TAMPA, Fla. — After 53 minutes of scoreless frustration, the Chicago Blackhawks needed less than two minutes more to roar back on top in the Stanley Cup Final opener.
Teuvo Teravainen and Antoine Vermette scored 1:58 apart late in the third period, and the Blackhawks rallied to stun the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-1 on Wednesday night.
Corey Crawford made 22 saves for the Blackhawks, who opened the final series in their quest for their third NHL title in six seasons with more of the clutch offensive play on which they’ve built a championship team.
“You just learn not to panic and keep working hard,” Crawford said. “Stick to your game plan, and we’ll get our chances.”
Nothing worked for Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane — but with their two stars off the ice and the clock dwindling, the Blackhawks’ role players delivered to crush the Amalie Arena crowd celebrating Tampa Bay’s first trip to the Final since winning the 2004 title. Teravainen scored through traffic with 6:32 to play, and Vermette got the winner in the slot with 4:34 left.
Game 2 is Saturday night in Tampa.
Ben Bishop stopped 19 shots and Alex Killorn scored in the opening minutes for Tampa Bay, which appeared to be closing in on a gritty shutout victory. Until Teravainen’s goal through a two-man screen, the youthful Lightning gave a stellar defensive effort against Chicago’s high-powered offense in front of a frenzied home crowd.
The 6-foot-7 Bishop was a few minutes away from his third shutout in four games, including a tenacious 2-0 victory over the New York Rangers to win the Eastern Conference title last Friday night.
But Chicago’s steady work in Tampa Bay’s zone finally was rewarded in dramatic fashion.
Shortly after Crawford stopped Ryan Callahan on a breakaway, Marcus Kruger and Valtteri Filppula provided screens in front of Bishop, who never saw Teravainen’s shot for his third goal of the postseason.
Moments later, Vermette collected a bouncing puck in the slot and beat Bishop for his third goal, providing a big return on the Blackhawks’ decision to acquire him at the trade deadline.
The winner of Game 1 has won the Cup in 58 of the last 75 Finals since 1939, including the last three.
Chicago roared into its third Final in six years and 13th overall after outlasting Anaheim in a memorable seven-game conference final. A roster loaded with championship-winning players and veteran talent made the Blackhawks most observers’ favorite in the series despite questions about a defense relying heavily on just four players, including tireless star Duncan Keith.
Tampa Bay needed 20 games to win its second Eastern Conference championship, but emerged from a Game 7 victory over the Rangers at Madison Square Garden with a wealth of confidence in its youthful, gifted lineup.
After a stirring pregame celebration of the Lightning’s return to the Final 11 year after winning their only title, they opened the Final with a noticeable jump on the Blackhawks — and Killorn needed just 4:31 to get the Lightning on top.
With his back to the net, the Harvard product made an exceptional backhand redirect of Anton Stralman’s shot, swatting down at a wobbling puck and knocking it past Crawford’s pad for his eighth goal of the postseason. Captain Steven Stamkos said Tuesday that the playoffs have been Killorn’s “coming-out party” as an elite forward.
The Blackhawks increased their intensity later in the period when Kane moved back onto a line with Toews, reuniting Chicago’s two best scorers. Yet Tampa Bay kept up its strong positional game in the second period, and the Blackhawks’ offensive frustration grew, with Toews growing visibly agitated with their inability to give trouble to Bishop.
NOTES: Tampa Bay lost for the first time in the postseason after scoring the game’s first goal, dropping to 9-1. ... Chicago scratched F Bryan Bickell with an undisclosed injury and dressed Kris Versteeg, who was in Toronto on Monday for the birth of his first child, son Jaxson. Kruger played despite missing time last Saturday in Anaheim with an undisclosed injury. ... Killorn is the first Harvard graduate to score in the Stanley Cup Final. ... Tampa Bay was the NHL’s best home team during the regular season, and Chicago was the best on the road. The Lightning led the league in goals, and the Blackhawks shared the Jennings Trophy for fewest goals allowed. ... Chicago F Brad Richards mostly got a warm reception in his return to Tampa, where he won the 2004 Conn Smythe Trophy during the Lightning’s title run. Richards was traded in 2008.