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Blackhawks rely on past lessons to win Game 1

by Staff Writer / Chicago Blackhawks

TAMPA -- It's sometimes difficult to quantify the impact of experience, and it can often be a concept that gets overblown.

That appeared to be the case in the run-up to this Stanley Cup Final.

The Chicago Blackhawks, playing in their third Final in six seasons, had a clear advantage in that department when compared to the Tampa Bay Lightning, playing in their second Final, period.

But as the Lightning, fueled by a frenetic home crowd, got off to an excellent start in Game 1 on Wednesday and opened the scoring at 4:31 of the first period on a skilled deflection by Alex Killorn, the Blackhawks knew they weren't out of it.

In fact, they not only knew they weren't out of it, the Blackhawks knew they would come back if they stuck to the system and played the type of game that has brought them so much success over the years.

They believed it.

If there is one tangible benefit to experience, perhaps that is it. Belief.

"I think we always have that feeling," Chicago forward Patrick Sharp said. "It doesn't matter how the game is going, doesn't matter what the score is. 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 did that. The Lightning didn't.

As the game progressed, the severe territorial advantage the Lightning held early on began to erode bit by bit. They began to sit back, to wait for the play to come at them instead of the other way around, and the Blackhawks were more than happy to oblige.

The result was two goals in a span of just less than two minutes late in the third period, turning what looked like a loss into a 2-1 Blackhawks win.

"The one thing definitely is that when we're down, we don't panic, we don't change our style," said Chicago forward Marian Hossa, who is playing in the Final for the fifth time in eight seasons, three of them with the Blackhawks. "I think so many guys went through these tough games so many times, so we know if we play our system right to the end, we're going to get some chances. And we have enough guys who can score."

The value of scoring the first goal has been evident in the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs, but the Blackhawks don't appear to be paying attention, at least when they find themselves on the wrong side of the opening goal.

The Blackhawks are 9-1 when scoring first, but they improved to 4-4 in the playoffs when allowing the first goal. They and their first-round opponents, the Nashville Predators, who were 1-1, are the only two teams in the playoffs with a .500 record in that situation.

Believe in the system, trust the process, good things happen. Ho hum.

"Playing catch-up against a team that was comparable [to us] the last two series, when they get the lead on you, prevent defense, tough to get through. They check well, got good sticks, they got quickness," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "Basically we had to get through. But finding a way today is a good illustration of what this team's all about.

"Finding ways to win, probably a good example of that tonight."

The Blackhawks have been finding ways to win, all sorts of ways, for years. This game was no different, but that doesn't mean it was perfect.

They did get thoroughly dominated for most of the first period and played with fire a little bit. The Lightning could have gone up 2-0 on a few occasions, most notably two chances by captain Steven Stamkos late in the second period and a clean breakaway by Ryan Callahan midway through the third.

Goaltender Corey Crawford had to come up big on each occasion, and Teuvo Tervainen tied the game about two minutes after Crawford stopped Callahan in the third.

Defenseman Duncan Keith, who showed once again he is immune to exhaustion by logging a game-high 29:15, did not like the idea presented to him that this was a typical Blackhawks victory, even if it was. He'd much rather change the pattern moving forward in the series.

"I think we can be better," Keith said. "They came out hard and took it to us early. I don't think we want to always have to play from behind and find a way. Obviously it's nice to get the lead and play with the lead. We'd rather be able to do that than chase it."

But Keith also knows that you don't get extra style points in the playoffs. All that matters is wins, and the Blackhawks are good at manufacturing those out of nothing.

"We know it's 1-0 and all it takes is one shot to tie it up and one play," Keith said. "We've got confidence in our ability. We've come back in a lot of games over the past year, the last few years. It's what it comes down to, pushing, knowing it's not over until the whistle or the siren ends the game."

It also comes down to belief. And the Blackhawks have it.

Author: Arpon Basu | Managing Editor

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