It seemed like it was only a matter of time.
“I don’t know how it didn’t go in for us there,” Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman said.
Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson doesn’t know, either.
“I actually thought their very last shot there went in the net,” Hjalmarsson said. “I couldn’t believe it actually bounced straight over the glass there. But I don’t know complain about that. I thought it went in … but huge win.”
Every NHL team turns up the heat in desperation time. But few bring it like the Lightning did in the final two minutes of regulation — down 2-1 and desperately trying to send the game into overtime.
They had 10 shot attempts in the final 1:47, with at least two point-blank chances they’ll be seeing in their sleep. Steven Stamkos on the doorstep in that situation is probably a sure thing for the Lightning. But Corey Crawford made one save after another to thwart Stamkos twice and every other attempt to fend off the furious barrage.
“It was pretty intense there,” Crawford said. “I thought we did a great job keeping everything to the outside. Just a battle those last few minutes.”
As for Stamkos’ golden opportunity, “I was just trying to take the bottom of the net away,” Crawford said. “I think he was maybe a little too close to get it up. He was really in tight. Just make sure there’s no holes there.”
“I thought it was going in,” Stamkos said. “We had some other great looks that were going in, too. [A] couple of times guys almost had their hands up in the air. It just seemed to be one of those nights where it just wasn’t going in for us.”
Crawford was not thrilled with his performance in the Hawks’ losses in Games 2 and 3. But he was vintage Corey Crawford in Game 4 —as good as the Hawks needed him to be. He stopped 24-of-25 shots. He was only beaten by yet another brilliant play by the Lightning —on Valtteri Filppula’s backwards pass from almost behind the net to Alex Killorn in front of the net for an easy one.
“He was outstanding tonight. Call it a goalie win,” Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said of Crawford. “Loved how he battled. Great illustration of how he stayed with it —how they swarmed us at the end. His movement, following the puck he was big. Nice response [from Games 2 and 3].”
For as much as the Hawks pride themselves at playing better in the later stages of the series and responding to the challenge of being down 2-1, they were largely outplayed by the Lightning in Game 4. Only Crawford showed the kind of improvement the Hawks are known for.
“We’re impressed,” captain Jonathan Toews said. “But we’re definitely not surprised that Crow shows up and plays the way he did. We need him that way this time of year —with the guns, the ability, the talent they have —to make the stops he made [Wednesday] night. We need him to win games like this.”
The Lightning are giving the Hawks a little more than they might have expected — especially defensively. “These guys are way better than anybody imagined at checking and trying to frustrate you,” forward Brad Richards said. “We’ve got to be even more patient than them.”
Until that happens, Crawford is going to have to carry a bigger share of the load. He can’t do it every night, but the Hawks count on him to step up in critical moments like Game 4.
“I’m not impressed anymore. I know what he’s going to do, he’s going to make saves,” forward Patrick Sharp said. “He keeps us in the game.”
Crawford acknowledge the improvement but wasn’t basking in it. The Hawks still have to win a game on the road to win this series. More than likely, Crawford will have to be even better from here.
“Yeah, [Games 2 and 3] probably weren’t my best games,” Crawford said. But I can’t be thinking about what happened before. You’ve got to worry about what’s next.”
And even then, it’s probably unlikely the Hawks can withstand a flurry like that again. The Lightning don’t miss too many opportunities like they did in Game 4.
“We’re happy we got the win — I don’t think there’s anything else,” defenseman Duncan Keith said. “We’re happy we won the game. It’s tied up 2-2. We know there are things we can keep working on and keep getting better at. We’ll try and have our best game next game.”