Blackhawks: Vermette elevating game as stage gets bigger


Blackhawks: Vermette elevating game as stage gets bigger

TAMPA, Fla. — His teammates heard he has a reputation as a money player and Antoine Vermette has done nothing to disprove it this postseason.

The veteran center netted his third game-winner of the postseason on Saturday night and the Blackhawks pulled ahead in the Stanley Cup Final, edging the Tampa Bay Lightning, 2-1, in Game 5 at Amalie Arena. Vermette has four goals this postseason for the Blackhawks, who lead the series 3-2 and, on Monday night, could clinch their first Stanley Cup title at home since 1938.

“(Phoenix coach Dave Tippett) said in big games, he comes up big and it’s definitely what he’s been doing for us here,” defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson said. “He’s a guy that’s great in faceoffs and extremely nice off the ice, too. He’s a great addition to the locker room.

“A lot of veteran presence.”

[MORE: Vermette powers Blackhawks to Game 5 win over Lightning]

This is exactly what the Blackhawks had in mind — well, maybe not this — when they traded defenseman Klas Dahlbeck and a 2015 first-round draft pick to the Arizona Coyotes in exchange for Vermette on Feb. 28.

With the score tied at 1 in the third, Kris Versteeg broke away from the pack. His shot kicked off the skate of Tampa Bay goalie Ben Bishop, but Vermette was there to clean it up and put the Blackhawks ahead for good.

Vermette also had the game-winner in Game 1 over the Lightning and his overtime goal lifted the Blackhawks over the Anaheim Ducks in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals.

“It’s nice to see Vermy get those chances,” said center Jonathan Toews. “He’s scored two really big goals for us in this building and he’s been a huge part of our team and our success.”

Well, the transition hasn’t always been smooth for Vermette.

With Patrick Kane out indefinitely with a clavicle injury, the Blackhawks added the pending unrestricted free agent for depth prior to the trade deadline. But playing about five fewer minutes per game for the Blackhawks after the trade than he did for the Coyotes, Vermette struggled.

“Off the get go was very tough for me,” Vermette said.

Vermette had three assists for the Blackhawks but didn’t score a goal in 19 regular-season games. Even in the postseason, Vermette was a healthy scratch in Games 1 and 2 of the first round and Game 3 of the Western Conference Final.

But the more experience he gains with his new teammates, the more Vermette has excelled.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

Or couldn’t you tell?

“I think in the beginning he tried to understand our system,” right wing Marian Hossa said. “After some time he got the role and grew in that role unbelievably and he’s scoring huge goals for us. He’s a great centerman and he’s scoring right now big goals, so I’m feeling great for him.”

Vermette feels pretty good, too.

This is the second time he’s been to the Stanley Cup Final after he played 20 postseason games for the 2006-07 Ottawa Senators, who lost in five games to the Ducks. Vermette said he didn’t put any more pressure on himself because he was the team’s high-profile acquisition.

It just took a little time to get accustomed to his new role.

“This is a good group, obviously a special team," Vermette said. "You have to come here and try to help the team. This is a lot of fun right now, but there’s a lot of work still ahead.”

Hawks Talk Podcast: Thoughts on Corey Crawford's season debut


Hawks Talk Podcast: Thoughts on Corey Crawford's season debut

In the latest Hawks Talk Podcast, Pat Boyle, Jamal Mayers and Charlie Roumeliotis recap Corey Crawford’s season debut after missing nearly 10 months with a concussion.

Mayers talks about the Kitty system that Niklas Hjalmarsson and Vinnie Hinostroza probably dealt with in their returns to Chicago.

The guys also discuss what’s next for Crawford, the upcoming matchup against Artemi Panarin and the Columbus Blue Jackets, and the Blackhawks’ biggest areas for improvement.

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below, and be sure to subscribe, rate us and write a review!

Four takeaways: Blackhawks suffer first regulation loss, but Corey Crawford looks sharp in season debut

Four takeaways: Blackhawks suffer first regulation loss, but Corey Crawford looks sharp in season debut

Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 4-1 loss to the Arizona Coyotes at the United Center on Thursday:

1. Return of the Crow

The Blackhawks got their man back between the pipes after a 10-month layoff due to a concussion. And he looked like same old "Crow."

Crawford stopped 27 of 30 shots for a save percentage of .900. He faced 12 shots and eight scoring chances in the first period, but nothing too out of the ordinary. The biggest save he made was on a Michael Grabner breakaway in the third period, bailing out a turnover in the neutral zone.

"I think I felt better in the second and third," Crawford said. "But they really didn’t get that many opportunities early. It was nice. I think they flipped one in for the first one, so that was kind of good just to get in it and feel one early. We were close in that one all game and we created a lot. I thought [Antti] Raanta played really well.

"It was a tough, tough break at the end. Still felt I should have stopped that one. We were right there, we were creating a lot and gotta try to come up with that one. Just gotta forget about it and worry about the next game."

2. Alex DeBrincat, Jonathan Toews extend point streaks

The hot start continues for the Blackhawks' two leading scorers, both of whom assisted on Erik Gustafsson's goal in the second period to stretch their point streaks to six games. DeBrincat and Toews each have 10 points this season.

3. Overtime streak ends

The Blackhawks made history by forcing five straight overtime games to start the season, something no team has ever done in the four major sports (NBA, NFL, NHL, MLB). But they didn't have the comeback magic in them this time.

Entering Thursday, the Blackhawks were 1-0-1 when trailing after two periods. They were 5-28-2 last season for a win percentage of .143.

4. Familiar faces, new places

Five former Blackhawks took the ice for the Coyotes: Vinnie Hinostroza, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Jordan Oesterle, Richard Panik and Antti Raanta.

It was Hjalmarsson's first trip back to Chicago since being traded in the 2017 offseason. He received a nice video tribute during the second TV timeout of the first period, which made him very emotional.

"I almost got emotional too seeing his reaction," Toews said. "He's one of those guys you'll never forget what he meant to this locker room. He was a quiet guy in the room but we all know how he played and put everyone else before himself. Pretty cool reaction from the fans too. I think we were all sad to see him leave this locker room, he did a lot of special things and was a massive part of our championship wins. Happy for him to get that reception. It's well-deserved and obviously we miss having him around."

As far as the game, Hjalmarsson logged a team-high 22:18 of ice time and blocked three shots. Oesterle registered a secondary assist on Arizona's first goal, which was its first 5-on-5 of the season.

Hinostroza, who was also part of the Marian Hossa trade over the summer, scored twice in his return to his hometown, beating Crawford with a wrist shot to make it 2-1 in the second period and an empty-netter in the third; his second goal turned out to be the game winner, the fourth of his career and first as a member of the Coyotes.

Panik recorded four shot attempts (three on goal). And Raanta improved to 16-0-3 in his career at the United Center, a remarkable record for any goaltender in any situation.