By Jon Fromi
The Chicago Blackhawks wrested control of their Stanley Cup Final from the Tampa Bay Lightning Saturday night. A strong defensive effort, paired with opportunistic goals by Patrick Sharp and Antoine Vermette, resulted in a 2-1 Blackhawks triumph in Game 5.
The Hawks bring a 3-2 series lead into Chicago Monday night as they attempt to finish the series on home ice. It was far from easy; for the fifth time in as many games, the margin of victory was a single goal.
First Period-It was the Blackhawks who came out on the attack in the opening minutes. Brandon Saad got a couple of shots to Tampa Bay goalie Ben Bishop. The Lightning returned fire with an odd-man rush late in the second minute, though Victor Hedman’s centering attempt was broken up. The Hawks blitzed Bishop with a few pucks from the fourth line of Andrew Desjardins, Marcus Kruger and Andrew Shaw. The Lightning countered with a strong shift in the fifth minute.
Corey Crawford committed a huge turnover at the 5:15 mark and had to scramble to prevent an open net goal by Nikita Kucherov. Down at the opposite end of the ice, a major gaffe on the part of the home team resulted in the first goal of the contest.
Bishop came way out of his net to attempt a clear of the puck with Hedman and Patrick Sharp bearing down on him. The two Lightning players collided as the disk slid behind them. Sharp, who was scoreless in the series up to this point, gathered in the puck and escorted it into the vacated crease. Uniting rubber and twine, Sharp put the Blackhawks up 1-0 6:11 into the game.
Back and forth the action went, with Chicago generating the bulk of the offense; through the first ten minutes, the Blackhawks outshot Tampa 11-3.
Crawford saw more action in the next few minutes, stopping a Jason Garrison shot from the point 12 minutes in and a J.T. Brown attempt 20 seconds later. The Hawks went about nine minutes without a shot on goal before Kruger got one to the net in the 16th minute.
Patrick Kane was at the right post when Brad Richards got the puck his way. However, Kane couldn’t get a handle on it and could only manage a weak backhander that Bishop absorbed. Kruger forced a turnover in the Hawks zone, setting up Desjardins and Shaw for a scoring chance. Bishop broke up the opportunity with 1:12 to play in the period and the teams went to intermission with Chicago up a goal.
Second Period-The Hawks got the game’s first power play when Cedric Paquette hooked Saad, who had driven to the net after picking up a turnover in the Bolts zone. Tampa Bay killed the infraction without much in the way of Chicago pressure. Teuvo Teravainen broke away for a chance on Bishop in the third minute, but the attempt was high.
The Lightning came back with some strong play in the Hawks zone, followed by more end-to-end action as the game reached the midway point. Tampa got set up in the Hawks zone in the 11th minute and came up with the equalizer. The play was set up with a cross-ice pass by Garrison, who found Valtteri Filppula at the bottom of the right circle despite an attempt by Duncan Keith to foil the play. Filppula knocked a bouncing puck past Crawford before he could slide over and with 10:53 gone in the second period, the score was tied 1-1.
The Lightning nearly scored in the seconds after the center ice faceoff, then went on a man advantage when Saad slashed the stick of Brown. Chicago killed the penalty but the pendulum had swung in the favor of the home team.
Crawford awkwardly fought off a shot by Ondrej Palat in the 16th minute after the Lightning had spent most of the past few minutes flinging rubber at the Hawks goalie. Chicago countered with some extended activity in the Tampa zone over the last few minutes of the period. However, neither team broke the tie before the horn sent then to the locker room.
Third Period-Crawford sent a point-blank shot from Brenden Morrow to the corner in the second minute as play continued to zip up and down the ice. Kris Versteeg broke into the Lightning zone soon after and got the puck onto the net. Bishop made a pad save and the rebound came out in front of the crease. Antoine Vermette got to the puck first and stuffed it into the back of the net. The Blackhawks now led 2-1 2:00 into the final frame.
Crawford remained busy as the Lightning attempted to come up with a quick strike to answer Vermette’s goal. Tampa Bay had six shots on goal in the first five minutes of the period.
Crawford stopped an Alex Killorn shot and covered up an attempt by Ryan Callahan in the seventh minute. He fought off a shot by Hedman and another seconds later by Anton Stralman as the Lightning came at Chicago in waves.
The Hawks put together some offense in the tenth minute, again sparked by the fourth line. Desjardins had a great look in the slot after Shaw came up with a turnover, only to be denied by Bishop. Versteeg made a nice move into the offensive zone and fed Teravainen coming toward Bishop. The shot was gathered in by the Lightning net minder and everyone got a breather with a media timeout.
A Kruger wraparound try resulted in a wild scrum in front of Bishop as the Blackhawks pushed hard for an insurance goal in the 13th minute. Stamkos broke free for a shot but Niklas Hjalmarsson got his stick on the attempt to send it off the mark.
Palat fired a shot in the slot that Crawford stopped with his pads as with clock went under four minutes. With 3:12, he covered a long shot by Brian Boyle. A shift later, he kept a Brayden Coburn chance in front of him. Bishop had to stay in net until 1:05 remained as a strong Hawks forecheck kept the Bolts pinned deep. With eight seconds to go, the Lightning had one extra skater too many and were penalized, resulting in a faceoff in the Tampa Bay zone. Chicago won the draw and sat on the puck as the final seconds expired.
Three Stars-Hedman (third), Hjalmarsson (second), Crawford (first).
-Could it be explained to me how NBC named Hjalmarsson (who, like the Hawks top four d-men, had an outstanding game) over Crawford for their first star honors? All Crow did in Game 5 was stop 31 of 32 shots, including 15 from a desperate Tampa Bay club in the final 20 minutes. After bailing himself out of the early turnover, he was on top of his game again for Chicago.
-If Ben Bishop didn’t crap his pants in Game 2 of this series, he likely did when he saw Sharp cruising to the net after a terrible lapse of judgement. After some near misses in Game 4, Sharp’s luck turned in his favor, if only because Bishop left his net despite his team’s best defender chasing down the puck. He did shake it off and made some big stops to keep the game close, but Bishop is probably going to remember that play for a while. If Crawford had given up a goal like that, it would have broken the internet.
-Kane’s frustrations in this series were personified in the first period Saturday, with Hedman serving as the thorn in Kane’s side. Time and again, the big defenseman was able to strip Kane of the puck as he brought it over the Tampa blue line. With Lightning coach Jon Cooper making the last change, Kane has really been under Hedman’s rather large thumb. Two shots on the night for Kaner; perhaps coach Joel Quenneville can free him up at home with a more favorable match up.
-Lots of credit needs to go to the defense, which kept rebounds from being sent back Crawford’s way all evening. Trevor vanRiemsdyk came up with a couple of clears in this manner in the eight minutes he played. Kimmo Timonen…well…his lack of speed was painfully evident tonight even in the pittance of time he logged in Game 5.
-I hope we can all stop pining for Bryan Bickell to replace Versteeg in the lineup because Steeger was really effective in Game 5. We may have seen Bickell’s last game in the Indian head sweater.
-Vermette potted his second game-winner of this series and started the play along the half boards, getting the puck out of his zone. Versteeg and Teravainen teamed up with him to form a very effective line. The fourth line also was nails in Game 5.
-Hawks fans get their wish. Game 6 Monday is a chance to finally see this team close out a Stanley Cup Final in the United Center. Puck is set to drop at 7:00 p.m.