Vermette enjoys being in playoff race again

After netting the winner Friday, Antoine Vermette said he was "very happy" with his new situation. AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast

CHICAGO -- Games began losing meaning for Antoine Vermette sometime in January with the Arizona Coyotes.

The Coyotes began dropping further and further below .500, and it became apparent they were going to miss the playoffs for a third consecutive season. It became a less-than-motivating environment for the veteran center.

That all changed when Vermette was dealt to the Chicago Blackhawks last weekend. Vermette was suddenly on a team in the midst of a playoff race, and every game had meaning again.

Vermette affected the Blackhawks' playoff position for the first time Friday. In his second game in the new sweater, Vermette slid the puck through Edmonton Oilers goaltender Ben Scrivens' legs for the lone shootout goal to lift the Blackhawks to a 2-1 victory at the United Center.

Every point matters from here on out, and the Blackhawks picked up two important ones Friday. Chicago pulled within two of the St. Louis Blues for second place in the Central Division and kept the Minnesota Wild four points back in the chase for third.

Vermette enjoyed having that feeling again.

"To win a game is great," Vermette said. "It doesn't matter how you do it. We stayed with it. It's very refreshing where I'm coming from previously, obviously. It's definitely a position that you want to be as a player, very happy to be in right now."

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville spoke to Vermette at a recent practice about the possibility of participating in shootouts. Vermette assured him he was comfortable in that situation.

After Scrivens denied Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp and Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford had made three consecutive saves, Vermette got his opportunity. Toews mentioned to Vermette that he might be able to beat Scrivens through the 5-hole, and Vermette took that advice and scored with it.

"He's coming off two really good years, probably 50 percent [success rate in the shootout] both years," Quenneville said. "Very timely. I think that will be good for him as well. Everybody leaves happy and get excited going forward."

Vermette said he felt more comfortable in his second game with Chicago -- and played that way. He and his wingers, Sharp and Brandon Saad, created some scoring chances, and Vermette won 11 of 19 faceoffs.

"I try to see the positive," Vermette said. "You want to score in every chance you get. As a player through the years, the experience gives you, it's usually a good sign. If you keep doing the right thing, you're going to get rewarded. We got a few chances, myself around the net, wouldn't go in, hit a few skates on their D on a couple occasions. Just stick with it, and you're going to get rewarded."

In the past, the sound of "Chelsea Dagger," the Blackhawks' celebration song, connoted something negative for Vermette. After hearing it again a few times Friday, he has come around.

"It’s the best. It's the best," Vermette said. "I love it."