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.
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.
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.