For the first time since 1938, the Chicago Blackhawks will have a chance to win the Stanley Cup in Chicago.
The Hawks earned the opportunity to secure the Cup by taking its second game on the road in a 2-1 nail-biter against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Blackhawks’ stars were held relatively in check once again, but it was Chicago’s depth that helped them prevail once again.
Depth proved clutch in the final period, as the Hawks third line struck once again. Teuvo Teravainen knifed a puck along the boards that skidded over to Kris Versteeg, who had plenty of space in front of him. Versteeg sped ahead, but was caught by Jason Garrison. Versteeg was forced to throw a puck on net that bounced off Ben Bishop’s pads and slid away unattended, until the opportunistic Antoine Vermette ripped the rebound past Bishop for his third game-winning goal in the playoffs and second in the Cup final.
The fourth line exceeded expectations once again, as Andrew Shaw, Marcus Kruger and Andrew Desjardins swarmed Tampa’s top lines and created more chances than some of the Lightning’s biggest guns. Shaw, Kruger and Desjardins combined for seven shots, while Alex Killorn, Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat had nine combined shots on net.
Chicago broke open the scoring for the second-consecutive game in strange fashion. Ben Bishop went out to the faceoff circle on the right side to play a dump in from Teravainen. He and defenseman Victor Hedman miscommunicated and Hedman poked the puck behind Bishop and then collided with his goalie just outside of the circle. The puck trickled to a wide open Patrick Sharp who glided to the crease and tapped the puck into an empty net with 13:49 left in the first period.
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The first period was arguably Chicago’s best period of the series. The Hawks accumulated 14 shots to Tampa’s five and owned possession in the offensive zone. However, it did not go without a couple of scares.
The biggest scare came just before Sharp’s goal. Corey Crawford nearly gave Tampa the lead after going behind his net to play a routine puck, but hesitated and sent a pass right to Nikita Kucherov. Crawford managed to bail himself out with a sprawling save and it was one of the major turning points in the game.
Following the shot, Kucherov went flying across the crease and rammed his right shoulder into the post. He did not return to the game after the collision and his status is uncertain.
The Lightning did light the lamp midway through the second period. The play started when Duncan Keith made a rare mistake and failed to clear the puck out of the defensive zone. Anton Stralman took the puck over the middle and sent a back-handed shot that was deflected out to Jason Garrison along the right point. Garrison made a nifty pass over to Valtteri Filppula, who buried the one-timer past a diving Crawford to even the game.
It was Chicago’s third 2-1 victory of the series and much of that is thanks to Crawford. The net-minder was superb once again, stopping 31 shots on the night. Crawford didn’t face a ton of golden opportunities, but he made the big saves when he needed to and survived a couple of peak pressure moments in the latter two periods.
The Hawks now have a chance to win their third Stanley Cup in six seasons at the United Center Monday night. Amazingly, the Hawks have gotten this far without their two biggest stars. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews have combined for one goal and two assists in the Final. The depth has gotten them this far, but the Blackhawks may need a heroic effort from their superstars if they want to keep the Stanley Cup in town Monday night.
The Hawks have won both of their most recent Stanley Cups in Game 6. Both of those games were their first opportunity to clinch a championship. This time, the Hawks will have a rabid United Center by its side, but they will face an unbelievable challenge from a talented Tampa squad.