Cup Fi­nal as even as it gets

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - he­lene.el­liott@la­times.com Twit­ter: @he­le­nenothe­len HE­LENE EL­LIOTT

With se­ries tied, 2-2, Light­ning and Black­hawks show lit­tle sep­a­ra­tion in tough con­tests.

TAMPA, Fla. — This is the def­i­ni­tion of a close Stan­ley Cup Fi­nal:

The Tampa Bay Light­ning and Chicago Black­hawks have each won two games. All were de­cided by one goal, only the third time in NHL his­tory the open­ing four games of the Fi­nal were de­cided by that mar­gin.

They’ve each scored nine goals and had 11 power plays, with Chicago hold­ing a 2-1 edge in power-play goals. Each team has blocked 60 shots. Nei­ther has led by more than one goal in any game.

As play­ers en­joyed a break Thurs­day be­fore pre­par­ing for Game 5, to be played Satur­day at Amalie Arena, they paid re­spect to each other’s ef­forts in get­ting to this point.

“It’s re­ally tough for ei­ther team to sep­a­rate them­selves from the other in any of th­ese games, which makes for en­ter­tain­ing hockey games,” Chicago cen­ter Jonathan Toews said. “I think both teams are equally de­serv­ing so far. I think it’s just go­ing to come down to, as they say, who wants it more, who is go­ing to fight and work for those bounces.”

Light­ning as­so­ciate coach Rick Bow­ness, sub­sti­tut­ing for Coach Jon Cooper at a news con­fer­ence in Tampa, said the Fi­nal has been so close be­cause the teams have dif­fer­ent strengths that are sim­i­larly val­ued.

“What we lack in their Stan­ley Cup ex­pe­ri­ence and gold medals at the Olympics we make up for in our youth­ful en­thu­si­asm and speed,” Bow­ness said. “For ei­ther one of us to think we’re go­ing to go out there and con­trol 60 min­utes of the game, this is my opin­ion, I just don’t see it hap­pen­ing.

“You have to give credit to both teams. We’re good hockey clubs. We’re not go­ing to let them play their game for 60 min­utes. They’re not go­ing to let us play our game for 60 min­utes. I’m not sur­prised.”

The el­e­ment of sur­prise comes from both teams’ get­ting lit­tle scor­ing from some of their big­gest of­fen­sive threats.

Chicago for­wards Mari- an Hossa, Pa­trick Sharp and Pa­trick Kane have no goals in the Fi­nal, and Toews scored his first Wed­nes­day, a se­ries-ty­ing 2-1 victory for the Black­hawks at the United Cen­ter.

“Th­ese guys are way bet­ter than any­body imag­ined at check­ing and try­ing to frus­trate you,” said Black­hawks for­ward Brad Richards, who has one goal. “We’re learn­ing that men­tal­ity that it might be 2-1 games the rest of the way.”

Tampa Bay has got­ten no goals from Steven Stamkos, who scored 43 dur­ing the sea­son and seven in the pre­vi­ous three rounds. Stamkos had two point­blank shots in the fi­nal min­utes Wed­nes­day, af­ter goal­tender An­drei Vasilevskiy was pulled for an ex­tra skater. Stamkos started to cel­e­brate af­ter one at­tempt but Chicago goalie Corey Craw­ford held on.

“I ex­pect more from my­self. Hope­fully the chances keep com­ing. You know even­tu­ally they’re go­ing to go,” Stamkos said. “No one said this was go­ing to be easy. It’s not easy to win the Stan­ley Cup. You put so much sac­ri­fice, so much time, so much ef­fort, it’s re­ally a men­tal grind and a test of ev­ery­one’s will, what their sac­ri­fice is at this time of the year.”

Each team has been able to make the most of its depth. Tampa Bay goalie Ben Bishop suf­fered an undis­closed in­jury in Game 2, started Game 3, but was un­able to play in Game 4 and was re­placed by Vasilevskiy. The 20-year-old Rus­sian ac­quit­ted him­self well but his team­mates couldn’t do much against the Black­hawks’ staunch de­fen­sive ef­fort. Bow­ness said Bishop’s sta­tus re­mains day to day and that the goalie will be ex­am­ined Fri­day by team med­i­cal per­son­nel.

The Black­hawks couldn’t play de­fense­man Johnny Oduya much in Game 3 af­ter he suf­fered an up­per-body in­jury, but he re­cov­ered Wed­nes­day to play 25 min­utes 45 sec­onds and record a team-best five blocks. They’ve got­ten two solid games from Trevor van Riems­dyk and nearly got a goal Wed­nes­day from 40year-old de­fense­man Kimmo Ti­mo­nen, who re­placed a shaky Kyle Cu­miskey.

When two teams are so com­pet­i­tive at such a high level, the dif­fer­ence could come down to one break, one bounce. “The fact that no­body’s had a two-goal lead af­ter four games speaks vol­umes about what we’re talk­ing about here,” Black­hawks Coach Joel Quen­neville said. “Hey, it’s fast, it’s quick, it can be un­pre­dictable. It’s two good hockey teams go­ing at it. I think whether it’s go­ing to be a great save or a great play, you know, a fluky goal, I know both teams leave it out there.”

Charles Rex Arbogast As­so­ci­ated Press

PA­TRICK SHARP, left, of Chicago con­grat­u­lates Jonathan Toews for his first goal of this Fi­nal.

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