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3 things we learned from a 2-2 series headed back to Tampa Bay

by Bryan Burns / Tampa Bay Lightning

In the off day between Game 3 and Game 4, Tampa Bay Lightning forward Brenden Morrow said the Bolts came to Chicago to get one win.

“Now we’ve got to be greedy,” Morrow said after the Lightning rallied to win Game 3 and regain home-ice advantage.

Tampa Bay had its chances to come home with two victories in Chicago after a superb performance in net during an unexpected start by Andrei Vasilevskiy and a plethora of opportunities to score, including a handful in the final 90 seconds with the Bolts net empty, but the Lightning couldn’t capitalize and return to Tampa with the series tied 2-2.

The Stanley Cup Final is now a best-of-three series. First team to take two will hoist the most prestigious trophy in all of sports.

What did we learn from Game 4?

Three things with the biggest impact in Wednesday’s 2-1 loss for the Lightning.

1. CALM UNDER FIRE

20-year-old rookie goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy didn’t learn he would make his first career NHL playoff start until about six hours before puck drop, not a lot of time to get ready for possibly the biggest game of his career.

Vasilevskiy, however, played as if he’d been preparing for the moment his whole life.

The Russian saw only two shots in the first period and didn’t have a puck come his way until 11:43 remained in the first, but he had considerably more work over the final 40 minutes of Wednesday’s Game 4. Vasilevskiy made 17 saves in all on 19 Chicago shots. He said following the game the busier second and third periods were “more fun” than the first, a remarkably cool attitude for a goalie in his first season of North American hockey playing on the world’s biggest stage.

“He’s been great for us when we needed him,” Lightning center Brian Boyle said. “…There’s not much thought that goes into after you see that (Vasilevskiy) is playing. We let the goalies do their thing. They focus on their game, and we focus on ours. We have full confidence in him, and he showed why we have full confidence in him.”

Vasilevskiy became just the sixth goalie in league history to make his postseason debut in the Stanley Cup Final. He took the loss, but the result was certainly not a reflection of his play in net.

“I thought he was great,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. “I’ve said this during the series, it doesn’t matter which guy we put in there, we’ve got full confidence in both guys, and he showed in the pinnacle of the sport that he can play. That’s a pretty big achievement for a 20-year-old.”

Vasilevskiy may be a youngster age-wise, but when it comes to maturity, he plays like a seasoned vet.

His performance Wednesday gives the Lightning promise for the future while instilling a belief the team can win the Cup with their backup goalie in net.

2. UNCERTAINTY SURROUNDS BISHOP

Lightning starting goaltender Ben Bishop struggled to play a full 60 minutes in Game 3, two days after he had to exit Game 2 late in the third period for an undisclosed injury.

Bishop was thought to be healthy enough to make the start in Game 4, but he was scratched from the lineup before the contest and his status announced as day-to-day.

Following the Game 4 loss, Cooper said Bishop would make an appearance again in the Stanley Cup Final.

He just didn’t know when.

“I wish I could give you an answer to that,” Cooper said.

Bishop leads the NHL in shutouts this postseason, having blanked Detroit in Game 7 of a First Round series and the New York Rangers in Games 5 and 7 of the Eastern Conference Final. Vasilevskiy is a more than capable backup in Bishop’s absence, but the Lightning clearly would like a healthy Bishop in net for the final two, potentially three games of the series.

“Bish has carried us all year, so for him to go down, I feel bad for him,” Boyle said.

After sitting out Wednesday, Bishop will have four full days of rest between his last start in Game 3 and a possible appearance in Game 5. The hope is the extended layoff will alleviate whatever ailment is keeping him from playing.

3. POWER PLAY FIZZLES

After scoring just two goals in 30 opportunities (6.7 percent) during a First Round series against Detroit, the Lightning power play rallied to put up 14 goals in 42 chances with the man advantage in the Second Round vs Detroit and Eastern Conference Final against the Rangers combined.

But since, the Lightning power play has reverted back to its early postseason form.

The Bolts have scored just one power-play goal in the Stanley Cup Final.

They’ve had 11 opportunities, for a 9.1 percent success rate.

That’s not going to get it done in a series where goals have been at a premium

On Wednesday, the power play was 0-for-4.

“We created some shots,” Cooper said. “We had some scrambles in there. I don’t know if we shot enough. I think as the power play went on a little bit, we tried to make the perfect play, but sometimes you score them, sometimes you don’t. When you lose by a goal and your power play goes 0-for-4, all of a sudden an alarm goes off. But special teams weren’t the difference. (Chicago) went 0-for-3 (on the power play). It came down to 5-on-5, and they got one more break than we did.”

The Blackhawks have done a solid job clogging the middle of the offensive zone with their penalty kill and forcing the Lightning to cycle the puck around the perimeter.

“It looks like they’re really comfortable with us having the puck on the outside,” Stralman said. “…From my view on the point, I don’t have a chance to get a puck through the middle. We just have to find an alternate way to break their box. We have to look at the video, review it and come up with a new plan.”

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