EJ Hradek: ‘Inexperience Of Lightning Showed’

There are deflating losses, and there are paralyzing losses. The Tampa Bay Lightning’s 2-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals on Wednesday was somewhere between the two.

But where?

“Well, it’s really disappointing,” NHL Network analyst E.J. Hradek said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “When you blow an opportunity in the first game on home ice against a really good opponent and a team that’s had championship pedigree, you don’t get too many of those chances. So for me, I look at it now (as) Tampa Bay didn’t play great. They had a good start, they had the lead (and) they had Chicago kind of on their heels. Now you got to try beating them five times to win this series. So to me, it’s just really a blown opportunity for Tampa Bay. I think in most cases, I think that extra day off when a team loses is good for them to regroup. But in this case, I don’t. I think this is a team that probably would like to get right back at it. Now they’ve had an extra day to kind of think about what could have been. So we’ll see how things play out in Game 2. But it definitely was, I would think – at best – a disappointing loss.”

Tampa Bay led 1-0 for virtually the entire game before Chicago scored a pair of goals late in the third period – less than two minutes apart, no less – to steal Game 1. Much was made about the Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup experience entering this series – they’re playing in their third Finals in six years – and that may have been the difference Wednesday.

“Yeah, we talked about that at the outset,” Hradek said. “Everybody is going to say the right things. If you’re on one side of the experience, you talk about how it helps you, and if you’re on the other side of it, you talk about how it’s been a great run and that shouldn’t be too much of a factor. But in this game, I think it really did play out because Tampa Bay got off to a great start. A lot of adrenaline, got a goal in the first five minutes of the game, had the lead – but Chicago just didn’t waver. They hung in there. Tampa Bay could not extend the lead, Corey Crawford was really good in net and made the timely saves to keep the game at 1-0. And then over time, the Chicago Blackhawks tried to push.

“I thought the inexperience of the Tampa Bay Lightning in the third period kind of showed,” Hradek continued. “I think they fell in love with that game they played against the Rangers in Game 5 and Game 7 in New York when they played so well defensively – and they had success. They tried to do that same thing against the Blackhawks in Game 1. They really didn’t attack at all. I think they had about 15 seconds of zone time in the first 15 minutes of the third period, and eventually Chicago was able to get a couple of breaks, get the lead and finish things off. So I think experience played a large part in what happened in that game.”

The Lightning will try to even the series this weekend. Game 2 is Saturday in Tampa Bay at 7:15 p.m. ET.

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