The Chicago Blackhawks didn’t make it easy on Tuesday night, beating the Minnesota Wild by a score of 2-1 in overtime to advance to the Western Conference Final for the second consecutive season.
We’ll have plenty of reaction to this series, as well as thoughts on what the future could hold for the Blackhawks, in coming days, but for now here are our Three Stars.
Third Star: Peter Regin
In the two games that Regin has been in the lineup, the Blackhawks have had some noticeable jump in their steps, and that continued on Tuesday night as the center was paired up with Patrick Kane for large chunks of the contest, getting two shots and a plus-1 rating in 12:24 of ice time.
Regin’s biggest contribution didn’t appear on the scoresheet however. On the play that ultimately won the game for the Blackhawks, Regin was racing Matt Cooke down the ice for Brent Seabrook’s dump-in off the boards. After the puck ricocheted back out to the front of the net, Regin made a subtle, yet brilliant play, lifting Cooke’s stick and opening the door for Kane to weave his magic against Ilya Bryzgalov.
Just like in Game 5 when he drew a key penalty that eventually netted the Blackhawks a power play goal in the second period, Regin has done all the little things right since he took Brandon Bollig’s spot in the Hawks’ lineup. It’s going to be interesting to see whether or not his efforts will continue to earn him that spot even when Bollig is eligible to return from suspension in Game 1 of the conference final, but one thing is for sure: he’s earned the chance in the eyes of many pundits and fans.
Second Star: Patrick Kane
Scoring game-winning goals has become a habit for Kane in his career, and he added to his legend on Tuesday night as he netted the game-winning tally to eliminate the Wild and send the Hawks to the next round of the postseason.
Kane’s play didn’t just pick up when the overtime frame started. Late in the third period, with his team having ceded control of the game to Minnesota for most of the contest, Kane began driving all over the ice trying to get the lead back for his team. His best work came with a little under four minutes left as he got a loose puck near the blue line, quickly turned back up ice, and blasted a shot at Ilya Bryzgalov, who had to scramble to make the save.
Of course, Kane’s overtime goal was a thing of beauty as well. After picking up a loose puck off a carom from the boards, Kane quickly deked to his backhand side and lifted a shot that went over Bryzgalov and into the top shelf of the net to beat the Wild.
With his flair for the dramatic and his ability to pull off shots that few other players can manage, Kane is proving that he is not only one of the most exciting players in the game, but also one of its best when it matters most.
First Star: Corey Crawford
In Minnesota, the media members selected Crawford as the third star of the game, but in all reality, he was the only reason that the Blackhawks had a chance to win the contest, so he is more than deserving of First Star consideration for us.
His performance was the stuff of legends, and he added to his already sterling playoff resume. Here’s what Christopher Kamka of Comcast SportsNet had to say about how Crawford has played in his career when the Blackhawks have a chance to eliminate an opponent:
Corey Crawford in playoff games where opponent faces elimination: W-L: 6-1 GAA: 1.40 SV%: .950
— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) May 14, 2014
Crawford was at his absolute best in the second period of the game, where he made 13 saves and turned away several great chances for the Wild to take the lead. His best work game in two separate plays against Justin Fontaine, who came in on breakaways twice in the period. On the second one, Crawford stretched out to make one save to the far post, and then had to make a second glove save that was even more incredible than the first one.
If one was to pick a playoff MVP in the NHL so far, Crawford would have to be near the top of the list for Conn Smythe favorites. Even with his team struggling to score goals in front of him at times, Crawford has consistently kept the team in games, and he’ll be a key for them as the playoffs move forward for the Blackhawks.