CHICAGO – The slow scrambles to his feet, the hesitance to venture out of the blue paint and play the puck like a third defenceman, the Brandon Saad forearm that left him sprawled out face-down like a confused, sedated snow angel. Don’t look at any of Ben Bishop’s body language.
Look into his Lightning-blue eyes, instead.
That is what Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper did before naming his Game 3 starter. Bishop’s eyes screamed, “Give me the net,” even if the on-ice symptoms said, “This could get ugly,” and Jonathan Toews said “of course” he’s struggling.
“You look in the player’s eyes and you could see, I knew he was ready,” Cooper said of Bishop, whose ailment we won’t know until after the confetti snows.
Here are 12 other things we learned from a beautifully fast and fantastically flawed night at United Center, spoiled on this night by a 3-2 Lightning win.
1. Cooper isn’t enjoying these goalie games, he’s just pretending to
Bishop warmed up Monday morning in the starter’s net and spoke to the media — signs that he was probably starting, but third-stringer Kristers Gudlevskis just arrived on the same bus as the regulars — a sign he probably wasn’t.
Cooper has one-liners aplenty for deflecting the Bishop question, but he’s grown tired of getting cute.
“He’s fine,” Cooper told NBC partway through the second period. “He’s 6-foot-7, so it takes him a little longer to get up than most guys.” Sure.
2. The Lightning are burning these Original Six barns
Game 3 pitted the playoffs’ best home team at home versus the playoffs’ best road team and the road warriors squeaked out their eighth win away from Florida. The Lightning have a winning record at the Bell Centre, Madison Square Garden, Joe Louis Arena, and now the United Center.
“We were talking about it for a long time, even during the regular season, that we need to improve [our road game],” Anton Stralman said. “Seems like we finally figured it out.”
3. Angry Coach Quenneville never gets old
When a fired-up Brandon Saad delivered a forearm shiver to Bishop’s head and was dealt a goalie-interference penalty, the (possibly biased) Madhouse crowd chanted, “Bull! [Crap]!” in unison.
And Joel Quenneville kicked a towel like it owed him money:
4. Splitting Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews can work
After giving up the first goal for the third straight game, the Chicago Blackhawks answered with 16 unanswered shots and dominated the first frame.
Quenneville, who had been wanting a more balanced attack, split up his two rock stars, and the Blackhawks posed a threat on nearly every top-six shift. The Marian Hossa-Saad and Kane-Teuvo Teravainen duos were creating chances with ease.
“We created so much pressure, so many shots,” said Hossa, the most entertaining skater on the night. “We missed two empty-netters. So definitely that hurts.”
5. Monday’s win may be more significant than you think
Of course, going up 2-1 is better than falling behind 1-2 in a best-of-seven series, but just how tough a task will the Blackhawks have of coming back to win the Cup?
Since 1939, after splitting the first two games, the team that won Game 3 has gone on to claim hockey’s ultimate prize 21 out of 26 times. A nearly 81 percent chance Tampa wins this thing.
6. Trevor van Reimsdyk had just a taste
And the Jonathan Drouin Award for Game 3 goes to rookie Chicago defenceman Trevor van Riemsdyk, who played just 9:01 in his first game since November, family in the stands and friends’ well wishes on his phone.
“Getting back there after some time off, you gotta shake the rust off a bit,” van Reimsdyk said after his playoff debut. “Great guys in the locker room. They made me feel pretty comfortable, confident that I could get the job done.”
7. The Madhouse comes by its nickname honestly
“This is one of the most fun buildings to play in. The crowd gets going right from the anthem,” Steven Stamkos warned after the morning skate. “It’s pretty loud. This is a tough building to play in.”
Uh, yeah. Somewhere through the din, you might be able to make out Jim Cornelison’s “Star Spangled Banner.” Poor guy. We’ll never know how well he can sing:
There is an anthem being sang under this noise. #StanleyCupFinal
8. The top prospects attended a beauty
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Mitch Marner was most excited to meet Kane, Connor McDavid chatted it up with summer workout pal Stamkos before the game and NASCAR’s Danica Patrick may have been the seventh or eighth-fastest human in the building.
9. Bryan Bickell is back — and it can’t be the sushi
The second-line winger played just 4:22 in Game 7 of the Western Conference final on May 30 and hadn’t seen action since.
Finally feeling ready, he replaced Kris Versteeg in the lineup in hopes to create some space for Brad Richards and Patrick Kane, two players who had been kept pointless through the first two games. Of Chicago’s nine hits in Period 1, Bickell threw four of them.
“From where I was to where I am now, it’s nice. It’s frustrating to spend six days in Tampa and not playing, just thinking about playing,” Bickell said.
Bickell’s undisclosed upper-body injury did not occur in Game 7 against the Ducks. He didn’t feel right after going out for sushi in Anaheim and thought raw fish might be to blame.
“Is it the sushi?” he wondered. “No, it can’t be the sushi. It’s one of those things that came, and now it’s gone. I’m happy it’s gone.”
Just one of those purposely vague playoff injuries.
10. Michael Jordan, as usual at this time, was representing for Captain Everything outside United Center
11. Jack Eichel is more impressed by Victor Hedman than anyone else in the Final
And that was before Game 3.
“Hedman has had an outstanding playoffs,” said the future Buffalo Sabre Monday. “I don’t think he gets as much recognition as he probably should. He’s a heck of a defenceman.”
Eichel, who considers himself a student of the game, sees the series the same way as Cooper, who called these playoffs Hedman’s coming-out party.
Come out, he did. Hedman set up the game’s opening goal with a 120-foot pass to Ryan Callahan’s tape, then carried the puck on a rush and fed Cedric Paquettte for the winner.
“Victor Hedman’s arrived,” Cooper smiled.
12. President Obama still represents for the home city
Remember, this is the kind of world leader who invites the Boston Bruins and Sacramento Kings to the White house and then makes fun of them. You can take the man outta Chicago, but …