Even though they were playing their third game in four nights, the Chicago Blackhawks came out with a purpose on Saturday night, scoring three first period goals to knock off the Phoenix Coyotes by a score of 5-2 at Jobing.com Arena.
The victory was the Blackhawks’ sixth straight triumph, and it gave them a 6-1 record on their circus trip, one of the best such marks in team history.
We’ll have plenty of reaction to the Hawks’ road trip over the next few days, but for now, here are Saturday’s Three Stars:
Third Star: Niklas Hjalmarsson
Normally, a goal for the talented Swedish defenseman would be a reason to include him in a higher spot on this list, but Hjalmarsson’s twin penalties in the second period helped the Coyotes to get back into the hockey game, so he gets a bit of a ding for that.
Nonetheless, Hjalmarsson did it all for the Hawks on Saturday. He had a goal in the first period for the Hawks, and he also had three blocked shots, a hit, and a takeaway in nearly 20 minutes of ice time as the Hawks won yet again.
It was his goal that stood out the most out of all of his contributions though. On that play, Hjalmarsson was back at the blue line when he noticed that Patrick Kane was getting the puck in the corner of the ice. Seeing that, he made a beeline for the slot, and Kane found him with an excellent pass. From there, Hjalmarsson’s shot took Phoenix goalie Mike Smith by surprise, and he gave the Hawks a 3-0 lead with his great anticipation and quick shot.
Hjalmarsson’s offensive contributions have dried up a bit in recent weeks, but it was nice to see him engage in the play on that side of the ice in this one, and he was a big part of the reason why the Hawks got the victory.
Second Star: Patrick Kane
Just a day after having his 12-game point streak snapped by the Dallas Stars, Kane came out with some serious fury in this one, picking up a goal and an assist in 18:36 of ice time in the contest.
We already described Kane’s excellent assist to Hjalmarsson in the first period of the game, but his goal ended up being a great moment as well. On that play, it was Kane who initially got the puck out to Duncan Keith at the point. Quickly cycling the puck, Keith fired it over to Marian Hossa, who took a wicked one-timer slap shot that appeared at first glance to be what beat Smith in the net.
Upon closer inspection though, it was Kane, who skated out of the corner and got his stick up at about waist level to deflect the shot past Smith, and he ended up getting credit for the goal, and the tally set the Hawks off and running on what was a remarkable first period for a supposedly tired team.
Kane is quickly establishing himself as a serious contender for the league MVP award this year, and it’s this kind of ability to bounce back from a tough night that really sets him apart in that race.
First Star: Ben Smith
Last night, we praised Smith for his ability to do things on both ends of the ice (as well as his tremendous shootout goal), but his play on Saturday night blew his Friday performance out of the water.
In the game, Smith had an assist and picked up four shots on net in 11:39 of ice time in the game. He was a vital part of a virtuoso effort by the fourth line in the game, as both Marcus Kruger and Brandon Bollig joined Smith in wreaking havoc on the Coyotes as they tried to get out of the defensive zone, combining some great physicality with an aggressive forecheck throughout the contest.
Smith’s best play of the night did actually come on his assist though. On a wonderful sequence by the fourth line, it was Smith that ended up making a tremendous play along the boards to win the puck, and he forced it out to Kruger, whose shot ended up rebounding right to Bollig, who flipped it home and stopped the Coyotes’ momentum dead in its tracks and put the Hawks back up by two goals.
If Smith can continue to spark the fourth line like he did in this one, then the Blackhawks will be able to put definitive claim on the label as the deepest team in the NHL.