Blackhawks

Andrei Vasilevskiy unfazed by moment despite Lightning loss

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Andrei Vasilevskiy unfazed by moment despite Lightning loss

Jon Cooper faced the same dilemma heading into Game 4 as he did in Game 3, only this time, the Tampa Bay Lightning head coach's decision was a little bit clearer.

Entering the team's morning skate on Wednesday, Cooper admitted he had a pretty good idea that starting goaltender Ben Bishop, who's listed as day-to-day with an undisclosed injury, "probably wasn't going to be able to go." It was confirmed when Andrei Vasilevskiy led Tampa Bay out on the ice for pregame warm-ups.

While the outcome wasn't Tampa Bay's desired result, the rookie goaltender certainly did his part to win.

"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," Cooper said of Vasilevskiy's performance following a 2-1 loss to the Blackhawks that evened the series, 2-2, on Wednesday night. "That kid gave us every chance to win the hockey game. He showed at the pinnacle of the sport that he can play."

[MORE: Blackhawks earn 2-1 Game 4 win, even series with Lightning]

Vasilevskiy, who last started on March 31 in the regular season, said he found out after morning skate that he'd be getting the net for Game 4. And he reacted as a kid ready to seize the moment on the NHL's biggest stage.

"I was just excited and that’s it," he said. "I was ready."

The No. 19 overall pick in the 2012 NHL Draft played every bit as advertised, given the circumstances, stopping 17 of 19 shots. But it took him much longer than he, and the 22,354 fans at the United Center, expected before he was really tested.

Vasilevskiy didn't see his first shot until the 8:18 mark of the first period and faced a total of just three shots in the opening 26 minutes before the Blackhawks peppered 16 more the rest of the way. 

Asked if he was nervous, Vasilevskiy admitted "just a little bit, maybe."

[RELATED: Five Things from Game 4: Blackhawks all evened up]

But he didn't show it.

"I can play under pressure," Vasilevskiy said. "For me, it’s not something new. I was ready for pressure from fans and players.”

And he may have to be again if Bishop can't go for Game 5. Cooper said "there's no question" Bishop will play again in the series, but concluded, "I just don't know when."

Whether it's Bishop or Vasilevskiy for Game 5, the Lightning remain a confident and resilient group heading back home, and, big picture, know they couldn't have asked for a better position to be in.

"If you’d have give us a best two-out-of-three at home at the beginning of the year to win the Stanley Cup," Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said, "I think any team in their right mind would take that opportunity."

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

If Vasilevskiy is, in fact, called upon for Game 5, Wednesday night proved to the Lightning — and the rest of the hockey world — he's up to the challenge. And while he continues to show great poise in net, it's also OK to soak it all in, like any 20-year-old would.

“I was just really excited. Really happy," Vasilevskiy said. "It’s my dream to play in the Stanley Cup Final. I can play better, for sure, but for the first time, not bad.”

Blackhawks release statement following incident that happened during game vs. Capitals

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AP

Blackhawks release statement following incident that happened during game vs. Capitals

Four fans at the United Center were thrown out of Saturday's Blackhawks game for taunting Washington Capitals forward Devante Smith-Pelly with racist remarks.

Midway through the third period, Smith-Pelly, who is black, was in the penalty box when fans shouted "basketball, basketball, basketball" at him, the Washington Post reported.

Here is a GIF of Smith-Pelly's interaction with the fans:

After the game, the Blackhawks released this statement:

Capitals head coach Barry Trotz also had this to say about the incident:

Cue Chelsea Dagger: Blackhawks blow out Capitals to snap eight-game losing streak

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USA TODAY

Cue Chelsea Dagger: Blackhawks blow out Capitals to snap eight-game losing streak

Win one game.

That was Joel Quenneville’s message during the Blackhawks’ eight-game losing streak, which finally came to an end on Saturday night.

How about a 7-1 victory over the Washington Capitals on home ice for a streak-breaker? Now that’s more like it.

Prior to Saturday, the Blackhawks hadn’t recorded a win in February — or a win at the United Center since Jan. 12. 

Though the Blackhawks will likely miss the playoffs for the first time since Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane were rookies, a blowout win over the leaders of the Metropolitan Division Capitals had to have felt great.

"It’s a nice way to get over the hump," Toews said. "Sometimes you might just win a 2-1 game or just kind of grind it out, but it was nice for us to fill the net the way we did tonight."

Added Joel Quenneville, "Certainly feels 100 times better than coming in and trying to explain how we had a lead and were unable to sustain it. The complete 60 minutes, three periods the right way, more consistency in our game, way more pace than we’ve seen recently, composure with the puck, shooting around the net. It was fun but that’s one. Let’s see how we respond to this because there’s a lot of hockey left."

The Blackhawks are 25-26-8 with 58 points, and are 11 points out the final wild card spot, currently held by the Minnesota Wild.

Among the highlights:

— Seven different Blackhawks scored: Toews, Kane, Alex DeBrincat, Brandon Saad, Artem Anisimov, Nick Schmaltz, Ryan Hartman

— The Blackhawks are 74-6-4 in the regular season in which Kane and Toews both record a goal — and 41-0-0 in their last 41 games, according to NBC Sports Chicago stats guru Chris Kamka.

— Kane registered career assist No. 500, becoming the sixth Blackhawk with 500 or more. Kane is also the seventh U.S.-born player with 300-plus goals and 500-plus assists, joining Mike Modano, Keith Tkachuk, Jeremy Roenick, Pat LaFontaine, Joe Mullen and Phil Housley, according to Kamka.

"You think about the amount of great Americans that have played the game, how many players actually play hockey in the United States... Growing up all I wanted to do was play hockey," Kane said. "That means a lot, especially when you talk about American-born players."

— DeBrincat's 22nd goal of the season has him tied for the rookie-lead with Tampa Bay Lightning's Yanni Gourde. DeBrincat and Kane also lead the Blackhawks with 22 goals.