The Blackhawks, with their Cup Final experience and raucous crowd, have an overwhelming advantage in the United Center, the media repeated leading up to Game 3.
The Tampa Bay Lightning continue to defy conventional wisdom in these 2015 Playoffs, however.
The Lightning overcame a 2-1 deficit in the third period. They survived a Madhouse on Madison crowd that roared when the Blackhawks killed off a 5-on-3 penalty. They weathered several momentum swings throughout Game 3.
And they produced a 3-2 victory that gives them a two-games-to-one lead in the best-of-seven series.
Lightning forward Brenden Morrow said on Tuesday the Bolts came to Chicago “to get a win.”
“Now, we’ve got to get greedy,” Morrow said.
Tampa Bay will try to go up 3-1 in the Cup Final on Wednesday. But, before moving ahead, let’s look at 3 Things that led to another road victory -- their eighth of the postseason -- for the Lightning on Monday.
1. HED OF THE CLASS
Not too many NHLers, let alone defensemen, can make the plays Victor Hedman manufactured to set up two of the Lightning’s three goals in Game 3.
Not too many NHLers are Victor Hedman though.
At 6-foot-6, 230 pounds, Hedman skates with the speed, fluidness and endurance of a gazelle. His vision of the entire ice with the puck on his stick is exemplary.
On Tampa Bay’s first goal, Hedman held the puck momentarily behind the Bolts net then ripped a pass 120 feet up the ice for Ryan Callahan, a perfectly-placed laser to the opposite blue line that allowed Callahan to get the puck on his backhand without breaking stride before switching to his forehand and firing past Corey Crawford from the edge of the right circle.
“That was impressive,” Callahan said following the game of Hedman’s stretch pass
On the game winner, Hedman led the charge into the Blackhawks’ zone, an odd-man rush with Cedric Paquette on his right wing and J.T. Brown on the left. Hedman moved like an experienced center as he skated with the puck into the left circle to get around Brent Seabrook before centering the puck as he neared the goal line for Paquette, who beat Crawford with a one-timer to the far post.
Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said if the rest of the league didn’t know who Victor Hedman was before, they’re certainly finding out during the 2015 Playoffs.
“This is clearly his coming out party,” Cooper said. “He sets that (first) one up and makes a big-time play on the winner. He was a monster out there tonight.”
Hedman missed over a month of the regular season after breaking his finger blocking a shot in the Bolts’ fifth game. Had he been healthy for the duration, there’s a good chance Hedman would be a finalist for the Norris Trophy.
As it is, Hedman, at just 24 years old, is primed to be one of the league’s best defensemen for many years.
He’s already there now.
“I wouldn’t even say it’s a coming out party,” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said Tuesday. “That phrase is used because of the stage that we’re on and people are finally getting to see Victor. We see him every day. It’s not a surprise to us. I’ve been fortunate to play with him since he came into the league…He’s been an absolute beast for us out there. Very rare do you see the combination of size and speed and smarts.”
2. THE INDESTRUCTIBLE BEN BISHOP
Ben Bishop’s agent should look into a sponsorship deal for his client with Timex because, well, Bishop takes a licking and keeps on ticking.
Bishop looked battered and bruised as the Blackhawks peppered his goal for 19 shots in the first period, many of them what could be considered Grade-A scoring chances.
After a couple of his stops, Bishop would lay on the ice, Bolts fans wondering if he was hurt or just exhausted from the barrage of shots he was facing.
Bishop rose to his feet each time, though.
And he rose to the occasion when the Bolts needed him most.
“Bish made some saves to keep us in it,” Ryan Callahan said.
Despite playing in obvious discomfort, Bishop made 36 saves in Game 3, his second-highest total of the playoffs. He took a two-handed shove to the head from the Blackhawks’ Brandon Saad late in the second period and was sprawled face first on the ice for a minute or so while Lightning trainer Tom Mulligan attended to him.
Again, Bishop gathered himself and got up.
Again, he continued to keep Chicago off the scoreboard, holding the Blackhawks to two goals.
Whatever Bishop’s dealing with, it hasn’t affected the end result: victory for the Lightning.
Bishop improved to 13-9 in his first-ever playoff experience. His goals-against average and save percentage are holding steady at a satisfactory 2.19 and .919, respectively.
“Not many guys are 100 percent right now,” Brian Boyle said. “He’s got a pretty important job for us, and he’s been lights out. It’s been really, really impressive to watch.”
3. DÉJÀ VU
The first three games of the Stanley Cup Final have played out in the same fashion: the Lightning score the opening goal early before Chicago battles back to take a 2-1 lead.
The difference between the series opener and Games 2 and 3 is the Lightning were able to get the equalizing goal fairly soon after Chicago took the lead in the Bolts’ two victories.
In Game 2, Nikita Kucherov leveled the score 1:32 after Chicago went up 2-1. The Lightning never trailed the rest of the way.
On Monday, Chicago looked as if it might have taken control of the game when Saad scored 4:14 into the third period to put the Blackhawks in the lead. Ondrej Palat’s answer 13 second later, however, quickly erased any momentum Chicago gained.
“Anytime you get a goal that quick after the other team scores one, it definitely deflates you,” Callahan said. “We’ve been on the other side of that before. We know how that feels.”
The Lightning’s ability to answer quickly in the Stanley Cup Final has been impressive.
It’s also been the key to two-straight victories.