Chicago, IL (SportsNetwork.com) – Brandon Saad put the Blackhawks ahead for good in the third period and his teammates held off a frantic late push from the Lightning to even the Stanley Cup Finals at two games apiece.
Corey Crawford provided a solid performance in net, making 24 saves to lift Chicago to a 2-1 victory over Tampa Bay in Game 4 at United Center on Wednesday night.
Jonathan Toews scored his first goal of the series for the Blackhawks, who improved to 4-0 in Game 4s and 8-2 at home this postseason.
Alex Killorn provided the Lightning’s lone marker and Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 17 shots during a surprise playoff start in place of Ben Bishop, who is day-to-day with an undisclosed injury.
“If you told me he was going to come in and give up two goals, that’s a hell of a job in my book,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said of Vasilevskiy. “That kid gave us a chance to win the hockey game.”
Vasilevskiy became the sixth goaltender to make their first playoff start in the Stanley Cup Finals.
The first four games of the Finals have been decided by one goal for the first time since 1968, when Montreal swept St. Louis.
The best-of-seven series will continue Saturday with Game 5 at Amalie Arena in Tampa.
The Lightning entered the contest with four straight road wins and allowed just two goals over their past three games away from home, but were unable to continue their dominant road ways due to Saad’s terrific individual effort.
Following an offensive zone faceoff win, Saad drove the puck up the left side and moved in on net. He lost the puck while traversing across the crease, but recovered it and backhanded a shot through Vasilevskiy’s pads for a 2-1 lead at 6:22 of the third period.
“I loved his game tonight, great power move to the net,” Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville said of Saad. “He’s dangerous. Very good performance.”
Midway through the final frame, Nikita Kucherov took a long stretch pass through the neutral zone, but had his wrister in tight denied by Crawford.
Chicago continued to apply pressure as Patrick Kane blasted a heavy shot on net off a 3-on-2, but the Lightning pulled Vasilevskiy and used the extra attacker to spark an offensive flurry.
Steven Stamkos had two quality chances, missing just wide on a one-timer from point-blank range and having his wrister from atop the crease stopped moments later.
The Lightning fired four shots on net with under two minutes to play — including a deflection by Killorn atop the crease which barely sailed over the net in the final seconds — but were unable to force overtime.
“You can definitely expect their team to come at us hard and press when they are down a goal,” Toews commented. “It’s going to get crazy in some moments and I think we did a good job of handling it.”
Vasilevskiy, who relieved Bishop in Tampa Bay’s Game 2 victory, was helped by a strong defensive effort from his teammates, who kept the Blackhawks from firing a shot until 8:18 elapsed in the contest, a slap shot from Patrick Sharp from atop the right circle.
Crawford made a terrific save while on the penalty kill with 2:35 to play in the first as he lunged across his crease to deny Tyler Johnson’s wrister.
Early in the middle stanza, Johnny Oduya’s slapper from the left circle was redirected in front and rang off the far post at 5:28 and Sharp’s offering on a breakaway hit the same iron, but the Blackhawks converted moments later.
Sharp tapped the rebound of Marian Hossa’s right point shot across the crease to Toews, who banked the puck into the net off Vasilevskiy’s pad for the game’s first goal at 6:40.
It was not long before the Lightning retaliated.
After Stamkos was tripped in front of the net, Valtteri Filppula gathered the puck behind the cage, garnering the attention of three Blackhawk defenders. Killorn was present in front to tap the puck past an unsuspecting Crawford for a tie game with 8:13 left in the middle stanza.
The Blackhawks improved to 10-1 when scoring first this postseason and 41-14 in Games 4-7 under Quenneville … Chicago defenseman Kimmo Timonen, scratched for five consecutive games, replaced Kyle Cumiskey in the lineup but played only 5 minutes, 46 seconds … Stamkos and Kane each notched their first point in the series with assists … Crawford upped his record to 6-2 at home in these playoffs … Vasilevskiy, 20, became the youngest goaltender to start a Stanley Cup Finals game since Patrick Roy in 1986 … Edmonton’s Jussi Markkanen (2006) was the last goaltender to make his first-ever playoff start in the Finals … Dating back to 2011, nine of the past 11 games between the two teams have been decided by one goal.