Five Things from Blackhawks win in Game 5: Versteeg’s new home


Five Things from Blackhawks win in Game 5: Versteeg’s new home

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.

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

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.”

[NBC SPORTS SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

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.

Corey Crawford expects to make season debut for Blackhawks on Thursday vs. Arizona


Corey Crawford expects to make season debut for Blackhawks on Thursday vs. Arizona

The wait is almost over.

After missing nearly 10 months with a concussion, Corey Crawford said he expects to start on Thursday when the Blackhawks take on the Arizona Coyotes at the United Center. An official decision will come following the team's morning skate.

"It feels good to be back to myself," Crawford said. "I'm feeling good, I'm feeling clear. ... It was a pretty long process. But I think the most important thing was not to rush anything. When I finally was out, it got to a point where I wasn’t in shape to play and it was time to rest and it’s unfortunate it took a lot longer than I would’ve liked. 

"It’s been long, but finally, just to get back and be practicing with the team has meant a lot. It’s good to get to this point now when you’re really close to playing. Practices have been great, been getting timing a little bit more and getting up to speed and reading shots and all that, so it'll be nice to finally get in one."

Crawford's last appearance in an NHL game was Dec. 23, 2017 against the New Jersey Devils when he allowed three goals on seven shots in 13:22 of action before getting pulled. So of course, emotions will naturally be running high, especially in front of the hometown crowd.

"I'm sure I'll be a little anxious getting into it," Crawford said. "Some nerves. But we'll see. We'll wait until the morning, but I'm definitely excited I can tell you that."

It's obviously terrific news for the Blackhawks, who have picked up eight out of a possible 10 points to start the season and are getting their two-time Stanley Cup winning goalie back between the pipes. It's been a long time coming, and Crawford is coming back into a healthy situation where the Blackhawks are in a good spot in the standings.

"It's great news, I'm sure it'll be exciting for him exciting for our team, exciting for our fans and the organization as well," Patrick Kane said. "It’s probably a good situation all around. Cam [Ward] has done a great job of playing in the net so far. Crow is really good in practice right now, so I’m sure he’s itching to get back, too. We’ve had a good start here. It’s something we want to keep going, and I’m sure him coming back on home ice, in front of our crowd, will be a fun one for him and for our team."

There's no doubting how important Crawford is the team and organization. While there may be a little bit of rust early on, the Blackhawks are expecting him to look like his old self.

"He means a lot to the team," Quenneville said. "We felt last year was a good example of how important he was and how well he was playing for us, as well. We’ve gotten off to a decent start and he was a big factor in it. We know that goaltending is such a big part of the team and your success a lot of nights depends on him and his consistency’s always been in place.

"But he looks good in the net. He’s been off for a long, long time. Is there rust? Do we expect rust? I think the way he’s competing and practicing and finding pucks, he looks like he hasn’t missed a beat. So we’re looking forward to him getting in there and getting comfortable and how he’s feeling going forward will dictate a lot of the decisions about him going back in."

Hawks Talk Podcast: Crawford's return, Saad's demotion and power play concerns


Hawks Talk Podcast: Crawford's return, Saad's demotion and power play concerns

In the latest Hawks Talk Podcast, Pat Boyle, Charlie Roumeliotis and Slavko Bekovic provide their thoughts on the Blackhawks’ 3-0-2 start.

They also discuss Brandon Saad’s demotion and whether it could serve as a wake-up call, Corey Crawford’s potential return on Thursday vs. Arizona and what could happen with Anton Forsberg because of it, and address the power play concerns.

The guys wrap up the podcast by making a few bold predictions going forward.

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