Black­hawks re­turn home just 1 win away from win­ning ti­tle

The China Post - - SPORTS - BY JAY CO­HEN

While Jonathan Toews and Pa­trick Kane have strug­gled to find any room in the Stan­ley Cup Fi­nal against Tampa Bay, the Chicago Black­hawks have used their depth to move within one victory of their third NHL ti­tle in six sea­sons.

Play­ing along­side two other play­ers who have been a healthy scratch this post­sea­son, vet­eran Kris Ver­steeg as­sisted on An­toine Ver­mette’s win­ning goal in Chicago’s 2-1 victory on Satur­day.

The Black­hawks’ third and fourth lines are a big rea­son why they can clinch the Stan­ley Cup at home for the first time since 1938 with a victory in Game 6 on Mon­day night. But the Light­ning won Game 3 in Chicago and are con­fi­dent they can do it again.

Stamkos and Kane are still look­ing for their first goal of the se­ries, and Toews has con­trib­uted one goal and two as­sists. But Ver­mette has two game-win­ning goals in the fi­nal, Teuvo Ter­a­vainen scored in each of the first two games, and An­drew Shaw has a goal and two as­sists.

In an in­cred­i­bly tight battle for the Stan­ley Cup — only the sec­ond fi­nal to begin with five one­goal games — the con­tri­bu­tions from Chicago’s role play­ers are mak­ing a dif­fer­ence.

Tampa Bay’s depth was tested Satur­day night when sec­ondlead­ing scorer Nikita Kucherov crashed into the Chicago net in the first pe­riod, lead­ing to a big­ger role for speedy rookie Jonathan Drouin and break­ing up the Light­ning’s suc­cess­ful “Triplets” line.

Kucherov, who turns 22 on Wed­nes­day, flew with the team to Chicago, and coach Jon Cooper said he was “in con­sid­er­ably bet­ter shape to­day than he was last night.”

Cooper also said goal­tender Ben Bishop was feel­ing much bet­ter. Bishop missed Game 4 with an undis­closed in­jury and then had a big col­li­sion with de­fense­man Vic­tor Hed­man in the first pe­riod Satur­day night that handed a goal to Pa­trick Sharp.

Ver­steeg, who has ap­peared in just 11 of Chicago’s 22 play­off games, played in each of the first two games against the Light­ning, and then was re­placed by Bick­ell for Game 3. Af­ter Bick­ell strug­gled, Quen­neville turned to Ver­steeg again, and it looks as if he is grow­ing stronger as the fi­nal goes along.

Quen­neville’s smart use of his ros­ter is one rea­son Chicago is 42-14 in Games 4-7 of play­off se­ries since the for­mer NHL de­fense­man took over in Oc­to­ber 2008. The Black­hawks also have won 15 of their last 19 po­ten­tial se­ries clinch­ing games, ac­cord­ing to STATS, set­ting the stage for what will be a rau­cous at­mos­phere at the United Cen­ter on Mon­day night.

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