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Lightning burned by conservative approach in Game 1

by Dan Rosen

TAMPA -- It happened to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday. We all probably should have seen it coming too.

Here were the Lightning, the brash, confident newcomers to the NHL's biggest stage, controlling the puck, controlling the pace, and leading by a goal in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Chicago Blackhawks, a team that will never panic because it just knows how to win at this time of the year.

Tampa Bay was riding Alex Killorn's goal, the one he scored 4:31 into the first period, deep into the third period. This wasn't out of character. The Lightning wanted to be defensive. They wanted to be conservative. Their past two wins, against the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference Final, were shutouts.

"If you were in the situation, you'd probably do the same," Tampa Bay captain Steven Stamkos said of the defense-first plan.

The Lightning probably won't do it again. It was the wrong strategy.

Chicago scored twice in a span of 1:58 in the third period to stun Tampa Bay with a 2-1 win to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-7 series.

"Definitely a lesson learned," Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman said.

It's not a new one for the Lightning.

The Detroit Red Wings showed Tampa Bay that winning in the Stanley Cup Playoffs wouldn't be easy in Game 1 of the first round, when the Lightning had 46 shots to the Red Wings' 14 but lost 3-2.

Tampa Bay came back and won 5-1 in Game 2; it won the series in seven games.

New York showed Tampa Bay that winning with a chance to go to the Cup Final is quite difficult too. The Rangers controlled the pace and defeated the lackluster Lightning 2-1 in Game 1 of the conference final.

Tampa Bay came back and won 6-2 in Game 2; it won the series in seven games.

"You've got to go through these situations to learn from them," Stamkos said.

Nothing the Lightning faced Wednesday should have come as a surprise to them. They knew how good and opportunistic the Blackhawks are. They knew of their experience. It was part of arguably the biggest question coming into this series: How would the Blackhawks' championship experience manifest itself against the Lightning's relative inexperience on this stage?

The answer came in a span of less than two minutes late in the third period of Game 1. Given an inch, the Blackhawks took a yard. It's never OK to sit back when Chicago appears to be on the ropes.

You're never OK against the Blackhawks. Ever.

Teuvo Teravainen's seeing-eye shot through a screen at 13:28 staggered the Lightning. Antoine Vermette's goal off of a Tampa Bay turnover knocked them out.

"You have to be in the Final to gain experience," Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman said. "Five years ago, most of those guys [the Blackhawks players] played their first Final. It's our time now. We have guys that played in the Final last year. We've got [Valtteri Filppula], who won the Stanley Cup. So we've got some experience on our team, but for us playing in the first one, you obviously have to be here to gain that Final experience.

"It's still the same game, but obviously the way things turned out tonight it's easy to say experience took over for them."

It didn't have to, and that has to be the most frustrating part of Game 1. It's not as if the Blackhawks dominated the third period; the Lightning just simply stopped trying to pressure them.

Tampa Bay had five shots on goal in the third - one of which came 16 seconds after Teravainen scored and three after Vermette scored. Their first shot of the period came at 11:38, when Ryan Callahan was stoned on a breakaway.

Teravainen scored 1:50 after goalie Corey Crawford denied Callahan

"There's a fine line between respect and fear," Lightning forward Brenden Morrow said. "I think we respect them, but you can't fear them. It looked like in the third we were holding on and the fear of what might be coming or what might happen [set in]."

Before Teravainen scored, the Lightning felt they were playing a similar third period to the one they played against the Rangers in Game 7 of the conference final.

There was one noticeable difference.

"We were a little bit more playing them [the Rangers] down ice," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said, "where tonight in the third period we played almost a half-ice game."

It played right into the Blackhawks' hands. They didn't have to come 200 feet, as the Rangers did in Game 7. They didn't have to forecheck, because the Lightning didn't really force them to dump the puck into the zone.

"We just got away from playing smart defensive hockey and keeping pressure on them," Stamkos said. "We've done it in the past. Whether it was chips and flips and getting rid of the puck, not making the confident play that we've made in the past. That's a tough one to swallow, because we played so well for most of the game."

They played well defensively. That was their game plan. They feel as long as they protect their net, their skill and speed will create chances off the rush.

The problem is that strategy worked for only about 14-and-a-half minutes in the first period, when Tampa Bay had a 10-3 edge in shots on goal and a 23-5 edge in total shot attempts.

The rest of the game was in the Blackhawks' favor. Take away the first 14-and-a-half minutes and the Blackhawks outshot the Lightning 18-13 and had a 47-22 edge in shot attempts.

"It's just one of those games where if you let a team hang around like that," Stamkos said. "Especially with the skill that they have, you can't afford to do that."

The Lightning are the newcomers to this stage taking on the team that dominates here, so it is not surprising they got burnt. The new guys usually have to learn how it works.

It stinks for them, but it's not unfamiliar territory. It happened to them against Detroit. It happened against New York. Tampa Bay is still playing for a reason.

Game 2 is Saturday (7:15 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports). Don't be shocked if the Lightning change the story, again.

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