Win two home games to win the Stanley Cup.
One might call this 'revisionist optimistim'; those "if you told me Tampa Bay would be in this spot pre-season, I'd take it" scenarios are always a little too sunny. After all, there were plenty of opportunities missed for Tampa Bay in Game 4.
But win two home games to win the Stanley Cup? That's not a bad spot to be in for this Tampa Bay Lightning team, who did everything but score in the game's final moments in a herculean effort to push Game 4 to overtime and put a strangehold on the series.
"Jon Cooper Goalie Surprise" came at us with an all-new episode in Game 4, as Andrei Vasilevskiy' started, Kristers Gudlevskis dressed as the back-up and Ben Bishop was held out entirely, but Tampa Bay's gameplan didn't change much from Games 1 through 3.
As for the skaters in front of his rookie netminder, Cooper opted for the same line-up that won Game 3 at United Center, and the team rewarded his decision by continuing the trend of strong starts. The Lightning didn't allow their rookie netminder to even touch the puck until 7 minutes into the game when he covered a loose puck that fluttered wide off one of his defenders, and he wasn't asked make a save until over 8 minutes in, a long, unscreened slap shot that he saved.
The Lightning earned a few good chances early, too, including Ryan Callahan on the backhand and Alex Killorn in tight from the side of the net, both of which Corey Crawford stopped to keep the game tied.
The team's also traded power play looks in the first period; both managed good puck movement but little in the way of dangerous chances outside a good look for Tyler Johnson from the side of the net after a cross-crease feed that Corey Crawford saved.
The second period began with some carryover power play time for the Hawks, and they generated their best chance of the game just after it ended when Marcus Kruger appeared to redirect a point shot off the post.
The Bolts continued to get pinned deep by the Lightning and their neutral zone defense finally showed some cracks. Matt Carle whiffed on the puck and his man on a loose puck at center ice, leaving Patrick Sharp alone for a breakaway chance that hit post. Jonathan Toews followed on the same shift with Tampa Bay scrambling and Jonathan Toews was there to flip the puck towards the net where Vasilevskiy inadvertently tapped it into his own net for a 1-0 Chicago lead.
Tampa Bay responded after ceding the first goal for the first time in this series, and Alex Killorn tied it on a Dominic Moore-Sean Bergenheim special to make it 1-1 on what would have been Brent Seabrook's 4th penalty of the night which was waved off due to the goal.
At the other end, Vasilevskiy was tested with some of Chicago's best chances of the game, including saves on both Antoine Vermette and Patrick Kane from the scoring chance area. With both teams rotating their top-4 D into the game as often as possible, this one would head into the 3rd period tied with both teams looking to avoid being the one to make a big mistake and cede the next goal.
Oddly, then, the third period had a lot of back and forth hockey; Tampa Bay killed off the penalty with some nice plays by Braydon Coburn, then Palat just missed on a goal on a high slot redirect.
Kimmo Timonen hit a post as the teams traded chances before Brandon Saad went right to the net basically unhindered, through a Vasilevskiy poke check, and flipped backhand through the 5-hole for a 2-1 Chicago lead with just over 13 minutes remaining.
The pushback from Tampa Bay came late, but when it did it was a furious flurry of chances in front of and around Corey Crawford starting with about 7 minutes remaining and amping up in the final minute with Andrei Vasilevskiy pulled for an extra attacker. Crawford made a handful of terrific saves, but he needed a partial block from Brent Seabrook to seal the win, as Steven Stamkos had an empty cage to shoot at and the puck went just wide.
- With splits both at home and on the road, this one becomes a 3-game series to decide the winner of the Stanley Cup. Tampa Bay, who won a league-best 32 home games but have played .500 hockey at Amalie Arena in the playoffs, just need to win a pair of home games to hoist the Cup.
- It's hard to find fault with Vasilevskiy's game; he was poised, tracked the puck well, and made the saves he was asked to make. On both Chicago goals, he actually touched the puck milliseconds before it entered the net; flipping into his own net on Toews' marker and poke checking it right back to Saad on the game-winner.
- Still, with the extra days rest (Game 5 is Saturday), it's difficult to imagine a scenario where Ben Bishop doesn't dress for and start in the biggest game the Lightning have played in since 2004.
- Cooper on the situation:
- Hedman good.
Hedman finished the game at 81% possession by the way. Just incredible.— James Mirtle (@mirtle) June 11, 2015
- Tampa Bay's hot-and-cold power play went straight back to ice-cold in Game 4. 0/4 with a chance to put Chicago down in the series with two home games left was a major opportunity; Tampa Bay unfortunately turned in the "2/34" Detroit-version of their power play instead of the red-hot version that showed up later.