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Vermette powers Blackhawks to Game 5 win over Lightning

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Vermette powers Blackhawks to Game 5 win over Lightning

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.

[MORE: Blackhawks: Vermette elevating game as stage gets bigger]

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.”

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

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.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

“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.”

How will the Blackhawks utilize Kirby Dach?

How will the Blackhawks utilize Kirby Dach?

The Blackhawks recalled No. 3 overall pick Kirby Dach from his AHL conditioning stint on Friday night after he appeared in three games with the Rockford IceHogs. He missed the first week of training camp with a concussion and the organization wanted him to get a taste of the pro action and back up to speed after not playing in any preseason games, either.

"I enjoyed the experience there," Dach said. "I had a lot of fun. Got to see a couple buddies. It was good for me to get down there and get some pro games under my belt and just feel what the pace is going to be like. It'll be another step up here, but I feel good and I feel like I'm ready to go."

Whether Dach makes his NHL debut on Sunday against the Washington Capitals won't be revealed by head coach Jeremy Colliton until after morning skate on Sunday. But where does he fit into the lineup going forward?

The Blackhawks are 2-0-1 in their past three games and aren't necessarily looking to shake up their rotation, even though they're still searching for consistency on all four lines.

The easy answer is for Dach to slide into a third-line center role behind Jonathan Toews and Dylan Strome, but the trio of David Kampf, Dominik Kubalik and Brandon Saad has undoubtedly been the most consistent for the Blackhawks this season. And we saw in the home opener what happened when they were separated. 

The Blackhawks held an optional practice on Saturday morning and didn't run through line rushes, but before Dach was assigned to Rockford, he took several spins on the first line with Toews and alternated with Drake Caggiula and Alex DeBrincat. It's possible Dach starts on the wing, where he can play top-six minutes and not have as much responsibility as a center would.

"I've played wing in previous years, so it's not something that's new to me," Dach said. "At the same time I'm open-minded to just getting into the lineup and helping the team win."

The Blackhawks can give Dach up to nine NHL games before deciding whether they want to burn the first year of his entry-level contract or send him back to the Saskatoon Blades of the WHL.

"As a kid you always grow up dreaming of playing in the NHL, so there'll be nerves," Dach said. "But there will also be a lot of excitement. I've just got to do my best to focus on my game and be ready to play whenever my name's called upon by the coaching staff."

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Blackhawks Talk Podcast: Blackhawks scratch out a win and Kirby Dach recalled

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USA Today

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: Blackhawks scratch out a win and Kirby Dach recalled

Pat Boyle and Charlie Roumeliotis welcome Nick Gismondi into the fold before discussing Friday's win over Columbus. Robin Lehner played stellar and is forming quite a tandem in net with Corey Crawford (4:10), while the DeBrincat/Kane connection is alive and well (6:10), and the Blackhawks' struggles at even strength continued (12:10). Then, the guys react to the breaking news of Kirby Dach's recall from Rockford and discuss where he might fit into this lineup (15:10).

Listen to the entire episode here or in the embedded player below.

Blackhawks Talk Podcast

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