After being down 2-1 in the series, the Chicago Blackhawks have put together two consecutive nail-biting 2-1 victories to place them just one win away from hoisting the Stanley Cup again.
Just as we all predicted, right?
Antoine Vermette’s game winning goal with 18 minutes left in the third period was the difference in a fast faced, but error-filled, game. The Blackhawks weathered through enough Lightning storms (No pun intended) and were able to get past Bishop just enough for the win. Corey Crawford was sensational once again, backstopping the Hawks with 31 saves. The Blackhawks now have a chance Monday night to win the Stanley Cup on home ice for the first time since 1938. Before we get to that, let’s break down what we just watched…
-If there is a frontrunner for the “Probably won’t win the Conn Smythe but has been incredible and will get the belt at the victory rally and give a drunk speech” award it is Andrew Shaw. As I said in last game’s recap, he has been all over the ice doing EVERYTHING right for the Blackhawks. At times the Shaw-Kruger-Desjardins line has been the Blackhawks’ best. The biggest issue for the Hawks last year vs. LA was the fourth line being a dumpster fire. No such issues this year as the fourth liners have not only checked well, but have created consistent quality scoring opportunities. When the Blackhawks are rolling four lines that can skate and create chances, they are impossible to beat.
-Kris Versteeg had a stellar game for the Blackhawks, and was mostly responsible for Vermette’s game winner. How weird does that sound? Kris Versteeg had a great game. Everybody dogs Versteeg when they get the chance, but his veteran presence came through Saturday. He created a bunch of nice chances for the Hawks, and made an unbelievable saucer pass right on Teravainen’s tape for the Hawks’ best scoring chance after the Vermette goal.
-Duncan Keith had maybe his worst game of the playoffs. He failed to clear the puck on Tampa’s tying goal, and was turnover prone all night long. Can’t really get too mad at all, he’s been basically carrying the Hawks’ undermanned defense with his absurd amount of ice time. He was due for a less than stellar game, and the Hawks still won. He will be back to normal Monday night where he’ll have the chance to win the Conn Smythe if the Hawks win.
-The Blackhawks defensive woes have seemed to be kind of solved with the emergence of TVR, and Timonen playing slightly better. I doubt we’ll see any lineup changes for Game 6. But, it’s Q so who knows.
-Chances the Blackhawks resign Antoine Vermette this offseason? He’s been great. He has three game winners in the Hawks last nine playoff games and has been a beast on the forecheck on his line with Teravainen and Sharp/Versteeg.
-The Blackhawks’ first goal was the ultimate “puck luck” moment. Lightning goalie Ben Bishop skated out to play it between the circles and Tampa defenseman Victor Hedman, who has been sensational this series, had his head down and ran straight into his own goalie, letting the puck slide by to Patrick Sharp who scored the easiest goal in his entire life. A nice break for the Hawks, and a nice way for Sharp to break out of his scoring slump. It was his first goal since Game 2 vs. Minnesota. Remember when I said I’d rather be lucky than good?
-The Hawks’ late third period defense was the exact opposite of what it was at the end of Game 4 when the Lightning shelled Crawford for two straight minutes and somehow didn’t score. Saturday night the Blackhawks were not only able to hold the Lightning to zero shots on goal after they pulled Bishop, they even pressed the issue into the offensive zone late and were able to force the Lightning into a killer too many men penalty with ten seconds left that all but ended the game. That is how you’re supposed to close out games.
Well here we are, one game away from another summer of parades and trekking around town stalking Lord Stanley. To make it even better, the Hawks have a chance to close out the series on home ice in front of the best fans in hockey. Honestly, knowing this team and how they have operated the last six seasons, I really find it hard to believe that the Blackhawks are going to lose with a chance to clinch a Stanley Cup in the United Center for the first time. With that being said, the Lightning have played extremely well on the road, were in this exact same situation against Detroit, and beat the Hawks back in Game 3.
This series has been nothing short of incredible. The pace, the action, the scoring chances, everything. I expect another nail-biter on Monday because, well, how else would the Blackhawks do it?