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Three Stars: Crawford Steals Win as Hawks Triumph

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    Corey Crawford #50 of the Chicago Blackhawks in goal against the Dallas Stars in the first period at American Airlines Center on October 9, 2014 in Dallas, Texas.

    Despite being outshot through two periods by a 24-11 margin, the Chicago Blackhawks stormed back and grabbed two points in the standings on Thursday night as they won a 3-2 shootout thriller over the Dallas Stars on opening night.

    We’ll have plenty of analysis of the game as the day goes on, but to get us started, here is our first Three Stars countdown of the regular season.

    Third Star: Patrick Kane

    Kane got off to a nice start to the season, attempting six shots and picking up an assist on Patrick Sharp’s game-tying goal in the third period, but it was his shootout goal that really stood out as he picked up the only tally in the competition.

    With the score tied at 0-0 in the shootout, Kane grabbed the puck at center ice and pulled off his patented slowdown move as he crossed the blue line. After waiting for a few moments, he finally got Dallas goaltender Kari Lehtonen to drop to his knees in the crease, and as soon as the goalie hit the ice Kane lifted a backhanded shot just under the crossbar and into the net to give his team the lead.

    It was a slick shot that few players in the league can pull off regularly, and Kane’s patience and ability to pick his spot were both on full display as he helped his team secure a win.

    Second Star: Patrick Sharp

    Even when the Blackhawks’ offense was sputtering, Sharp was out there trying to create plays. He ended up attempting seven shots in the game, often serving as the most effective player on the team’s power play and ultimately scoring the game-tying goal in the third period.

    First, a little bit of context will help here. One of the biggest complaints that fans have about power plays is that players prefer to pass the puck rather than shooting it. That was not the case with Sharp in this game. With Dallas pulling players off the point, Sharp often had open ice to skate to, and he got the puck in some advantageous positions. It was a matter of aggression meeting effectiveness, and Sharp took full advantage as he curled outside off a won face-off and fired a shot from the boards, beating Kari Lehtonen glove-side to tie things up at 2-2.

    Even though Sharp made his mark on the game with his aggressiveness, his patience came into play as well. In the first period, Sharp got the puck off a drop pass from Marian Hossa, and loaded up for a shot from the right face-off circle. Seeing a defender drop down to block the shot, Sharp wisely pulled back, circled the net (taking advantage of a nice screen by Marian Hossa on Trevor Daley), and found Brent Seabrook back at the point. After Seabrook passed the puck to Duncan Keith, the defenseman fired home a one-timer to give Chicago a 1-0 lead.

    Sharp’s aggressive play was one of the more noteworthy performances from Thursday night, but he showed that there is more than one way to generate offense with his patient play.

    First Star: Corey Crawford

    Joel Quenneville told the media after the game that “we have to call the cops; we stole two points tonight.” Sharp said that he was “the best player on the ice.” No matter where you turned in the Hawks’ locker room after the victory Thursday, there was somebody praising the effort of Corey Crawford.

    It could have been the slew of breakaway chances he stopped, with Shawn Horcoff’s power play rush in the second period arguably being the most important as Dallas pressed forward. It could have been the multiple saves he made without a stick on a first period Stars man-advantage situation. It could have been the fact that he made two saves in the shootout. Whatever reason you’d look for to select Crawford as the first star of the game, he definitely earned the spot.

    Our personal choice for highlight of the game for Crawford came in the second period. Against a Dallas team with speed to burn, goaltenders may be lax to come out of the net at all for fear of getting exposed on a quick pass, but Crawford showed no hesitation as he came well out of the net to challenge Brenden Dillon on a shot from the left face-off circle. Cutting off the angle on the play resulted in a key save for Crawford, and his well-timed aggression clearly threw off Dillon’s timing on the play.

    Crawford showed some great technical skill in this game, and the only shots he was beaten on were incredibly athletic plays by the Stars’ goal scorers (Trevor Daley batted his goal out of midair, and Cody Eakin somehow snuck a shot off the inside of the right post). If he can continue to play with this kind of fervor and precision, then it’s going to be a good season for Crawford as he begins his new six-year contract with the team.