Goals and goaltending changes came at a dizzying pace Saturday, a bizarre turn of events that raised as many questions as were answered after the Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the Chicago Blackhawks, 4-3, to tie the Stanley Cup Final at one game each.
First, Ben Bishop was in net for Tampa Bay and then he wasn't, leaving at 7:17 of the third period and again at 12:19 for reasons that remain unexplained. During rookie Andrei Vasilevskiy's first relief stint of 92 seconds, Lightning defenseman Jason Garrison's shot deflected off Chicago forward Andrew Desjardins and past Corey Crawford for what held up as the winning goal.
"It is strange," Lightning forward Ryan Callahan said with a smile, "but he came in and he showed that character and that poise."
Lightning Coach Jon Cooper declined to answer questions about Bishop, and a team spokesman said the goalie was getting treatment and no medical report had been released.
While his teammates learned about the changes through public address announcements at Amalie Arena, Vasilevskiy remained admirably calm. The 20-year-old Russian came in without warning to face a power play and overall stopped five shots in nine minutes and 13 seconds, preventing the Blackhawks from taking command of the Final before the series resumes Monday in Chicago.
"Every game I'm just ready and if Coach tells me to go in, I go in. That's it," said Vasilevskiy, chosen 19th by Tampa Bay in the 2012 entry draft.
"Nervous? Just maybe a little bit but after the first couple shots, I feel myself better. Every game I'm ready and I keep my head ready for the game and that's it."
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Vasilevskiy became the first goalie to win his first career playoff game in relief in the Cup Final since 1928, when New York Rangers Coach Lester Patrick played goal and defeated the Montreal Maroons. He also became the first goalie to earn a Cup Final win in relief since Pittsburgh's Frank Pietrangelo on May 23, 1991, against the Minnesota North Stars.
Lightning players and coaches probably didn't know that. But they knew he probably saved their season. "When Bish had to leave, there wasn't an ounce of stress on anybody on our bench, including myself," Cooper said. "The kid proved it when he went in. He was great."
It helped the Lightning that Crawford wasn't great at the other end. "Just OK," Coach Joel Quenneville said, condemning with faint praise.
Crawford agreed, lamenting the Nikita Kucherov goal that tied the game at 2-2 at 6:52 of the second period and the Tyler Johnson goal that gave Tampa Bay a 3-2 lead at 13:58 of the second period. Kucherov's goal was a redirection and Johnson's went off Crawford's back after he failed to poke-check the puck away from Johnson, who has a playoff-leading 13 goals.
"As a goalie, when you give up two goals that maybe shouldn't go in at this point of the season, it's pretty frustrating," Crawford said. "I felt good. I was seeing the puck well. Some funky plays that went in. I've just got to be better."
Tampa Bay scored the only goal of the first period, by Cedric Paquette through a screen, but Chicago took the lead on a rebound by Andrew Shaw and a power-play goal by Teuvo Teravainen. Kucherov tied it at 2-2 and Johnson — ending a five-game goal drought — put Tampa Bay ahead, 3-2.
The Blackhawks matched that on Brent Seabrook's long shot, with Marian Hossa appearing to impede Bishop by putting his stick on the goalie's pad. Two penalties in less than three minutes by Patrick Sharp set up Garrison's power-play winner at 8:49 of the third.
Teams that won Game 2 have gone on to win the Cup 56 of 75 times (74.7%) since the Final went to a best-of-seven format in 1939, including nine of the last 12 occasions. Vasilevskiy probably didn't know that either, but he knew he had to stop the puck and did it confidently. "I just feel myself happy," said Vasilevskiy, who had appeared in relief once against Montreal and once against the Rangers in the East final. "That's it. Our arena was unbelievable and I was just happy."