CHICAGO — The stakes weren't nearly as high Saturday night in the Lightning's Stanley Cup final rematch with the Blackhawks.
The action wasn't as intense or fast-paced as it was in last season's final, nor did it have the same entertainment factor.
"This game, I think, was a small fraction of what that was," coach Jon Cooper said.
But the ending was oh-so-familiar for Tampa Bay, which fell 1-0 in overtime to Chicago in front of 21,822 at the United Center. The Lightning (5-2-2) was held to one goal or fewer in four of the six games of its Cup final loss, including a shutout in the Blackhawks' clinching Game 6 in June.
"You can throw this game into that series and you wouldn't be able to see the difference," veteran Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman said. "It was really close. It could have gone either way. I'm just repeating myself from a few months back."
But it was one Lightning player who wasn't involved in that thrilling six-game series that stole the show — and a point — Saturday. Goalie Kristers Gudlevskis, called up from AHL Syracuse to make just his second NHL start (and first in 18 months), gave the Lightning a chance to win, making 31 saves.
Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews finally beat Gudlevskis, splitting Stralman and Valtteri Filppula before putting in his rebound 17 seconds into overtime.
"Gudlevskis was the best player on the ice for us," Cooper said. "He was fantastic. Their guy (Toews) made a big-time play."
Sure, it wasn't exactly Gudlevskis' magical 55-save performance in the 2014 Olympics, when the Latvian nearly single-handedly stunned Canada.
But Gudlevskis, giving starter Ben Bishop a much-needed rest, displayed the type of poise and steadiness Tampa Bay needed in facing the defending Stanley Cup champions in the second half of back-to-back games and its third overtime in the past five days.
"I felt good, tried to stay calm and don't think too much," Gudlevskis said. "Just play the game and enjoy the environment."
The Lightning just couldn't score, managing 21 shots in a tight-checking game. It's fizzing power play went 0-for-4, struggling like it did in the final.
"It's like deja vu all over again," Cooper said. "Come in here and can't find the back of the net."
The Lightning, which Cooper said was "carrying the flag for the Eastern Conference," certainly looked like a team that had played the night before, a 4-3 overtime win in Winnipeg.
Center Tyler Johnson continued to be snakebit. He came close to scoring when he ripped a one-timer off the post early in the third period but remained goal-less this season.
Gudlevskis made sure the game remained scoreless after two periods, showing a lot of maturity. Gudlevskis, who said he gained confidence after two strong starts in AHL Syracuse, squared up shots, swallowed rebounds and made saves through traffic.
He played the puck with ease. His biggest stop was on a breakaway by Blackhawks star Patrick Kane late in the second period. At the least, this should be a confidence boost for Gudlevskis, who struggled with consistency at the pro level the past two seasons.
"I just tried to give the team a chance to win," Gudlevskis said.
Boy, did he.
First Period—None. Penalties—Nesterov, TB (tripping), 3:37; Rundblad, Chi (hooking), 10:55; Hjalmarsson, Chi (hooking), 16:31.
Second Period—None. Penalties—Rundblad, Chi (interference), :46; Shaw, Chi (interference), 19:21.
Third Period—None. Penalties—Filppula, TB (hooking), 3:33; Killorn, TB (interference), 12:51.
Overtime—1, Chicago, Toews 1 (Kane, Seabrook), :17. Penalties—None. Shots on Goal—Tampa Bay 9-4-8-0—21. Chicago 9-10-11-2—32. Power-play opportunities—Tampa Bay 0 of 4; Chicago 0 of 3. Goalies—Tampa Bay, Gudlevskis 0-0-1 (32 shots-31 saves). Chicago, Crawford 4-2-0 (21-21).