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Lightning look on bright side despite Game 4 loss

by Shawn Roarke

CHICAGO -- There is rarely solace in a loss, especially when the stakes are as high as they are in the Stanley Cup Final.

But the Tampa Bay Lightning were looking at the bright side of life after a 2-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks on Wednesday in Game 4 evened the best-of-7 series at two victories each.

"We could have won every game so far," Tampa Bay defenseman Anton Stralman said.

The bold statement was not meant to incite. For Stralman, it was a statement of fact from a player who has seen his team play the way it wants in each of the first four games of this series. The results have been two one-goal victories, in Games 2 and 3, and two one-goal losses, in Games 1 and 4.

Each of the four games has been decided by one goal, the first time that has happened in the Final since 1968, when the Montreal Canadiens swept the St. Louis Blues. It's the third time in NHL history the Final has opened with at least four one-goal games. In addition, each of the four games this year has been tied or within one goal entering the final five minutes of regulation.

That is a razor-thin difference between these two teams. The separation point will be determined starting in Game 5 at Tampa Bay on Saturday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports).

"It's two teams that are very similar," Tampa Bay defenseman Jason Garrison said. "I think it goes to what the series is; it's 2-2. I don't think anybody thought it was going to be a four- or five-game series. We just have to make sure you keep turning the page when you don't get one and move onto the next one. We have to keep our same game plan."

Tampa Bay was the better team for much of the game Wednesday. The Lightning held Chicago to two shots in the first period, protecting their rookie goalie, Andrei Vasilevskiy, who was making his first career playoff start in the place of injured Ben Bishop. They dictated zone possession more often than not. They had more power plays. Chicago defenseman Kimmo Timonen, a native of Finland making his first appearance in this Final, told reporters in Finnish that Tampa Bay was the better team in Game 4.

But the Lightning could not solve Chicago goalie Corey Crawford more than once, and even that required an amazing feat of skill from center Valtteri Filppula to make an against-the-grain pass to set up Alex Killorn for the tying goal at 11:47 of the second period.

"We sustained pressure, but they made some plays and Corey made some good saves," Garrison said. "Sometimes that is just the way it goes."

Actually, Lightning captain Steven Stamkos solved Crawford in the game's last minute, ticketing a shot for an empty half of the net. But the puck ticked off the heel of the stick of Chicago defenseman Brent Seabrook and skittered just wide.

Steven Stamkos
Center - TBL
GOALS: 7 | ASST: 11 | PTS: 18
SOG: 63 | +/-: 2
"I thought it was going in," Stamkos said of his chance, which came with the goalie pulled for an extra attacker. "We had some other great looks that were going to go in too. A couple of times guys almost had their hands in the air. That's the way it goes. You can't ask for a more eventful minute and a half in a 6-on-5 situation. That's exactly what we want; [the puck] just didn't go in. It's a little frustrating when you have that many chances, but nothing you can do about it now."

The young Lightning are learning the ways of the Stanley Cup Final quickly, absorbing lessons from the more experienced and battle-tested Blackhawks, who have won the Stanley Cup twice since 2010.

The Lightning headed back to the hotel Wednesday night and will board their flight home Thursday morning knowing they have been in every game; knowing that a bounce here or there in Game 1 or Game 4 could have them in command of this series.

That knowledge doesn't haunt them. It provides comfort.

"You don't want to come back in the dressing room and say, 'Man, we let this one slip.' We don't have that feeling now," said Stralman, a member of the New York Rangers team that lost last year's Final in five games to the Los Angeles Kings. "We've played some good hockey. Sometimes you play well and you don't get the results you want. That's OK. That's hockey. It's about the performance. I'm comfortable with the way we played and we just have to keep going."

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