For newcomer Antoine Vermette, it was an introduction to what the Blackhawks are all about — an uneven effort against an overmatched opponent; Corey Crawford making 46 saves to keep the Hawks in it; Brent Seabrook scoring the tying goal with a slap shot late in regulation.
And with a bonus — Vermette made the difference.
Taking advantage of coach Joel Quenneville’s faith in him and a tip from captain Jonathan Toews, Vermette scored the only goal of the shootout to give the Hawks a 2-1 victory over the Edmonton Oilers on Friday night before 22,017 at the United Center.
“I didn’t know [what move to use],” said Vermette, who went forehand to backhand to beat nearly indomitable Oilers goaltender Ben Scrivens. “I was approaching the goalie, trying to see my options.
“Jonathan said something before I jumped out there that he saw and it kind of got my attention. He said it looked like something might be available on the five-hole. It worked out.”
The shaky performance against the last-place Oilers (18-36-11) was the Hawks’ second consecutive victory since acquiring Vermette from the Arizona Coyotes and defenseman Kimmo Timonen from the Philadelphia Flyers. It moved the Hawks within two points of the second-place Blues and six points of the first-place Predators — and kept them four points ahead of the hard-charging Wild — in the Central Division.
It easily could have been a discouraging loss, as the Blackhawks after a sloppy first period, missed one chance after another in the final two periods. But Crawford made every big save against an unexpected barrage. The Oilers, who had been averaging 23 shots on goal in their last eight games, fired 47 at Crawford.
Still, it looked like his effort would be for naught, until Seabrook fired a slap shot past Scrivens with 6:02 left in the third period. It was Seabrook’s eighth goal of the season, with Toews and Marian Hossa assisting.
Crawford did the rest.
“Corey’s great. He kept us in the game,” Quenneville said. “They had a chance to go up by two on several occasions. I think we missed some high-quality chances around the net. We didn’t bury it. It looked like an empty cage on a few of them.
“But we hung in there. We’ll take the two points. It wasn’t our best, but certainly the two [points] are very valuable.”
Crawford allowed only Derek Roy’s first-period goal on a nifty spin move in the slot after a Hawks turnover behind their net. He stopped all three Oilers shots in the shootout — by Roy, Jordan Eberle and Teddy Purcell.
“We stuck with our game. We didn’t get frustrated,” Crawford said. “Their goalie was making some big saves. Their guys were getting in front and making blocks. But we kept playing, kept getting chances. It’s nice to get that one.”
“He was really solid,” Vermette said. “I’ve been here for two games — it’s certainly something I’ve noticed right off the bat. He’s a very strong goaltender. Gave us a great chance tonight. Sometimes you’ve got to win those 2-1 games and certainly he stood up big for us and gave us a chance.”
Vermette actually had several chances of his own to be the hero much earlier — including one golden opportunity on a fabulous behind-the-back pass from Niklas Hjalmarsson right in front of the Oilers net that was foiled by Scrivens.
“That was a great play [by Hjalmarsson],” Vermette said. “I saw him dangling. I had the best seat in the house to see him dangling in the sky. When he passed to me, I tried to out-wait the goalie to make him move and spread his legs a little bit. He made a good save.”
Vermette had other chances, but couldn’t not connect. But it’s only his second game with the Hawks.
“I try to see the positive,” Vermette said. “As a player experience tells you that’s a good sign. If you keep doing the right things, you’re going to get rewarded. We got a few chances myself around the net, wouldn’t go in — hit a few sakes on their D. But you stick with it, you’re going to get rewarded.”
Vermette is feeling rejuvenated after going from a non-playoff team to a Stanley Cup contender. He feels it.
“I haven’t been around here long, but I know what this team is capable of,” he said. “I’m sure it could be better. But the way it felt out there, it seems like we’re getting a lot of chances. Not necessarily getting shots on net. They blocked a lot of shots. But we were around the net and eventually if you keep doing the right things, eventually it’s going to go the right way.”
It bodes well for Vermette’s as he gets acclimated to the Hawks. He’s the kind of two-way player Quenneville gives a longer leash to than most. That Quenneville gave him the opportunity in a key moment in the shootout figures to help Vermette in his transition to a new team.
“I didn’t know what to expect [in the shootout]. It’s something we discussed in practice,” Vermette said. “It’s a position I’ve been comfortable [in] the last couple of years. I appreciate the trust. It was a good win.”
Whether it’s something to build on remains to be seen. With back-to-back victories, the Hawks will be attempting to win three consecutive games for the first time since Dec. 11 when they face the Rangers (39-17-7) on Sunday at the United Center.