Gregory Shamus, Getty Images
Patrick Kane #88 of the Chicago Blackhawks tries to get around the stick of Jonathan Ericsson #52 of the Detroit Red Wings during the first period in Game Four of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2013 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Joe Louis Arena on May 23, 2013 in Detroit, Michigan.
The Chicago Blackhawks have had no answer for the Colorado Avalanche so far this season, and on Wednesday night they were left with still more questions after Colorado beat them by a score of 3-2.
With the Hawks left licking their wounds after a tough loss, we’ll take a look back at the Three Stars of the game for the squad.
Third Star: Brandon Saad
Saad has really started to come out of his shell a bit since being paired up with Jonathan Toews and Andrew Shaw on the Hawks’ top line in recent games, and even though he was separated from Toews at intervals during the Hawks’ loss, he still managed to have himself a good evening on the ice.
The highlight of the game for the youngster was his third period goal that made it a 3-2 contest with just over two minutes remaining. On the play, Saad was over along the boards in the offensive zone, battling with several other players for the puck. He ended up coming out of the pile with it, and he pushed it to Duncan Keith.
Saad wasn’t done on the play, however. As Keith and Shaw both took turns attempting shots on net, Saad slithered through the Avalanche defense to an open spot near the top of the blue paint, and when the puck found his stick, he was able to sneak a shot past Semyon Varlamov’s right pad to bring the Hawks back to within a goal in the game.
Saad’s play on both sides of the ice has really taken a step forward this year, and this game was yet another example of that. Joel Quenneville loves players that can play defense as well as they can offense, and Saad is rapidly becoming one of the most defensively smart players on the team.
Second Star: Johnny Oduya
Speaking of guys who made some great defensive plays on Wednesday night, Oduya was right there in the thick of things for the Hawks. He was on the ice for the team’s second goal against, a Matt Duchene snapshot that beat Antti Raanta, but the fault for that goal lay more in the Hawks’ forwards not getting back in time to cover for Oduya as he covered the middle of the ice while Niklas Hjalmarsson was attacking a puck-carrier.
At any rate, what Oduya did right in the game far outweighed any wrong that may be assigned to him. On three different chances in the game, Oduya made brilliant diving stops to break up passes and shot attempts, and really kept the Hawks in the game until the very end.
On the first one, Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog got a step on Oduya as the two crossed the blue line. Instead of panicking, Oduya took a couple of strides in and made a diving block of a cross-ice pass that could have resulted in a breakaway for the youngster. He did the exact same thing a few minutes later to Duchene, who was on a breakaway but had the puck stripped by the nifty stick-work of the Swedish-born defenseman.
Perhaps Oduya’s best play of the evening came late in the second period. With the Hawks trailing by one, the Avalanche set up shop in the offensive zone in the waning seconds of the frame. The puck eventually found Erik Johnson streaking into the zone, and a 3-on-2 situation quickly developed. Johnson tried to pass the puck over to a wide open Duchene at the right face-off dot, but Oduya read the pass perfectly and knocked it away to keep the Hawks within striking distance on the scoreboard.
Yes, the Blackhawks ultimately lost the game, but Oduya’s stellar defensive work kept it from being a much more embarrassing defeat. His play is often lost in the praise for Hjalmarsson, but Oduya is a good defenseman in his own right, and he proved it on Wednesday.
First Star: Patrick Kane
Normally, we’d describe in detail what it was that Kane did to earn the top spot in the Three Stars column this morning, but instead, we’re going to just show you the goal that he scored to get the Blackhawks back in the game:
There are few players on the planet who are better than Kane when it comes to getting into the offensive zone and making things happen. Whether it’s feathering a pass to a wide open teammate when the defense collapses on him, or creating a shot for himself by taking advantage of opponents screening their own goalies, Kane has made zone entry into an art form.