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Three Stars: Crawford's 37 Saves Key Big Blackhawks Victory

Also, Ben Smith showed some great versatility in the victory

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Three Stars: Crawford's Saves Key in Blackhawks Victory

 Behind two goals in nine seconds by Andrew Shaw and Marcus Kruger, the Chicago Blackhawks knocked off the Vancouver Canucks by a 2-1 margin late on Saturday night.

We’ll have plenty of reaction to the game throughout the day, but for now, here were the Hawks’ Three Stars:

Third Star: Ben Smith

With the Blackhawks shorthanded at the forward spot on Saturday night, head coach Joel Quenneville was forced to get creative with his lineup. He shifted a bunch of guys around, but one of the players that really stood out despite the chaos in the game was Ben Smith.

Looking at his stat line, there really isn’t a lot to be impressed by. Sure, he did play over 17 minutes in the game, and yes he did win five of the seven faceoffs that he took. Smith did not register a point in the game, however, and he only had one shot on goal for the Blackhawks.

Rather than relying upon gaudy statistics, there was one play in particular that earned Smith this spot among the Stars of the game. On a third period faceoff following Shaw’s goal, the Blackhawks were given a gift by the Canucks’ defense. Kruger won the faceoff, and moved the puck back to Johnny Oduya, who immediately fired a pass across the ice to Niklas Hjalmarsson. All three Canucks forwards collapsed in on those two blue liners, leaving the Hawks a potential window for an odd-man rush.

Not sensing this, Jannik Hansen, the Canucks’ forward on the weak side of the ice, stayed too close to Oduya. Compounding the error, defenseman Ryan Stanton tried to pinch in along the boards near the penalty boxes to cut off Smith, who had gotten a head full of steam heading for the puck near the boards.

Unfortunately for Smith, he didn’t touch the puck, but that subtle move to force Stanton into making a decision about pinching led to a plethora of open ice for Kruger, who skated up the ice and fired a shot past Roberto Luongo to give the Blackhawks the lead. Even though Smith didn’t get an assist on the play, it was his anticipation along the boards that helped set up the Hawks’ game winning tally.

Second Star: Duncan Keith

Quenneville has made it a point in recent seasons to try to give Keith as much time off as he can, but on Saturday night, the Hawks’ coach was forced to run Keith out for 24:39 of ice time. In that time though, Keith delivered in a big way, picking up an assist, two blocked shots, and two takeaways in the Hawks’ victory.

Keith’s biggest contribution didn’t necessarily show up on the scoresheet, however. In the later stages of the second period, the Blackhawks were starting to wear down in the face of the brutal pace that the Canucks had set for the game’s tempo. As a result, they were racking up some late chances, and one of the biggest thorns in the Hawks’ side during those sequences was Vancouver forward Alex Burrows. Burrows doesn’t have a goal yet this season, so he was doing his absolute best to get one, and that’s where Keith came in.

Not once, but twice during that period, Burrows grabbed rebounds in near Crawford’s crease, and on both occasions, it was Keith who was the man to save the day, using quick poke-checks to prevent the scoring chances and clearing the puck out from in front of the cage.

That ability to be Johnny on the spot in those circumstances is what sets Keith apart from so many other defensemen, and even with his partner struggling a bit Saturday night, Keith was still able to help out in a huge way in the victory.

First Star: Corey Crawford

Going into Saturday’s game, there was plenty of talk about whether or not Crawford was beginning to break down under the stressful workload that he’s been tasked to carry this season. With Nikolai Khabibulin struggling (and ultimately getting injured) and with rookie Antti Raanta now serving as the back-up, Crawford has had to start just about every game for the Hawks this season, and he was starting to show some signs of wear heading into Saturday’s game with the Canucks.

Whether it was Crawford rising to the adversity of the occasion or some other factor, it was apparent on Saturday that Crawford was eager to prove his critics wrong. As the game wore on, Crawford made more and more spectacular saves, showing off every move in his arsenal, including a nifty stick save that he managed to deflect into his own glove during the Canucks’ third period barrage.

Despite having to face 14 shots in that third period, many of which were high quality chances, Crawford was still able to turn in one of his best performances of the season, and the Hawks owe him big time for his play in this win.

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