CHICAGO (AP) — Brandon Saad drove the net and had the puck poked away by Andrei Vasilevskiy. When he somehow found it again, Saad gave it a desperate backhand whack that just happened to send it right between Vasilevskiy’s moving pads.
Saad refused much credit for his tiebreaking goal in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final. He knows that a few fortunate bounces have been the only differences in four games between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Tampa Bay Lightning, who seem determined to take this championship series down to a fantastic finish.
Saad scored with 13:38 to play, and captain Jonathan Toews got his first goal of the series as the Blackhawks beat the Lightning and their rookie goalie 2-1 Wednesday night, knotting the Final at two games apiece.
The 22-year-old Saad’s latest clutch goal was the offensive highlight of a gritty, defense-dominated night at the United Center. Corey Crawford and the 20-year-old Vasilevskiy, the Lightning’s surprise starter, both had stellar moments before Saad beat his fellow youngster for the winner.
“I was really pretty lucky,” Saad said. “I just saw space going to the net. Tried to drive and create some chaos. Just try to get some wood on it and get to the net, and it found a way in.”
Chaos reigned again in the final minute for Crawford, who capped his 24 saves with a frantic last stand. Lightning captain Steven Stamkos had two golden chances to force overtime, but the Blackhawks survived.
Game 5 is Saturday night in Tampa.
The series is now a best-of-three, with Chicago needing at least one more win at Amalie Arena to secure its third Stanley Cup banner in six seasons. Tampa Bay has home-ice advantage, but a fraction of the Blackhawks’ big-game credentials.
Despite their differences in experience, these teams are incredibly close: This is the first Final since 1968 in which each of the first four games was decided by one goal. Faced with the prospect of a 3-1 series deficit, the Blackhawks responded with championship grit.
Saad scored his eighth goal of the postseason — and his second in two games — with the same determination that has characterized the forward’s short, prolific career.
“No matter what the situation is, whether we’re down in a series or a hockey game, we tend to play our best when our backs are against the wall,” Chicago’s Patrick Kane said. “Not saying we had our best effort tonight, but we still found a way to win.”
Alex Killorn scored in the second period for the Lightning, whose four-game road winning streak ended.
They got solid work and 17 saves from Vasilevskiy in place of Ben Bishop, the 53-game winner scratched with an undisclosed lower-body injury after hobbling through Game 3.
Vasilevskiy played well, but couldn’t quite match Crawford, the 2013 Stanley Cup winner who regularly follows up poor stretches with big games for the Blackhawks.
“I can play under pressure,” Vasilevskiy said. “For me, it’s not something new. I was ready for pressure from fans and players.”
Tampa Bay pummeled Crawford with multiple scoring chances in the final minute with Vasilevskiy pulled for an extra attacker, but the veteran stopped them all. He got help from Brent Seabrook, who deflected a point-blank shot by Stamkos, keeping him without a goal in the series.
“We’re disappointed about the squandered chance tonight,” Stamkos said. “I thought we deserved better. We’ve just got to find a way to score more than one goal.”
Vasilevskiy became the fourth-youngest goalie to start a Stanley Cup Final game in NHL history and the youngest since 20-year-old Patrick Roy in 1986. Bishop got hurt during Game 2 and left it twice in the waning minutes, but he played in Game 3 and participated in Wednesday’s morning skate before the Lightning ruled him out.
“If you tell me we’re going to come in and he’s going to give up two goals, that’s a hell of a job in my book,” Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said. “That kid gave us every chance to win the hockey game. We only scored one…. He showed at the pinnacle of the sport that he can play. That’s a pretty big achievement for a 20-year-old.”
Chicago didn’t manage a shot on Vasilevskiy’s net until 8:17 into the first period, finishing with just two shots in a tentative first period.
After putting two shots off Vasilevskiy’s posts early in the second, Chicago finally scored when Vasilevskiy gave up a rebound of Marian Hossa’s shot and Toews eventually slapped a loose puck under the goalie, who deflected it in for his 10th goal.
The Lightning answered five minutes later when Valtteri Filppula threaded a backward pass through two defenders and in front to Killorn for his ninth goal of the postseason.
NOTES: Stamkos ended his five-game scoring drought with an assist on Killorn’s goal. Chicago’s Patrick Kane also got his first point of the series with an assist on Saad’s goal. … Vasilevskiy’s backup was Kristers Gudlevskis, the 22-year-old Latvian Olympian who spent this season in the AHL. He has just three games of NHL experience, none this season. … D Johnny Oduya played for Chicago after apparently injuring his left arm in Game 3, while fellow D Kimmo Timonen returned to Chicago’s lineup after sitting out the first three Final games. … New Chicago Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg attended the game in a red Blackhawks hoodie.
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