For the second time in three games, a Chicago Blackhawks rally ended up falling short, as the defending Stanley Cup champions blew a 3-2 lead and ended up falling 4-3 to the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center.
We’ll have plenty of coverage of this game, as well as some thoughts on the Hawks’ Friday tilt with the Anaheim Ducks throughout the day, but for now, here were Thursday’s Three Stars:
Third Star: Brandon Saad
With each passing game, it seems like Saad is giving Brian Burke and the rest of the Team USA brass tasked with choosing the squad that will compete for gold in Sochi more and more to consider with his play.
Consider the work that he did tonight against fellow American Ryan Suter. In the opening stages of the third period of the game, the Hawks were trying to capitalize on the momentum they had gained from Jeremy Morin’s late second period goal that brought them to within a 2-1 margin of the Wild.
On a weird play in the Minnesota zone, the puck took a funny carom off the boards, and Suter began to half-heartedly skate up the ice.
Seeing this indecision, Saad ended up coming back into the offensive zone and challenged Suter for the puck just about the left face-off circle. Suter ended up getting caught with his head in the clouds, and fell over once Saad made contact with him. Grabbing the puck, Saad skated it in, and squeezed off an excellent shot that beat Josh Harding over his blocker, and just like that the game was tied less than a minute into the third period.
That fantastic two-way play by Saad not only shows how he’s matured on both sides of the ice this season, but also just what a dynamic playmaker he is capable of being. Teams have to be kicking themselves for passing over him in the NHL Entry Draft, and the Hawks have to feel like they got a huge gift after taking him in the second round.
Second Star: Marian Hossa
Speaking of players who displayed some jaw-dropping skills on Thursday night, Hossa’s goal on a power play in the third period not only gave the Blackhawks the 3-2 lead, but it also displayed some great technique by three different members of the Hawks’ power play.
On a rush up the ice, defenseman Nick Leddy carried the puck through the neutral zone and dished a nice pass to Kris Versteeg. Almost as soon as his stick blade contacted the puck, Versteeg recognized a lane for Hossa to skate through, and pushed the puck past a backwards-skating Wild defender into Hossa’s path.
In one fluid motion, Hossa grabbed the pass, and with a flick of the wrist, he unleashed a hellacious snap shot that Harding had no chance of catching, and when the puck barely went under the crossbar, the Hawks had a picture-perfect power play goal and their first lead of the hockey game.
The elements going into that play were all equally important, but Hossa gets this spot because of just how flashy his pass reception and quick shot were.
First Star: Jeremy Morin
Even though he only played 8:17 in the game, Morin was one of the most aggressive and effective players for the Hawks tonight, and despite the fact that the team lost, head coach Joel Quenneville and company have to be heartened by Morin’s performance.
One sequence in particular really stood out for Morin, and showcased several new elements that he has added to his game this season for the Hawks. The play started out in the neutral zone, where the Wild were trying to collect the puck and bring it back up the ice. Not once, but twice, Morin was able to disrupt puck carriers and force the biscuit loose, and on the second attempt, Patrick Kane ended up corralling it.
Bringing it into the zone, the Hawks got set up with a nice possession, and Morin instinctively followed Quenneville’s desired plan of attack and got to the front of the net. Seeing this developing, Kane fired off a nice shot from along the boards, and Joakim Nordstrom chipped in as well, deflecting the shot on the way in.
All Harding could do in that situation was adjust and make a sprawling save on the shot, and that was all that Morin needed as he pounced on the rebound and pushed it into the net to bring the Hawks to within a goal with less than a minute remaining in the second period.
Getting to the net and pounding home a rebound is a hallmark of the system that the Hawks have tried to instill in all of their players, and even though that is what will get Morin the most headlines on that sequence, it was his original insistence about pushing the envelope in the neutral zone that really got it all started, and perhaps is the most special element of the whole play.