The Lightning needed 40 minutes Saturday night to warm to the task of playing in the Stanley Cup Final, and by that time they were already trailing Dallas by a pair of goals.
The score grew slightly worse for Tampa in the third period, leaving the Stars with a 4-1 victory in Game 1, but the Lightning mounted a 22-shot shot barrage over the final 20:00 that no doubt portends for a much different start in Game 2 Monday night in Edmonton.
But for his sake, Stars defenseman Joel Hanley will be happy to dwell in the marvelous moment that came at 5:40 of the first period. The former UMass blueliner (Class of 2014) popped in a short-range wrister for the night’s first goal and became only the fifth defenseman in NHL history to pot his first career goal in the intense spotlight of the Cup Final.
“Surreal,” said a beaming Hanley, now 29 years old and playing for his third NHL team since departing the Amherst campus six years ago.
Hanley’s goal highlighted a Cup opener in which none of the offensive stars on either side delivered on the scoresheet. In fact, of the five goals scored, including Hanley’s strike, three came off the sticks of players who were never drafted.
Yanni Gourde, Tampa’s downsized (5-foot-9-inch) digger, connected for the equalizer at 12:32 of the first, for the only shot of the night that would elude ex-Bruins tender Anton Khudobin.
Hanley grew up in Ontario and Gourde in Toronto. Eligible for the draft at 18, both were deemed not quite NHL material.
Ditto for rookie Finnish forward Joel Kiviranta, who has become an increasing offensive opportunist in the postseason with five goals in nine games. He drew no takers in the 2014 draft and signed with Stars as a free agent in May 2019.
“That’s how you win in the playoffs,” said Dallas coach Rick Bowness, noting how the offense was paced by the back benchers. “You rely on your top-end guys to get you some offense, or some chances, and you also rely on guys who step up every now and score some huge goal for us. Like Joel Hanley. I just couldn’t be happier for him.”
Hanley grew up about an hour north of Toronto and joined Toot Cahoon’s UMass squad in the fall of 2010 after going undrafted while playing junior for the lower-tier Newmarket Hurricanes.
After four years in Amherst, he landed a minor-league deal at AHL Portland and finally secured a two-way deal with the Canadiens in the summer of 2015 and played 17 games as a fill-in with the Habs over two seasons before signing with the ever-discombobulated Coyotes in the summer of 2017. He hooked on with Dallas as a free agent in the summer of ’18, just as Bowness came aboard there as an assistant to aid first-year NHL coach Jim Montgomery.
Bowness took over for the fired Montgomery early this season, with Hanley spending the bulk of the season in the AHL. But with extra bodies needed to fill bubble rosters, Bowness kept Hanley in the mix as one of the so-called black aces, and Monday night is expected to slot him in for his eighth game in the postseason.
“Again, that’s what you need to win the playoffs,” said Bowness. “You can’t just focus on your top-end guys. You’ve got to get contributions from people that, all of a sudden, they’re jumping up and making you a better team.”
Hanley became the first defenseman to use the stage of the SCF to score his first NHL goal since Jim Paek did it for the Penguins in ’91 vs. the then-North Stars (now doing business in Dallas).
“No, definitely not,” said Hanley, asked if he ever envisioned such a night. “Obviously it’s something you dream about when you are young, and stuff. It’s just cool to be able to contribute with a goal like that — so, yeah, pretty cool.”
In the dressing room post-game, teammates erupted when Khudobin walked over to Hanley’s stall and handed him the giant linked-chain necklace, with attached hub-cap-sized Stars logo, to recognize the former Minuteman as the star of the night.
On his goal, Hanley walked easily in the greasy middle of the slot and snapped a wrister off of a Roope Hintz feed. The play was initiated by some expert forechecking work along the left wing wall by Kiviranta, whose grunt work forced the puck to Hintz.
The Bolts made easy work of the Bruins in Round 2 of the playoffs because they rarely allowed Boston forwards to roam so easily in their end of the ice. Rarely did Bruins attackers find such easy passage behind the corps of stout Tampa blueliners.
“Kivi had a nice check in the corner and saw Roope go behind the net,” recalled Hanley, who was UMass' top-scoring defenseman in his senior season. “Then I kinda saw an opening in the middle, so when Roope passed it, I don’t know if I lifted my head up or not — I don’t know what it looks like on camera — but I just tried to pick a corner, shoot as hard and I could, and it was lucky enough to go in.”