TAMPA – Their name should have been enough for them to be ready. But to be fair no one can really tell the speed of Lightning till it actually strikes.
Perhaps that explains why the Blackhawks were a little thunderstruck in the first two periods of their opening game of the Stanley Cup Final in Tampa on Wednesday night.
“Well, technically, you know, first time we get to see them really in a long time,” said head coach Joel Quenneville.
He’s right. It had been almost four months since the Blackhawks saw the Lightning on the ice. That wasn’t a great moment for Quenneville’s team who lost 4-0 on February 27th just a few days after Patrick Kane was lost to injury for the rest of the regular season.
That’s why the team looked a little slow on their feet during an opening period where they fell behind 1-0 and were outshot 10-7.
“I think the one thing we found out, they’re fast, they’re quick,” said Quenneville of the Lightning. “Technically they play a very sound and very fast game, a lot of pressure, not a lot of time. So that’s kind of what you got to work through and work around. That’s probably as technical as you get in that area.
“Certainly they’re a good hockey team that plays the right way.”
It’s quite a different way to play than the Blackhawks saw in their Western Conference Finals series against the Ducks. They made a concerted effort to hit the Hawks early and often in an attempt to fatigue them as the series went on. That didn’t work as Chicago won Games 6 and 7 to advance to their third Stanley Cup Final in six years.
Of course speed didn’t really pay off in the end for Tampa. They couldn’t get anything but that first period goal past Corey Crawford and the Blackhawks showed some quickness of their own with a pair of goals within two minutes of each other late in the 3rd period to give Chicago a 2-1 win.
“For the most part I think we found our game slowly as the game went on,” said captain Jonathan Toews of Game 1. “I think when you manage to keep your game tight like that, especially if we feel we’re outplaying a team, or it’s 1-0, there’s always a chance we can get a few bounces.
“We’re definitely understanding of that and know we need to be much better the next one.”
But what’s the difference for the Blackhawks moving forward against a speed team rather than a physical one?
“They’re kind of comparable in ways,” said Quenneville of the contrasting styles. “They’re fast, they’re quick, whether it’s more of a puck-possession entry can be challenging. I think we need backside pressure, good gaps, good sticks. They’ve got some good play-making ability off their entries, good play selection, good patience, good shooters as well.
“But if we can be disruptive through the middle of the ice, on entries is something you look for. They still got to hard forecheck when they do get it behind you. You got to play it out. Whatever way they enter, it will be something to be challenged.”
At least they won’t be as thunderstruck by the speed of Lightning in Game 2.