TAMPA – In Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final, it was almost as though the hunter became the hunted. Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, as good a 200-foot player as you’re going to find in the world today, is usually the one frustrating his opponents. But every time he looked up in Game 1, all he could see was a sea of blue.
It was mostly in the form of Lightning defensemen Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman, with a healthy dose of Cedric Paquette, J.T. Brown and Alex Killorn thrown in. As a result, Toews had only two shot attempts in Game 1, as did linemate Patrick Kane. “We had some puck possessions in some moments,” Toews said, “but it didn’t really amount to a whole lot the way we wanted it to.”
What the Hawks found so difficult in facing the Hedman-Stralman tandem was getting to the dangerous areas of the ice where they could really test Lightning goalie Ben Bishop. “They’re great skating D-men,” Toews said of Hedman and Stralman. “They’re offensive. They’re smart defensively. Hedman is a big guy, but he’s mobile as well. I think we had some shifts where we had puck possession. We just got to find ways to get inside, get shots, just get traffic in front of the goaltender.”
This is actually a good-news story for the Blackhawks. To have Kane and Toews held to no contribution and to still win augers really nicely for them. Because as these two players have demonstrated time and again over the course of their careers, they’re not going to go long periods without being productive, especially as the games get more important.
The Blackhawks have a fast team, but they were a little flummoxed when they met their match through the first two periods of Game 1. It almost seemed as though there were six Lightning players on the ice every time the Blackhawks tried to get creative. Through the first two periods, the Lightning did a remarkable job of getting into the shooting and passing lanes and taking away any opportunities for them to get creative or assertive in front of the Lightning net.
“I thought Game 1 we weren’t quick enough to begin,” said Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville. “I think we found out how fast they really are. Certainly got our attention. There’s not a lot of room out there, not a lot of time. But I think our team realizes now everything’s got to be fast, quicker. The strength of our team is finding ways to win. (Wednesday) night was a good example.”
The Blackhawks displayed a remarkable amount of patience throughout the game and were rewarded for it. But the Blackhawks have had success through these playoffs by being fast and skilled and have scored their way out of most of their jams in the post-season. And even though they scored just two goals in Game 1, the fact that they came within less than two minutes of each other was a telling sign of their quick-strike ability and how dangerous they can be.
“It doesn’t hurt to find a way to sneak one out like that,” Toews said. “ But the motivation is right in front of us to go out there and play better and harder.”