed,” said Vermette, a late-season trade acquisition. “Didn’t come as a surprise, though. I played against these guys for quite a long time. If you’re going to be successful at that time of the year, if you’re going to push yourself and be good at it, you’re going to have to face adversity. Certainly in key moments like that, you need to persevere and show confidence, and trust that you’re going to get it done through the process.”
Vermette sees the Blackhawks’ adaptability as a reflection of that confidence because Chicago rarely panics and forces its game. Even while teetering on the brink of a 3-1 series deficit to the Ducks two weeks ago, the Blackhawks stayed steady and were eventually rewarded with Vermette’s winning goal in double overtime.
“The way the guys are professional approaching every situation, it speaks for itself,” Vermette said. “I think you can tell they’ve been through some experience.”
Tampa Bay realizes it has only a fraction of Chicago’s experience and depth. After all, the Lightning missed the playoffs only two years ago, and coach Jon Cooper has been on the job for only two full seasons. But the Lightning also recognize the narrow gap between success and failure in the NHL postseason, and they already regret allowing the Blackhawks back into Game 1.
“You wake up in the morning (Thursday), you should be a little angry, a little (ticked) off that we had a chance to take Game 1,” Lightning forward Brian Boyle said. “Again, it’s just Game 1, but it was a good opportunity for us to start the series the way we wanted to.”
Cooper said his team didn’t allow any top-notch scoring chances. The Lightning also kept Toews and Kane completely off the scoresheet.
But both of Chicago’s goals were the result of steady, hard work and adjustments to Tampa Bay’s speed. While the Blackhawks showed off their ability to adjust in the opener, the Lightning depend on the confidence they’ve gained from three rounds of tough matchups.
“We just played Mike Babcock and the storied Detroit Red Wings,” Cooper said. “We just played the Montreal Canadiens. Enough said. We just played the New York Rangers and beat them in their building. … We respect everybody, but there’s no fear in the room.”
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