(Reuters) - The Chicago Blackhawks are on the verge of winning their third Stanley Cup championship in six years thanks to the performance of depth players like Antoine Vermette in Game Five.
Vermette’s game-winning goal in Chicago’s 2-1 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday has the Blackhawks a victory away from celebrating another NHL title.
Game Six is set for the United Center in Chicago on Monday. It is an opportunity for the Blackhawks to celebrate their first Stanley Cup title on home ice since 1938.
They won their last three championships on the road in 1960-61, 2009-10 and 2012-13.
“I‘m sure it will be crazy over the next two days in town,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “The buzz will be off the charts. Looking forward to it.”
There was a time when Quenneville did not look forward to finding a spot in the lineup for the 32-year-old Vermette. He was scratched for the first two postseason games and again in Game Three of the Western Conference final against the Anaheim Ducks.
It was not a good situation because the Blackhawks paid a hefty price in acquiring him from the Arizona Coyotes on Feb. 28 in exchange for defense man Klas Dahlbeck and a 2015 first-round draft pick.
But Vermette has found a groove. He has three game-winners in his last nine games, including two in the Stanley Cup final, and has been dominant in the face-off circle.
“Right off the get-go, this was a great opportunity for me,” he said. “I want to make the best out of it. This is a special team.
“This is all fun right now. But there’s a lot of work still ahead.”
The Blackhawks are well aware how close this series has been despite their back-to-back victories. No team in the final has enjoyed more than a one-goal lead at any time in the five games and each game-winner has been scored in the third period.
The Lightning also overcame a 3-2 deficit in the first round to oust the Detroit Red Wings. This has Tampa coach Jon Cooper confident about another comeback.
”There wasn’t head hanging (after Game Five),” he said. “They were ticked off. It’s not the first time we’ve blown a situation at home, gone on the road and dug our heels in. We’ve done this all playoffs long.
”If I‘m going to be behind a bench and want a team in this playoffs, it’s this one right here. We’re looking forward to Game Six.
Reporting by Tim Wharnsby in Toronto. Editing by Andrew Both