By Jon Fromi
The Chicago Blackhawks drew even with the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Stanley Cup Final Wednesday night, winning a breakneck-paced Game 4 by a score of 2-1. Brandon Saad potted the game-winner in the third period of a contest in which the Hawks absolutely had to prevail.
First Period-Ryan Callahan bounced a backhand attempt off of the chest of Corey Crawford a minute into the game after a giveaway by Brent Seabrook. A few seconds later, Nikita Kucherov just missed a tip-in attempt after another Hawks turnover. Cedric Paquette nearly had a chance on Crawford after another Chicago miscue in its own zone.
Chicago got set up in the offensive zone briefly in the fifth minute, though a Niklas Hjalmarsson attempt was knocked wide before it got to rookie goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy. Going into the first media timeout seven minutes into the opening period, Tampa had carried most of the action to the Hawks, who had not logged a shot on goal.
Patrick Sharp garnered a sweet rebound off a slap shot in the ninth minute but the puck was cleared before Jonathan Toews could get to it. The Bolts went on the power play at the 9:10 mark when Seabrook interfered with Alex Killorn in the slot. The Lightning had a couple of chances late in the man advantage but the Hawks penalty kill unit did the job.
Patrick Kane came up with a turnover and zipped one that Vasilevskiy had to blocker away. Jason Garrison interfered with Andrew Shaw and Chicago got its first power play chance at 11:41 of the period. It lasted just over a minute before Toews caught Victor Hedman with a high stick. Neither team converted in the 4-on-4; the Blackhawks negated the abbreviated Tampa Bay power play.
The Lightning got another chance to score when Kimmo Timonen was called for the hook on Valtteri Filppula with 3:27 to go in the opening period. Corey Crawford made a stop on the only shot generated on the power play, a prime opportunity for Tyler Johnson.
Chicago had some time with a man advantage late when Timonen was bulldozed by Killorn with 52 seconds left. Toews had an open net off a shot pass by Duncan Keith but couldn’t steer the puck into the cage. The Hawks would have some power play time to start the second, but it was scoreless headed into the first intermission.
Second Period-Toews got a shot on goal late in the power play that began the sandwich stanza and had another shot at the back door as it was expiring. However, he could not connect and the two teams kept looking to activate the scoreboard.
Johnny Oduya sent a slap shot from the top of the left circle in the sixth minute that Marcus Kruger got a piece of in front of the net. The bouncing puck fluttered seductively past Vasilevskiy but stuck the right post and rolled away. Ondrej Palat sent a shot to Crawford coming back at the other end but neither team could find the back of the net.
Sharp got control of the puck off a neutral zone faceoff and took off for the Lightning net. The breakaway attempt beat the rookie but clanged off the right post. Chicago kept the puck in the offensive zone, regrouped and scored.
The play was set up by Marian Hossa, who found Sharp at the right post. Sharp’s attempt went across the crease, where the captain knocked the biscuit off of Vasilevskiy’s pad and across the goal line. The Blackhawks had a 1-0 lead at the 6:40 mark of the second period.
Tampa Bay received an opportunity to draw even when Seabrook was sent to time out for cross-checking J.T. Brown 7:19 into the period. Crawford was forced to make a pair of stops and the Hawks PK kept the Bolts from making an immediate response.
Instead, the answer would come on what would turn out to be a delayed penalty in the 12th minute. Filppula completely fooled Crawford, flipping a pass to the left post as he was beginning a trip around the Chicago net. Killorn took the puck and easily struck twine while the Hawks goalie waited at the opposite post. Tampa Bay had evened the score at a goal apiece at the 11:47 mark.
Seabrook had an open look in the slot in the 14th minute off a nice move by Kris Versteeg but the shot was sent away by Vasilevskiy. Sharp picked up a loose puck in the Lightning zone and attacked the net with 3:37 remaining but Vasilevskiy’s right pad kept the shot out of the goal.
Crawford withstood an assault by the Lightning in the final minutes to prevent a go-ahead goal. He got some help from Keith, who stopped a wraparound attempt by Kucherov that looked to have Crawford beaten. On the other end, Vasilevskiy snuffed a Kane shot on a 2-on-1 to hold his end of the tie game. It was knotted at a goal apiece after 40 minutes.
Third Period-Toews took a drop pass from Kane and got off a shot that Vasilevskiy handled in the opening seconds of the final frame. The Blackhawks got an early power play when Steven Stamkos sent a puck over the glass in the Tampa Bay zone 1:04 into the period. For the third time in the game, Chicago came up empty with a Bolt in the box.
The Hawks fended off a couple of Tampa Bay rushes once Stamkos left the sin bin. Palat one-timed a Hedman attempt just wide of the net in the sixth minute. Timonen struck the crossbar with a shot from the left circle 6:14 into the period and the puck went out of play, prompting a media timeout.
On the resulting faceoff, Brad Richards bested Filppula. He then tied up the stuck of Anton Stralman while Brandon Saad took the puck and went strong to the net. Skating across the crease, Saad lost and won back control of the pill, backhanding a shot through the wickets of Vasilevskiy and into the net. Chicago went up 2-1 at the 6:22 mark.
Crawford turned away a streaking Kucherov in the 11th minute as both teams were hustling up and down the ice. Killorn just missed with a shot in the 13th minute as the pace continued to escalate.
Heading into the final minutes, Kane started an odd-man rush out of the defensive zone and wound up one-timing a pass from Richards that Vasilevskiy denied with 5:05 left. Chicago was poised to face a desperate Lightning push in the last two-and-a- half minutes.
Crawford sent away a Hedman attempt as Vasilevskiy vacated the crease with 1:25 remaining. The Hawks goalie withstood a furious barrage of rubber from the six Lightning skaters in the final minute and change, making a point-blank stop of Stamkos and stopping Killorn in the slot in front of the Blackhawks net. A Stamkos slapper went off Stralman’s stick and over the net as the clock ran out and Chicago evened the series.
Three Stars-Killorn (third), Crawford (second), Saad (first).
-The Hawks played the first period like old people…uh…getting…um… intimate. They were really fortunate not to be looking up at the visiting team.
-The line blender was on full-on gooify early in Game 4, with coach Joel Quenneville sending out many different looks for the rookie net minder. It seemed to confound his team; the passing definitely lacked.
-Sharp still hasn’t scored in over a month but he had a couple of big chances in Game 4. He could sure be an x-factor if he gets on one of his streaks…remember those?
-With all the room up at the top of the screen and so much emphasis on possession and shot statistics, what would prevent NBC from putting the running shot/shot attempt total right under the score, and leaving it there for the whole game? Maybe the powers that be could pull themselves away from their dream of a clean-shaven NHL to ponder this.
-Eddie Olczyk astutely pointed out Chicago’s “net front presence in front of the net”. That’s certainly a good place for it.
-Tampa Bay’s power play strategy seems to involve bring the puck below the goal line and working behind the net. Chicago seems satisfied passing along the perimeter and trying to bang pucks into traffic.
-The Hawks get a couple of days off to steel themselves for a pivotal Game 5 in Tampa Saturday night. Puck is set to drop at 7:00 p.m.
Lines (Take with a grain of salt because it was scrambled eggs all the way.)