It definitely wasn’t the prettiest game that the team had ever played, but the victory counts just the same after the Chicago Blackhawks knocked off the Minnesota Wild by a score of 5-2 on Friday night at the United Center.
The win gave the Hawks a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series, and we honor those players most responsible for the victory in this edition of Three Stars.
Third Star: Corey Crawford
In Game 6 of the Blackhawks’ first round series against the St. Louis Blues, the Hawks were outshot by a huge margin in the second period of the game, but they still remained tied with their Central Division rivals in the game. The reason? Corey Crawford played one of the best periods of his life, stopping every shot that the Blues could throw at him, and the Hawks responded with four goals in the third period to win the game and the series.
On Friday night, Crawford once again came to play in a big way in the second period of the game. In a frame in which the Wild outshot the Blackhawks by a margin of 17-3, Crawford made every save that he needed to make, and he kept the Blackhawks ahead by two goals. His rebound control was perfectly on point in that sequence as he prevented the Wild from getting any sustained pressure, and he made one of his best saves of the night when he stopped a redirection off the stick of Mikko Koivu near the top of the crease.
Crawford did surrender a couple of goals in the third period, but it was his play in the second period that kept this game from getting out of hand, and put his team in a position to win it with their late surge.
Second Star: Brandon Saad
During last year’s playoffs, Saad’s game ebbed and flowed throughout the playoffs, and head coach Joel Quenneville ended up removing him from the lineup at one point because he couldn’t quite get things together.
So far in these playoffs, Saad has been a non-entity, but on Friday night he reasserted himself in a big way as he picked up one of the most gorgeous assists of his career. On a power play in the second period, Nick Leddy made an excellent one-touch pass at the blue line to get his fellow American the puck, and Saad took it from there. Slicing through the Minnesota defense, Saad worked his way all the way through the zone until he was just to the left of the net, but instead of shooting the puck, he took a completely different tact.
He dished a pass off to Marian Hossa on the other side of the crease, sliding the puck in between Bryan Bickell’s legs, and by the time Ilya Bryzgalov realized who the pass was intended for, Hossa had already flipped the puck into the cage, and the Blackhawks had a 2-0 lead.
The assist wasn’t the game winner, but it definitely was a big help as it gave the Hawks an insurance goal that proved critical when the Wild made their quick comeback at the start of the third period. If Saad can continue to play like he did in this game, then he won’t have to worry about Quenneville yanking him out of the lineup any time soon.
First Star: Patrick Kane
The dictionary may be loaded with adjectives, but there’s a strong possibility that Kane will eventually force sportswriters and fans to exhaust all of them before his career is over.
With his team reeling after giving up two goals, and with no momentum going the Hawks’ way at all, Kane made a play in the middle stages of the third period that dropped jaws throughout the country. Getting the puck in the neutral zone, Kane sprinted up the ice, and even though he was forced to the outside of the zone on the rush, he had another trick up his sleeve:
There are perhaps a handful of guys who have the hands to make that kind of backhanded shot on the rush, and only Kane has the speed to create space when the defense collapses on him. His game during these playoffs has been heating up lately, and he really showed some serious skill on this play.