Playing with the lead in the Stanley Cup final isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be. Just ask the New York Rangers about that. The trick is to play with the lead an hold onto it, something the Tampa Bay Lightning did much better in Game 2 than it did in Game 1 of the final.
TAMPA – Of the 120 minutes the Tampa Bay Lightning and Chicago Blackhawks have played so far in the Stanley Cup final, the Lightning has played with a lead for almost three-quarters of the time. So if it was the Lightning’s game plan to make the Blackhawks chase the game, it’s working out brilliantly.
So far, the Lightning has held the lead for a total of 79:56. The Blackhawks, on the other hand, have been ahead for only 6:06, or roughly five percent of the time. It’s probably fair to say the Blackhawks are feeling rather lucky that they came out of sweltering Florida with a split in the first two games, but that’s generally what good teams do.
After all, the New York Rangers held the lead for a lot longer than the Los Angeles Kings did in the Stanley Cup final last year and look where it got them, ousted in five games. All told, the Rangers played with a lead in last year’s final for 111:04, more than double the 49:34 with which the Kings played with the lead. In the first two games, the Kings held the lead for almost 50 minutes and the Kings never held a lead, except for once the games ended. The Kings scored twice in overtime and took control of the series. It wasn’t until the 19:59 mark of the first period in Game 3 that the Kings played with a lead.
The Blackhawks are a lot like the Kings in that sense. They’re good enough and experienced enough to be comfortable playing from behind and Game 1 was a perfect example of that. Even though the Blackhawks trailed 1-0 until late in the third period, there was no sense of panic in their game. Nor was there in Game 2, but the Lightning decided in Game 2 to continue to press the issue rather than sit back and allow the Blackhawks to come to them.
“Obviously, you want to put away games that you’re winning in the third,” said Lightning captain Steven Stamkos. “We had done it all playoffs, but (losing a lead) is bound to happen. You’re going to have games like that and they’re a good team over there. But I do think we learned our lesson. We didn’t sit back and I know they tied it up earlier than they had in Game 1, but even before that, we were trying to keep pressure on them and keep the puck. I think we were able to use Game 1 as some motivation going into the third knowing that we wanted to finish this one off and make a series out of it.”
The reality for both the Lightning and the Blackhawks is that as long as the Blackhawks prolific offensive players are kept off the scoresheet, the better the chance the Lightning will be able to get a lead and keep it. So far, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane have been limited to one assist between them. The two players most responsible for keeping them in check – center Cedric Paquette and defenseman Victor Hedman – have three points between them. They also forced Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville to split the pair up in Game 2. But Kane finished the game without a single shot on goal.
“The Lighting are working hard and playing good hockey, good defensive hockey,” Kane said. “We just have to stay with it.”
That sentiment was echoed by Toews, who has had some good chances to score in the series, but has yet to find the back of the net. The Blackhawks are getting plenty of offense from their lesser lights such as Teuvo Teravainen and Andrew Shaw, but like most teams, they win and lose on the strength of their star players. And there is pressure on Toews and Kane to step it up, particularly since the until recently quiet Triplet Trio of Tyler Johnson between Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov seemed to have relocated its scoring touch in Game 2.
But this is the Blackhawks and one thing they’re not going to do is panic.
“It’s not time to get frustrated, it’s not time to give up,” Toews said. “You stay with it and eventually something clicks and when it does, you feel really good. This is the time of the year when you just empty the tank, throw everything you can at them. You just continue no matter what. You don’t make excuses, you don’t throw in the towel. You keep working for that offense. It comes at a price, too.”