On Thursday night, the Chicago Blackhawks hit the halfway mark of their season with a flourish as they used two Bryan Bickell goals to grab a 4-2 victory over the Minnesota Wild.
We’ll have plenty of breakdown of this game, as well as where the Blackhawks stand after 41 of their 82 games, but for now, we’ll focus on Thursday’s Three Stars.
Third Star: Brad Richards
Life is always easier for a player when you’re able to skate with guys like Patrick Kane on a regular basis, but as Richards proved on Thursday night, he’s well deserving of that slot in the lineup.
With the Blackhawks on a lengthy power play, Richards found himself out on the ice as the Hawks were scrambling to make something of the opportunity. On a Wild clearing attempt, Brent Seabrook gloved down the puck, and he floated a pass to Jonathan Toews in the corner. Toews then drove hard to the net, and when the Wild defense collapsed in on him, he passed out to Richards in the high slot.
Instead of immediately shooting however, Richards made a much smarter play. Seeing that the defense was now scrambling to cover him (and inadvertently screening Niklas Backstrom in the process), Richards quickly fed a pass to a wide open Kane, who ripped home a shot to make it a 2-0 game.
It was a brilliant and patient play by Richards, and it was part of an overall beautiful sequence from Chicago.
Second Star: Bryan Bickell
Bickell has been a bit of an inconsistent performer at times this season, but bumped up with Kane and Richards on the second line, the big winger made the most of it as he scored twice in the victory.
On Bickell’s first goal, he took advantage of some smart skating by one of his linemates and a goaltender who wasn’t yet set in his crease. Kane drove into the zone early in the third period with the puck, and immediately he was targeted by two different Minnesota defenders. Seeing this, Kane pushed a pass behind him to a wide open Bickell, and before Backstrom could reset to deal with the threat, Bickell ripped a wrist shot past him to make it a 3-1 game.
Bickell later added an empty net goal with a minute remaining to seal the game, but it was his overall performance and confidence that he displayed on the ice that earned him this spot.
First Star: Corey Crawford
To say that Crawford has been struggling since coming back from injury would be putting it somewhat mildly, but on Thursday night he seemed to find his groove as he made 40 saves in the Blackhawks’ victory.
Unlike Tuesday’s game, in which the Blackhawks attempted 92 shots and were the ones driving possession, it was Minnesota doing the honors in this game. Over the final two periods of the game, Minnesota outshot Chicago by a 37-10 margin, but they were held to just two goals as Crawford made save after save to keep his team ahead.
The Wild ended up with four power plays in those final two periods, but their only goal came in a 5-on-3 situation late in the game. Other than that minor misstep, Crawford was absolutely dominant in this one, and seeing him play at that level again after several off games was a sight that the Hawks’ coaching staff was surely happy to see.