The Chicago Blackhawks came into St. Louis on Friday night looking for their third straight win, as well as an opportunity to grab the series lead for the first time, and they were successful in doing both as Jonathan Toews’ overtime game winner gave the Hawks a 3-2 victory at Scottrade Center.
Now, the Blackhawks will have an opportunity to win the series on home ice Sunday afternoon when they welcome the Blues to the United Center for an afternoon matinee that can be seen on NBC Chicago. Before we turn our focus to that game, here are our Three Stars of Game 5.
Third Star: Ben Smith
Smith has been making a habit of showing off his awesome versatility throughout this season, moving around the Hawks’ lineup freely and playing some serious minutes on the penalty killing unit. He did both of those things again on Friday night, scoring a goal and adding three shots on goal, a blocked shot, and a hit to his stat sheet in the victory.
It was that ability to play effectively at both ends of the ice that earned Smith this slot on the countdown, and his play on his second period goal definitely turned some heads. On the play, the Hawks established some quality possession in the offensive zone, and the puck eventually worked its way back to Sheldon Brookbank at the point. The defenseman hammered a shot into traffic in front of the net, but it was blocked down before it could reach Ryan Miller, and Smith took over from there, flipping a backhand shot just under the crossbar to give the Hawks the lead back.
It was an athletic play that not many players can make, and Smith made it look easy. Add that to the fact that he got to the front of the net to provide a screen in the first place, and it’s clear why Smith earned his spot on the list.
Second Star: Niklas Hjalmarsson
The Blackhawks committed two penalties in the first period of the game, but despite the huge chance to gain momentum, the Blues weren’t able to do so largely because of the penalty killing prowess of guys like Hjalmarsson.
Overall in the game, the defenseman had six blocked shots to lead his team in that category, and most of those came on those first two penalty kills. On the first, Hjalmarsson did a nice without his normal defensive partner as Duncan Keith sat in the box. The blue liner blocked a shot and made two key clears in the sequence to keep the game tied early on.
On the second penalty, this time to Marian Hossa, Hjamarsson once again stood tall. He made a couple of really smart plays in the possession for the Blues, including a pass interception that he fed to Keith, who was wide open in the middle of the ice, and his teammate cleared the puck to once again help the Hawks to escape danger.
A lot of times it’s the highlight reel goals that will grab the attention of the press and of fans, but this time, it was the splendid defensive play of Hjalmarsson that was the key difference.
First Star: Marian Hossa
Naturally, we have to recognize when a player finally gets out of a scoring drought, and Hossa got out of a big one on Friday night. Held without a goal in the first four games of the series, Hossa came up with one when it mattered most, giving the Hawks the lead late in the first period of a game where they seemingly held the edge in every area but the scoreboard.
After Hjalmarsson made a great steal in the defensive zone, he fed a pass up to Bryan Bickell, who jumped up with Hossa on a 2-on-1 rush. Hossa eventually got to the goal, but his initial attempt was stopped. Finally, the veteran forward charged the net again, and this time he was able to force a shot past Miller to make it a 1-0 hockey game.
Crashing the net is something that Joel Quenneville always preaches, and Hossa is one of the chief practitioners of that theory. His thirst for offense was quenched a bit on Friday as he racked up seven shots on goal, and finally getting off the skids could help Hossa in a big way for the rest of the series.