TAMPA, Fla. - When the Chicago Blackhawks were seven minutes away from losing the Stanley Cup Final opener, it wasn't Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane or Duncan Keith who stepped up and perpetuated this team's reputation for big-game grit.
Teuvo Teravainen, a 20-year-old Finn who debuted with the Blackhawks in January, scored the tying goal and then set up the winner by Antoine Vermette -- who didn't pull on a Blackhawks sweater until March. Corey Crawford, the goalie who briefly lost his job six weeks ago, quietly shut out Tampa Bay for the final 55 minutes of Chicago's 2-1 win.
The Blackhawks are going for their third title in six seasons because they're much more than a cluster of stars. No matter what style they must play to win, the Blackhawks have a culture that sets them up for steady success in the cauldron of the Stanley Cup Final, which continues with Game 2 tomorrow night.
Toews, the Chicago captain, thinks it's about time to recognize his ever-changing supporting cast and the coaches who keep it all together.
"Everyone wants to talk about this Blackhawks team that keeps coming back to the Stanley Cup Final, the common players that have been on those teams, what they do well," Toews said. "It's not talked about enough, the support that we have, guys that have come in and really made a huge difference. I think when you're trying to find ways to win a tough series, you can rely on your best players, but at the same time you need guys to come out of the woodwork."
Deep in their third straight lengthy playoff run, it's clear the Blackhawks have done a stellar job collecting enough talent to thrive in the taxing NHL postseason. Other teams have stars, but nobody else has developed enough depth to beat almost any opponent at its own game while still sticking to their basic principles of defensive responsibility.
Tampa Bay realizes it has only a fraction of Chicago's experience and depth. After all, the Lightning missed the playoffs only two years ago, and coach Jon Cooper has been on the job for only two full seasons.
The Lightning depend on the confidence they've gained from three tough rounds.
"We just played Mike Babcock and the storied Detroit Red Wings," Cooper said. "We just played the Montreal Canadiens. Enough said. We just played the New York Rangers and beat them in their building. . . . We respect everybody, but there's no fear in the room."