TAMPA — If safe was death for the Lightning in Game 1, then both teams presided over its funeral Saturday night. In a game that felt like the antithesis of Wednesday’s slog, Chicago and Tampa Bay traded in the sclerotic and inert for 60 minutes of energetic and entertaining hockey at Amalie Arena. They traded in shot-blocks, perimeter play and passive posture for seven goals, three lead changes and a curious situation in the Lightning net.
After giving up the game-tying goal 3:38 into the third period—a Brent Seabrook shot that got through Tampa Bay goalie Ben Bishop, who was dealing with some contact at the top of his crease from a driving Marian Hossa—Bishop excused himself from the net less than four minutes later. Tampa Bay scored the 4-3 winner on the power play 92 seconds later, with backup Andrei Vasilevskiy in net. Though Bishop returned after the goal, he left again for good with 7:41 left in the game.
“No one really knew what was going on,” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. “We were kind of listening to the announcements of who was in net for our team a couple times. [But] depth's been part of our success all season.”
Lightning coach Jon Cooper wouldn’t account for Bishop’s status immediately after the game but noted his full faith in Vasilevskiy, who made five saves in relief. Hanging onto the slim one-goal lead, the 20-year-old netminder earned his eighth career NHL win, his first in the postseason.
“I know we have two unbelievably capable goaltenders,” Cooper said. “When Bish had to leave, there wasn’t an ounce of stress on anybody on our bench, including myself. The kid proved it when he went in.”
When things could have gone awry for Tampa Bay, Vasilevskiy maintained stability in a game that featured relatively little. The score, like the play on the ice, went back and forth all night, with each team surrendering at least one lead. First it was Chicago’s Andrew Shaw, who knocked in a loose puck in Bishop’s crease and tied the game early in the second period. Chicago’s Game 1 hero Teuvo Teravainen put the Blackhawks ahead minutes later with a slick shot off a nifty pass from Hossa on the power play.
But in a departure from Wednesday night, when Tampa Bay got caught playing tentatively and failed to respond to two quick Chicago goals late in the third, this time the Lightning had time to react. Winger Nikita Kucherov answered 1:32 later, deftly deflecting a pass from defenseman Jason Garrison at the point. Before the period was through, Tyler Johnson, the postseason leader in goals who had not scored in five games, broke through Chicago netminder Corey Crawford. Holding the puck on the goal line, the center, who is suspected of nursing an injury (he took only one draw Saturday night), walked in on Crawford unchallenged. The goalie went in for a half-hearted poke check, but by crouching down, he instead provided Johnson a sliver of space to slip a backhand.
“We're learning the Stanley Cup Playoffs on the job,” Cooper said. “What happened to us [in Game 1] was a lesson learned…. Put in that position again, what do you do? … There was a fire on that bench when [Chicago went up 2-1 again]. There wasn’t panic, it was pissed.”
After the Triplets had been relatively quiet in Game 1—Ondrej Palat, Johnson and Kucherov combined for just two shots Wednesday—the trio’s scoring and subsequently its confidence reemerged. In addition to the two goals and five shots, the three youngsters also doled out 12 of Tampa Bay’s 33 hits on the night.
“[That line] carried a lot of the load for us,” Cooper said. “For them to get going, it's usually a good sign for our team.”
While the Lightning’s best forwards regained their footing, Chicago’s stars were largely silenced again. For the second straight game, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane struggled to generate quality chances against Tampa Bay’s checkers. Charged with shutting down the Blackhawks’ dynamic top line, Cedric Paquette and his wingers Ryan Callahan and J.T. Brown, who also opened scoring with a goal at 12:56 in the first, have been exceptional. Along with defensemen Anton Stralman and Victor Hedman, the Lightning’s shutdown players kept Kane and Toews to a single shot attempt through two periods, effectively forcing Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville to separate his superstars to start the third.
As the series moves back to Chicago Monday night, the matchup game within the game could bring even greater intrigue as the Blackhawks try to free their stars from the clutches of Tampa Bay’s defense. If Quenneville succeeds, it should lead only to more chances, more speed, more excitement and more goals. If Saturday looked a little bit throwback to the 1980s, what lies ahead in Chicago could be even more fun.