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Three Stars: Crawford Stands Tall Again as Hawks Advance

Sharp, Keith both play excellent games as Hawks win fourth straight

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Blackhawks fans react after the Blackhawks beat the Blues in Game 6 to advance to Round 2 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

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The Chicago Blackhawks may have been left for dead by some, but they clearly never lost faith in themselves as they secured four consecutive wins and a berth in the second round of the playoffs with a 5-1 win over the St. Louis Blues on Sunday afternoon.

We’ll have plenty of reaction to this series, as well as some thoughts on what could be in the cards for the Blackhawks in the next round, later on, but for now, here were our Three Stars of Sunday’s game.

Third Star: Patrick Sharp

Going into Sunday’s game, Sharp hadn’t scored a goal yet in the playoffs, and was having a really rough go of things in that area of his game. He had been shuffled around lines a few times, and despite seeing improved chances with Ben Smith and Patrick Kane, he still hadn’t found the back of the net. In our preview of the game, we put it thusly:

“The Hawks have some players of their own that need to be ready to step up in a big way. First and foremost among those is Patrick Sharp, who has been held without a goal so far in the series….That extra space that Smith and Kane can provide for the veteran sniper should be enough to get his game back in order, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see Sharp pot one in Game 6.”

Sure enough, in the third period of the game, Sharp delivered his first goal of the postseason, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. The Hawks had just taken a 2-1 lead on Jonathan Toews’ power play goal, and they were eager to add more. It was with that thought in mind that Sharp jumped out on a breakaway following a great defensive stand by Chicago, and Kane found him with the puck.

Despite getting hit in the face with a high stick (which would have prompted a penalty shot, according to Sharp), the forward was able to muscle a shot past Ryan Miller and into the net as he sprawled to the ice, and in the blink of an eye the Hawks had a 3-1 lead.

Being able to add an insurance goal that quickly after a go-ahead tally is critical for a team’s confidence, and the Hawks definitely played with more jump in their step after Sharp’s tremendous individual effort.

Second Star: Duncan Keith

If there was one player who has had to step up in a big way against the Blues in this series, it was Keith, who played three of the games without his regular defensive partner with Brent Seabrook suspended for his hit on David Backes.

Keith celebrated Seabrook’s return to the lineup with an explosive performance in Game 6, scoring a goal and adding three assists in 25:16 of ice time. Keith spent about six and a half of those minutes out on the ice for penalty killing purposes, and was one of the big reasons why the Hawks went a perfect 6-for-6 on the kill.

The most exciting play of the day for Keith was his third period goal, which he batted out of midair with a backhanded swing on a rush with Andrew Shaw, but the more important plays he made came on the first two Hawks’ goals. During both of those sequences, the Hawks had established really good possession in the offensive zone, and the Blues tried to clear the puck. On the first attempt, Keith grabbed the puck with his glove and played catch at the point with Seabrook before the newly returned defenseman blasted a shot that Bryan Bickell deflected into the net.

On the second, Keith made a stretching save of the puck at the blue line, then found Jonathan Toews with a crisp cross-ice pass before the captain hammered home a shot to make it 2-1 Chicago.

Having a defenseman who can not only man the blue line for defensive purposes, but also has the athleticism and wherewithal to reset the offense, is a huge asset for the Blackhawks, and Keith passed the tests of Sunday afternoon with flying colors as the Hawks won.

First Star: Corey Crawford

Make no mistake about it. The Blackhawks’ third period outburst ended up pushing the team over the top in the game (and the series), but there’s no way they would have gotten to that point if it hadn’t been for the spectacular first 40 minutes of play from Crawford.

In those two periods, Crawford ended up making 27 saves, with the only goal he gave up coming as a result of Johnny Oduya leaving TJ Oshie wide open in front of the net. Crawford made 11 of those saves when the Blackhawks were down a man, as they surrendered six different power plays to the Blues in the first two periods of the game.

At no time was Crawford tested more than he was during the Blues’ final power play of the game in the second period. During that sequence, St. Louis fired off shot after shot, but moving around the crease with a deft mix of athleticism and precision, Crawford was able to stifle every scoring opportunity. His skilled play seemed to finally ignite a spark under the Hawks, and he was able to largely relax during the third period as his team finally broke through on offense.

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