Just about every hockey pundit picked the Chicago Blackhawks to win their opening round series against the Minnesota Wild in runaway fashion.
Add to that the absence of Niklas Backstrom from the Wild lineup after he was injured in warmups, and that feeling of impending Hawks dominance was even more inflated.
What fans got instead was a tightly fought contest between a Wild team eager to prove they belonged in the playoffs and a Hawks team frustrated by the defensive persistence they ran in to, but in the end, the night belonged to Chicago, as they won 2-1 on a late overtime goal by Bryan Bickell to get the victory.
We’ll have plenty of reaction to Game 1 throughout the day on Wednesday on Madhouse Enforcer, but for now, here are Tuesday’s Three Stars:
Third Star: Andrew Shaw
Shaw didn’t find his way onto the scoresheet, but where he really stood out was in his physical game. The Wild, especially in the overtime frame, were doing a great job of impeding the Hawks as they tried to get set in their offense, and the one guy that really stood his ground the best was Shaw, who had a blocked shot and seven hits in the game.
In addition to his physicality, Shaw also did a great job of controlling the tempo of the game when his third line teammates were on the ice. He was constantly winning puck battles below the goal line, and was right in the thick of things when the third line had several extended possessions in the second and third periods.
Most importantly, however, was the hit he laid in the defensive zone late in overtime that set up the game winning play. Because of the forced turnover, defenseman Johnny Oduya was able to thread a pass up the ice to Viktor Stalberg, and Bickell’s tap in tally was the icing on the cake.
With no Dave Bolland in the lineup, Shaw needed to step up as the primary physically frustrating center on the team, and he did exactly that in this contest.
Second Star: Bryan Bickell
Bickell has had a career year in terms of the impact that he has made on the club, and Tuesday night was no exception. He only played 16 minutes in the game, but he had several long shifts with his linemates on the third line, and his game winning goal in overtime was a thing of beauty.
Yes, Shaw’s hit helped set everything up, and the Minnesota defender did move towards Stalberg on the rush, but Bickell very calmly collected the puck on an uneven ice surface and did a light deke to fully eliminate a diving Josh Harding in order to secure the victory for Chicago.
It was a great touch play from a guy who is fully capable of mucking it up like any enforcer, and it’s a great illustration of why the Hawks would miss Bickell if he leaves this offseason in free agency.
First Star: Corey Crawford
If the only part of the hockey game you watched was the beginning of the first period, the inclusion of Crawford in the top spot on this list probably has you scratching your head. After all, it was Crawford who vacated the near post and allowed a Downy-soft goal by Cal Clutterbuck to give the Wild an early lead, but after that, he settled down.
What has made Crawford a controversial number one goalie has been his lack of rebound control at times this season. Minnesota even tried to capitalize on that by shooting a ton of pucks low at Crawford’s leg pads, but he didn’t allow that to faze him. In fact, on several occasions, Crawford shut down potential two-on-one scoring chances by steering the puck to ice devoid of Wild players, and it was truly a sight to see.
In the overtime period, Crawford was especially good, steering aside all seven Wild shots and staying calm when the heat was at its highest. This performance is a great sign for Hawks fans moving forward in this series, because if Crawford can take care of business in the crease with the limited number of shots he’ll face, then the Hawks should cruise to victory.