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Blackhawks, Lightning ready for Game 5

The Stanley Cup Finals are no longer a best-of-7. They have become a glorious, entertaining, best-of-3. The Chicago Blackhawks were able to knot the series 2-2 on Wednesday evening at United Center, beating Tampa Bay in a brutally tough defensive struggle, 2-1.

Chicago is still the favorite to hoist Lord Stanley at some point next week, getting 10/13 odds from Vegas Insider compared to Tampa Bay getting 11/10 numbers. Still, the Lightning have to like the position they are in. Tampa Bay has been able to dictate the style of play, choking the Blackhawks’ forwards off to the outside while pushing the play off turnovers.

The Lightning also have home-ice advantage in Game 5 and a potential Game 7, but that hasn’t meant much in this series. Chicago was able to steal Game 1 on Tampa Bay ice with a couple of late third-period goals. In Game 3, the Lightning returned the favor, putting the Blackhawks in a precarious situation. All of this back and forth action sets up a tremendous finish to the National Hockey League season.

The biggest storyline going into Game 5 is the status of Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop. Bishop left Game 2 but returned for Game 3, although clearly in discomfort. On Wednesday, Bishop didn’t bother to dress, being listed as a scratch. The situation is being closely monitored, but Lightning coach Jon Cooper isn’t saying anything about the apparent injury, per ESPN.

“We’re going to play the guy that is going to give us the best chance to win, whoever that is,” he said. “If Ben Bishop can play a game, he’s playing.”

In the meantime, Bishop will continue to be spelled by Russian goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy, who stopped 17 shots and played generally well in the 2-1 defeat on Wednesday.

“That’s why I’m here in North America just to play hockey,” Vasilevskiy said. “The last two days I have more fun than all season. That’s awesome. I’m very excited.”

So who plays on Saturday night? Is Bishop getting healthier? Let’s ask Mr. Cooper again, per ESPN.

“I don’t know sitting here today if Ben Bishop is playing on Saturday. I hope he plays,” Cooper said. “I don’t know if he’s going to. He’s got to get back on the ice. If he’s not in the pregame skate tomorrow, that’s a pretty good indication of whether he’s going to play or not.”

For now, the guessing game continues. Bishop would provide a major emotional and talent boost to the Lightning if healthy. Yet, nobody seems to really know if that is truly possible.

Regardless, Game 5 is going to be fantastic. Chicago wants to push the play and open up the ice, while the Lightning have become a defensive-minded group looking to counter-punch. Let’s just drop the puck already.

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