Author: Mike Halford

2015 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game One

Comeback ‘Hawks: Chicago stuns Tampa Bay with late rally to take Game 1


TAMPA — It took less than two minutes. One hundred and eighteen seconds, to be exact.

That’s all the Chicago Blackhawks needed to turn Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final completely on its head, as Teuvo Teravainen and Antoine Vermette scored 1:58 apart in the third period to earn a 2-1 win and stun the Lightning — and their fans — at Amalie Arena on Wednesday night.

It was a signature comeback win for Chicago, which for the second time this postseason won a game it trailed after two periods. The ‘Hawks also stole home-ice advantage, guaranteeing at least a split in Tampa before heading home to the United Center for Games 3 and 4.

The loss will undoubtedly sting the Bolts. Owners of the NHL’s best offense during the regular season, Tampa Bay took an early first-period lead on Alex Killorn’s slick re-direct, then slowly reverted into a defensive shell.

“We just sat back a little too much,” said Tampa captain Steve Stamkos.

If there was ever a time to trot out the “prevent defense only prevents you from winning” clich√©, tonight was that time.

The mantra especially held true in the third period. As the ‘Hawks poured it on, looking to beat Ben Bishop after being stymied for the first 40 minutes, the Lightning played not to lose and went over 13 minutes without a shot on goal in the final frame.

For a series that many expected to be filled with goals and scoring chances, Game 1 didn’t fit the bill. Chicago fired a postseason-low 21 shots on Bishop, while Corey Crawford was forced to make just 22 stops — five of which came in the third period.

As mentioned above, the loss is a stinger for Tampa Bay and it’ll be interesting to see how the club reacts. While it’s only one game and the first of the series, there is some history worth noting — since the Stanley Cup Final went to best-of-7 in 1939, the team that has won Game 1 has gone on to win it all 77 percent of the time.

Bettman isn’t thrilled with how this compensatory pick thing is going


TAMPA — The experiment hasn’t failed yet, but the early returns aren’t good.

That was the message from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman on Wednesday, speaking to the oft-criticized decision of allowing teams to seek compensatory draft picks in exchange for coaches, GMs and front office executives being hired away by other NHL teams.

“Pleased isn’t exactly the word I would use,” Bettman said, when asked how the system was working. “We put in the policy [for compensation] on January 1, and we’ll let it run a full year before we consider doing anything. At that point in time the options will be to clarify, modify or eliminate it.”

The commissioner explained that, after years of ‘cajoling,’ GMs were finally granted their wish for compensatory picks this year. Bettman’s problem? He says the old system was simple.

This new one has proven to be a little more complex.

The original understanding was that teams would be compensated for losing employees that were, you know, employed. But what’s transpired is that clubs that have dismissed people — Pittsburgh with Dan Bylsma, San Jose with Todd McLellan, Boston with Peter Chiarelli — still received compensatory picks, which opened a can of worms and led to complaints the spirit of the rule was being violated.

To that, the NHL has a response.

“I don’t think based on the conversations that led to the rule it violates the spirit at all,” deputy commissioner Bill Daly explained. “The fact of the matter is, clubs still have the right to deny permission to those employees to talk to any other team based on the terms of their contract.

“So if they have to grant permission in the first place, they should be entitled to compensation.”

In the end, Bettman sounded resigned to the fact that the system’s in place and will continue to be until January 2016. He didn’t rule out revising the policy, but did say pick that have already changed hands will remain that way, adding “what’s done is done.”

“Everybody’s operating under a system — possibly with some adjustments to people’s interpretations — that this is a system that GMs wanted,” Bettman explained. “We’ll see how it works for a year.

“It is what it is.”

Kane, Toews may have toughest assignment yet in Hedman, Stralman

Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews

TAMPA — Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane have gone up against some pretty formidable defensive pairings in these Stanley Cup playoffs.

Fitting, because they’re about to face another one — possibly the best so far.

Prior to Wednesday’s series opener, Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said that Kane and Toews can expect to see a lot of his ace pairing of Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman in the coming days.

“Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane are two of the best players this league has seen in a long time,” Cooper explained. “But we feel Steven Stamkos, Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, we go down our list and think, maybe we’re not too bad ourselves. Let’s prove to everybody you can play against these guys.

“In saying that, they’ll probably see a high dose of Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman.”

Cooper admitted that while line matching is important, getting the right defensive pair out against forwards is imperative. So it’ll be interesting to see the chess game that unfolds with Kane and Toews — assuming Joel Quenneville keeps the pieces together.

There has been talk of possibly splitting up Kane and Toews, who starred in the Anaheim series while playing together; Toews finished with five goals and two assists, Kane three and four. Quenneville was non-committal about his plans earlier this week — saying “we’ll see” and “it’s nice having some flexibility” — and, of course, his penchant for firing up the ol’ line blender is well-documented.

“Joel changes lines quite a bit,” Cooper noted. “We’ll just have to see how things go, how things start. I can’t predict what he’s going to do.

“I’m fairly certain the lineup he starts with won’t be the lineup he finishes with. He’ll move things around.”

Hedman and Stralman are superior to any of the pairings Anaheim put out in the Western Conference final. At 6-foot-6 and 230 pounds, Hedman brings tremendous physicality while the cerebral Stralman, lauded for his ability to read the game, always seems to be in the right position to make a play. Both of their skill sets will come into play if they’re tasked with Toews and Kane, who can beat opponents in a variety of ways.

“Their hockey IQ is combined as good as they come,” veteran Bolts forward Brenden Morrow said. “You put them together, they’re pretty tough. [Toews] wins all his one on one battles, and Kane is the setup guy, playmaker with quick hands.

“They’re both tough to contain as individuals, but you put them together, that makes it that much tougher.”