When the Tampa Bay Lightning headed to Chicago to face the Blackhawks after splitting the first two games of the Stanley Cup Final in Tampa, the No. 1 goal was to gain at least a split at the United Center.
Tampa Bay accomplished that goal at the Madhouse in Game 3, as the Bolts beat the Hawks 3-2 on Monday night. The gutsy performance of goalie Ben Bishop in that game was simply amazing. It was obvious to everyone Bishop was hurting.
But Big Ben stood tall. The team as a whole followed suit. The Bolts came out quick in the first five minutes of the game, only to be dominated in the last 15 minutes in the first period. Except for a shift or two, the Lightning outplayed the Blackhawks the rest of the game.
Victor Hedman, Ryan Callahan and Cedric Paquette stood out. As did the "Triplets," as Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov assisted Ondrej Palat on the game-tying goal in the third period. Paquette scored the game-winner with assists by Callahan and Hedman with 3:11 left in the game.
That victory set up Game 4 as a huge game. With a win, the Bolts could go back to Tampa with a 3-1 series lead on the Hawks, with Game 5 scheduled for Saturday night at Amalie Arena.
But just like Game 3, there was speculation on the status of Bishop before Game 4. The Bolts' starting netminder was at the morning skate, just like he was prior to Game 3.
It was assumed that Bishop would be in net. But you know what they say when you assume.
Just minutes before the game, it was announced that Bishop not only wouldn't play, but he wouldn't even dress.
That meant rookie goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy would make his first start in the Stanley Cup Final. The Russian rookie had gotten his feet wet in Game 2 in Tampa, as he had to come in twice to relieve an ailing Bishop twice in the third period.
In fact, Vasilevskiy got the win, as the Bolts scored the game-winning goal with him in net. Not only that, the rookie spent 9:13 in the Tampa Bat crease, including the latter part of the third period.
Game 4 started out well for the Bolts, as they had nine shots on goal in the first period, as opposed to only two by the Blackhawks. But the contest remained scoreless after one period of play.
Both teams scored a goal in the second period. The Hawks struck first with a goal by Jonathan Toews. But a little over five minutes later, Alex Killorn tied the score after getting a nice pass from Valtteri Filppula. Steven Stamkos also assisted on the score.
The Hawks outshot the Lightning 12-8 in the second period. Chicago took charge in the last five minutes or so of the middle frame with multiple shots, but Vasilevskiy kept the puck out of the net to keep the score tied.
The Hawks took the lead 6:22 into the third period on a nice goal by Brandon Saad after Chicago won a faceoff in the Tampa Bay zone.
The 2-1 score stood, even with a number of shot attempts by the Lightning near the end of the game after they had pulled Vasilevskiy to gain a man advantage in the offensive zone.
All told, the Lightning were able to get off four shots in the last two minutes of the contest and came very close to tying the game. Stamkos fired a shot with 53 seconds left that glanced off the stick of Hawks defenseman Brent Seabrook and just went wide.
Stamkos thought he was about to put the biscuit in the basket.
"I thought it was going in," Stamkos said of his shot, per Shawn Roarke of NHL.com. "We had some other great looks that were going to go in, too. A couple of times guys almost had their hands in the air. That's the way it goes. You can't ask for a more eventful minute-and-a-half in a six-on-five situation. That's exactly what we want; [the puck] just didn't go in. It's a little frustrating when you have that many chances, but nothing you can do about it now."
In the end, the Hawks earned a hard-fought 2-1 victory. The Bolts played well and outshot the Hawks by a 25-19 margin, but it wasn't enough.
The Lightning are still feeling pretty good about themselves as they had back to Tampa in what is now a best-of-three series.
"You don't want to come back in the dressing room and say, 'Man, we let this one slip.' We don't have that feeling now," said Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman. "We've played some good hockey. Sometimes you play well and you don't get the results you want. That's OK. That's hockey. It's about the performance. I'm comfortable with the way we played, and we just have to keep going."
Even with the nice performance of Vasilevskiy in the net, everyone wants to know if Bishop will be ready to go again on Saturday night in Game 5.
Tampa head coach Jon Cooper talked about that situation.
"[Bishop] is going to play again in this series, there's no question," Cooper said, per Roarke. "I just don't know which game."
We will find out soon enough if it will be Saturday night for Bishop, but one player was really impressed with the performance of Vasilevskiy.
"I thought [Vasilevskiy] was our best player," Lightning defenseman Jason Garrison said. "He kept us in it. He made some big saves. I'm not sure of [Bishop's] status and I don't know who will be in net in Game 5, but we just have to play the same way."