Vermette powers Blackhawks to Game 5 win over Lightning


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.”

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!