By Shane Nicholson
The Blackhawks managed to dictate large passages of play after a shaky opening 10 minutes to see out a 2-1 win and tie the Stanley Cup Finals at two games apiece.
Tampa Bay was forced into a late lineup change as goalie Ben Bishop was scratched an hour before puck drop, with Russian Andrei Vasilevskiy taking his place in net.
Game 4 opened up the same as the first three contests with Tampa Bay’s speed over-matching the Blackhawks controlled-tempo style early.
Coach Joel Quenneville opted for rotating staff between his top lines, interchanging wingers Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa and the recalled Kris Versteeg around the Hawks top centers.
Chicago had trouble setting up their cycling offensive zone play for much of the period until the teams began trading power plays in the closing minutes of the first frame.
While the Hawks penalty kill units were up to the task the power play created limited chances as Tampa Bay out shot Chicago 9-2 in the period.
The second period saw a swing back the other way as the Blackhawks dictated tempo for much of the period.
Seconds after denying Patrick Sharp on the breakaway 7 minutes in, Vasilevskiy was beaten at the back post by Jonathan Toews for the game’s opening goal, assisted by Hossa and Sharp.
It was Chicago’s first lead in the series since Game 1.
But Tampa Bay responded moments later, with Alex Killorn beating Corey Crawford high to his blocker side after a brilliant pass from behind the Blackhawks’ net by Valtteri Filppula.
Sharp was stopped on another one-on-one in the closing minutes of the frame.
Shots were 18-14 in favor of Tampa Bay at the end of period two.
Just over 6 minutes into the third Kimmo Timonen rang the post and his shot deflected into the protective nets behind the Tampa Bay goal.
Brandon Saad latched onto the puck from the ensuing faceoff and finished his own second chance, beating the 20-year-old Lightning keeper through the 5-hole as he scrambled to cover the open left side of his net.
Kane recorded the assist for his first point of the Finals.
Moments later the Blackhawks’ winger was denied his first goal of the series by Vasilevskiy on a chance from the high slot with around 4 minutes to play.
Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper pulled his goalie with 90 seconds left in the game, setting up a wild final passage of play.
Crawford was tested repeatedly down low by the Lightning forwards with Steve Stamkos missing just wide on a clear opportunity with 55 seconds left.
Another Tampa Bay chance went begging 30 seconds later with Crawford making a double save after a shot from the point.
The Blackhawks goalie made another stop at the death to seal the 2-1 win.
Crawford made 24 saves. Toews, Saad, Kane, Hossa and Sharp all had a point each.
Game 5 is Saturday night from Tampa Bay.