CHICAGO — Chicago’s Jonathan Toews and Brandon Saad scored while goaltender Corey Crawford withstood a furious Tampa Bay barrage in the closing minute as the Blackhawks beat the Lightning 2-1 on June 10 to tie the NHL’s Stanley Cup Final at 2-2.
Toews scored his first goal of the series in the opening period. Saad broke a 1-1 tie with 13:38 to play in the third.
Saad drove to the net but had the puck poked away. When he somehow found it again, Saad gave it a desperate backhand whack that just happened to send it right between the moving pads of young Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy.
“I was really pretty lucky,” Saad said. “I just saw space going to the net. Tried to drive and create some chaos. Just try to get some wood on it and get to the net, and it found a way in.”
Saad was right to refuse full credit for his tiebreaking goal. He knows that a few fortunate bounces have been the only differences in four games between two teams that seem determined to take this championship series down to a fantastic finish.
His latest clutch goal was the offensive highlight of a gritty, defense-dominated night at the United Center. Crawford and Russia’s Vasilevskiy, the Lightning’s surprise starter in goal, both had stellar moments.
In the final minute, Crawford capped his 24 saves with a frantic last stand. Lightning captain Steven Stamkos had two golden chances to force overtime, but the Blackhawks survived.
Game 5 is June 13 in Tampa. The series is now effectively a best-of-three, with Chicago needing at least one more win at Amalie Arena to secure its third Stanley Cup banner in six seasons. Tampa Bay has home-ice advantage, but a fraction of the Blackhawks’ big-game credentials.
This is the first Stanley Cup series since 1968 in which each of the first four games was decided by a single goal.
“No matter what the situation is, whether we’re down in a series or a hockey game, we tend to play our best when our backs are against the wall,” Chicago’s Patrick Kane said. “Not saying we had our best effort tonight, but we still found a way to win.”
Alex Killorn scored in the second period for the Lightning, whose four-game road winning streak ended.
They got solid work and 17 saves from Vasilevskiy in place of Ben Bishop, the 53-game winner scratched with an undisclosed lower-body injury after hobbling through Game 3. The Russian became the youngest starting goaltender in a Stanley Cup Final game since Patrick Roy in 1986.
“I can play under pressure,” Vasilevskiy said. “For me, it’s not something new. I was ready for pressure from fans and players.”
Tampa Bay pummeled Crawford with multiple scoring chances in the final minute with Vasilevskiy pulled for an extra attacker, but the veteran stopped them all. He got help from Brent Seabrook, who deflected a point-blank shot by Stamkos, keeping him without a goal in the series.
“We’re disappointed about the squandered chance tonight,” Stamkos said. “We deserved better. We’ve just got to find a way to score more than one goal.”
Bishop participated in a morning skate before the Lightning ruled him out and Vasilevskiy was called up to replace him.
“If you tell me we’re going to come in and he’s going to give up two goals, that’s a hell of a job in my book,” Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said. “That kid gave us every chance to win the hockey game. We only scored one…. He showed at the pinnacle of the sport that he can play. That’s a pretty big achievement for a 20-year-old.”
After putting two shots off Vasilevskiy’s posts early in the second, Chicago finally scored when Vasilevskiy gave up a rebound of Marian Hossa’s shot and Toews eventually slapped a loose puck under the goalie.
The Lightning answered five minutes later when Valtteri Filppula threaded a backward pass through two defenders and in front to Killorn for his ninth goal of the postseason.
(ANDREW SELIGMAN, AP Sports Writer)