’HAWKS AL­MOST ABLE TO FEEL IT

Ver­mette scores in third pe­riod and Craw­ford is tough when it counts.

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - HE­LENE EL­LIOTT

TAMPA, Fla. — The Stan­ley Cup will be in the house Mon­day at the United Cen­ter, and the Chicago Black­hawks will have a chance tomake the hal­lowed tro­phy feel at home there for a while.

Cen­ter An­toine Ver­mette, a late-sea­son ac­qui­si­tion whowas a healthy scratch early in the West­ern Con­fer­ence fi­nal, con­verted a re­bound two min­utes into the third pe­riod Satur­day and Chicago goal­tender Corey Craw­ford held off a fu­ri­ous late push by the Tampa Bay Light­ning as the Black­hawks clawed out a 2-1vic­tory at Amalie Arena. With a 3-2 se­ries lead they’re in po­si­tion to win the Cup on Mon­day for the third time in six sea­sons.

“It’s great. We’re ex­cited about the op­por­tu­nity,” Black­hawks cap­tain Jonathan Toews said. “It’s what we’ve worked for.”

In the fifth con­sec­u­tive Cup Fi­nal game de­cided by one goal, the Black­hawks’ de­fense was for­mi­da­ble, led by the tire­less Nik­las Hjal­mars­son and his game-high seven blocks. And their sup­port play­ers came through again, with Ver­mette record­ing the win­ning goal for the sec­ond time in the Fi­nal and third time in this play­off run.

“Whether we’re one win away or15 wins away, you comein with that be­lief and you knowwhat your team is ca­pa­ble of,” Toews said. “If any­thing, you don’t want to un­der­achieve. Youwant to get the most out of each other and find away to come­to­gether as a group and give your­self a chance to be here. I think that’s what ev­ery­one in this room wants.”

The Black­hawks can win the Cup at home for the first time since1938, when they com­pleted a best-of-five se­ries against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the old Chicago Sta­dium. They won at Detroit in1961, at Philadel­phia in 2010 and at Bos­ton in 2013. A sev­enth game, if nec­es­sary, would be played Wed­nes­day in Tampa.

This is when their ex­pe­ri­ence will come into play, where the core group of what is the clos­est thing to a dy­nasty the NHL has seen in the salary-cap era must take charge. The Light­ning came back froma 3-2 deficit in the first round, against Detroit, and Coach Jon Cooper re­mains con­fi­dent that his team can do that again.

“Peo­ple can’t sit here and say, ‘Well, the in­ex­pe­ri­enced Light­ning.’ I think we’re the gamer Light­ning,” he said. “Th­ese guys have gamed out th­ese play­offs, and I ex­pect noth­ing less in Game 6 in Chicago.”

Less than a minute af­ter Light­ning for­ward Nikita Kucherov suf­fered an undis­closed in­jury when he tripped over Craw­ford and col­lided with the post in the first pe­riod, Chicago cap­i­tal­ized on a mis­play by Tampa Bay goalie Ben Bishop. The puck had been dumped into Tampa Bay’s zone and de­fense­man Vic­tor Hed­man was pre­par­ing to play it, but Bishop came out of his net and to the left face­off cir­cle, where he col­lided with Hed­man. Both went down, leav­ing an empty net for Pa­trick Sharp to score at 6:11, his first goal in14 games.

Bishop, who missed Game4 be­cause of an undis­closed in­jury, was slow to get up but stayed in the game. Bishop made27 saves, to 30 by Craw­ford.

“Iwas just try­ing to force the play, skate as fast as I can up the ice and ap­ply some pres­sure,” Sharp said.

Tampa Bay pulled even at10:53 of the sec­ond pe­riod, on a fine setup from Ja­son Gar­ri­son to Valt­teri Filp­pula, who scored froma tough an­gle. But Ver­mette was a dif­fer­ence-maker again and Craw­ford stopped15 shots in the third pe­riod to send the Black­hawks back home with a chance to claim the Cup Mon­day.

It’s so close they can taste it, but they’re ex­pe­ri­enced enough not to start count­ing Cham­pagne bub­bles yet.

“You go through the ups and downs ev­ery play­off run. It didn’t start off the way Iwanted but Iwas able to stay with it,” said Craw­ford, whowas benched for three games in the first round against Nashville. “It’s been great up to this point. With a chance to go back to our build­ing, I think ev­ery­one’s pretty ex­cited about it. Butwe can’t get ahead of our­selves. There’s a lot of work to do here and it’s go­ing to be an even harder battle.”

John Raoux As­so­ci­ated Press

AN­TOINE Ver­mette, right, cel­e­brates with Teuvo Ter­a­vainen.

Mike Carl­son Getty Images

TAMPA BAY’S Ryan Cal­la­han, right, is part of a big pileup in front of the Chicago net in the third pe­riod.

Mike Carl­son Getty Images

COREY Craw­ford makes a save against the Light­ning’s J.T. Brown dur­ing the sec­ond pe­riod.

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