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Vermette overcame tough transition to Blackhawks

by Shawn P. Roarke / Chicago Blackhawks

TAMPA -- Chicago Blackhawks center Antoine Vermette is making up for lost time in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Vermette was acquired from the Arizona Coyotes near the 2015 NHL Trade Deadline to be a difference maker. For 19 regular-season games he was anything but, managing three assists.

But the postseason has been a different story.

Vermette scored his fourth goal of the playoffs Wednesday against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena in Game 5 of the 2015 Stanley Cup Final. Vermette put home the rebound of a Kris Versteeg shot two minutes into the third period to provide the winning margin in a 2-1 game.

It was Vermette's third game-winning goal this postseason and second of this series. He scored the game-winner in a 2-1 victory in Game 1 here on June 3.

Now, the Blackhawks are one win away from raising the Stanley Cup for the third time since 2010. The first of two chances in what is left of this best-of-7 series comes Monday at United Center in Game 6 (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports).

For Vermette, Game 6 is all that is on his mind at this point. The goal he scored Saturday is nice, but it no longer means a thing. Neither does the game-winner in Game 1 of the Final, nor the winner in Game 4 of the Western Conference Final against the Anaheim Ducks.

"Right off the get-go, [this] was a great opportunity for me. I want to make the best out of it," said Vermette, who won eight of 11 faceoffs Saturday. "This is a good group, obviously a special team. I'm glad I'm here to try to help the team. This is all fun right now, but there's a lot of work still ahead."

Vermette wishes to only look forward to the work that remains before he can possibly claim the Stanley Cup, but others are more willing to look back, to revisit the struggles that preceded the success.

It wasn't only the lack of production in the regular season, there were the bitter disappointments early in the playoffs. Vermette was scratched for the Blackhawks' first two playoffs games against the Nashville Predators. He was scratched for Game 3 of the Western Conference Final, only to score the double-overtime winner in his return in Game 4.

"I think in the beginning he tried to understand the system," said Chicago forward Marian Hossa. "I think after some time he got the role and he grew in that role unbelievably and he's scoring huge goals for us. He's a great centerman and he's scoring big goals, so I'm feeling great for him."

Even the man who made the hard choice to scratch Vermette is happy with the way the veteran has responded.

"He's [gotten] better every game," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "I thought he had a great game tonight. Very timely goal. Big faceoffs [in] both zones tonight. Lot of wins, positionally aware. Battled."

A lot of Blackhawks helped Vermette get to this point, to a place in playoff history where on a team of gifted goal scorers he is the first player to score multiple game-winning goals in a Final since Boston Bruins forward Daniel Paille had the decisive goal in the Bruins' 2-1 (overtime) and 2-0 wins in Games 2 and 3 of the 2013 Final against the Blackhawks. The veteran core of a championship-caliber team came to the rescue of a teammate who, at times, was a bit adrift.

After Game 5, forward Kris Versteeg admitted he had several conversations with Vermette about the transition from one team to another and changing roles from a high-profile player with Arizona to a lower-line contributor with Chicago. Center Brad Richards, another player with experience in changing teams and roles, also talked to Vermette, according to Versteeg.

"Even when [Vermette] came over, he played a lot of minutes in [Arizona], he comes here and it's a different adjustment," Versteeg said. "You have to play different minutes, you have a different role to play. So it's a whole different game.”

It didn't help that the price tag for Vermette's services was a first-round pick and a mid-level prospect. Vermette said Saturday that the ransom paid for him by the Blackhawks never weighed heavily upon him.

But now that he is repaid in full the faith placed in him by general manager Stan Bowman, the past can well and truly become the past and Vermette can look to the future.

"I'm not focused as much on [goals] as [I am] just trying to focus on the process and to have fun while I'm at it," Vermette said. [I'm] trying to help the team in different facets in which I can. Just keeping it simple, but obviously it's nice to contribute that way."

Author: Shawn Roarke | Director, Editorial

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