Corey Crawford wasn’t thrilled with his last two games.
The Blackhawks goaltender wanted to be better, needed to be better, especially with each of these games against the Tampa Bay Lightning coming down to one goal. So with the Blackhawks getting off to an incredibly slow start and then fighting off a furious Tampa Bay finish, Crawford was steady from puck drop to final horn.
Crawford stopped 24 of 25 shots and Brandon Saad scored the game-winning goal as the Blackhawks held off the Lightning 2-1 in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final on Wednesday night. The Blackhawks tie the series 2-2 heading back to Tampa, where Game 5 will be on Saturday night.
Saad’s goal, a backhander 6:22 into the third period, was his eighth goal of this postseason. Jonathan Toews scored his first goal of this series, and 10th of the playoffs, about seven minutes into the second period.
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It was a night full of surprises at the United Center,starting with the Lightning’s starter. Ben Bishop, who’s nursing some injury, was out. Andrei Vasilevskiy, who came in for Bishop late in Game 2, was in. On the Blackhawks’ side it was line-shuffle time. Among the changes, Patrick Sharp was put on the top line with Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa and Saad, Andrew Shaw and Patrick Kane – a combination that proved point happy in the 2014 Western Conference Final – were put together.
Whether it was lack of energy or those line combinations, which didn’t click early, the Blackhawks didn’t have the appropriate reaction to the young backup Vasilevskiy taking the net. It took them just over eight minutes to record their first shot on Vasilevskiy – from Sharp – and the Blackhawks had just two shots for the first period.
As Brad Richards observed, “that was probably our worst game in a while for whatever reason.” Good thing it didn’t extend to their goaltender.
“He was the player of the game tonight, obviously. Not just in the first period but that last two minutes we kind of hung on for dear life there. He just stood tall and made big saves and really made everything look pretty simple tonight,” Richards said. “I don’t know what happened in the first. Maybe [the lineup adjustment] was it. I don’t know. For whatever reason we were just stuck in mud again. But Crow came up with an unbelievable game and gave us a chance to win.”
Crawford was at his best in the waning minutes, when the Lightning pulled Vasilevskiy and vied for the tying goal. Steven Stamkos missed two great opportunities wide and Crawford stopped everything else.
“I was just trying to take the bottom front of the net away,” Crawford said on Stamkos’ late bids. “He was a little too close to get [the shot] up; he was really in tight. Just make sure there are no holes underneath.”
Toews said, “We're impressed but we're definitely not surprised that Crow shows up and plays the way he did. We obviously need him that way this time of year, with the guns, the ability, the offensive talent that they have, to make the stops that he made tonight. Obviously we need him to win games like this.”
Crawford was looking for more from himself in Game 4. On a night where the Blackhawks didn’t get the necessary start and didn’t get a lot of offense, Crawford found more.
“That was probably one of my best games of the last few,” he said. “Then again, you can’t think about what happened before. You’ve got to worry about what’s next.”