When the Phoenix Coyotes acquired Antoine Vermette from Columbus in late February, they expected him to add depth and playmaking to a group of forwards that had been having trouble scoring. But he's provided much more than offense during this year's Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Before this spring, Vermette's last playoff win had come in Game 3 of the 2007 Stanley Cup Final, which his Senators lost in five games to Anaheim. Vermette recorded no points and was minus-8 in eight playoff games with Columbus in 2008 and Ottawa in 2010 -- all losses. But with Phoenix, Vermette has been an unlikely offensive catalyst for a team that has won its first two series since moving to the desert from Winnipeg in 1996.
Nashville Predators, as the eight-year veteran opened the second-round series with three points in two games. His best all-around performance may have come in Game 2, when he collected a goal and an assist while winning 13 of 20 faceoffs in a 5-3 win. After going scoreless in Games 3 and 4, the first time all postseason he had gone without a point in consecutive games, Vermette again made big plays in Game 5, assisting on Derek Morris' opening tally, a goal that put the Coyotes on their way to a 2-1 victory and their first trip to the conference finals since entering the NHL in 1979.
With two rounds in the books, Vermette leads the Coyotes with five goals and nine points in 11 games, and his 29.4 percent shooting percentage (five goals on 17 shots) is second only to Philadelphia's Danny Briere this postseason among players who have taken more than 12 shots. His 58.44 faceoff percentage also ranks near the top of the League among players who advanced past the opening round. That percentage is all the more impressive considering his 178 faceoffs rank him in the top 10 this postseason.
Vermette has taken the ice in practically every situation, but it's his contribution to the second line that has really made a difference for the Coyotes. Playing between Shane Doan and Mikkel Boedker, the native of St. Agapit, Que., has given Phoenix a viable second scoring line behind the "Prime Line" of Martin Hanzal, Ray Whitney and Radim Vrbata. With Raffi Torres serving a suspension for his hit on Chicago's Marian Hossa in the opening round, Vermette is also one of only two players on Phoenix's active roster to have played in a Stanley Cup Final; Whitney, who won a Cup with Carolina in '06, in the other.
"To say it's been a great deal for us is an understatement," said GM Don Maloney, who managed to fit Vermette's contract into his budget. "He has fit in seamlessly with the team."
Vermette isn't the only reason the Coyotes are exploring the uncharted territory of the conference finals. But he's a big reason they have a chance to make the Stanley Cup Final for the first time ever.