LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 26: Patrick Kane #88 of the Chicago Blackhawks with the puck in front of Willie Mitchell #33 of the Los Angeles Kings in the first period in Game Four of the Western Conference Final during the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Staples Center on May 26, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
The Chicago Blackhawks may have been written off by some hockey fans after they dropped a rough Game 4 decision to the Los Angeles Kings, but they clearly didn’t give up on themselves as they won their second consecutive game on Friday night in a 4-3 triumph that forced a Game 7 in the series.
Before we get to the work of previewing this winner-take-all contest at the United Center, here are our Three Stars from Game 6.
Third Star: Jonathan Toews
Toews’ relationship with Patrick Kane is one that has persisted ever since the duo burst onto the NHL scene together back in 2007, and on Friday night the pair shared yet another one of their jaw-dropping displays of skill and scoring touch.
On an early second period power play, the Blackhawks established possession in the Kings’ zone and eventually wore down their penalty killers with rapid puck movement and shifting players. Finally, Kane got the puck in the slot and passed below the goal line to Toews, and after hesitating for a moment the captain fired a pass back to Kane, who ripped a shot into the net to tie things up at 1-1.
The give-and-go is one of the NHL’s most beautiful passing plays, and Toews and Kane worked it to perfection in this one. Their chemistry on the power play hasn’t been something that’s crystalized much in recent games, but it certainly did here and it gave the Hawks a big goal when they really needed it.
Second Star: Ben Smith
The Blackhawks’ Swiss Army knife was at it again on Friday night, scoring a goal, blocking two shots, and throwing three hits in 16:10 of ice time in the Blackhawks’ victory. He also won all five face-offs he took, and was utilized on just about every line during the course of the game.
With Sheldon Brookbank in the lineup as a seventh defenseman, the Blackhawks needed a forward to step up and play extra minutes, and Smith picked up that gauntlet and ran with it. On his goal in the early stages of the second period, Smith showed off not only his skill, but also his intelligence. With the game tied at 1-1, Smith caught a pass from Patrick Sharp on the rush, but ended up forced beyond the goal line by the Kings’ defense.
Undeterred, Smith quickly looked back to the front of the net, saw that goaltender Jonathan Quick was not covering the near post, and quickly shot the puck off of Quick’s skate and into the net to give the Blackhawks a 2-1 lead.
It’s those kinds of plays that make Smith so valuable to the Blackhawks. His grit and physicality on the defensive side of things are invaluable, but his offensive prowess in key situations is remarkable to watch. He is blossoming into the perfect second or third line player for this team, and during a time that Joel Quenneville keeps losing trust in his younger wingers, Smith keeps earning himself more ice time.
First Star: Patrick Kane
Eventually, we’re going to run out of adjectives to describe the kind of player that Kane is, but for now, we’ll just settle for one: clutch.
That’s because Kane came through when the Blackhawks needed him at every turn on Friday night. He scored a key goal in the early stages of the second period to tie the game and give the power play a needed boost of adrenaline. Then he found Duncan Keith with a perfect no-look pass to help tie the game back up in the third period. He then finished off his game by scoring a goal with less than four minutes remaining in the third period to give the Blackhawks a lead that they would never relinquish.
This kind of dominance has almost become the norm for Kane in his career, but it still doesn’t diminish how remarkable it is to watch him work when he’s at his best. If the Blackhawks can come all the way back and win this series, then it will be due in large part to his assertiveness over the last few games.