Corey Crawford

With offense sputtering, Stamkos says ‘I’ve got to be better’

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TAMPA — Two goals, two losses and on the brink of elimination.

That’s the situation the Tampa Bay Lightning are in following Saturday’s Game 5 loss to the Blackhawks. The Bolts have frittered away a 2-1 series lead and seen their offense disappear with it; despite firing 57 shots at Corey Crawford over the last two games, they have precious little to show for it.

At the center of that dry spell? Steven Stamkos.

source:  The Lightning captain is goalless in the Stanley Cup Final, a scoring slump that dates back to Game 5 of the Rangers series. Saturday, he fired just one puck on net (three attempts total, which is also alarming) and was ineffective during a third period in which Tampa tried to rally, but came up short.

“You have to find a way,” Stamkos said following Saturday’s loss. “We had some looks at the end, it’s just not good enough to get looks right now. We have to find a way. We have to find a way to score some goals.

“It starts with me. I’ve got to be better.”

A series that promised to be an offensive showcase — and, at times during Games 2 and 3, lived up to the billing — has morphed into a defensive, tight-checking affair. The teams have combined to score just six goals over the last two games and while Stamkos isn’t the only high-profile player without a marker (remember, Patrick Kane hasn’t scored either), he’s now clearly feeling the pressure as it’s the Lightning, not the Blackhawks, that can’t afford to lose another game.

Even though he’s struggled, Stamkos said he welcomes the challenge ahead.

“We’ve got one game,” he explained. “It’s going to come down to how much we want to extend our season and what we’re willing to do. This group has come too far not to leave it all on the ice next game.

“We’re experienced in these situations. We’ve gone through it already this playoffs, we’ve found a way.”

Bolts have no update on Kucherov; Cooper thought he’d return

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TAMPA — The first question Jon Cooper fielded after the Lightning’s 2-1 loss in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final was about the health of injured forward Nikita Kucherov.

Not surprisingly, Cooper didn’t have much to say.

“I don’t have an update on [Kucherov],” he explained. “I thought he was going to come back, and then I got word he wasn’t coming back. He’ll be evaluated probably tonight and tomorrow.”

Kucherov, who came into tonight’s contest sitting second in playoff scoring with 22 points, was injured early in the first period after crashing into Corey Crawford’s net:

The 21-year-old was in significant pain skating off and, despite Cooper’s optimism, didn’t return to play. It’s unclear if he’ll be able to suit up for Monday’s Game 6 in Chicago, where the Lightning will face elimination for the first time this series.

With 10 goals through 25 games — that after scoring 29 during the regular season — it’s clear Kucherov is a vital contributor for a Lightning team that, suddenly, is struggling to find the back of the net.

It’s something Cooper discussed in his postgame address.

“He’s a point-per-game guy in the playoffs and a big part of our offense,” Cooper said. “In a series where goals are at a premium, it’s tough when you lose one of your guys.”

Vermette comes up big again, ‘Hawks take 3-2 series lead

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TAMPA — Antoine Vermette hasn’t scored much this postseason.

But when he has, he’s made it count.

Vermette came up large once again on Saturday night, scoring his third game-winning goal of the playoffs to give Chicago a 2-1 victory in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final, and a 3-2 series lead over the Lightning in the process.

Vermette, one of Chicago’s pickups at the trade deadline, has gone from maligned to magnificent in the span of a few weeks. Tonight’s goal, banged in off a Kris Versteeg rebound two minutes into the third period, wasn’t just his third-game winner — it was his third game-winner in the last nine contests.

Yep, safe to say No. 80 has developed something of a knack for big goals. Previously, he notched the deciding tally in Game 1 against Tampa Bay and, in the Western Conference Final against Anaheim, scored a double-OT winner in Game 4.

Not bad for a guy that opened the playoffs as a healthy scratch.

Vermette wasn’t Chicago’s lone clutch performer in Game 5, though. Corey Crawford — who’s faced his fair share of scrutiny this postseason as well — allowed just one goal for the second consecutive contest and, over his last 120 minutes of action, has now stopped 55 of 57 shots for a .965 save percentage. The ‘Hawks tender also saved his best for last, making 15 saves in the third period.

While Crawford was stellar at one end, Ben Bishop had his issues at the other.

Back in goal after missing Game 4 to an undisclosed ailment, Bishop made an egregious judgement call by colliding with Victor Hedman midway through first period while trying to play a puck, paving the way for Patrick Sharp to score one of the easiest goals of his career:

Tampa Bay erased Bishop’s gaffe courtesy Valtteri Filppula’s goal midway through the second period, his fourth of the playoffs and first of this series. But Filppula’s marker was the Bolts’ lone bit of offense on the night; with the club having scored just twice over its last two games, there will almost certainly be pressure to score more as the team now heads to Chicago, where the ‘Hawks will look to win the Cup at home for the first time since 1938.

