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Blackhawks on the brink of clinching NHL title

Blackhawks on the brink of clinching NHL title

Corey Crawford makes 31 saves for the winners

By (AP)

Published: Mon 15 Jun 2015, 3:04 PM

Last updated: Wed 8 Jul 2015, 2:52 PM

Blackhawks defenceman Niklas Hjalmarsson (4) kicks the puck away on a shot by Tampa Bay Lightning centre Valtteri Filppula. — AP

Blackhawks defenceman Niklas Hjalmarsson (4) kicks the puck away on a shot by Tampa Bay Lightning centre Valtteri Filppula. — AP

Tampa: With another tenacious road victory in this agonisingly close Stanley Cup Final, the Chicago Blackhawks earned an opportunity to raise that silver trophy on their home ice.

Antoine Vermette scored the tiebreaking goal early in the third period, and the Blackhawks moved to the brink of their third NHL championship in six years with a 2-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 5 on Saturday night.

“We try not to think too far ahead,” Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson said. “But obviously you’re just human.”

Corey Crawford made 31 saves and Patrick Sharp scored an early goal into an accidentally unguarded net for the Blackhawks, who took a 3-2 series lead by surviving another tense game in this incredibly even series. The first five games all have been decided by one goal for just the second time in Stanley Cup Final history, and the first time since 1951. Ben Bishop stopped 27 shots after missing Game 4 with an undisclosed injury, but the goalie’s ill-advised venture outside the crease led to Sharp’s goal.

Valtteri Filppula scored for the Lightning, who have scored just two goals while losing two straight games for only the second time in their 25-game postseason. Tampa Bay also lost second-leading scorer Nikita Kucherov to a first-period injury when he crashed into the Chicago net. “I feel bad for them, in the sense that I think they’ve deserved a little bit better than what we’re sitting right now,” Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said of his players. “But the one thing we are, we’re still alive. We’re not out. This isn’t the press conference to say we’re done. I don’t know. I think there’s happy days ahead for us. We’ve just got to push through this.”

Game 6 is Monday night in Chicago, and seven remaining members of the Blackhawks’ two-time champion core will have the chance to skate the Stanley Cup around the United Center for the first time after winning the other two Cups on the road.

“We’re going to carry this momentum,” Crawford said. “We’re pretty excited about this right now, and (we want to) carry this over to the next game. We don’t want to get ahead of us, but it’s going to be real exciting going home.”

The Lightning must win two straight to claim the second Stanley Cup title in franchise history.

Game 5 was another chapter in what’s shaping up as the tightest Final ever played. Neither team has even held a two-goal lead through five games, staying tied or one goal apart for all 300 minutes.

The clubs started the third period in a tie for the third straight game, but Vermette cashed in on a loose puck in the slot just two minutes in. Bishop kicked the puck straight onto Vermette’s tape after stopping a rush by Kris Versteeg. Vermette, the veteran forward acquired from Arizona near the trade deadline, also scored the third-period tiebreaker at Amelie Arena in the series opener 10 days ago.

While the Lightning didn’t know their goalie’s identity until earlier in the day, Crawford delivered another outstanding night in Chicago’s crease right when he was most needed. He capped the performance with 16 saves in the third period, performing flawlessly down the stretch just as he did in the previous game. Bishop decided to play after participating in the morning skate, and the 53-game winner appeared to be moving more fluidly than he did in Game 3.  

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