CHICAGO (AP) — Goaltender Ben Bishop participated in Tampa Bay’s morning skate, and was missing when the Lightning warmed up for Game 4. The Chicago Blackhawks hid their completely different lines until the game started.
The race is on between coaches Jon Cooper of the Lightning and Joel Quenneville of the Blackhawks for every little inch in one of the tightest Stanley Cup Finals in decades.
“Whether it’s the element of surprise, I mean, we expected the other goalie in the net tonight, too,” Quenneville said with a grin. “So I guess it’s 50-50.”
The Blackhawks used 24 saves from Corey Crawford to edge the Lightning 2-1 for a series-tying victory in Game 4 on Wednesday night. Jonathan Toews and Brandon Saad scored, and Chicago survived a big push by Tampa Bay in the final moments while improving 8-2 at home in the playoffs.
Slugging away at each other for 12 periods, the Blackhawks and Lightning have been tied or separated by one goal for the entire series. The first four games of the final have been decided by one goal for the first time since Montreal swept St. Louis in 1968.
“We could have won every game so far, and that’s what you want to give yourself the chance to do,” Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman said. “You don’t want to come back into the dressing room and say ‘Man, we let this one slip.’ We don’t have that feeling right now. We played some good hockey. Sometimes you play well and you don’t get the results you want.”
Alex Killorn scored for Tampa Bay in Game 4, and Andrei Vasilevskiy made 17 saves while subbing for the banged-up Bishop. Captain Steven Stamkos had an assist for his first point since Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals against the New York Rangers.
Tampa Bay said Bishop is day to day with an undisclosed injury. He appeared to be dealing with some sort of groin or leg problem while making 36 saves in a gutsy performance in Tampa Bay’s 3-2 victory on Monday night. Game 5 is Saturday in Florida and Game 6 is in Chicago on Monday.
“Bish is going to play again in this series, there’s no question,” Cooper said. “I just don’t know which game.”
Here are a couple more things to watch as the series shifts back to Florida:
KIMMO RETURNS: Veteran defenseman Kimmo Timonen played six minutes for the Blackhawks in his first appearance since Game 5 of the Western Conference finals against Anaheim. The 40-year-old Timonen, who was acquired in a February trade with Philadelphia, missed most of the season while recovering from blood clots in his leg and lungs.
Timonen, who plans to retire after the playoffs, hit the crossbar with a shot in the third period.
“I liked him. He’s safe, simple, smart, hard in the puck area,” Quenneville said. “He knows how to play in his own end. I like that predictability in his game. The crossbar in the end of the third, would have been a nice treat. We didn’t mind his game.”
SAFE IN GOAL: The Lightning have said all along that they feel comfortable with Vasilevskiy in net, and he showed why in his first start since March 31 in Toronto. He had 11 saves in the second period.
“I thought he was great,” Cooper said. “And as I’ve said, I’ve said this during the series, it doesn’t matter which guy we put in there, we’ve got full confidence in both guys. He showed the pinnacle of the sport, that he can play. That’s a pretty big achievement for a 20-year-old.”
BIG BAD SAAD: Saad has scored in each of the last two games and has eight goals in the playoffs. The rugged winger, who is eligible for restricted free agency in the offseason, had seven career postseason goals coming into the year.
WATCHING THE STARS: It was Toews’ first goal of the final. Patrick Kane assisted on Saad’s goal for his first point of the series, but the dynamic winger is still looking for his first goal since Game 6 against the Ducks.
Stamkos, who had a couple of golden opportunities in the final minutes of Game 4, hasn’t scored since Game 5 against the Rangers.
“It just seemed to be one of those nights where it just wasn’t going in for us,” he said. “No one said this was going to be easy.”
Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap