CHICAGO (AP) — Andrei Vasilevskiy’s surprise start in the Stanley Cup Final went quite well for Tampa Bay.
Unfortunately for the Lightning, Corey Crawford was even better.
Tampa Bay got another big goal from Alex Killorn and Steven Stamkos secured his first point of the final, but Crawford had 24 saves while leading the Chicago Blackhawks to a series-tying 2-1 victory in Game 4 on Wednesday night.
“We could have won every game so far, and that’s what you want to give yourself the chance to do,” Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman said. “You don’t want to come back into the dressing room and say ‘Man, we let this one slip.’ We don’t have that feeling right now. We played some good hockey. Sometimes you play well and you don’t get the results you want.”
The 20-year-old Vasilevskiy became the sixth goaltender in NHL history to make his first career playoff start in the final, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. He had made just 19 appearances this season, counting the playoffs.
Vasilevskiy was barely tested early on, but he looked right at home while recording 17 saves, including 11 in the second period. He also replaced Ben Bishop in third period of Game 2 and made five stops while becoming the youngest goaltender to record a win in the final since a then 20-year-old Patrick Roy for Montreal against Calgary in 1986.
“It was my dream and for the first time, I think I was not bad,” he said, referring to his first start on the NHL’s biggest stage. “I can play better, but for the first time I think I was good.”
It was 1-1 before Brandon Saad backhanded a bouncing puck through Vasilevskiy’s legs at 6:22 of the third period. Patrick Kane got an assist on the play for his first point of the series.
“I was really pretty lucky,” Saad said. “I just saw space going to the net, tried to drive and create some chaos. Goalie made a good play with poking the puck. Bounced around my feet. Finally found it to my stick.”
The Lightning then made a big push for the tying goal, but Crawford helped Chicago withstand the heavy pressure in the frantic final moments. Stamkos had a prime opportunity deflected just wide by Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook.
“It just seemed to be one of those nights where it just wasn’t going in for us,” Stamkos said. “No one said this was going to be easy.”
Tampa Bay said starting goaltender Ben Bishop is day to day with an undisclosed injury. He appeared to be dealing with some sort of groin or leg problem while making 36 saves in a gutsy performance in Tampa Bay’s 3-2 victory on Monday night. He participated in the morning skate on Wednesday, but coach Jon Cooper said they were in a “holding pattern” in terms of Bishop’s availability.
Vasilevskiy then led the team out of the tunnel for warmups before the game, signaling he was the starter. Game 5 is Saturday in Florida.
“Bish is going to play again in this series, there’s no question,” Cooper said. “I just don’t know which game.”
Tampa Bay helped Vasilevskiy settle into his 14th career start by holding Chicago to just two shots on goal in the first period. Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville tried several different line combinations, but they struggled to put any sustained pressure on the speedy Lightning.
The pace of the game began to pick up in the second. Marcus Kruger and Patrick Sharp of the Blackhawks each hit the right post before captain Jonathan Toews swept in a loose puck from the left side for his career-best 10th goal of the playoffs.
It was the first time in the series that Chicago scored first. Toews had just one assist in the final coming into the night.
The Lightning then got a power-play opportunity when Seabrook was whistled for cross-checking, but the Blackhawks killed it off. Crawford had a glove save on Nikita Nesterov.
Tampa Bay kept pressuring Chicago, and it paid off when Valtteri Filppula made a slick pass from behind the net to Killorn for his ninth goal of the playoffs. Crawford lost track of the puck and Killorn was all alone in front for the easy score at 11:47 of the second period.
Stamkos also got an assist on the play. It was the captain’s first point since Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals against the New York Rangers.
NOTES: The first four games of the final have been decided by one goal for the first time since Montreal swept St. Louis in 1968. … The Lightning had won four consecutive road games. … Killorn has eight goals and eight assists in his last 19 games. … Actor Vince Vaughn, Chicago Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg, and Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte attended the game.
Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap
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