CHICAGO -- Antoine Vermette could have made it all about himself. No one would have blamed him.
Vermette could have vented and criticized Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville for making him a healthy scratch early in the Stanley Cup playoffs and again in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals against the Anaheim Ducks. Vermette would have earned that right after being one of the game’s better two-way players over the past 10 years.
Vermette and many others were under the assumption that the Blackhawks acquired him at the trade deadline -- for a first-round draft pick and a prospect -- to help them over the top in the playoffs. Instead, he had to sit in the team’s locker room and watch the loss to the Ducks in Game 3 Thursday.
Vermette refused to make it about himself, though. He voiced enough displeasure to get his point across but restrained himself from saying more. He saw the bigger picture -- and in it was the rest of his team. He wouldn’t be that distraction.
Vermette got a chance from Quenneville to prove himself Saturday, and Vermette didn't fail. He followed his own rebound and stuck the puck in the back of the net 5 minutes, 37 seconds into the second overtime to lift the Blackhawks to a 5-4 victory in Game 4 and even the series at 2-2.
Vermette was center stage afterward, and again, he was presented with the opportunity to draw attention to how he might have been wronged. Again, he diverted the spotlight.
“At this time of the year, you don't want to make an individual or a personal story,” said Vermette, who also won 14 of 20 faceoffs. “The main focus is about the team's success. That's all that matters. I'm glad we won tonight.”
Quenneville was glad too, for two reasons: winning, obviously, and Vermette's being the hero. As much as Quenneville hasn’t shown much love for Vermette through ice time and opportunities since he arrived, it has never been personal.
Quenneville makes decisions at this time of year based on what he believes will give the Blackhawks the best chance to win. In Game 3, he thought Vermette's being out gave the Blackhawks the best odds. Although Quenneville won’t admit he was wrong in that, he seemed to express an understanding of what Vermette was going through the past few days.
“They're so competitive,” Quenneville said. “They want to play in the worst way, and they want more ice time as well. You can understand where he was at -- very disappointed. He's a great pro. Stayed with it. That line had a couple looks in overtime. I'm glad he finished it for us. That was a huge goal for us. Huge goal.”
Vermette’s teammates felt the same. They recognized how Vermette handled being scratched and respected him for it.
“It’s great. It shows his professionalism,” said Blackhawks forward Brad Richards, who also had to swallow his tongue over how Quenneville used him earlier in the season. “No one’s happy not being in the lineup. But he went out and scored the biggest goal maybe of his career. Hats off to him. We didn’t think about it, hear about it. He came to work and went out and played.”
Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane was also pleased for Vermette.
“I think he was happy he got his chance to get back in tonight and wanted to prove his worth,” Kane said. “He did that. He’s been around a long time. He’s got a lot of experience. He’s done a lot of good things in this league. Good to see him capitalize on that situation and come through in a big moment for us.”
After scoring the winner, Vermette skated around the net, dropped to one knee, pumped his right fist, rose back up and skated into the corner while his teammates joined him and celebrated.
“Emotion in the corner, it was pretty fun,” Vermette said. “This is a fun group. We had a good celebration. Hopefully, we can do that again.”