The Chicago Blackhawks and Nashville Predators played for the third time in seven days on Sunday night at the United Center, and just like the first two contests, it was the Hawks that came out on top, winning 5-3 in a thrilling third period finish.
Here are Madhouse Enforcer’s Three Stars of the game:
Third Star: Brandon Saad
Saad has really blossomed into a bonafide force in the Blackhawks lineup this season. Sunday night was just another example of the value he holds to the club, as he scored a clutch goal in the third period to tie the game and almost single-handedly woke up the Hawks from the malaise that pervaded their side in the second period.
Perhaps the most noticeable action he performed in the game occurred in the waning moments of the contest. Saad grabbed the puck with the Nashville net sitting vacant in the final minute, but instead of trying to force a shot past the Predator defender, Saad threaded a neat pass to the stick of Patrick Kane, who buried it and sealed the win for Chicago.
It was a veteran move that shows Saad’s maturity level. He easily could have smelled his 10th goal of the season and fired it from behind the blue line, but instead he realized that the shot could potentially be blocked or miss the net entirely from so far away, and ceded the goal to Kane.
Second Star: Bryan Bickell
Bickell really came alive for the Hawks over the weekend, scoring their only tally on Saturday afternoon and coming up in a big way on Sunday night. He was only one part of the collective solid effort from the Hawks’ bottom two lines (including a stunning performance from Brandon Bollig, who may have had his best game as a Blackhawk in this one), but it was his second period goal that sealed his place on this list.
Streaking down the ice on a rush, Viktor Stalberg spotted Bickell, and just like he has on several occasions this season, Bickell uncorked an excellent wrist shot in between Pekka Rinne’s legs, and he gave the Hawks a 2-1 lead.
If the Blackhawks opt not to re-sign Bickell, they will be losing a guy who has seemed to come into his own this season, and another team will happily take his services next year.
First Star: Joel Quenneville
It’s often said that a coach loses more games than he or she wins, but Joel Quenneville really helped the Blackhawks to win Sunday night’s game. In a move that some may have deemed sacrilege, Quenneville bumped Marian Hossa down to the second line, and promoted Kane, who had seemed lackadaisical in this one, to the top line with Saad and Jonathan Toews.
The move instantly paid dividends. Not only did Saad see more open ice because of the increased attention on the two Hawks’ stars, but Toews and Kane both benefitted, each potting a goal and showing a ton of hustle and grit in the process.
No one knows for sure how the lines will shake out once Patrick Sharp and Dave Bolland return to the lineup, but if Sunday’s performance is any indication, Kane may have found a couple of new running mates for the stretch run.