In closest Cup final ever, mistakes loom especially large

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TAMPA — The Chicago Blackhawks scored two goals Saturday. One came on a major blunder by Lightning goalie Ben Bishop. The other came moments after a more minor error by Lightning defenseman Andrej Sustr.

You know what they say about hockey. And like clockwork, Andrew Shaw went ahead and said it after the Blackhawks’ 2-1 victory.

“Hockey is a game of mistakes,” he said. “Whoever makes the least usually has the better chance of winning.”

They’re calling this the closest Stanley Cup Final in NHL history. All five games have been decided by one goal. There has yet to be a two-goal lead at any time. Heck, the most one team has outshot the other is by six.

Frankly, it’s amazing there hasn’t been overtime.

“This is five one‑goal games,” said Lightning coach Jon Cooper. “The margin of error for both teams is minimal.”

Even Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, a participant in so many big games both professionally and on the international stage, has yet to develop an immunity to the anxiety.

“It’s always nerve-wracking,” he said. “I think that just shows you really want to win.”

And in a series where even the most benign-looking play can prove fatal — as it did for Tampa Bay early in the third when Sustr misplayed the puck along the boards in the Chicago end, ultimately leading to Antoine Vermette’s winner — it can be especially hard to keep from playing scared.

What’s the Blackhawks’ solution to that?

“I think everyone’s reassuring each other to go out and make plays,” said Toews. “Just go out there and make things happen. You’ve got five other guys out there with you. If you make a mistake, it’s not the end of the world.

“We’re gonna bail each other out when we get in tight spots. So whether you have a lot of experience or you’re a young guy with not so much experience, we’re all trying to make each other a little more comfortable out there.”

As for that first Chicago goal, Bishop chalked it up to a miscommunication with defenseman Victor Hedman.

“I saw them going for a change and I thought I would be able to catch them,” he said. “You know, Heddy was coming for it, but you can’t really hear anything in the building when it’s that loud. And you saw the result.”

Indeed we did. Bishop collided with Hedman, Patrick Sharp picked up the puck, open net, 1-0 Blackhawks.

“It’s unfortunate, obviously,” said Bishop. “It’s the first time it’s happened, and it’s a bad time to happen.”

Said Hedman: “I was looking up ice, didn’t see him and didn’t hear him. Stuff like that happens.”

And so this series heads back to Chicago, where the Cup may or may not be hoisted Monday after Game 6.

There will be mistakes.

There will be nerves.

“That’s what we live for,” said Shaw. “This is playoff hockey and we expect nothing different.”