CHICAGO — The mystery surrounding Lightning goalie Ben Bishop's undisclosed injury took another interesting plot twist Wednesday night.
After the morning skate, rookie Andrei Vasilevskiy found out he would be making his first career playoff start — in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup final.
"You're in," coach Jon Cooper said.
Vasilevskiy more than held his own against the Blackhawks with 17 saves, but the Lightning couldn't give him enough support, losing 2-1 to the Blackhawks, who evened the best-of-seven series at two games each heading into Saturday's Game 5 at Amalie Arena.
"That's a (heck) of a job in my book," Cooper said. "He showed in the pinnacle of the sport that he can play. That's a pretty big achievement for a 20-year-old."
Though Bishop was scratched, Cooper said he expected him to play again in this series, though he said he didn't know when.
Bishop gave Vasilevskiy tips on Chicago's shooters. Veteran defenseman Anton Stralman offered encouragement. "'Enjoy it," Stralman told Vasilevskiy. "'We've got your back. No big deal, just try to embrace it."
The Lightning played another strong road game and has been arguably the better team in this thrilling, highly entertaining series, which has had four one-goal games. "We could have won every game so far," Stralman said.
But Tampa Bay failed to capitalized on its chances, including going 0-for-4 on the power play. And in a frenetic final-minute flurry, the Lightning peppered Chicago goalie Corey Crawford with shots. Captain Steven Stamkos, goal-less in this series, had the best chance, staring at a nearly empty net from the slot. But Chicago defenseman Brent Seabrook got a stick on the puck, deflecting it just wide of the left post.
"I thought it was going in," Stamkos said. "We had some great looks. A couple times guys almost had their hands in the air (to celebrate a goal). Just seemed like one of those nights it wasn't going in for us.
"We haven't made it easy on ourselves all playoffs."
Stamkos called the loss a "squandered opportunity," saying "we deserved better." The Lightning held the Blackhawks to two shots in the opening period. Vasilevskiy said he has learned much about mental toughness and focus from watching Bishop, calling these playoffs "the best experience of my life."
"He validated what everyone thought," center Brian Boyle said.
Vasilevskiy didn't have to be brilliant, the Lightning sticking with the tight-checking, defensive-minded script it used in shutouts in Games 5 and 7 in New York in the Eastern Conference final. "We played the game we wanted," Stralman said.
For the first time in this series, the Blackhawks struck first. Captain Jonathan Toews pounced on a rebound six minutes into the second period for his first goal of the series. Alex Killorn tied it five minutes later, finishing a ridiculous pass from Valtteri Filppula, who was behind the net.
But the Blackhawks, winners of two Stanley Cups in the past five years, found a way to win. Brandon Saad scored the winner six minutes into the third. Off a broken faceoff, Saad drove in front of the net. Vasilevskiy poke checked the puck, which landed back at the feet of Saad, who slid the puck between Vasilevskiy's legs.
"A pretty lucky play," Saad said.
The Lightning had several great looks in the final minute with an extra attacker. "I'm sure there was 22,000 nervous people in the stands," Cooper said. "They just didn't go in tonight."
First Period—None. Penalties—Seabrook, Chi (interference), 9:10; Garrison, TB (interference), 11:41; Toews, Chi (high-sticking), 12:42; Timonen, Chi (hooking), 16:33; Killorn, TB (high-sticking), 19:08.
Second Period—1, Chicago, Toews 10 (Sharp, Hossa), 6:40. 2, Tampa Bay, Killorn 9 (Filppula, Stamkos), 11:47. Penalties—Seabrook, Chi (cross-checking), 7:19.
Third Period—3, Chicago, Saad 8 (Kane), 6:22. Penalties—Stamkos, TB (delay of game), 1:04. Shots on Goal—Tampa Bay 9-8-8—25. Chicago 2-12-5—19. Power-play opportunities—Tampa Bay 0 of 4; Chicago 0 of 3. Goalies—Tampa Bay, Vasilevskiy 1-1-0 (19 shots-17 saves). Chicago, Crawford 11-6-0 (25-24).