NHL SNAPSHOTS: What could have been for Stamkos and the Lightning
Chicago Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford, left, makes a save off of Tampa Bay Lightning centre Steven Stamkos during the second period of game six of the 2015 Stanley Cup Final at United Center. (David Banks-USA TODAY Sports)
CHICAGO - After one of the longest nights and most frustrating couple weeks of his brilliant career, it will be an excruciatingly long summer for Steven Stamkos.
Oh what could have been for the Tampa Bay Lightning captain, who had chance after chance again in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final but nothing to show for it.
How much different might the Hawks Cup-clinching 2-0 win have been been if Stamkos had found a way to score. He nearly did it in the first period on Monday, breaking free on Corey Crawford, beating him cleanly but ripping a shot off the iron.
In the second, it was a breakaway opportunity where he had Crawford beat with a deke but was unable to lift a puck over the Chicago goalie’s right pad and into open net. Later, he just failed to score on a tip-in.
It was that kind of night for the Markham, Ont. native, that kind of series. He ended the playoffs on an eight-goal scoring slump, the longest of his season.
Stamkos wasn’t the only Lightning player with no finish, as they scored just two goals in the last three games, but as a two-time leading goal scorer in the NHL, he was certainly the most prominent.
He probably already had the Conn Smythe Trophy in his pocket, but Duncan Keith’s big goal at 17:13 of the second, but it was a thing of beauty as he danced around Tampa defenders and finished off his own rebound from Ben Bishop ... Big credit on the big goal to Patrick Kane, whose deft, patient pass allowed Keith to do his thing ... By the way, it was Keith’s first goal since the game winner he scored against Detroit in Game 6 of the opening round ... It may not have felt like it, given some of the good opportunities they had, but the Lightning had just 11 shots on goal through two periods. That’s some clutch defence with the Cup on the line ... The Hawks just missed taking a 2-0 lead late in the second when a Brent Seabrook point shot clanked off the inside of the left post and nearly bounced in off of Bishop ... There were no goals, but the Lightning had to like their first period overall, despite being out shot 13-4. They killed off two penalties, Bishop was mostly solid in net.
When Kane finished off a beauty pass from Brad Richards to put the Hawks up by two late in the second, it was the first multi-goal lead by either team, all series, a span of 354 minutes and 46 seconds. Such an unselfish play from Richards, who had a good look and could have fired ... After taking the morning skate, it was clear Nikita Kucherov was going to play but how effective would he be? Doubts were erased early when he broke free on a breakaway, only to be denied by the Hawks Johnny Oduya. Kucherov (second in playoff scoring), also didn’t shy away from engaging physically ... Lightning came out with a huge effort early in the second, not allowing a Hawks shot on goal until a Patrick Sharp blast 10:30 in glanced off of Bishop’s arm ... After that, Chicago had a couple of big shifts to bring the nervous United Center crowd back into the game.
It may have been the first elimination game of the final but it was familiar territory for the Lightning these playoffs.
They faced it twice in the first round (Game 6 and 7 vs. Detroit) and in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final against the New York Rangers. Each time, the Lightning won to stay alive.
“Those were all do or dies,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “They all have the exact meaning. Somehow, some way, these guys have found a way to draw a line in the sand and say, no More.”
Cooper, by the way, scoffed at the notion floated in the Hawks dressing room in the morning that it was “just another game.”
“No chance,” Cooper said. “The Stanley Cup is in the building. I can’t believe they would say, ‘Oh, it’s just another game.'”
WHAT A HOSS
When Marian Hossa became a Chicago Blackhawk, he did so hoping to cap off his career with a Stanley Cup win. How did that work out?
“I signed here hoping for one, in six years I got three. I’m so thankful and blessed to be a part of this amazing group. “We knew coming into this game that we wanted to win it for our fans. We won it on the road two times. It’s a special moment to win it here. What an amazing group of players.”
SEEN AND HEARD
Line of the morning came from Hawk defenceman Kimmo Timonen: “Yes, it’s a big game but we haven’t won s--t yet.” ... It didn’t turn out to be a party, but there was a full house at the Amalie Arena in Tampa on Monday ... Cooper on heading to Wrigley Field to see the Cubs and Reds play on Sunday: “It’s the first pro sporting event I’ve been to for a long time. “That was good for my head.” ... It’s been said by many, but anthem time at the United Center prior to a Hawks playoff game is something that must be experienced live. Monday night it reached a new decibel level ... Moments after the final horn sounded, the arena erupted into a rousing edition of Sweet Home Chicago. And that it was.