TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — The tightest Stanley Cup Final in 47 years is coming down to the wire.
The Chicago Blackhawks and Tampa Bay Lightning both feel confident about their ability to win two of a possible three games remaining in the best-of-7 matchup that resumes Saturday night.
The series is tied 2-2 following four consecutive one-goal games, and there’s no reason to believe one team or the other is poised to run away from the other.
“It’s one of the hardest things to do in pro sports, finish off a series and beat another team to win a Stanley Cup, especially a team that’s been there a couple times and knows what it takes,” Tampa Bay captain Steven Stamkos said. “We have our work cut out for us, but this group has belief in each other.”
The Blackhawks have won two of the past five NHL championships, and they have stars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane to lean on in situations like this.
Tampa Bay is on the league’s biggest stage for the first since 2004, when the Lightning won its only Stanley Cup title.
Experience would seem to favor the Blackhawks, however Tampa Bay’s youthful roster has been extremely resilient, too, in getting to this point.
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The Blackhawks usually can count on Toews or Kane, who’s both struggled to score in this series, to lead the way.
The Lightning expect direction from Stamkos, who also had difficulty hitting the back of the net, although Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov and Alex Killorn also have been crucial to the team’s strong playoff run.
“I think for either team to win, it comes down to your best players being at their best and making the difference.
So myself as an individual, I expect that out of myself,” Toews said.
“I’m not the only one in that room that thinks that way, or thinks as an individual or a player, you need to raise your game to make a difference,” the Chicago captain added. “We all think that way. I think that’s a huge reason why we’ve made it this far.”
The Lightning appeared loose in practice Friday, which coach Jon Cooper said reflects the personality on his team.
“You have to embrace where we are. It’s the middle of June and we’re still playing hockey. The Stanley Cup is up for grabs in the best two-out-of-three. I don’t think we should be afraid of that. I don’t think we should walk around being tense and looking at the magnitude of where we are, being afraid of the moment,” Cooper said.
“It’s two teams left playing in June. If we’re not having fun doing this, then why are we doing this? It’s been such a phenomenal experience to go through this,” Cooper added. “I remember on the plane ride home (Thursday) thinking, in six days, it’s going to be over. How much fun, how we’ve grown together, you just don’t want the experience to end.”
Some things watch for in Game 5:
TRUTH IS: Cooper said Friday he didn’t know if goalie Ben Bishop will return Saturday night after missing Game 4 with an undisclosed injury. He said Bishop is improving each day, and that the decision to not play him Wednesday night in Chicago was made, in part, to give the injured goaltender three days off before determining his availability for Game 5.
When Cooper was told that Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr admitted that he didn’t tell truth about a lineup change he intended to make against the Cleveland Cavaliers before his team evened the NBA Finals 2-2, Cooper replied: “Are you asking if I’ve lied? Is my nose growing?” before cracking a smile.
“Okay, I’ll be truthful in this scenario. This is regarding Ben Bishop or all injuries. I don’t know sitting here today if Ben Bishop is playing on Saturday. I hope he plays. I don’t know if he’s going to,” the coach said.
“I’m a pretty truthful guy. I kind of call it how it is,” Cooper added. “I don’t feel like I’ve lied to anybody. I’ve maybe not, I don’t know, said a lot of things, or I’ve kept them inside. … But what’s the point of lying? Truth is going to come out anyway, so you might as well tell it when you can.”
If Bishop doesn’t play, rookie Andrei Vasilevskiy will make his second career playoff start.
KEEPIN’ IT CLOSE: The Cup Final is tied 2-2 for the fifth time in seven years. The first four games have been decided by one goal for the first time since 1968, when the Montreal Canadiens swept the St. Louis Blues.
POWER SHORTAGE: Neither team’s power-play has been productive in the series, with the Blackhawks 2 for 11 in man-advantage situations and the Lightning just 1 for 11. Of course, the flip side of that is both penalty-killing units are getting the job done.
TOEWS FACTOR: The Chicago captain, who scored his first goal of the series in Game 4, has a reputation for putting the Blackhawks on his back and willing the team to victory in close series.
Coach Joel Quenneville knows Toews’ history, but isn’t predicting anything.
“Well, I don’t forecast advantages. I know we’re fortunate to have him. He’s a special player. He’s a great leader. He’s got tremendous character,” Quenneville said. “We always talk about the bigger the setting, the bigger the stage, he rises to that challenge. Our team rises to big games and big settings as well.”