WARR’s hockey writer Sidney Brown offers his takes on the Blackhawks throughout their postseason run
Note: Game 4 re-airs at 3 pm CT on CSN Chicago
The Chicago Blackhawks are fit to be tied after holding on for dear life in defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-1 in Game 4 to tie the Stanley Cup Final at 2-2 and save face on their home ice.
Heading into this all-important game the Hawks had to know that history had their back. Under coach Joel Quenneville, the Hawks stood at 40-14 in Games 4 thru 7 entering Wednesday and the pressure during this year’s playoffs alone in high octane series against Nashville and Anaheim had prepared them for this moment.
Experience didn’t play the role Chicago would have liked early on, though, as the Lightning dominated the opening 20 minutes, holding a 9-2 edge in the shots on goal category and making things a lot easier on backup goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy who replaced starter Ben Bishop in the lineup.
The Hawks struggled once again to start the game but their intensity picked up the the second period as captain Jonathan Toews netted home his 10th goal of the playoffs and his long-awaited first of this series at the 6 minute, 40 second mark off a wrist shot to give the home team the 1-0 lead. Tampa Bay delivered the next punch minutes later (but not seconds later, as been custom) courtesy of Alex Killorn scoring his second of the series and eighth in the postseason (11:47) to tie the game.
Chicago held the slight edge in the middle period with a 12-8 shots on goal advantage and this critical contest was set up for another exciting finish. The Men in Red rose up to the occasion in the final period as Brandon Saad delivered his 10th goal of the playoffs, second of the series and second in as many games to give the Hawks a 2-1 lead. Tampa Bay pushed hard at the end and helped put on as frantic a final minute as you’d see in a Stanley Cup Final, but great goaltending and strong defense prevailed at the end to preserve the victory for Chicago.
After being inserted into net right before face-off, Vasilevskiy gave his team a huge lift starting his first playoff game and seeing action in only his second Stanley Cup Final game. Vasilevskiy finished the game with 17 saves while posting a save percentage of .895.
Corey Crawford clearly stood on his head and took on the challenge to protect his net, stopping 24 of 25 shots while posting a .960 save percentage. After an above-average performance in Game 3, Crawford slammed the door shut and made key saves as a rallying Lightning squad turned up the heat.
It looks like Crawford’s confidence is back and his experience from playing in previous playoff games clearly helped him out in this crucial game. The Hawks defense was stellar in just giving up one goal and did not allow a goal immediately after scoring a goal unlike in Game 3.
For once, the Hawks seemed to play up to the pressure of a series where every game has been decided by one goal. Chicago also got down and dirty, blocking 23 shots for the game and winning 38 face-offs, allowing them to control the puck in the offensive zone.
Tampa Bay’s offense disappeared for the most part despite tallying 25 total shots on goal, but the effort didn’t translate to their power play where they went 0 for 4.
As the game went on, you could see that the Hawks were fatigued and didn’t have the jump as typical to start games, but whatever they had left in the tank for the final 20 minutes, the Hawks played solid hockey after scoring the go-ahead goal and were committed to defense — doing both allowed them to come out on top.
In the playoffs, you need your role players to step up and help out your superstars. It is arguable if Brandon Saad could be considered a role player, at worst he is a star on the rise on a roster that has more stars than most.
As a young gun on the Hawks, Saad has done his best this postseason to separate himself and he has been on fire. Saad benefits tremendously from playing on the top line with Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa and it has paid huge dividends in recent games.
Saad Playoff Goal Breakdown:
6 — Given Hawks the lead
2 — Game winning goals
1 — Tied game
1 — Extended lead
Playing From Behind
This year’s Stanley Cup Finals has been highly competitive and every game has been decided by one goal. With both teams battling for the ultimate prize, holding on to leads have been a challenge but it has simply been the team who has delivered in the clutch who has gotten over each time out. Let’s take a look at some startling statistics:
Blackhawks led — 25:05
Lightning led — 92:20
Game Tied — 1:02:35
TB — Steven Stamkos scored one assist (first point in the Stanley Cup Final)
TB — J.T. Brown led with 7 hits
CHI — Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp scored one assist each
CHI — Brent Seabrook led with 5 hits
CHI — Penalty Kill unit went 4 for 4 against Tampa’s power play
TB — Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov combined for 0 points
TB — 0-4 with their man advantage
CHI — Brent Seabrook had 3 giveaways
A Look Ahead To Game 5
With the series tied at 2-2, it all comes down to a best two out of three with Tampa Bay holding the home ice advantage. After Game 4, its more than clear to see that fatigue has taken a hold on Chicago and an extra day between Games 4 and 5 should help it out tremendously.
The Lightning now face questions on who should start Game 5 in goal, not necessarily the best thing entering such important games. Based on numbers it’s a toss up but if it’s based on health, Andrej Vasilvesky has the edge even though Ben Bishop gutted it out with an apparent injury in the Game 3 win.
Once again, the Hawks must start the game strong and send a message to Tampa that they’re going to have another dog fight on their home ice.
Tampa Bay must take positives from Games 3 and 4 and use it to their advantage and their home crowd should give them a major boost. The Men in Red have been through this situation numerous times in recent years compared to the Lightning’s lone extensive playoff run this year with a young group.
Who will prevail in the important game of this series? Can the Hawks experience carry them home or will the youth and hunger of Tampa seize the day? Buckle up, it’s coming down to the wire!
Game 5: Blackhawks at Lightning, Saturday (7 p.m., NBC)
Game 6: Lightning at Blackhawks, Monday (7 p.m., NBC)
*-Game 7: Blackhawks at Lightning, Wednesday, June 17 (7 p.m., NBC)
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