On Wednesday night at the United Center, the Chicago Blackhawks accomplished something that no other team has in this postseason: They beat the Anaheim Ducks in regulation as they picked up a 5-2 win and forced a Game 7 in the Western Conference Final.
We’ll have plenty of reaction to this triumph, as well as analysis of the do-or-die game to come this weekend, and we’ll get things kicked off with our Three Stars of the game.
Third Star: Andrew Desjardins
When evaluating how the Blackhawks performed at the NHL trade deadline earlier this season, there is a definite argument to be made that the acquisition of Desjardins from the San Jose Sharks may have been the best move that Stan Bowman made.
After all, Desjardins has been a mainstay on the team’s fourth line, mixing a physically-imposing style with a defensively-responsible attitude, and he excelled in all areas of the ice on Wednesday night. He ended up picking up two assists in the game to go along with his five blocked shots and a hit in the contest.
Desjardins’ best play of the evening came late in the third period with the Blackhawks only up by a goal. After Antoine Vermette pushed the puck up the ice, Desjardins raced across the blue line and feathered a gorgeous pass across the zone to Andrew Shaw, who deposited a shot into the top corner of the net and gave the Blackhawks a 4-2 lead.
It was a great touch pass from a guy known for his aptitude in other areas of the game, and it served as a welcome reminder of the value of a quality fourth line player.
Second Star: Andrew Shaw
With two goals in the game, Shaw further cemented himself as one of the stars of this series for the Blackhawks as he continues to shine as a winger on the Hawks’ fourth forward line. Shaw also contributed in the physicality department in this game, dishing out seven hits as the Blackhawks responded well to the Ducks’ continued aggression.
Shaw’s second goal was the final nail in the Anaheim coffin, but his first goal represented everything that Joel Quenneville loves about the forward. With Desjardins’ pass floating across the zone, Shaw immediately drove to the net. On the way in, he ended up being covered by Ducks center Ryan Getzlaf, a strong defensive player with a penchant for quick stick work and poke-checking. Instead of just skating into Getzlaf and hoping to draw contact, Shaw instead worked his way around the center, getting the puck on his stick and quickly lifting a shot that went over Frederik Andersen’s shoulder and into the cage for a critical insurance goal.
Qualities like “grit” and “heart” are often overstated and overused when debating the merits of certain NHL players, but Shaw showed both traits in the Game 6 victory. He has been a spark plug for this team at numerous intervals during these playoffs, and he has really found a nice niche for himself skating along with Desjardins and Marcus Kruger.
First Star: Duncan Keith
Without question, the Blackhawks’ most deserving candidate for the Conn Smythe this postseason is the indomitable Keith. On Wednesday night, the defenseman assisted on the team’s first three goals, and he made all sorts of plays to help the team force a Game 7 in this series.
Keith’s best assist came in the second period of the game as the Blackhawks were making an aggressive push in the contest. On the play, Brad Richards fed the puck to the front of the net, where Keith had pinched in from the blue line. Much to the chagrin of some of the fans at the United Center, Keith hesitated before taking a shot, pump faking twice as the Ducks scrambled back into defensive position.
Unfortunately for Anaheim, they were skating right into Keith’s trap. The defenseman quickly shifted gears, tossing a pass across the netmouth to Marian Hossa, who rifled home a quick shot and made it a 2-0 game in favor of the home side.
Keith’s keep-in at the blue line was critical to Patrick Kane’s goal in the second period, and the defenseman also cleared a puck out of the crease during a third period power play to help keep the Hawks ahead, but this play had it all for the defenseman. He showed his aggressive side by pinching in deep into the offensive zone, and he displayed some incredible patience as the Ducks over-rotated to stop him from taking a shot, making them pay dearly for their error in the process.