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Vermette's faceoff ability a boon for Blackhawks

by Brian Hedger /

CHICAGO – Antoine Vermette's skill in the faceoff circle is finally starting to pay off for the Chicago Blackhawks during the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Vermette has won 70 percent of his faceoffs in the Blackhawks' past three games while centering a third line that has produced goals in each of their two wins to start the Western Conference Second Round series against the Minnesota Wild.

Game 3 is Tuesday at Xcel Energy Center (8 p.m. ET; CBC, TVA Sports, NBCSN).

"He tells us where to go before the faceoff, and most of the time it's going right there," left wing Patrick Sharp said. "That's a huge advantage this time of year, special teams and faceoffs, and [Vermette's] one of the best at it."

Vermette was acquired from the Arizona Coyotes prior to the NHL Trade Deadline with the hope he'd fill a void up front during right wing Patrick Kane's injury absence. The Blackhawks were also hoping for a bump in faceoff production, helping to further pad their usual advantage in puck possession.

It didn't happen during the regular season, when Vermette won about six percent fewer faceoffs for the Blackhawks than the 56 percent he won while centering the Coyotes' top line. He was a healthy scratch the first two games of the first round against the Nashville Predators, but entered that series in Game 3 and hasn't left the lineup since.

Along with Sharp, Vermette's line features playmaking rookie forward Teuvo Teravainen at right wing, and the three are developing chemistry quickly. They're starting to morph into a third line that plays like a top-six line, and Vermette's increased success on draws is giving them the puck more.

Vermette was still slumping on faceoffs early against Nashville, but started to relocate his top form in Chicago's 3-2 triple overtime win in Game 4 at United Center. After languishing around 40 percent most of the game, Vermette had a lot of success on draws in the overtimes and finished with a 60 percent success rate.

He's won more than 60 percent in three of the four games that followed.

"It helps our team, it helps the line, it helps [puck] possession," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "Certainly, starting with the puck is everything."

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