It doesn’t matter how you win in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. All that matters is ‘how.’
The bottom line: Corey Crawford turned back the clock, made 48 saves and the Blackhawks staved off elimination with a 3-1 victory over Vegas in Game 4 of their first round series.
Game 5 is set for Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.
“Probably one of our best offensive games in regards to getting pucks through, getting our chances, getting in on the forecheck,” said Golden Knights defenseman Nate Schmidt. “[Crawford] played a fantastic game. They’re not a team that’s going to go away given their history with the guys that are here.”
Crawford stealing a game was going to happen. He was in position to steal Games 3 and 4 over the weekend, and it would’ve changed the course of this series.
But the multiple-time Stanley Cup champion goaltender jumped in the way-back machine and played one of his better games in recent memory. It wasn’t just the fact the Golden Knights put 47 shots on goal and 94 in total for the evening; such an outing would’ve made Joonas Korpisalo proud.
Crawford made difficult stops all night long. Whether it was William Carrier’s two shots in succession after winning a puck battle in the neutral zone, or a leaping glove snag on Zach Whitecloud late in the third period (as seen above), Crawford was fantastic. He stopped 82 of 85 shots in this back-to-back.
All you can do if you’re the Golden Knights is tip your cap.
“We had plenty of shots tonight,” Schmidt said. “It’s just converting on your opportunities and executing in situations where you have a chance. Bearing down, the puck’s on your stick and going through the goaltender’s eyes to make him fight a little harder.”
Three of Vegas’ lines registered a Corsi of at least 61.90 or higher, led by the third line of Nick Cousins, Nicolas Roy and Alex Tuch (23-2, per Natural Stat Trick). The top line — Max Pacioretty, Chandler Stephenson and Mark Stone — had a Corsi For of 48.00 percent.
It’s not a concern with Vegas in command of this series, but the ledger reads three goals in two games for the Golden Knights. No matter how good Crawford was tonight, Vegas needs more, especially from the top line.
Despite Pacioretty’s return to the lineup, the top line has not produced at 5-on-5. The trio recorded two shots on goal combined in Game 3, with none coming from Stephenson. Pacioretty had five and Stone three on Sunday, but 60 percent of Pacioretty’s output came on the power play. Stone’s first attempt on net came 54 seconds into the third.
Vegas’ center depth is being tested with Paul Stastny and Tomas Nosek missing their second consecutive games while being “unfit to play.” Stephenson has familiarity with Stone and Pacioretty from the regular season, but the results when the lights are brightest have not been there. Stephenson has had one shot on goal, one blocked, and one missed shot in the past two games.
The Golden Knights were 0-for-3 on the power play, pushing their total to 0-for-9 in the series. Vegas was 3-for-11 in the round robin.
“I’m not worried about our offense,” said coach Peter DeBoer. “You have to be prepared win 1-0, 2-1 in this league at this time of year every night, and it’s going to get harder.”
Robin Lehner made 22 saves in his first loss as Vegas’ goalie. While the Golden Knights were trying to solve Crawford, they attempted to make life easy on their own goalie; Lehner has seen 69 shots combined through three starts, allowing six goals. Drake Caggiula gave the Blackhawks their first lead of the series at 4:08 of the first period on a one-timer in front of Lehner.
Matthew Highmore gave Chicago a 2-0 lead at 13:40 of the opening period when his shot from below the goal line deflected off the back of Lehner’s helmet and bounced in.
“I wasn’t very happy about it,” Lehner said. “It’s a game of mistakes. I made a mistake; it was a pretty good shot, too. I have to have that.”
Shea Theodore answered 18 seconds later with his fourth goal of the postseason, the only tally that got by Crawford.
“That’s kind of what the Blackhawks do; they’re opportunistic, they wait for rush chances, they wait for a small mistake and they attack,” Lehner said. “It was tough to go down 2-0 in the first there, but Shea had a big goal and then we took over the game. Credit to the guys; I think it was our best game of the series, we just weren’t rewarded today.”
Alex DeBrincat had an empty-net goal for the 3-1 final.
The Golden Knights felt they played their best game of the series. If not for a fortuitous bounce off Lehner’s cage, overtime could’ve been in the cards. Vegas did everything right but the name of the game, and even that seemed likely. The Golden Knights had 20 shots in the first period and 36 after two.
They were the better team, and it’s felt that way through four games. Do this again on Tuesday, and the results should prove better.
“When a goalie’s in the zone like that, like Crawford was tonight, you have to get in his eyes and cross his field of vision,” DeBoer said. “There were rebounds and pucks there. If he saw it tonight, he stopped it. That was the bottom line.”