TAMPA, Fla. -- For all the talk of the Chicago Blackhawks’ experience factor heading into the Stanley Cup finals, it was their most inexperienced player who made the difference in Wednesday's Game 1.
Twenty-year-old rookie Teuvo Teravainen was the one to step up with the Blackhawks running out of time and trailing 1-0 to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the third period. He first took advantage of a little time and space on the ice, placing a high shot from the left circle past Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop with the help of a screen by teammate Marcus Kruger to tie the game with 6:32 remaining in the period.
Teravainen may not have done that before, but he knew it's what he's supposed to do with the Blackhawks.
"Great teams do that, and I haven’t been a part [of this team] for many years, but I knew this is the team who can do that anytime," Teravainen said. "We just fight back, play harder, and get it back. Great teams do that."
A lot of people are just learning about and seeing Teravainen’s game -- the Lightning’s public address announcer mispronounced his name while naming him the game’s No. 1 star -– but the Blackhawks and their fans aren’t so surprised by his feats. The hype over Teravainen began building when he slipped to Chicago at No. 18 in the 2012 draft. It grew as he was among the top points leaders in Finland’s top league as a teenager. And it has only escalated this season, when he finally got a permanent opportunity in an NHL lineup.
Chicago forward Patrick Sharp often tries to get the shy Teravainen to laugh and talk more. But from a hockey standpoint, Sharp knows it’s best to let Teravainen do his own thing.
“A lot of poise, he’s a confident player, great with the puck,” Sharp said. “He seems like he’s getting better and better as we go along.
"I’m not surprised. I’ve seen young players perform on big stages before. Teuvo has gotten better and better every game he’s played this year. I don’t think he’s scored a bigger goal than he scored tonight.”
Teravainen dreamed all season of playing in such games, but it wasn’t a given he would get the opportunity. He had to be patient for his chance.
Teravainen didn’t make the Blackhawks’ roster out of training camp. He spent the majority of the season in the AHL and only got a late-season call-up when Kane went down with an injury.
Even in the playoffs, Chicago coach Joel Quenneville has made Teravainen a healthy scratch five times. Teravainen last sat out against the Anaheim Ducks in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals. Since then, he has two goals and three assists in five games.
One of the things Quenneville harped on with Teravainen earlier in the season was to shoot more. Teravainen was looking to distribute too much in Quenneville’s eyes. On Wednesday, Teravainen showed how far he has come.
“I thought he got better, like our team did, as the game went on,” Quenneville said. “Couple of plays, made a play at the net. He scored some goals in [these playoffs] as they progressed by just putting it at the net. He has the shoot-first mentality. He's got a decent shot, pretty good looks. Getting that net-front presence by Krugs [Marcus Kruger]. He was the one that forced the play to Vermy on the goal. So it was a couple real nice plays by [that] guy. That has a nice upside.”
What goes through the head of a kid who just scored a goal and factored into the winning goal to lift his team to a comeback victory in his first Stanley Cup finals game? It might surprise you.
“When I scored the goal, the first thing was, 'Oh no, I have to go out in the media after the game,'" Teravainen said.
In other words, playing hockey on the world’s biggest stage doesn’t bother him. It’s having to explain how he played to a pack of journalists that intimidates him.
The Lightning might just want to defend him with a reporter’s notebook in Game 2.