LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 03: Patrick Kane #88 of the Chicago Blackhawks celebrates his first-period goal against the Los Angeles Kings during the NHL game at Staples Center on February 3, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)
The Chicago Blackhawks may have known that they were skating into hostile territory on Sunday night when they took on the Buffalo Sabres, but after a hard-fought 2-1 victory on the road, they certainly can say that they earned the triumph.
Without further adieu, we have our Three Stars of the game for the Hawks.
Third Star: Niklas Hjalmarsson
There is a school of thought among some NHL pundits that blocked shots aren’t necessarily a good indicator of performance in a game (blocking a shot usually requires sprawling out on the ice, which isn’t an ideal scenario to be in for terms of defensive positioning), but on Sunday, Hjalmarsson proved that the stat can be useful.
In the game, Hjalmarsson was only credited with three blocked shots, but two shots in particular that he prevented from getting on net in the third period were critical to the Hawks’ success. The first, which came only about a minute into the frame, sent Hjalmarsson sprawling to the ice, but despite the sore leg that he was skating on, he blocked another shot by Christian Ehrhoff just seven seconds later, and eventually the puck was cleared from the zone.
The first shot block showed enough toughness from the Swedish Olympian, but the second block simply hammered the point home. It takes some courage to stand up to that kind of barrage, and Hjalmarsson earned every ice cube in the bag after the game.
Second Star: Jonathan Toews
The Blackhawks have been getting some big performances out of their captain lately, and even with Marian Hossa on the shelf, Toews’ play has continued to propel the Hawks forward.
As the third period got underway, the Hawks were pushing hard on offense thanks to the potent first line that Joel Quenneville has assembled, and it eventually paid some dividends. It all started when Andrew Shaw found Brandon Saad in the slot with a pass. Saad got to the front of the net, but instead of trying a short-side shot on Jhonas Enroth, he feathered a pass across the crease to a wide open Toews, who had stopped near the crease and popped in the easy score to make it a 2-1 game.
Just like in the Hawks’ win over the Blue Jackets on Thursday, it was the play of guys like Saad and Shaw that eventually set everything up, but it was Toews’ intelligence and feel for the game that let him finish the play off, and the goal that stood up as the game winner is a great example of the power of teamwork.
First Star: Patrick Kane
If there has been one player that has been completely snake-bitten in recent weeks, it has been Kane. He’s come close on numerous occasions to putting the puck in the net, but he was finally successful in the first period on Sunday as he scored in front of his hometown fans.
Just three minutes into the contest, Kane made a quick move around traffic in the neutral zone, and received a pass from Patrick Sharp. As he hit the blue line, Kane made another quick deke, sliding the puck in between the skates of Ehrhoff at the line. After evading that defender, Kane then skated across the middle of the ice, drawing Chad Ruhwedel with him through the slot. Eventually, Kane fired a shot between Ruhwedel’s legs that beat Enroth high on the glove side, and just like that the Hawks grabbed a 1-0 lead in the game.
Those kind of moves are par for the course for Kane, but it doesn’t take away the fact that he is one of the most exciting players to watch in the game when he’s playing with that kind of confidence. Being able to have the speed and quick hands to pull off those kinds of dekes is a rare combination for a player, and Kane showed both in spades as the Hawks won a tight contest.