With at most three games remaining in the 2015 Stanley Cup Finals, odds makers are still clinging to the Chicago Blackhawks as favorites over the Tampa Bay Lightning. But barely.
The Lightning are -1.5 goal favorites ahead of Saturday’s Game 5 at Amalie Arena, yet the series money line is still in Chicago’s favor at 10/13 over Tampa Bay’s 11/10, according to Sportsbook.ag.
Game 4’s 2-1 victory stopped Chicago’s bleeding and knotted the seven-game series at 2-2, after it lost two straight for the first time in these playoffs. The performance was similar to the Blackhawks Game 1 win to open series. They were outshot, out hit, and needed a late push in the third period to avoid a 3-1 series hole, while largely relying on the on-again off-again work of goalie Corey Crawford.
After coughing up seven goals in Games 2 and 3 combined, Crawford rediscovered his form by allowing only one goal for just the third time in the postseason and blocking 24 of Tampa Bay’s 25 attempts for a .960 save percentage.
It certainly helped the Blackhawks cause, and their chances of claiming a third Cup in six years, with Tampa Bay’s regular net minder Ben Bishop pulled from Game 4 duties due to an undisclosed injury and rookie Andrei Vasilevskiy inserted in his place.
Making his first postseason start, the 20-year-old Russian received a ton of help from his defenseman but ultimately coughed up two goals. Tampa Bay’s defense allowed only 19 total Blackhawks shots, but Chicago saw a glimpse of timely production from top forward Jonathan Toews.
Held scoreless in the first three games, Toews recorded his 10th goal of the playoffs to give Chicago a 1-0 lead 6:40 into the second period, the highlight a 12-shot stanza from the Blackhawks.
With the series turning back to Tampa Bay, where the Lightning have struggled throughout the postseason, Las Vegas might see an explosion from Toews and Chicago points leader Patrick Kane looming.
The Lightning’s cause also isn’t helped by leading scorer and center Tyler Johnson’s troubles against Chicago’s defense. Johnson has one goal off six total shots in the Cup Finals, along with one assist, and he’s been held to only one shot in three of the four games.
But with three days between Games 4 and 5, a return from Bishop could change the series. The 28-year-old Denver native played through what some have speculated as a lower body or leg injury in Game 3 and to make an incredible 36 saves for his 13th win of the postseason.