TAMPA, Fla. — Memo to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Stanley Cup final: Don’t ice the puck.
When they did it in Game 1, Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville put stars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane on the ice against Tampa Bay’s third defensive pair of Matt Carle and Andrej Sustr. The third time it happened, Toews and Kane had their best shift of the night.
At home to start the Stanley Cup final, Lightning coach Jon Cooper has the luxury of the last line change, putting stud defencemen Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman against Toews and Kane. Keeping that matchup and capitalizing on others offensively is crucial for Tampa Bay in Game 2 Saturday night as it hopes to tie the series.
“It’s tough to get lines against D pairings, and it’s almost impossible to get them away from D pairings at their home,” Quenneville said. “That’s the only probable time if that’s the matchup, the strong matchup they want, so it’s really tough to avoid.”
After shutting down Toews and Kane with Hedman, Stralman and forwards Ryan Callahan and Cedric Paquette, the task gets tougher to do it again. Those top players had the puck so little in Game 1 that the Lightning expect adjustments and an even bigger challenge in Game 2.
“They’re going to get their chances,” Callahan said. “You want those guys to defend, not be in your offensive zone.”
So far, so good on that part, even though the Lightning faltered and gave up a third-period lead on a goal through traffic and another off a turnover. Inexperience played into the loss, but Tampa Bay has shown a remarkable ability to come back when trailing one game to none in a series in these playoffs.
Part of that is Cooper’s ability to adjust, specifically like he did against the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference final.
The defensive matchups look like they don’t have to change. In a perfect world, Tampa Bay gets Alex Killorn, Paquette, Callahan, Hedman and Stralman out against Brandon Saad, Toews and Kane, neutralizing Chicago’s best players.
But at the other end of the ice, the Lightning would love to get their “Triplets” line of Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov going. Cooper isn’t worried.
“There’s not concern about the Triplets,” he said Thursday. “They’ve proven time and time again they may be kept off the score sheet a game here, a game there, but you’re not going to keep them off for long. Those kids will find a way.”
Toews believes the same about Chicago’s top line, which shined late in the Western Conference final. Offering plenty of respect for the Lightning’s Hedman and Stralman, Toews sees an opportunity to build off the strong third period in Game 1 to start grinding away at them.
“They’re great skating D men: They’re offensive, they’re smart defensively,” Toews said. “We had some shifts where we had puck possession. … I think we’ll be ready to jump in Saturday night and create and try and make some of their top players play in their own end.”
In the chess match that this series should become and develop when it shifts to Chicago for Game 3 on Monday, the Blackhawks are well-aware of the Lightning’s top defencemen. Tampa Bay is also conscious of Chicago’s depth beyond Kane and Toews.
“They have a deep lineup, so it doesn’t really matter who they put on the ice,” Hedman said. “You can throw (Marian) Hossa in there, there’s different combinations you can have. We know what to expect from them.”
Expect some Quenneville adjustments, too, like playing Kane with Brad Richards and Kris Versteeg and putting Hossa with Saad and Toews. The Blackhawks’ abilities to mix and match and get secondary scoring are some of their strengths.
The Lightning, knowing Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya play the vast majority of minutes against the top two lines, would benefit from some contributions down the lineup. Only four of their 56 goals in the playoffs have come from bottom-six forwards.
“Against a team like Chicago that has so much talent throughout their lineup, I think that secondary scoring is going to be important,” Callahan said. “Guys are going to have to come up with big goals at big times.”
Notes — Keith and Marcus Kruger did not practise Friday but were just resting, according to Quenneville. … Bryan Bickell (upper-body injury) skated and said he passed a concussion test, but Quenneville said the forward didn’t have a concussion. It’s unclear if he’ll play in Game 2. … Quenneville said he’d likely go with the same defensive corps, meaning Trevor van Riemsdyk likely won’t make his 2015 debut Saturday.
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Stephen Whyno, The Canadian Press