The telltale warning signs came early for the Tampa Bay Lightning in their 2-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals. The Lightning came out of the gate playing with aggression and grabbed an early 1-0 lead. But amidst that free-flowing play they committed three dangerous turnovers, leaving the puck in the middle of the ice in front of their own net.
Late in the third period of a 1-1 game, Tampa left the puck out there again and this one ended up in the back of the net. Chicago had a win, thanks to two goals in the final seven minutes.
The aftermath of this game is focused on the Lightning’s extremely conservative approach after they got the lead, on a spectacular redirect by Alex Killorn. Once Tampa had the lead, they reverted to the strategy that had delivered them shutout wins over the New York Rangers in Games 5 & 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
The play was tight, constricted and neither team generated many scoring chances, with Tampa Bay taking 23 shots for the game and Chicago settling for 21.
But what works against the offensively-challenged Rangers is more problematic against the talented Blackhawks. One goal is not enough to win. Chicago’s game-tying goal was a superb shot by Teuvo Teravainen, deep from the left side of the net.
Tampa Bay really did nothing wrong on this play—their defenders had inside position on the Blackhawks in the event of the rebound that usually results from these deep shots. The line of players blocked the vision of goalie Ben Bishop, but there was still just a tiny window where Teravainen could shoot the puck and score. He found the window and the game was tied.
Now Tampa Bay needed to score and they went back to their early-game strategy of opening up the ice and the flow of play. And once more, the turnover happened and this time Chicago’s Antoinne Vermette scored the game-winner.
It was a game where the Lightning did a lot right. They played excellent defense throughout, not letting the best Blackhawk players really get loose for shots on the net. Tampa’s own star, Steven Stamkos, took five shots, including two very good looks. If he keeps getting those, good things will happen for the Lightning offensively.
But in the end, they still lost. Tampa Bay coach John Cooper undoubtedly knows he needs to get more offense, but his team has to show they can play high-octane hockey and still take care of the puck.
Game 2 is Saturday night at 7:15 PM ET on NBC.