Sports Hockey

Blackhawks can win Stanley Cup at home for first time in 77 years

By Mike Zeisberger, Toronto Sun

TAMPA - If Antoine Vermette during his brief stint as a Blackhawk thinks he’s experienced just how nuts the Madhouse on Madison can get, he’s about to get a lesson in Raucous 101.

And in many ways, he’s a huge reason why.

Thanks to Vermette’s winning goal early in the third period of Chicago’s 2-1 victory over the host Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena on Saturday in Game 5 of the 2015 Stanley Cup final, the Hawks are now up 3-2 in the series.

More importantly, Chicago can now close things out on Monday night in Game 6 with a victory at the United Center, arguably the loudest building in hockey, if not in all of sports.

The Hawks Stanley Cup-clinching wins in both 2010 and 2013 came on the road, so their crazed fans did not have a chance to be on hand to see their hockey heroes raise the Stanley Cup.

They’ll have that opportunity now.

“(Since I’ve been here) we’ve never been in this spot before,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “I’m sure the town will be crazy.

“The buzz will be off the charts.”

Flipping through the history books, the Hawks have not won the NHL title on home ice since 1938, a span of 77 years.

At that time, Franklin D. Roosevelt was the president of the United States, William Lyon Mackenzie King was Canada’s Prime Minister, Hank Greenberg led the majors in home runs with 58 and Mike Karakas was the goalie who led those Hawks to the Cup.

Now, almost eight full decades later, just thinking of how electric the always emotional national anthem will be at the United Center Monday is enough to send shivers up the spine of any player.

“We understand the opportunity that is ahead of us and what it means to our fans,” goalie Corey Crawford said. “But we can’t get ahead of ourselves. There still is a job to do.”

In a series that has yet to feature any team posting more than a one-goal lead, Crawford has been the prototype “Outhouse to Penthouse” story. Slagged early in the final for allowing some weak short-side goals, he’s rebounded to allow just two in the past 123 minutes, 11 seconds.

On a team with stars like Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith, Vermette once again was a difference maker for the Hawks in this series.

Acquired at the trade deadline from Arizona in exchange for Klas Dahlbeck and a 2015 first-round draft pick, Vermette scored the winning goal in Game 1, a 2-1 Chicago victory. In Game 5, he did it again.

And now, Chicago can win its third Cup in six seasons with a win on Monday.

Of course, Vermette had his growing pains in Chicago. He had just three points in 19 regular season games as a Hawk, causing frustrated fans to question what GM Stan Bowman was thinking when he first acquired the veteran forward.

They know now.

“As a player you put pressure on yourself,” Vermette said. “In that way, yes, I felt it.

“I just tried to come here and help. And right now things are fun. But we still have work to do.”

Indeed, to count out Jon Cooper’s Lightning would be a huge mistake. These guys have spent much of the postseason with icewater in their veins, has shown by the fact that they knocked off three Original Six teams - the Red Wings, Canadiens and Rangers - to get this far.

Moreover, Tampa Bay is 8-4 on the road in these playoffs, an obvious indication that they are not intimidated by hostile environments.

In a game that started out on a crazy note, Crawford kicked off off a Keystone Cops skit early on by sending a perfect pass onto the stick of Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov. Unfortunately for Tampa Bay, not only was Kucherov stopped by a diving Crawford on the ensuing shot, he ended up slamming into the goal post on the play and was forced to leave the game.

But when it game to this edition of Goaltending Follies, Bishop did his Chicago counterpart one better.

Or worse, as the case may be.

As Victor Hedman was fetching a Hawks dump-in in the high slot, Bishop for some reason decided to come out to get the puck. The two slammed into each other and splattered down onto the ice, leaving the puck free to eventually be put into the open net by Patrick Sharp just 6:11 into the game.

We suspected Bishop had been fighting a lower body issue for the past week, but this brain cramp certainly had to be classifield as an upper body ailment.

After Valtteri Filppula tied the game in the second, Vermette proved to be the hero in the third.

And with that, the Hawks are just one victory away from winning hockey’s Holy Grail. Again.

mike.zeisberger@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/zeisberger


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