The Chicago Blackhawks emphatically ended their four game losing streak with a 5-2 drubbing of the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday night in the Great White North.
Which players were most instrumental to their victory? We answer that question in today’s edition of Three Stars.
Third Star: Corey Crawford
Just 16 seconds into the game, Crawford gave up what many would consider a soft goal. After setting up to play a backhanded shot from Ryan Kesler, Crawford somehow still left the five-hole (the space between a goalie’s leg pads) wide open, and Chris Higgins took full advantage, sliding the puck into the net to give Vancouver a 1-0 lead.
After that early opportunity though, Crawford was in top form for the rest of the game. Arguably his biggest highlight of the night game in a sequence of massive saves in the first period. After the Blackhawks had been dominating possession of the puck, Crawford was tested sternly by Ryan Kesler. Twice, Kesler got the puck in front of the net, and on both one-timers, Crawford timed the shots perfectly, centering them up and making difficult saves look easy.
As if that wasn’t good enough, there was the sprawling save he made on Brad Richardson just a few moments later. Richardson made a great move to get around the Chicago defense, and when he got to Crawford, he flashed a right leg pad to stop the shot and keep the Blackhawks within shouting distance.
Many times in the past few seasons, Crawford has given up an early soft goal, and he seems to have a tremendous ability to bounce back and really dial in for the remainder of the game. That was certainly the case on Wednesday, and it was that ability to keep the Hawks close that ultimately allowed their offense to finally get its act together.
Second Star: Marian Hossa
Hossa just turned 35 years old earlier this month, but he very well may be having the best stretch of his career, and Wednesday night was just another example of what he has been doing right.
There was the power play goal that he scored in the second period to get the Blackhawks on the board. Brandon Saad and Kris Versteeg made the play happen with some great passes to get the Vancouver defense moving, but it was Hossa’s nose for the net that ultimately paid off, as he drove to the front of the cage and tapped home the easy shot past Roberto Luongo.
Late in the third period, Hossa showed off another arrow in his quiver. With less than a minute remaining in the game and the Blackhawks on the power play, the Vancouver net sat empty. Hossa managed to go into the corner of the offensive zone, win the puck away from two Canucks players, and then slide a perfect no-look pass back toward the point, where Saad collected it and fired home the game-sealing tally to put the Hawks up 5-2.
Those types of plays on both offense and defense show off skills that Hossa has shown throughout his time in Chicago. His tireless backchecking, excellent offensive awareness, and his strength on the puck are all Hall of Fame-caliber, and he has been a huge cog in the Blackhawks’ offense as of late.
First Star: Brandon Saad
After not scoring a goal in his past 11 games, Saad broke out in a big way in this one, scoring twice and adding an assist as the Hawks’ offense finally got back in gear.
There were several moments that illustrated Saad’s impact on this game. In the second period, Saad ended up notching the game-tying goal when he was able to deflect Sheldon Brookbank’s shot from the point. The play was a picture perfect sequence for the Hawks, with Michal Handzus patiently skating with the puck behind the net, and then finding Brookbank at the point. Andrew Shaw jumped in front of Luongo to set a screen, and Saad showed ridiculous hand-eye coordination to tip the puck on the play.
On a penalty kill later in the game for the Hawks, Saad was once again at his best. With about 35 seconds remaining on the kill, Saad was instrumental in not only bringing the puck into the offensive zone, but also managed to put enough pressure on both Canucks’ defenders to take more time off of the penalty, and the Blackhawks were able to finish it off.
Of course, most of the attention to Saad’s performance will center on the two goals that he had (as well as the gorgeous cross-ice pass to Versteeg that set up Hossa’s power play tally), but it’s moments like the sequence on the penalty kill that show his true value to the Hawks. He not only is capable of scoring goals and using his speed to stretch defenses, but he also can contribute on special teams too, and that’s where the Blackhawks most benefit from his abilities.