Sports Hockey


No dramatics needed from goalies, just stop the puck

By Rob Longley, Toronto Sun



Forget about finding a goaltender who can win you the Stanley Cup at this point.

The way things have gone so far for both finalists this spring, a reasonable goal would be to have your netminder not cost you the championship.

In the Lightning net, we have the ongoing saga of Ben Bishop's health and Andrei Vasilevskiy's ability not to freeze as a reliever.

At the other end of the Amalie Arena ice, where Game 5 of the best-of-seven series is scheduled for Saturday night, we have Corey Crawford, a player the Blackhawks profess to love but in reality must know is a bounce away from allowing a bad goal.

Let's just say it's not exactly Patrick Roy winning the Conn Smythe trophy and backstopping the Montreal Canadiens to the title in 1993, or Tim Thomas doing the same for the Boston Bruins in 2011.

Tied at 2-2, this well-matched Cup final could be settled in any number of ways.

Maybe Patrick Kane for the Hawks or Steven Stamkos for the Lightning will actually score a goal. Perhaps we'll have a lop-sided game somewhere, but don't bet on that, given how things have played out so far.

And in net, both teams desperately want to avoid having a bad goal or two decide what has been a long couple of months of work.

The higher drama certainly surrounds the Lightning after Bishop did not dress for the team's morning practice Friday. Tampa coach Jon Cooper stressed afterwards that it was by design, that once he was scratched Wednesday he was going to stay off the ice for the next three days.

"Don't be alarmed that he's not out there," Cooper said. "I'm not going to sit here and commit as to whether he's going to play Saturday. He's feeling better with each day.

"I hope he plays. I don't know if he's going to."

If Bishop can't go, the spotlight returns to Vasilevskiy, who was adequate but certainly not dominant in his first career playoff start Wednesday. Sure, he was only beaten twice by the winning Hawks, but that ringing in the Russian's ears might just be from the three shots that hit goal posts behind him.

"It's a very tough situation for a young goaltender to come in and be thrown into that situation," Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. "We have confidence."

What else are they going to say given the options now that they are just two wins away from the Cup?

Several Lightning players talked about Vasilevskiy's poor puck-handling skills and his grasp of English is weak as well, making on-ice communication a potential issue.

On the other hand, Vasilevskiy is touted as one of the top young goaltenders in the game, a first-round pick (19th overall) by the Lightning in 2012. And it's fair to point out that Bishop isn't exactly regarded as one of the NHL's stud goalies.

"I think well," Vasilevskiy said of his effort in Game 4, his first start since facing the Maple Leafs -- and losing -- back on March 31 at the Air Canada Centre. "When you play first game for last two months and in Stanley Cup final, it's a bit tough.

"But overall, I feel good. I was ready for big pressure on me. I think I'll have more confidence. I got some experience in Stanley Cup final and in my head right now, mentally, I've got more power."

The Hawks are hoping Crawford will bring a similar attitude and a performance to match his strong outing in the 2-1 Game 4 victory that evened the series. As any skittish Chicago follower is well aware, however, there's also the possibility that Crawford can poop the bed at a moments notice, much as he did in the Hawks opening-round series against Nashville.

Against the Minnesota Wild in the second round, however, Crawford rallied with a .947 save percentage, and was a big part of the Hawks series sweep. At the very least, for the remainder of this series, the most the Hawks should be expecting is for Crawford to make the saves he's supposed to make.

Depending on what happens at the other end of the rink, it may even be possible that the Hawks have a slight advantage in net.

"We've gone through these situations before, this team," Crawford said. "I think maybe the experience helps a little bit with pressure. I think we were able to deal with it a little better than maybe if it's your first year, your first time going through something like this."


Tampa's defensive approach has them close to Stanley Cup

They may not have an all-star goaltender to bail them out, but the Lightning's commitment to defence has helped make them a better team and Stanley Cup finalist.

Known as a team deep in offensive talent, Tampa coach Jon Cooper recognized that to make the type of run his team is currently on, the screws needed to be tightened.

"Believe it or not, it's something we talked about at training camp from the first day," Cooper said. "We went through a lot of statistics from the teams that win and the teams that don't.

"Tampa's recent history, we've been a high-scoring team. I really enjoy that. I just don't understand why you can't do both."

Cooper said the Lightning players bought in and the payoff has been showing over the past two months and especially in this tight-to-the-vest final.

"Obviously, scoring goals is a lot more fun than keeping them out of the net," Cooper said. "But keeping them out of the net is what is going to bet you that big shiny trophy at the end. They're realizing that."


Who will win Game 5 to take a 3-2 series lead?

Reader's comments »

By adding a comment on the site, you accept our terms and conditions

Featured Businesses

Go to the Marketplace »