Chicago Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford makes a save during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the San Jose Sharks in Chicago, Sunday, Jan. 5, 2014. (AP Photo/Paul Beaty)
The Chicago Blackhawks came into Saturday night’s game against the San Jose Sharks brimming with confidence after an impressive victory over the Vancouver Canucks earlier in the week, but it was the Sharks who were ultimately able to prevail in a 2-1 shootout victory.
Without further adieu, here were our Three Stars of the game:
Third Star: Marcus Kruger
Kruger didn’t figure on the scoresheet in this one, but he did rack up four shots on goal, and had a better overall face-off percentage than Jonathan Toews did in a game against one of the best face-off taking teams in the NHL.
In addition to his offensive push in the game (the sequence in the first period when Kruger and Ben Smith both got tremendous shots on Antti Niemi really stood out), there was the not-so-small fact that he and the rest of the Blackhawks’ penalty killers held the talented Sharks off the board when it came to power plays in the game.
If it hadn’t been for the aggressive pressure on the point men and the quick sticks to take away passing lanes that Kruger and company displayed in this one, the game could have gotten out of hand, and it’s a credit both to him and the rest of his teammates in that group that the Hawks were able to come away with a point on Saturday.
Second Star: Brandon Saad
Before Wednesday’s game, Saad had been in a bit of an offensive funk, but apparently scoring two goals is a good cure for that, because the second-year forward picked up another goal and was all over the ice for the Hawks in this one.
Saad’s goal was the culmination of a lot of hard work by the entire Blackhawks’ power play unit. As the puck made its way out to the point on a clearing attempt, Brent Seabrook was there to snare it. He quickly pushed the action back towards the net, but the puck got caught up near Marian Hossa.
The Hawks’ veteran was then able to one-touch pass the puck down the ice to Kris Versteeg, who caught it near the goal mouth. Instead of forcing a shot on net, Versteeg then feathered a gorgeous saucer pass across the net to Saad, whose knuckler from in close beat Niemi and tied things up.
In a game that they struggled to even get into the offensive zone, this sequence was a lone bright spot, and Saad’s shot to beat Niemi helped take the momentum in the game away from San Jose.
First Star: Corey Crawford
The Blackhawks only scored one goal on Saturday night, but they were still able to get a point in the game thanks to the stellar efforts of Crawford in the game.
In total, Crawford made 38 saves for the Blackhawks, and withstood several lengthy barrages during the second and third periods of the game. In that second period, Crawford made a couple of particularly good saves, including one on a redirected shot by Joe Thornton from just in front of the net. Crawford, who traditionally isn’t much for the scrambling-type saves, was in perfect position for the play, kicking out his pad to make the stop to keep the game scoreless.
On another insane play late in the third period, Crawford kicked across the net on a pass from behind the net from James Sheppard, and was perfectly centered when Brad Stuart fired a shot on net. Crawford kicked out his left pad to make the stop, and it kept the game tied as the Hawks tried to gain the upper hand in regulation.
Crawford also made a save on his own player at one point in the game, when he was forced to stop a Duncan Keith hiccup in front. After the Sharks got a good short-handed shot, Keith accidentally redirected the rebound off of Crawford’s pads back on the goal. Fortunately, Crawford was paying attention, and he not only stopped that shot but also pushed it to the side of the net opposite where the Sharks were swarming, and it allowed the play to go the other way.
Some fans will focus on Crawford’s struggles in the shootout on Saturday, but the reality was that few goalies in the league could have stopped any of the shots the Sharks put on him. His play in the first 65 minutes of the game was stellar in its own right, and well-deserving of First Star honors.