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The so-called underdogs have been the better team.

Even without the experience. Even without their starting goaltender.

The Tampa Bay Lightning have proven to be that rare bird in the NHL – an excellent and Stanley Cup-worthy team from the Eastern Conference – and that's resulted in a terrific, close final, with seesaw battles every night, including the Chicago Blackhawks hard-fought 2-1 win in Game 4.

The series is now tied 2-2, but the Lightning believe they could have three wins at this point. Maybe even four.

The Blackhawks simply believe they can be better.

They know they need to be.

"That was probably our worst game in a while, for whatever reason," Blackhawks vet Brad Richards said. "We just keep getting in each other's way."

"It seems like a wasted opportunity, with the way we played, to not get a win," Lightning captain Steven Stamkos offered. "I thought we deserved better."

Yes, Wednesday's game was a 2-1 game, and the Blackhawks noted afterwards how tight the play had been. Room can be hard to find, with teams backchecking this well. While offence-wise, there have been only 4.5 goals a game in the series – slightly under the NHL's average in the regular season – the pace has been fantastic.

The series has also showcased superstar performances, especially with Victor Hedman (for the Lightning) and Duncan Keith (for the Blackhawks) tilting the ice their way every time they hop over the boards.

The biggest reason there wasn't more offence in Game 4 was the play of Chicago's Corey Crawford, who was phenomenal in goal, especially at the tail end of the game, when the Lightning really began to press.

What's been incredible about this series, however, is how close the games have been. For the first time since 1968, the first four games of the final have been decided by one goal, without even an empty-netter to separate them.

This is only the third time in league history that has happened.

Only three shots on goal separate these teams after four games. The scoring chances, meanwhile, are 94-94, according to 's methodology.

These games have also been tied more than 50 per cent of the time, with the Lightning leading (38 per cent) quite a bit more than the favourite Blackhawks (11 per cent).

If there's a separation, perhaps it's that. And it's not much.

This series is now guaranteed to go at least six games. Seven seems probable, but even if it doesn't get there, this matchup likely already ranks up there among the best finals we've witnessed in the last two decades, going back all the way to that unforgettable Rangers-Canucks series in 1994.

That's certainly up for debate, given how many series have been close of late. If you look at recent Cup final history, four of the last six series have been tied after four games.

None, however, were nearly this tight. Or this entertaining.

Because of the conference imbalance the last decade, the final has often been anticlimactic. The Western Conference final has routinely featured the two best teams in the league, and a team from the West has (deservedly) gone on to win the Cup in six of the last eight years.

The two best final series in the salary cap era (since 2005) were likely Hurricanes-Oilers in 2006 and Wings-Penguins in 2009, both of which went to seven games and were won by teams from the East.

But right before 2005, you get into Dead Puck Era hockey for a lengthy stretch. While a few of those finals went to seven games, prior to that, there were a lot of sweeps and lopsided series. In fact, between 1976 and 1998, years when dynasty teams like the Habs, Isles, Oilers and (debatably) Wings were running over teams, 17 of the 23 Cup finals (74 per cent) ended in four or five games.

Sprinkled in there were some great battles: seven gamers in 1987 and 1994, specifically.

The sport has obviously changed so much since then. The entire off-ice landscape has changed, too, and the cap has become such a big factor that you can't ignore its impact on a team like Chicago. But watching these games, with the upstart Lightning giving the Blackhawks – the closest thing we've seen to a dynasty in this decade – a terrific matchup, it feels like this will be one of those series you remember, years from now.

Too often, that hasn't been the case with the final, which has provided an underwhelming end to the season in the middle of June.

Not this time. Not even close.