On the ‘fine line’ between protecting a lead and sitting back too much

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TAMPA — Not even a week after being lauded for stifling the New York Rangers in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final, the Tampa Bay Lightning were beating themselves up for sitting back and playing too passively in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Chicago Blackhawks.

Hockey is funny that way. One game, a strategy works out. The next, it fails miserably. Even if the process remains largely the same.

“What had worked for us a little bit in the past, maybe we sat back and thought, ‘Maybe this is going to work for us again,'” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said the day after after his team blew a 1-0 third-period lead in a painful 2-1 loss.

Captain Steven Stamkos called it a “fine line” between responsibly protecting a lead and becoming overly passive.

“I think everyone was trying to do the right thing last night,” he said. “We come in with a one‑goal lead into the third. The first thing on your mind is to defend that lead.”

The Lightning were doing exactly that until Teuvo Teravainen beat a screened Ben Bishop on a long wrist shot with less than seven minutes remaining.

“He threw a puck at the net that probably nine times out of ten doesn’t go in, but it went in for him,” said Cooper. “I think that’s what happens to players of his skill level. Pucks have eyes for those guys.”

Perhaps that’s the difference between going into a shell versus the Blackhawks and going into a shell versus some other team. Against the Blackhawks, it’s a more dangerous game to play. Those guys can pick you apart.

“We found out if we’re going to play passive in the third period against Chicago it may not work out too well for us,” said Cooper.

And so the Lightning are forced to approach Saturday’s game at Amalie Arena with the specter of losing and traveling to Chicago trailing 2-0.

There will be those who call Game 2 a must-win for the home team.

“I don’t think there’s a must‑win unless you’re facing elimination,” countered veteran winger Ryan Callahan. “We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to try to win every playoff game. I think that’s the way you approach it. You approach the game; you want to win it.”

Related: Bolts brush off talk of ‘must-win’ Game 2