TAMPA, Fla. – One more down, one more to go.
The Blackhawks are one victory away from claiming their third Stanley Cup in the past six seasons. And for the first time in more than a decade, they’ll have the chance to claim the trophy on home ice thanks to their 2-1 victory over the Lightning in Game 5 on Saturday night.
But the Blackhawks aren’t getting ahead of themselves. They know they haven’t won a thing yet. We’re not getting ahead of ourselves, either. Before we head back home to see how Game 6 plays out, let’s look at Five Things to take from Saturday’s Game 5 victory.
1. Big performances by not-so-big names. Yes, we know Patrick Kane has yet to score in this series. The Lightning have done a good job of shutting down the Blackhawks’ superstar scorers – Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp have been held to one each. Your third- and fourth-line guys are critical this time of year and Antoine Vermette came through again on Saturday night. Three game-winning goals out of the four he’s had this postseason. Not bad.
2. Niklas Hjalmarsson’s all-around game. Hjalmarsson gets a ton of credit for his shot blocking, and for good reason. He had seven more on Saturday night. But whether it’s blocks or just handling the increased ice time – he played 28 minutes, 19 seconds, second only to Duncan Keith – Hjalmarsson has flourished. Said coach Joel Quenneville, “He's always been good. We've been fortunate to be around this guy for a lot of years, defending top players, defending tough situations, blocking shots. He's a warrior.”
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3. Kris Versteeg’s new home. Versteeg hasn’t played much this postseason but his fresh legs have been a good addition to a Blackhawks team that has to be feeling some fatigue. Versteeg moved to the third line with Vermette and Teuvo Teravainen in Game 5 and provided a big spark. He also provided the primary assist on Vermette’s winner. Versteeg was happy to be part of the process. “We’ve got so many players here who can play and put points on the board, but we wanted to be a line that could help and contribute,” he said. “And fortunately tonight was one of those nights.”
4. Benefitting from a bounce. Or in this case, a collision. Sharp scored for the first time in more than a month when Ben Bishop and Victor Hedman collided, leaving an empty net. It was an odd play that doesn’t happen often. For the Blackhawks, it was a great scoring opportunity in a series that has had few prime ones. Like Sharp said, “make sure you put that one in.”
5. Keep the butterflies at bay. The Blackhawks are going to be an excited bunch for Game 6 on Monday night. They’ve got the chance to win the Stanley Cup at home, something that hasn’t been a possibility since 1938. Several talked of wanting to win it at home for the United Center fans. But they have to be careful not to let those feelings overwhelm them. Remembering Tampa Bay’s road record ought to keep them grounded and focused.