It wasn't pretty, but the Chicago Blackhawks tied the Stanley Cup Final by a narrow 2-1 margin on their home ice Wednesday night.
They will need an even better effort if they are going to gain an edge in the fifth game and win at Tampa's Amalie Arena.
The Lightning are likely to come out in aggressive fashion on their home ice, and quite frankly, they have looked like the quicker team through the first four games of the series. Still, the savvy Blackhawks have hung in there with the Lightning, using a third-period rally to win Game 1 and then hanging on for dear life in Game 4.
The Lightning have surprised the Blackhawks with their tenacity and work ethic. "These guys are way better than anybody imagined at checking and trying to frustrate you,” Brad Richards told CSN Chicago's Tracey Myers.
"Everybody talks about how offensive they are, but that’s the tightest checking team we’ve played all year. They’re not only tight-checking, they’re quick. They have good sticks and get in your way. They keep pressuring and keep coming."
Since the Lightning are far better at checking and the other defensive aspects than the Blackhawks anticipated before the start of the series, it's going to take patience for Chicago to come through. They have to wait for their opportunities and then take advantage with a good finishing touch when those chances come their way.
The Blackhawks will certainly look to captain Jonathan Toews to lead the way. Toews scored a goal in the Blackhawks' Game 4 victory.
"Its all about our work ethic,” Toews said. “I think when we're out there, winning the battles, the puck races, getting body position, I think the more we can have the puck, the better off we'll be.”
The Lightning don't know the status of goalie Ben Bishop for Game 5. Andrei Vasilevskiy took his place in goal, and while the Lightning still have not acknowledged the specifics of Bishop's injury, assistant coach Rick Bowness finally admitted the goalie was hurt.
"Got nothing but respect for Ben,” Bowness told Josh Cooper of Yahoo Sports. “For him to play the way he did in Game 3 with the injury, give him full marks. He wants it as bad as anybody. He also knows the value of the position, the importance of the position. You have to be 100 percent. He didn't feel he was. So the right call was made.”
The Lightning are favored to win Game 5, but Bishop's injury status has a lot to do with their 5-6 odds. They would most likely be much heavier favorites if Bishop were healthy.
The Blackhawks are 11-10 underdogs, while the over/under is 5.5 goals. While there was still nearly 46 hours to go prior to faceoff, it's notable that 55 percent of the wagers have been placed on the Lightning as of 10:45 PM ET Tuesday night, according to Odds Shark.
|Stanley Cup Final Schedule|
|5||Chicago Blackhawks at Tampa Bay Lightning||June 13||8 p.m.||NBC, CBC, TVA Sports|
|6||Tampa Bay Lightning at Chicago Blackhawks (if necessary)||June 15||8 p.m.||NBC, CBC, TVA Sports|
|7||Chicago Blackhawks at Tampa Bay Lightning (if necessary)||June 17||8 p.m.||NBC, CBC, TVA Sports|
Game 5 Analysis
The Lightning have been the quicker and more aggressive team up to this point, but their inability to come up with the tying goal late in Game 4 allowed Chicago to square the series.
The Blackhawks are a smart, tough and talented team that knows how to take advantage of the smallest of opportunities. However, the Lightning have the ability to dictate the pace of this vital game with their speed, quickness and talent.
Look for the Lightning to get off to a quick start and attack Corey Crawford in the first 10-15 minutes of the game. If the Blackhawks can stay within a goal at that point, they should be able to make this another one-goal game.
However, if the Lightning can get off to a two- or three-goal advantage early, it could get away from Chicago.
Steven Stamkos is the key for the Lightning. He had an assist in Game 4 and a couple of excellent scoring opportunities late in the game. While he did not score, the Blackhawks will not be able to hold him off the scoresheet here.
Toews and Patrick Kane will attack Bishop or Vasilevskiy, but look for the home team to build up an early two-goal advantage and hold off the Blackhawks.
Prediction: Tampa Bay 4, Chicago 3