TAMPA, Fla. — To be young, gifted and on the biggest stage of the hockey world. For Chicago winger Teuvo Teravainen and Tampa Bay center Cedric Paquette, the two youngest players in this Stanley Cup Final, there seemed to be nothing about Game 1 that could intimidate them.
Well, almost nothing.
After scoring the game-tying goal for Chicago, Teravainen did admit being a bit terrified of one thing. “When I scored the goal, the first thing [I thought] was, ‘Oh no, I have to go out in the media after the game,’” the 20-year-old Finn quipped to reporters after Wednesday night’s game.
If he isn’t comfortable under the spotlight, Teravainen didn’t show it, playing with a calm confidence that belies his baby face. “He’s one of the most talented guys I see, watching him every day,” said teammate Marian Hossa, a 17-year veteran who was drafted into the NHL when Teravainen was two years old. “He’s growing more confident every game. He doesn’t seem to have a heartbeat. He’s so calm. He’s Finnish cold.”
But more than his goal, a quick shot that found an unobstructed lane to the Lightning net at 13:28 of the third, it was Teravainen’s assist on the winner just two minutes later that suggested he may have ice running through his veins. The quick stick and poke-check to force the puck to Antoine Vermette revealed Teravainen’s excellent on-ice awareness, a quality that has given Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville more reason to believe and trust the youngster.
“We had him out there late in the game,” the coach said. “That's the evolution of trusting him and putting him in situations [like that] before. You earn that.”
In Game 1, Teravainen earned the right to be on the ice with less than five minutes to go in a tie game. He earned his two points, becoming the youngest player to record a multi-point game in the Final since Jaromir Jagr. Teravainen earned his time in front of the cameras and reporters—even if he didn’t much want it.
“He’s got lots of upside,” Quenneville said Thursday. “We have a couple of guys that have achieved the top, top level. [And] I think watching these guys on a regular basis could help him grow, help him learn what it takes to be a great player, top player, game in, game out…. That’s way too much pressure to say he's going to be one of those guys, but it's nice knowing we look forward to him being a top player.”
Teravainen’s big game was welcome in the absence of production from the Blackhawks’ star players. Captain Jonathan Toews and scoring winger Patrick Kane, who skated most of their shifts together Wednesday night, were both kept off the score sheet for just the second time all postseason. Together, they combined for just four shots on goal in Game 1, none from inside 20 feet. Their relative quiet was due in large part to Tampa Bay’s excellent shutdown defensive pair of Anton Stralman and Victor Hedman, but don’t overlook the work of 21-year-old defensive center, Cedric Paquette.
“This kid is a really responsible, hard-to-play-against centerman,” Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said. “Our thinking was if we can neutralize [Chicago’s Kane and Toews], that’s going to give our other guys hopefully a little bit better chance to score…. I thought he did an unreal job. Those [Blackhawks] are great players. To keep them off the score sheet the way they did… it was something we needed….
“If [they] can keep [Chicago’s] big boys off the score sheets, that means just as much for us [as scoring],” Cooper said.
The coach hadn’t informed Paquette or linemate Ryan Callahan of his intention to give them the unenviable task of shutting down Chicago’s stars. Why worry the youngster? “I don’t want him thinking, ‘Oh, my gosh, I’m going to have to check Captain Everything [Toews],’” Cooper said Thursday. “For Ceddy, it’s, ‘Go out there and do your job.’ … I didn't want him thinking about it. I want him to go out and play. He finds himself against No. 19, so be it. I thought he did a great job.”
Now, armed with the experience and knowledge of his success from Game 1, Paquette can bring confidence into Saturday’s Game 2.
With so much talent on both sides, often games at this juncture come down to the weakest link. For the Blackhawks and Lightning, that certainly isn’t their youngest players.