The ‘Hawks will hope tonight’s win follows in the historical trend of Game 5 winners. Since 1939, the winner of Game 5 after a split of the opening four contests of the Final has captured the Stanley Cup 16 of 23 times, a success rate of nearly 70 percent.

The Lightning, however, will hope to lean on a different piece of history. Recently, there have been four teams to lose Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final, yet go on to win it all — and one of them was the 2004 Lightning, the first and only championship team in franchise history.

Notes

Nikita Kucherov left tonight’s game in the first period with a suspected shoulder injury, and didn’t return… With his goal, Sharp moved just three back of Steve Larmer (45G) for fifth all-time among Blackhawks playoff goalscorers… More good history for the Lightning: the club that has lost Game 5 after a split of opening 4 games of the Final has rebounded to win the #StanleyCup in 4 of past 7 occasions.

Video: Bishop’s gaffe leads to Chicago goal, Kucherov crashes hard

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Yikes, just yikes.

The first period of Game 5 has not gone well for the Tampa Bay Lightning. To start things off, the Chicago Blackhawks really carried the play early.

Things got rocky when both goalies suffered through puckhandling mishaps, yet the Lightning came out limping in both instances.

First, Nikita Kucherov nearly pounced on a Corey Crawford blunder, only to bash his shoulder into the post.

What came next was even worse, though. Ben Bishop and Victor Hedman clearly had a communication breakdown, as Hedman’s touch threw Bishop off, they both collided and Patrick Sharp scored the easiest goal you can imagine in this scenario:

It was a bad decision by Bishop, especially considering his shaky health. The best news for Tampa Bay is that as rough as this situation is, it’s still just 1-0.

Other than that? Yeah, that was pretty bad.

See you Saad-urday: ‘Hawks hang on, even Stanley Cup Final 2-2

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CHICAGO — It wasn’t an oil painting.

But it was a win.

The Chicago Blackhawks did just enough on Wednesday night, holding off a furious late Lightning rally to win 2-1 in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final, evening the series at two games apiece.

Brandon Saad, one of the team’s best skaters over the last two contests, scored the game-winning goal at 6:22 of the third period on an assist from Patrick Kane — his first point of the series — and the ‘Hawks then held on for dear life over the final minutes, as the Bolts threw everything, kitchen sink and all, at Corey Crawford.

Crawford was the story late, making a flurry of saves in the face of serious pressure.

But early on, the guy in the other net was making headlines.

Russian rookie Andrei Vasilevskiy, 20, was the surprise starter in goal after Tampa Bay ruled out Ben Bishop just prior to gametime. While there’s still no indication of what’s bothering Bishop or how he’s feeling, whatever the ailment is proved severe enough to sideline him for the first time this series — this coming after his gutsy Game 3 performance, in which he stopped 36 shots while clearly laboring.source: Getty Images

Vasilevskiy was the story early, but that narrative faded as the game went on. For a team facing a potential 3-1 series deficit, Chicago didn’t exactly come storming out the gates; they did little to test Vasilevskiy in the opening frame, going the first eight minutes without putting a shot on goal, finishing the opening frame with just seven.

In the end, Vasilevskiy was only beaten twice on a grand total of 19 shots — once by Jonathan Toews (his first of the series) in the second period, and the game-winner by Saad in the third.

The Lightning, meanwhile, could only put one past Crawford, and it too came in the second period. Alex Killorn scored at the 11:47 mark, continuing Tampa’s trend of quickly erasing Chicago’s leads in this series:

What Tampa was unable to do tonight, however, was erase that second lead — though it wasn’t for a lack of trying. The Bolts will feel unlucky after carrying play for long stretches tonight, and probably deserved a better fate from a third period in which they out-shot the ‘Hawks 8-5 (25-19 overall).

As for the ‘Hawks? Well, a win’s a win and tonight’s was crucially important. It puts them back on even terms heading into Saturday’s pivotal Game 5, which will go from Amalie Arena in Tampa Bay.

Tonight’s result means the 2015 Stanley Cup Final will go to at least six games — and given how good it’s been so far, that’s a welcome development.

Notes

Toews’ goal was his 10th of the postseason, a career-high…Vasilevskiy became the sixth goalie in NHL history to make his first playoff start in the Stanley Cup Final, joining Joe Miller (Rangers, 1928), Alfie Moore (‘Hawks, 1938), Paul Goodman (‘Hawks, 1938), Hank Bassen (Red Wings, 1961) and Jussi Markkanen (Oilers, 2006)…Killorn’s goal was his ninth in 24 playoff games, after scoring 15 in 71 regular season contests…Every game in this series has now been decided by one goal: the ‘Hawks captured Games 1 and 4 by identical 2-1 scorelines, while Tampa Bay won the middle contests 4-3 and 3-2.