TAMPA — Former Tampa Bay Lightning head coach John Tortorella used to have a saying:
On Wednesday night, his old team should’ve heeded that advice.
The Lightning played it safe in the third period of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final and, without getting too hyperbolic, it basically killed them. It was the topic of conversation in the dressing room following the 2-1 loss, in which the Blackhawks rallied to score two goals in 1:58 in the third period — a period that saw the Bolts put just five shots on goal.
“You can’t take anything for granted against a team like that,” defenseman Anton Stralman said. “You can’t give them the room and space we did for 15 minutes in the third period. We just sat back too much and got away from our game a little bit.
“So, lesson learned.”
There were signs Tampa was reverting into a defensive shell in the second period, but the third was when the team really hunkered down. The Bolts rarely ventured forward and went over 13 minutes without registering a shot on Corey Crawford — this from a team that averaged close to 30 a night during the regular season.
“We just got away from playing smart defensive hockey and keeping pressure on them,” captain Steve Stamkos explained. “We’ve done it in the past. Whether it was chips and flips and getting rid of the puck, not making the confident play that we’ve made in the past.
“That’s a tough one to swallow.”
In Tampa Bay’s defense, some of this mentality might’ve carried over from an airtight performance in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final. At MSG, the Bolts smothered the Rangers in what was one of the team’s best checking performances of the playoffs; there was also that Game 7 mindset of killing time to get the win, which was clearly on display again tonight.
“Tonight in the third period we played almost a half-ice game,” head coach Jon Cooper explained. “Against a team like Chicago, you can’t let them keep coming at you the way we did.
“I thought we had chances to put them away. We didn’t put them away. And once you do that, to me, that was letting them hang around.”