Antoine Vermette scored in the third period to earn Chicago a 2-1 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game Five Saturday night, giving the Blackhawks the chance to clinch the Stanley Cup on home ice on Monday night.
Vermette shoveled in a cross-ice pass from Kris Versteeg to give the Blackhawks a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven finals, deflating a Tampa Bay crowd that had been bolstered by the return of goaltender Ben Bishop after he missed Game Four with an undisclosed injury.
Chicago, who had been outplayed early in previous games during the series, came out hard on Sunday, testing Bishop from the start and carrying a 14-5 advantage in shots in the first period.
“I thought our start was something we haven’t seen in the first four games, which was good,” Chicago coach Joel Quenneville told reporters.
“We had some more time in the offensive zone and we weren’t having to play in our own end.”
Bishop was solid in his return, his one mistake coming on a bizarre play about six minutes in as he crashed into defenseman Victor Hedman while trying to clear the puck.
Chicago’s Patrick Sharp stepped around the pair and put the puck into the empty net for a 1-0 lead.
“I just know there was a collision and I found myself with a heck of an opportunity, so (you) just make sure you put that one in,” Sharp said.
Tampa Bay’s Valtteri Filppula tied it just after the midway point of the second frame, ensuring the teams would enter the third period tied for the third straight game.
Chicago, gunning for their third Cup in six years, will get the chance to clinch the title at home for the first time since 1938 on Monday.
Tampa Bay will hope regular season top scorer Steven Stamkos can get his offensive game in gear. After dominating performances in the second and third rounds against the Canadiens and Rangers, he has just one assist in the final.
Chicago winger Patrick Kane has also been uncharacteristically quiet, which has put much of the scoring burden on secondary players.
“This is it. Now there’s no margin for error,” said Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper.
“But as I said before, we’re still alive. This is not near over.”