The best-of-7 series between the Chicago Blackhawks and Tampa Bay Lightning is tied 2-2 heading into Game 5 on Saturday at Amalie Arena (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports). Each team has nine goals. Neither team has established a multigoal lead in the series. Every game has been decided by one goal, with the winning goal coming in the third period.
The Blackhawks have 107 shots; the Lightning have 104. Each team has been on the power play 11 times, with Chicago owning a 2-1 lead in power-play goals.
There have been seven go-ahead goals scored and seven game-tying goals. The other four goals in the series have been game-winners. The series has been tied for 51.1 percent of the 240 minutes played.
Something has to give. It will Saturday. Here are the three keys for each team that could play a role in making it happen:
1. Goalie situation
If Ben Bishop can't play, can Andrei Vasilevskiy do it again? That's going to be a huge factor in Game 5 depending on the Lightning's goaltending situation, which for now remains uncertain because Bishop's status for Game 5 has yet to be determined.
Vasilevskiy played in Game 4 for the injured Bishop (day-to-day, undisclosed injury) and made 17 saves in a 2-1 loss. He faced two shots in the first period, but as he got into the game he got better. He gave the Lightning a chance to win, which is all you can ask of a 20-year-old making his first start in the Stanley Cup Playoffs on the road in the Stanley Cup Final.
Lightning coach Jon Cooper said he had no idea if Bishop would be available.
"I hope I have a decision to make between him and Andrei," Cooper said. "That would be great."
Cooper and the Lightning players persist that it does not matter to them which goalie starts, even though Bishop has been their No. 1 all season and Vasilevskiy was the No. 3 through January.
Defenseman Braydon Coburn said his confidence in Vasilevskiy wasn't bolstered after his performance in Game 4, only because it didn't need to be bolstered.
"It's tough to build on the confidence I had," Coburn said. "I already had a ton of confidence in him before last game anyway, so to say I have more confidence in him than I did before, it's a moot point because I was already confident in the guy."
2. Paquette's line
The Lightning are home again, which means look for Cooper to play more of a matchup game than he did at United Center, when he didn't have the last-change advantage.
Cooper has it now, so the Lightning's third line of Cedric Paquette, Ryan Callahan and J.T. Brown likely will be asked to handle Chicago's top line of Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp, if that is indeed the Blackhawks' top line at the start of the game.
Chicago coach Joel Quenneville went to the line blender from the opening faceoff in Game 4. He put Toews, Sharp and Hossa together after not showing that line combination during the morning skate or pregame warm-ups before Game 4. They scored Chicago's first goal with Tampa Bay's "Triplets" line of Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat on the ice against them.
Quenneville shook up his second line later in the game and put Brad Richards, Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad together. They scored Chicago's second goal with the Lightning's scoring line of Valtteri Filppula, Steven Stamkos and Alex Killorn on the ice.
Paquette's line has been scored on once in the series (Brent Seabrook's goal off the rush at 3:38 of the third period in Game 2). Meanwhile, Paquette and Callahan have combined for three goals, including two from Paquette.
The Lightning's third line will need another big night in Game 5.
3. Active defensemen
The Lightning's big advantage as this series wears on is its defensive depth. Tampa Bay plays six and sometimes seven defensemen depending on the lineup Cooper uses, whereas the Blackhawks have relied heavily on four defensemen, sparingly using their fifth and sixth.
After watching the Blackhawks struggle to get out of their zone and do much off the rush in Game 4, it's fair to wonder if their top-four defensemen are tiring out even in the slightest. There is no question the Lightning's defensemen still have a lot of jump in their legs.
They need to use it in Game 5 to create more puck possession, which in turn will force Chicago's defensemen to defend rather than attack. It's always harder for a defenseman to play in his own end because it doesn't give him a chance to get a breather.
The Lightning's defensemen did a good job of pinching in, particularly on the forecheck, in Game 4, but they need to do more off the rush if possible in Game 5 to create more scoring chances.
1. Test the goalie early
Regardless of who starts in net for the Lightning, the Blackhawks have to test him early. A better way of saying that is they need more than two shots on goal in the first period. That's all they had in Game 4, when Vasilevskiy was the surprise starter for Tampa Bay.
The Blackhawks have to make it hard on the Lightning's goalie from the outset Saturday. They gave Vasilevskiy a free pass to get himself acclimated in Game 4. It was probably the best thing the rookie could have asked for, because who knows how he would have handled a barrage of shots early when he admittedly was nervous before the game.
2. Sharp can be a difference maker
Sharp found his legs were a factor in Game 4 when he was put on a line with Toews and Hossa.
He played with speed, contributed some scoring chances and had an assist on Toews' goal. It was the biggest impact he has made in a game in the series.
Quenneville credited the familiarity Sharp has with Toews and Hossa as a reason why he was so effective. Sharp had been playing primarily in a third-line role with Antoine Vermette and Teuvo Teravainen in the first three games.
"The success they had last year was part of that," Quenneville said. "We're looking for balance in our lines. We're looking to get some production across the board. [Saad] getting a chance to be with [Kane] was part of that as well, because we didn't mind the way [Toews] and [Saad] were going together. I just think having a little bit more balance in our lines was the motivation. I thought [Sharp] did a real good job, and that line was dangerous."
It'll be harder in Game 5, when the Lightning are able to get the matchups they want, but the Blackhawks need that line to be a factor again, which means they need Sharp to have a similar impact. Scoring depth has to be an advantage for Chicago, and Sharp is a big factor in that.
3. Connect the stretch pass
The Blackhawks love the stretch pass that leads to a breakaway or an odd-man rush. They thrive on it. But it's been harder to hit against in this series because of how aggressive the Lightning are defending on the forecheck.
"They like to pressure up ice a little bit, so there's times where you get the puck on a regroup at your own blue line and that D-man is right in your face," Kane said. "It's not something you're used to seeing or something that is usual around the League now."
Kane said he thinks it's better for the Blackhawks to come back together so they can try to go up the ice with speed, but in a group of five rather than trying to constantly look for the opportunity to hit a wing streaking out of the zone on a stretch pass.
But if the opportunity is there, the Blackhawks need to recognize it and connect that pass because odds are it will lead to a Grade A scoring chance, which haven't been easy for them to get against the Lightning.
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
Author: Dan Rosen | NHL.com Senior Writer