Antoine Vermette can't stop scoring big goals for the Blackhawks

Puck Daddy
AP Photo/John Raoux
AP Photo/John Raoux

TAMPA — When the Chicago Blackhawks acquired Antoine Vermette two days before the March NHL trade deadline, they did so with depth in mind. They gave up a hefty price — a 2015 first-round pick and defensive prospect Klas Dahlback — but three months later it’s paying off big time.

Vermette’s goal two minutes into the third period helped give the Blackhawks a 2-1 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final. Chicago now leads the series 3-2 and has the opportunity to win the Cup at home for the first time since 1938. 

Before coming to Chicago, Vermette had spent the previous three years in Arizona where he averaged over 18 minutes a night with the Coyotes. But moving to a deep Blackhawks team he would have to adapt to a new role, a message that was made clear to him early by Kris Versteeg

“[I told him] you got to understand that, you got to understand the situations you’re in, you might not be in where you’d be on other teams,” Versteeg said. “You got to play the best with the ice time you’re given and try to contribute.”

“Obviously it’s not the same, you have to make that adjustment,” Vermette said. “The rhythm of the game is not the same compared to when you’re used to playing 19 minutes a game. But when I got here I also recognized what a great opportunity it was to play for this team. I just wanted to have fun and contribute in whatever way I could. 

“Obviously my ice time and my role is different but I’m trying to take advantage of this opportunity as best I can.’’

Moving from a team destined for the draft lottery to one capable of contending for a Stanley Cup would certainly speed up the digestion of such a message.

Vermette’s winner was his fourth of the playoffs and third game-winning goal this postseason.

• Goal No. 1 was a tying one in Round 1 versus Nashville 87 seconds after the Predators took a 1-0 lead in Game 4, a game Chicago would win.

• Goal No. 2 was the double overtime winner during the wild Game 4 against the Anaheim Ducks in the Western Conference Final. 

• Goal No. 3 turned Game 1 of the Final, coming 118 seconds after Teuvo Teravainen tied the score late in the third period against the Lightning. Chicago would win 2-1. 

Versteeg, who started the rush that resulted in Vermette’s goal, had his best game of the series by far. His awareness allowed him to retain possession while being backchecked by Jason Garrison, and he put the puck in an area where he thought Vermette would be.

Sure enough, Vermette, a pending unrestricted free agent, was there and now Chicago has a 3-2 series lead thanks in part to their great, productive depth. 

“I was hoping to have an effect positively on the game at that point obviously,” Vermette said. “But that being said, if it comes with goals, great. If not, the details of the game matter so much we talk about at that point. It makes a big difference.”

Vermette, who was a healthy scratch earlier in the playoffs, has certainly played his way back into being a regular.

“I don’t know if I read that somewhere, where Tipp, their coach in Phoenix, big games he comes up big,” said Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson. “He’s definitely been big for us here and he’s a guy that’s great at faceoffs and extremely nice guy off the ice, too.”

The Lightning were carried by their top six throughout these playoffs, but have been unable to contain Chicago’s secondary scorers. Steven Stamkos, who is without a goal in the Final, didn’t record his first shot on net until the third period. Game 5 was the third time this series Tampa was held to a single goal. They haven’t been able to get the timely scoring from down their lineup like the Blackhawks have.

"It shows how much good depth we have here,” said Hossa. “You never know who is going to come through but you always have confidence right through the lineup.”

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Sean Leahy is the associate editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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