Deadlocked at 2-2, the Chicago Blackhawks and Tampa Bay Lightning look to break the Stanley Cup Finals tie in Game 5 at Amalie Arena on Saturday night.
Chicago evened the series with a 2-1 victory in Game 4, punctuated by another third-period comeback off left wing Brandon Saad’s eighth goal of the postseason. The Blackhawks also saw the reemergence of goalie Corey Crawford, who shook off the seven combined goals he allowed in Games 2 and 3, to make 24 saves off 25 Lightning shots.
Besides avoiding a dire 3-1 series hole and Tampa Bay’s chance to end the series at home, the Blackhawks leveled the series’ scales by clamping down on the Lightning’s aggressive style. There has been criticism that Chicago isn't shooting enough, but the defense has stepped up for the Blackhawks.
“We've seen it in spurts in some games where we let them get into their rush game, their wide-open puck-moving game,” Chicago center Jonathan Toews said. “That's when we start to get ourselves into trouble. It's focusing on little details like that, again raising our speed, our play, tenacity, working for the bounces we've been getting.”
Toews got on the scoreboard for the first time in the series with a wrist shot assisted by Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa, and overall postseason points leader Patrick Kane aided Saad’s eventual winner, a sign the Blackhawks top forwards are finally making an impact on the series.
The Blackhawks also found a way to score on Lightning rookie goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, who made the first postseason start of his career with Tampa Bay forced to sit Ben Bishop due to an unspecified lower body injury. Bishop's currently listed as day-to-day.
Vasilevskiy totaled 17 saves off 19 Blackhawks shots, but as of now Bishop’s status for Game 5 remains uncertain. Before suffering the injury in Game 2 of the series, Bishop was one of the top netminders in these playoffs with 13 wins and a .916 save percentage.
But in spite of Bishop’s injury woes, the Lightning have largely held strong throughout the series. As the Tampa Bay Tribune points out, Chicago’s only held a lead over 6 minutes and 19 seconds during the Finals.
“Missed opportunity? Yeah. You lose a game by a goal, it’s a missed opportunity,” Lightning associate coach Rick Bowness said to The Tribune. “They’ve lost two by a goal. You have both teams sitting here, four games, we could have won all four.
“Both teams could be saying the same thing, because it could have gone either way.”
Like their opponents, the Lightning haven’t received much help from their best scoring lines. Veteran center Steve Stamkos notched his first point of the series with an assist on forward Alex Killorn’s goal to tie Game 4, but top playmakers and scorers Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov were completely blanked for the second time in the Finals.
For the best-of-seven series, the Blackhawks are listed as a 20/27 favorite. The Lightning's odds are at 23/20.
Betting Odds: Lightning -1.5; over/under 5.5 goals
Prediction: Tampa Bay over Chicago, 3-1