Safe is death: Lightning blow late lead in jarring Game 1 loss to Blackhawks

Safe is death: Lightning blow late lead in jarring Game 1 loss to Blackhawks

TAMPA — “Safe is death.” That was the team motto when the Tampa Bay Lightning won the Stanley Cup in 2004, and that was the lesson when the Bolts returned to the final Wednesday night.

They had Game 1. They had a 1-0 lead in the third period, anyway. But they failed to extend it and sat back too much. They gave up two goals in a span of less than two minutes and lost to the Chicago Blackhawks, 2-1.

“For whatever reason, whether it was we were a little nervous or anxious …” said Lightning captain Steven Stamkos, his voice trailing off as he stroked his playoff beard and searched for the right words. “We played a good game. It just …”

Steven Stamkos said the Lightning tried to sit on the lead and the Blackhawks made them pay. (Getty)


“You can’t sit back and just give them the puck, especially a team like that,” he said. “Maybe you can get away with it with a team that’s not as skilled, a team that’s not as confident in these situations.”

The Bolts got away with it against the New York Rangers in Games 5 and 7 of the Eastern Conference final. They took a lead. They sat back. They held on. They won in a shutout. But this is the final, and these are the Blackhawks, who won the Cup in 2010, won the Cup in 2013 and went to Game 7 of the Western Conference final last year. The ’Hawks have talent, experience and belief. They hadn’t been shut out in 28 straight games.

No one should get carried away with the narrative. The Bolts were 41-0-2 this season when leading after two periods – including 8-0 in these playoffs. They had never blown a third-period lead and lost in regulation before this. They know how to win. That’s how they got to the final, right? They held the Blackhawks’ star forwards off the scoresheet and gave up two tough goals – a seeing-eye shot, a deflection off their own guy. It’s hockey. Stuff happens.

But the fact remains that the Bolts had a 36-31 edge in shot attempts through two periods, and in the third, they had nine while the Blackhawks had 21. Had they held on to win, they would have been a little lucky. In hockey, there is a greater chance bad stuff will happen if you don’t have the puck.

“You’ve got to go through these situations to learn from them,” Stamkos said. “I still don’t think it was a situation where it was from inexperience or whatever it was. It was just. … That’s the way it worked out.”

The Bolts showed their speed and skill from the start. They took the lead on a ridiculous goal by Alex Killorn just 4:31 into the first. The puck was sailing more than eight feet wide right of the net – outside the trapezoid – as Killorn stationed himself just below the circle. A lefty, he held out his stick. He didn’t deflect the puck. No, he batted it out of mid-air on his backhand with his back to the net, and it slipped past the left pad of goaltender Corey Crawford.

You can joke Killorn used his Harvard education to calculate the speed and trajectory of the shot at, well, Lightning speed. But his degree was in government/political science, not physics, and if he tries that 100 times, he maybe never scores again. Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop said he had never seen anyone do that, not even in practice.

Alex Killorn opened the scoring with an unbelievable deflection past Hawks goalie Corey Crawford. (AP)

The Bolts did a lot of good things after that, including killing six minutes worth of penalties. But this was the highest-scoring team in the NHL in the regular season, a team with Stamkos and Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov, and the Bolts stopped attacking. They stopped pressuring. They stopped making basic plays.

“It was chips and flips and getting rid of the puck, not making the confident plays that we have in the past,” Stamkos said. “That’s a tough one to swallow because we played so well for most of the game.”

“It seemed like we were pretty happy just to get it out and try and clog the neutral zone,” said Lightning forward Brenden Morrow. “But they were picking holes. They did a good job of coming at us with speed.”

The Bolts’ Ryan Callahan, a former NHL captain, a “guy who knows how to win,” had a breakaway in the third. Had he scored, the Bolts would have had a 2-0 lead, and it would have been a different game. Crawford stopped him. “You got to get more than one,” said Lightning coach Jon Cooper. “That was all we got.”

And that would haunt them.

Teuvo Teravainen tied the game with 6:32 remaining in the third, firing a shot from atop the left circle that whizzed past three bodies and slipped past Bishop’s blocker. Suddenly Tampa Bay was in trouble. “Once they get one,” Bishop said, “it’s kind of hard to flip the switch and try to get back on offense.”

The Blackhawks scored again just 1:58 later. J.T. Brown turned over the puck in the Tampa Bay zone. Then he scrambled to recover, stretching out his stick to deflect a shot by Antoine Vermette. He ended up deflecting the shot, ever so slightly, past Bishop.

“Safe is death,” tweeted Hayley Wickenheiser, the Canadian women’s hockey star.


“I think,” Morrow said, “we learned our lesson here.”