Lightning Win An Excellent Game 3 Battle

Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Finals was the best one yet. All three games between Chicago and Tampa Bay have been one-goal games, with the corresponding game-end drama. But this was the first game that combined the up-and-down tempo that had been predicted, a high quality of play and still had plenty of drama. The Lightning pulled out a 3-2 win thanks to perhaps the most stunning goal of the entire NHL playoffs.

Chicago had just grabbed a 2-1 lead early in the third period on a goal from Brandon Saad that it appeared Tampa goalie Ben Bishop had tracked, before it bounced off his glove and into the net. It wasn’t a blatant flub by Bishop—there appeared to be a redirect that made it an abnormal catch. But it did appear to be a play the goalie needs to make.

Before the PA announcer of the United Center could even finish announcing the scoring (Saad with the goal, Duncan Keith and Marian Hossa with the assist, at 4:14 of the third period), the Lightning had lost the ensuing faceoff, but still got the puck and barreled back down the ice for a game-tying goal. It was Ondrej Palat who made the hustle play that will be remembered if Tampa Bay ends up winning the Cup.

The initial shot was stopped by Blackhawk goalie Corey Crawford, a nice save from one who played an excellent all-around game. With players from both teams converging on the net it was Palat who won the race for inside position and tapped the rebound past Crawford.

That’s not a play the goalie is responsible for. His teammates have to protect on the rebound when it’s that close. But it’s not as though Chicago didn’t hustle—Palat just won the race and got the goal.

Cedric Paquette then scored the game-winner on a nasty shot from deep, although one I think Crawford had a reasonable chance to make the save on. It came with less than five minutes left, but it’s a testament to Chicago’s clutch ability that even when the clock was under thirty seconds, I was still watching, almost convinced more late-game Blackhawk magic was coming. But not this time. 

It concluded a game where there were 70 combined shots on goal (38-32 in favor of Chicago), easily the most of the Finals. The high-octane pace didn’t result in sloppy turnovers and none of the goals were sloppy.

Ben Bishop rebounded to get 36 saves. We’re still not sure what went wrong with him in leaving Game 2, but the Bishop we saw last night is the reason I picked the Lightning to win this series. He was better on the road in the conference finals against the New York Rangers and now his best game of the Cup Finals has come in Chicago.

It seems to strange to see the Blackhawks lose a game like this. They got a nice outing from Crawford, who made some spectacular saves. That includes defeating Nikita Kucherov in an open-ice one-on-one situation and it includes some clutch saves when the Lightning had a 5-on-3 advantage in the second period. Crawford came up with some glove saves, preventing rebounds at a time his team was shorthanded in players who could sweep the puck away.

That Tampa Bay could win a game like this speaks well to them, but let’s not forget that Chicago has been here before. In 2013, after winning the series opener against the Boston Bruins, the Blackhawks dropped Games 2 & 3. They never lost again. We’ll see if another strong return to form is ahead.

Game 4 is Wednesday, 8 PM ET on NBC Sports Network.