Blackhawks

Blackhawks earn 2-1 Game 4 win, even series with Lightning

blackhawkswingame4061015.png

Blackhawks earn 2-1 Game 4 win, even series with Lightning

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.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

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.”

[RELATED: Vince Vaughn likes Blackhawks' chances: 'Chicago has a big heart']

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.”

NHL Draft Profile: D Quinn Hughes

NHL Draft Profile: D Quinn Hughes

From June 17-21, Charlie Roumeliotis will profile two prospects per day — 10 total (five forwards, five defensemen) — leading up to the NHL Draft.​

Quinn Hughes

Position: Defenseman
Height: 5-foot-10
Weight: 170 pounds
Shoots: Left

Scouting report:

"He's got the puck skills, is a good skater, and is a guy with some high-end offensive talent. He wants to get right in there and play where it's hard and where you get rewarded. When he gets that puck on his stick, he wants to bury it."

NHL player comparable: Torey Krug/Kris Letang

Fit for Blackhawks:

It's no secret the Blackhawks are looking to restock their pipeline with some high-end defensemen. Henri Jokiharju and Ian Mitchell are on the way. But the former isn't a lock to be a full-time NHLer this season and the latter will continue playing in college for the 2018-19 season.

Hughes, who shined at Michigan and the IIHF World Championship with Team USA, would have the best chance of the three to crack the Blackhawks lineup first. The problem is, he likely won't be available at No. 8, so if Hughes is the guy they're locked in on, they'd need to trade up to grab him. 

If they did that, Hughes would give the Blackhawks a third blue line prospect they can get excited about. He's a left-handed shot, which evens out the balance in the system, and he would become a prime candidate to eventually replace Duncan Keith as the team's No. 1 defenseman.

NHL Draft Profile: F Oliver Wahlstrom

NHL Draft Profile: F Oliver Wahlstrom

From June 17-21, Charlie Roumeliotis will profile two prospects per day — 10 total (five forwards, five defensemen) — leading up to the NHL Draft.​

Oliver Wahlstrom

Position: Right wing
Height: 6-foot-1
Weight: 205 pounds
Shoots: Right

Scouting report:

"Wahlstrom already has an NHL-caliber shot with a quick release and the ability to create space for himself and linemates. He's most known for his goal-scoring ability and elite shot, and can hit a one-timer as good or better than many professional players."

NHL player comparable: Phil Kessel

Fit for Blackhawks:

The Blackhawks would probably prefer to take a defenseman at No. 8, but because four of them might go inside the Top 7, the best available player on the board is likely to be a forward. And there's a decent chance that could be Wahlstrom.

Wahlstrom would immediately become Chicago's top prospect, and a player that has the potential to slide into the top six when he reaches the NHL — whenever that may be.

He's committed to college for the 2018-19 season, so it's doubtful he would join the team until at least 2019-20, but Blackhawks vice president of amateur scouting Mark Kelley said in our draft preview edition of the Hawks Talk Podcast that it wouldn't deter them from picking him. 

And it shouldn't, because you don't want to waste a player of his caliber's entry-level years developing in the minors if he's not ready yet.

"I think the way we would evaluate it is, we project them, we try to get a timeline on when we think they might be NHL ready," Kelley said. "But we're also looking for where they are in their development curve and want their ceiling is. I think in some players, you have to be a little bit more patient for them to reach their ceiling. That doesn't necessarily mean that players can't exceed their development curve, I think we saw that with Alex DeBrincat last year."