As the game progressed, however, the Bolts hold on the game steadily diminished.
By the third period, the Blackhawks were in control, getting the breakthrough with 6:32 to go and the game-winner roughly two minutes later.
The Lightning have been in this situation before in the 2015 Playoffs, having now lost three of four Game 1s.
Why did recent history repeat itself Wednesday?
3 Things that led to defeat for the Lightning.
1. SCHOOL’S IN SESSION
The Tampa Bay Lightning are relatively inexperienced when it comes to the Stanley Cup Final. Only six Bolts – Brian Boyle, Matt Carle, Braydon Coburn, Valtteri Filppula, Brenden Morrow and Anton Stralman – had ever played in a Cup Final game until Wednesday night and only one, Filppula in 2008 with Detroit, has ever won the Cup.
Chicago, by contrast, has 13 players leftover from the 2013 Stanley Cup championship team and seven players with two Stanley Cups.
On Wednesday, that disparity in Cup Final maturity was confirmed in the final period.
Taking a 1-0 lead into the third, the Lightning sat on their lead, content to drop back into a defensive shell and break up Chicago’s offensive attacks without producing any of their own. The strategy worked for a while, but eventually the resilient Blackhawks and their three Cup Final appearances in six seasons broke through the wall.
And once they got one, the second was inevitable.
“We just sat back a little bit too much, let them take over. That’s not a thing you want to give the Chicago Blackhawks,” Stralman said. “They’re a really good team with the puck and they’re really good at playing that possession type of game. I think it’s a lesson learned for us. We just need to keep playing like we did for the first two periods. I’d rather play like that and lose than sit back like we did now and still didn’t get the win.”
The Lightning employed a similar strategy in Games 5 and 7 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Rangers but also picked their opportunities to counterattack. Against Chicago, the Lightning didn’t have the puck enough to counter.
“We saw it in the Rangers’ series where we controlled play but in a way where we were still keeping pressure on them playing defensive hockey,” Steven Stamkos said. “We just didn’t have much pressure and gave them some time and space, and it cost us.”
2. THE TURNING POINT
Midway through the third period with the Lightning still holding their 1-0 lead, Ryan Callahan pounced on one of the few counterattack chances for the Bolts, racing to catch up to a loose puck at center ice and start a breakaway all alone on Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford.
Crawford, thinking he could beat Callahan to the loose puck before quickly realizing that was impossible, was well out of his crease. From about 35 feet, Callahan tried to snap a shot five hole, but Crawford read the puck well and swatted it away with his stick.
Less than two minutes later, Teuvo Teravainen took advantage of a screened Ben Bishop to send a wrist shot from beyond the left circle into the upper left corner of the Lightning net.
“I thought we had chances to put them away,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. “We didn’t put them away. Once you do that, to me, that was letting them hang around.”
Two minutes after Teravainen’s game-tying score, Antoine Vermette notched the game-winner, capitalizing on a turnover deep in the Bolts’ end to send Chicago to a one-game-to-none lead in the best-of-seven series.
Had Callahan scored, the Lightning would have taken a 2-0 lead, likely would have preserved the shutout victory and all anybody would be talking about Wednesday night/Thursday morning is the brilliant strategy employed by the Bolts coaching staff.
“As the third period unfolded a little bit, it was very similar to how we played the Rangers the other night except we were a little bit more playing them down ice where tonight in the third period we played almost a half ice game, and against a team like Chicago, you can’t let them keep coming at you the way we did,” Cooper said. “…Sometimes, we’ve been that team that’s bent a little but haven’t broken. Tonight a good team found a way to get two goals.”
3. NO PUCK LUCK
Despite the lack of puck possession in the third period, the Lightning still didn’t give up many quality scoring chances.
“It’s not like we’re sitting here and saying, ‘Oh my God, they had chance after chance after chance,’” Cooper said. “(Chicago) had a little bit of time of possession, but they weren’t getting big-time chances.”
Both of Chicago’s goals came off unfortunate circumstances.
On the first, Teravainen simply looked to put the puck on net with Marcus Kruger in front, perhaps hoping for a rebound opportunity Kruger could stuff home.
Instead, Kruger screened Bishop perfectly, and Bishop never saw the puck as it hit the upper left corner of the Lightning net.
“Teravainen’s is a seeing-eye single,” Cooper said. “That goal had eyes.”
Vermette had one of Chicago’s few Grade A scoring chances after grabbing a loose puck in the slot. His shot, though, was tipped just enough by the blade of J.T. Brown’s stick to send it up and over Bishop’s glove.
To be sure, Vermette could have easily scored on the opportunity as he had a wide-open look at goal. The deflection, however, didn’t help the Lightning’s cause.
“We turned pucks over on that second one,” Cooper said. “I thought we hung in there. 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 at least to win that game. We didn’t tonight.”