It’s very possible for a player to move from the doghouse to the penthouse during the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Just ask Antoine Vermette of the Chicago Blackhawks.
Vermette continued to do just that in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, scoring with 4:34 remaining in the third period to snap a tie and lift Chicago to a 2-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning. The goal came less than two minutes after Teuvo Teravainen knotted a contest in which the Blackhawks fell behind 4:31 into the first period.
After beating the 6-foot-7 Bishop with a shot through a screen, Teravainen forced Tampa Bay’s J.T. Brown to cough up the puck and poked it across the slot to Vermette, who found the top right corner of the net from the inner edge of the left faceoff circle for his third goal of the postseason. Two of those tallies have been game-winners, and both have come after the 32-year-old found himself watching Game 3 of the Western Conference Final from the press box as a healthy scratch.
Vermette scored a team-high 24 goals for Arizona in 2013-14 and had recorded 13 tallies in 63 games with the Coyotes this season before being traded to Chicago on Feb. 28 for defenseman Klas Dahlbeck and a first-round pick in this year’s draft. The native of Quebec turned out to be a major bust for the Blackhawks, registering a mere three assists in 19 regular-season contests.
Things did not get much better in the postseason for Vermette, who is participating in the playoffs for just the second time since 2009 with the Columbus Blue Jackets and first since 2012 with Arizona. He was scratched for Chicago’s first two games against the Nashville Predators in their first-round matchup before recording just one goal over the final four contests of the series.
Vermette went on to notch one assist during the Blackhawks’ sweep against the Minnesota Wild in the next round and was kept off the scoresheet in each of the first two games of the conference final versus the top-seeded Anaheim Ducks. His inability to produce offensively prompted coach Joel Quenneville to keep him out of the lineup for Game 3, which Chicago lost 2-1 to fall into an identical hole in the series.
Believing he played well in the previous game, a 3-2 triple-overtime triumph at Anaheim that evened the series at one win apiece, Vermette was floored by Quenneville’s decision.
“It came as a surprise and disappointment,” Vermette told the Chicago Sun-Times. “I’m not going to lie – I was not happy with that. But my job is to be ready whenever I have a chance to be in the lineup – and that’s what I’m going to do.”
A man of his word, Vermette was more than ready when he was inserted back into the lineup for Game 4. The veteran redeemed himself and became an instant hero, scoring 5:37 into the second overtime to give the Blackhawks a 5-4 victory.
Undoubtedly feeling vindicated, Vermette refused to puff out his chest or pat himself on the back despite putting himself in a position to do so.
“At this time of the year, you don’t want to make (it about) the individual or a personal story,” he told the Sun-Times. “That main focus is about the team’s success, and that’s all that matters.”
The goal, as well as the healthy scratch, appeared to light a fire under Vermette. The French-Canadian center recorded an assist in each of the next two contests for a three-game point streak and, after having it snapped in Game 7 versus Anaheim, provided more heroics in the opener of the Cup Final.
But again, Vermette elected to shift the focus from himself and sent praise Teravainen’s way.
“Teuvo kept working hard, created a turnover and got the puck in the slot,” Vermette said. “I got a shot out of it.”
With that, Vermette’s shot at winning his first championship got a little better. After falling to Anaheim in the 2007 Stanley Cup Final while with the Ottawa Senators, he’s now three victories away from having his name engraved on the trophy.
And as a result of scoring the deciding goal in two of Chicago’s last four victories, Vermette has permanently moved out of Quenneville’s doghouse.