TAMPA, Fla. — The Blackhawks played the necessary styles in the third period, getting just enough offense at the start, working like they were on the penalty kill through a good deal of the middle and then breaking into the Lightning’s zone more at the end.
It was opportunistic at some times, nail biting at others. Throughout, however, it was effective. And now the Blackhawks have a chance to claim the Stanley Cup on home ice.
Patrick Sharp scored his first goal since early May and Antoine Vermette scored another game-winning goal this postseason as the Blackhawks edged the Tampa bay Lightning, 2-1, in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final. The Blackhawks take a 3-2 lead back to Chicago, where they’ll have a chance to win the Cup at the United Center on Monday night.
Corey Crawford was strong again, stopping 31 of 32 shots, including 15 in the third period. Vermette won eight of 11 faceoffs and Niklas Hjalmarsson recorded a game-high seven blocked shots.
These games haven’t been for the faint of heart or the high of blood pressure. It was also no surprise that these two teams once again played to a one-goal game, the Blackhawks hanging in another thriller.
“Whether winning championships or playing in a number of playoff series over the last few years, you have to find ways to win, find ways to fight out victories,” Sharp said. “Whether it’s the guys who have been here with those championships or the new players like Vermy and a lot of young guys who have stepped up, everyone’s on the same page and we have the same goal in mind, that’s for sure.”
Vermette was there with the clutch goal once again on Saturday, scoring on Kris Versteeg’s rebound to give the Blackhawks that 2-1 lead just two minutes into the third period. It was Vermette’s third game-winning goal of the postseason and second of this series.
“He's gotten better every game,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “I thought he had a great game tonight, very timely goal, big faceoffs wins [in] both zones tonight. He was positionally aware and [he] battled.”
Both goaltenders looked like they were battling in the first period, especially when they came out to play the puck. When Crawford did it, he barely got back in time to stop a Nikita Kucherov scoring attempt — Kucherov was injured on the play and Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper did not have an update on his status immediately following the game. When Ben Bishop came out to play the puck he collided with defenseman Victor Hedman. Sharp grabbed the loose puck and scored the empty-net goal, his first goal since Game 2 against the Minnesota Wild.
Sharp’s thoughts when he saw that loose puck and gaping net?
“Put the puck in the net,” Sharp said to laughs. “Just trying to force the play, skate as fast as I can up the ice, apply some pressure. I haven't seen the highlight, exactly what happened. I just know there was a collision. I found myself with a heck of an opportunity, so make sure you put that one in.”
The Lightning were the better team in the second period, especially after killing off a Blackhawks power play early. Valtteri Filpulla, alone on Crawford’s glove side, scored his fourth of the postseason to tie it 1-1.
Then came the third, the early Blackhawks goal, defense first, Crawford keeping the Lighting at bay and the Blackhawks pushing late. Their third and fourth lines were out there in critical situations and had some solid scoring opportunities, another example of how Quenneville will use whatever like is working well, no matter the time of game.
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“I think everyone's reassuring each other to go out and make plays. Just go out there and make things happen. You've got five other guys out there with you. If you make a mistake, it's not the end of the world,” Jonathan Toews said. “We're gonna bail each other out when we get in tight spots. So whether you have a lot of experience or you're a young guy with not so much experience, we're all trying to make each other a little more comfortable out there."
The Blackhawks won another close game in a series that’s been full of them. They’ve got the chance to win the Cup at home, something they haven’t done since 1938. It will take an even bigger effort than it did to win Game 5; the Lightning are 8-4 on the road this postseason and won’t go down without a fight. The chance to win the Cup in Chicago, however, is plenty of motivation to stay focused.
“We try not to think too far ahead. But obviously you’re just human,” Hjalmarsson said. “You just have to find a way to calm down and just be excited to play in front of our own crowd and having the possibility to do something extremely special.”