CHICAGO — Talk of a must-win game was hyperbole. The Chicago Blackhawks didn’t face elimination but knew they couldn’t lose twice at home and feel good about themselves in the Stanley Cup final.
So they showed why they’re two-time champions by beating the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-1 in Game 4 Wednesday night at United Center to even the best-of-seven series at two.
Game 5 is Saturday back at Amalie Arena.
Brandon Saad scored the game-winner in the third period as the Blackhawks finally got to surprise Lightning starting goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy. Captain Jonathan Toews scored earlier in the night on the rookie, who replaced the injured Ben Bishop.
Vasilevskiy made 17 saves in his first-career Stanley Cup playoff start. At the other end Corey Crawford stopped 24 of the 25 shots he faced, including many in the final minutes as the Lightning tried desperately to get the tying goal.
Alex Killorn scored Tampa Bay’s only goal.
With a more subdued atmosphere at United Center, the Blackhawks struggled to get much going in the first few minutes. It took more than eight minutes for their first shot on Vasilevskiy, and they only got two during the first period.
Chicago tested Vasilevskiy in the second and beat him on its fifth shot of the night. After Marian Hossa’s shot hit Vasilevskiy, Patrick Sharp tapped the puck to the other side of the net where a crashing Toews scored 6:40 into the period.
The Blackhawks have had such problems holding leads, and Game 4 was no different. But this time they led a whole five-plus minutes before giving up the tying goal.
That came with Trevor van Riemsdyk gassed and Crawford looking the wrong direction. Valtteri Filppula made a perfect pass from behind the net to Killorn at the side of the net, and he tapped it in easy at 11:47 to make it 1-1.
Vasilevskiy stopped Sharp and Patrick Kane on high-quality scoring chances later in the period to keep it tied.
The Blackhawks cracked the 20-year-old goaltender again 6:22 into the third period. Vasilevskiy blockered the puck away from Saad, but the forward recovered it and sent a backhander in to give Chicago the lead.
This time the Blackhawks made it stand up. But only after a furious finish that included Brent Seabrook getting his stick on a Steven Stamkos shot with the net wide open.
Notes — Blackhawks defenceman Kimmo Timonen made his series debut after being a healthy scratch for five straight games. He replaced Kyle Cumiskey, and forward Kris Versteeg went in for Bryan Bickell. … Jonathan Drouin was scratched again as the Lightning went with 11 forwards and seven defencemen.
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Stephen Whyno, The Canadian Press