The Chicago Blackhawks are a team accustomed to starting out slowly and finishing with a bang, but they were forced to stay on their toes throughout Sunday’s game as they emerged with a 5-4 comeback victory over the Dallas Stars at the United Center.
The game was a fascinating one with of players stepping up to make big plays, but we’ll focus on the three that we felt were most important to the victory in this edition of Three Stars.
Third Star: Brad Richards
Richards lost a linemate that he’d been working really well with as Kris Versteeg went down with a hand injury, but he looked right at home on Sunday night. He ended up with a goal and an assist in the game, but it was the manner in which he scored that was most crucial.
Late in the game, the Blackhawks found themselves trailing 4-3 to the Stars. On a rush into the offensive zone, Kari Lehtonen made an initial save and the puck skipped toward the corner. Richards quickly went in after it, corralled it, and fired it back toward the front of the net. Instead of bouncing off Lehtonen again and coming out for a rebound attempt for Marian Hossa, the puck slid between the goaltender’s pads and into the net to tie the game at 4-4.
While the play looked like a fluke, it was yet another example of why Joel Quenneville constantly preaches to his players about the importance of getting pucks on net. You never know what will happen when you just fire the puck toward the net, and Richards made his own luck in tying the game.
Second Star: Jonathan Toews
Toews gets plenty of credit as one of the top two-way players in the NHL, and on Sunday night he added another highlight to his already huge portfolio.
Early in the first period, the Stars had seized a 1-0 lead, but the Blackhawks got a great possession out of the first line and were threatening. After Brandon Saad made a nice play to feed the puck over to the point, Brent Seabrook uncorked a slap shot, and Lehtonen steered it away into the corner.
Dallas forward Ales Hemsky dropped below the goal line to play the puck, but Toews had other ideas.
The center lifted Hemsky’s stick away from the puck, and with that deft move, the Hawks captain curled back out toward the action in the middle of the ice. Eventually, he found an open lane and feathered a gorgeous pass to a streaking Saad, who deposited the shot into the back of the net to tie things up at 1-1.
While Saad’s smart pinch and Seabrook’s slap shot certainly deserve credit, it was Toews that had the biggest impact on the goal. His continuous defensive pressure makes the other team crazy during games, and he showed off his skills at a critical time in this one.
First Star: Patrick Sharp
Sharp was arguably the Hawks’ best player during their Winter Classic loss, scoring a goal and tallying 10 shots on net during the game. On Sunday night, Sharp took advantage of that momentum, as well as a promotion to the second line, to put up a goal and an assist in the victory.
Both of his points came as a result of intelligence and his nose for offense. On his assist, Sharp burst into the offensive zone on a 2-on-1 with Patrick Kane, and after Jason Demers collapsed in on him, Sharp sent a saucer pass cross-ice. Kane took that pass and buried it to tie the game back up at 2-2.
Sharp’s goal in the overtime period was equally impressive. Duncan Keith made an excellent play to draw defenders toward him to get the play started, and Sharp saw the opening generated and made a break for the front of the net. Keith slapped a pass to Sharp, and the winger did the rest as he deked and flipped a shot past Lehtonen to give the Blackhawks the win.
While Keith’s movement with the puck set up the lane, it was Sharp that saw it and took advantage. Some players lack the feel for when a play is developing, but the veteran forward isn’t one of those guys. He senses opportunities to make plays through open lanes on the ice, and this time he was able to cash in and give the Hawks the much-needed second point in the standings.