The Blackhawks beat the bruised and battered Lightning 2-1 to win Game 5 of the Stanley Cup final Saturday night at Amalie Arena. Up three games to two, they're one victory away from their third championship in six years.
"Here we are, one win away. I think there is still that excitement there," captain Jonathan Toews said. "When you win, you definitely know what you're missing, you want to get back there, and we've worked really hard to get to where we are right now."
The Blackhawks' experience and championship savvy showed through in Game 5. They also made the most of a few breaks and an opponent that is grinding through a world of hurt.
By Game 6 Monday, there's no telling how banged up the Lightning will be. Nikita Kucherov left early in Game 5 with an injury, while goaltender Ben Bishop and forward Tyler Johnson gutted through theirs. Brian Boyle appeared to test one out, too.
Bishop made a major mistake to hand Patrick Sharp a goal when he left his net and collided with Victor Hedman but finished with 27 saves.
"Every guy wakes up out of bed and it takes him a little while to get going at this point and time of the year, and things can nag you," Boyle said. "I just think it's kind of the nature of the beast."
The nature of the Blackhawks' beast is a team that can smell weaknesses and close the deal. They're up 3-2 in the first Cup final since 1951 to have each of the first five games decided by one goal.
With everything so tight, the Blackhawks needed all 31 of Corey Crawford's saves and then Antoine Vermette's second game-winner of the series to get the chance to lift the Cup on home ice at United Center for the first time.
"Never been in this spot," coach Joel Quenneville said. "I'm sure it'll be crazy in town over the next two days. I'm sure the buzz will be off the charts. Looking forward to it."
The Lightning were looking forward to starting fast at home in Game 5 but instead were on their heels. Outshot 7-0 in the early going, it got worse when crashed shoulder-first into the post.
Coach Jon Cooper had no further update on Kucherov, Tampa Bay's second-leading scorer with 22 points. Adding insult to injury, the game changed a minute later when Bishop left his net, collided with Hedman and gave Sharp one of the easiest goals he ever scored.
"It's just unfortunate," said Bishop, who said he felt better after missing Game 4 with an undisclosed injury. "It's the first time it happened. Bad time to happen."
The Lightning rebounded to tie the score in the second on a goal by Valtteri Filppula. But a bad bounce made the difference.
After Tampa defenceman Andrej Sustr pinched and lost the battle for the puck, Kris Versteeg helped the Blackhawks go ahead 2-1 two minutes into the third. Bishop kicked out Versteeg's shot off the rush right to Vermette, who fired into the net and made his deadline trade look even better for Chicago.
"Right off the get-go, this was a great opportunity for me," Vermette said. "I want to make the best out of it. ... I'm glad I'm here to try to help the team. This is all fun right now."
It's not so much fun for the Lightning, who will face elimination on the road for the third time in the playoffs. Bishop expects to play, but there's no certainty on Kucherov.
Players nevertheless expressed confidence in drawing from the experiences of this season. Cooper called his team the "Gamer Lightning."
"We're still alive. We're not out," Cooper said. "These guys have gamed out this playoffs, and I expect nothing less than Game 6 in Chicago."
The Blackhawks haven't won the Cup in Chicago since 1938, an opportunity they'll get at the Madhouse on Madison on Monday night.
"You know that's in the back of our minds," defenceman Niklas Hjalmarsson said. "You just have to find a way to calm down and just be excited to play in front of our own crowd and having the possibility to do something extremely special."
Notes — Sustr played a series-high 15:04. ... Jonathan Drouin played his second game of the final replacing Nikita Nesterov as the Lightning went with 12 forwards and six defencemen.
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