After this game, Steven Stamkos said to reporters: “It just seemed like one of those games where it wasn’t going in for us.” Aptly put. From the Lightning’s perspective, this was a game of missed opportunities. Some of those chances didn’t go in because ‘Hawks goalie Corey Crawford had his best game of the series. But also, the Lightning didn’t have a lot of puck luck in this game. Pucks bobbled off player’s sticks at crucial moments at various points, a key reason why the Bolts only netted one goal. The reason why they were able to generate all those looks, though, was because they carried play for a large portion of this game.
Andrei Vasilevskiy started in place of an ailing Ben Bishop. He played well and gave his team a chance to win. He couldn’t be faulted on either Chicago goal and made several excellent stops in the game. Particularly in the second period, which was Chicago’s most dangerous frame of the night.
The first period was a quiet one for Vasilevskiy, though. Chicago managed only two shots in the first. The Lightning defended very well, forcing turnovers all over the ice. As a result, the Bolts had the puck for most of the period. They had three power play chances in the period, but couldn’t cash in. Perhaps they were guilty of overpassing a bit on those power plays, but they still put four shots on net during the man advantages and forced Crawford to make some nice saves. The Bolts also had five even strength shots in the period and did well to get pucks around the net on multiple occasions. But they couldn’t find a way to make a final play that would lead to a goal. Several times pucks bounced over Lightning sticks when players were positioned in the slot with a chance to score. Getting an early lead might have changed how the rest of the game unfolded.
In the second, the ‘Hawks enjoyed more puck possession and began accumulating scoring chances. As I’ll describe later, Brandon Saad’s winning goal included some puck luck, but the ‘Hawks had their share of tough bounces in the second. They hit two posts in the period. They also had several great looks, but Vasilevskiy made key saves on Antoine Vermette, Jonathan Toews, Brent Seabrook and Patrick Sharp. But the ‘Hawks did get one past him in the period. The sequence started with a neutral zone faceoff. After the draw, the Lightning had a coverage issue that allowed Sharp to burst in on a breakaway. He hit one of those aforementioned posts. The Lightning retrieved the puck, but turned it over. A scramble ensued and Marian Hossa’s point shot led to a rebound in front. Sharp worked it across the low slot to Toews, who banged it in. The Lightning didn’t make many mistakes in this game, but the two in that sequence were costly.
The Lightning pushed back immediately after the goal and nearly tied it. They didn’t get the goal on that shift (though they did draw a penalty), but eventually evened the score about five minutes later. Valtteri Filppula worked the puck behind the Chicago net. Crawford thought he would come around to the opposite post. Instead, Filppula passed the puck against the grain to Alex Killorn, who put the puck past Crawford before the Chicago goalie had even turned his head.
As they did in Game Three, the ‘Hawks broke a third period tie with a goal from Saad. It came after the ‘Hawks had gotten four consecutive offensive zone faceoffs. The Lightning committed three straight icings just prior to another stoppage. So they never got the puck safely out of their zone during that sequence. The fourth faceoff was a tie-up, but Saad emerged with the puck and skated from the left circle towards the net. Vasilevskiy knocked the puck away with his stick, but the it stayed close to Saad. Saad then retook the puck and backhanded a shot through Vasilevskiy’s pads. A nice play by Saad to take it to the net, but he also benefitted from a fortunate bounce off Vasilevskiy’s stick. Afterwards, Saad himself admitted that he got a bit lucky on the play.
The Saad goal occurred at 6:22 of the third. In the final 13:38, the ‘Hawks only posted two more shots on net. It’s true that Chicago was protecting its lead, so the ‘Hawks weren’t pressing the attack as much. But the biggest reason for the low Chicago shot total after Saad’s goal was that the Lightning again dominated puck possession. They put tremendous pressure on Crawford, especially in the closing minutes, but couldn’t tie the score. Crawford was terrific in making eight third period saves. He also benefitted from some Lightning misses, including a Stamkos chance on an open net with just over a minute left. The ‘Hawks held on to even the series.
As a whole, the Lightning played well in this game. Certainly well enough to win. But as Stamkos stated, they just couldn’t find a way to net more than one goal.
It’s now a best-of-three series. The Lightning are happy with how they’ve played through much of the first four games. They’ll need to maintain that solid play in Saturday’s Game Five.
Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
Saad’s winning goal.
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
1.Corey Crawford – Blackhawks. 24 saves.
2.Alex Killorn – Lightning. Goal.
3.Jonathan Toews – Blackhawks. Goal.