Do Lightning have the depth to overcome Blackhawks?

Patrick Sharp needed that opening goal, and despite the pratfall between Victor Hedman and Ben Bishop that handed him that goal, it was a total team effort that got the Blackhawks the win.

TAMPA, Fla. — The Stanley Cup bestows glory, but it is won in the trenches.

With the Chicago Blackhawks and Tampa Bay Lightning playing a tight, fast, tension-filled championship series it has not been the stars hogging the spotlight. Jonathan Toews and Steven Stamkos and Patrick Kane have each had their moments, but it is some less-heralded teammates collecting the accolades.

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And so it was in the swing game of the final, when the line of Teuvo Teravainen, Antoine Vermette and Kris Versteeg tilted the scales ever-so-slightly in Chicago’s favour.

It was Vermette who scored the winning goal against the run of play in the third period, but the unit’s effectiveness ran deeper than that. They were so reliable that coach Joel Quenneville felt comfortable rolling four forward lines and repeatedly generated scoring chances.

“The details of the game matter so much,” Vermette said after the 2-1 win. “It makes a big difference. You want to focus on the team structure and the team play. If we do that consistently, eventually the things will happen.”

That is the primary tenet good teams rely upon. Stick to the process and limit mistakes and eventually you will be rewarded.

The loser of this series is going to feel the sting a little deeper than usual because there is so little separating them. This has been the tightest Stanley Cup final since 1951, with neither having held a two-goal lead at any point.

Tampa feels as though it should be ahead 3-2 in this series, rather than behind, heading into a must-win Game 6 on Monday night. But the team left Amelie Arena vowing to stick to the game that carried it into mid-June.

“We can’t sit here and say, ‘Oh, poor us,”‘ said coach Jon Cooper. “We’re the last team that’s going to sit there and say that. You make your own breaks. These guys have been gaming games out through this whole playoffs. …

“I think there’s happy days ahead for us. We’ve got to push through this.”

The biggest question the Lightning need to answer is if they have the depth to do it. We already know they have the character and belief.

Losing Nikita Kucherov early in Game 5 when he smashed into the post hurt. Having Tyler Johnson play through a hand injury so bad that he’s stopped taking faceoffs does as well.

When it came down to the end, Cooper had no choice but to occasionally send out the likes of Cedric Paquette and J.T. Brown while searching for the tying goal. On a team that is about to match a NHL record with its 26th playoff game this spring the load has to be shared.

They’ve played 107 games in total this year. There is not other choice.

That is why the exceptional play of Chicago’s third line made such a difference, with three players who have all been scratched at some point in the playoffs raising their level.

Vermette was brought in from Arizona at the trade deadline for a first-round pick and prospect, but initially struggled to make an impact. All of a sudden he has three game-winning goals in the last two rounds, including two in this final.

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“Me and him (and Brad Richards) have talked quite a bit … about how it’s a different role when you come here and play,” said Versteeg. “You’ve got to understand that, you’ve got to understand the situations you’re in, you might not be in where you’d be on other teams.

“You’ve got to play the best with the ice time you’re given and try to contribute.”

The Blackhawks are an incredibly deep hockey team — one that has repeatedly come up big in tight spots. In fact, under Quenneville they are now a combined 42-14 between Games 4 and 7 of a playoff series.

Tampa has a more recent resume of success while under duress and will have to rebound from a loss that will gnaw at them if they fail to do it again.

This game was lost in a calamitous first period. First Kucherov had his night end early with an injury and then goaltender Ben Bishop collided with defenceman Victor Hedman at the top of the circle, leaving Patrick Sharp all alone to open the scoring.

“I saw them going for a change and I was figuring maybe I’d be able to catch them,” said Bishop. “Heddy was coming for it, I was coming for it. You can’t really hear anything in the building when it’s that loud.

“Obviously, you saw the result.”

And so the Blackhawks head home with the chance to clinch their first Cup in Chicago since 1938. It would also be their third in six seasons, which is pretty incredible given that the organization had all of three in the Original Six era.

“The buzz will be off the charts,” said Quenneville.

The margin for error will still be minimal, just like it’s been all series.  

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