It was a crazy night on the ice for the Chicago Blackhawks, but behind a hat trick from captain Jonathan Toews, they were able to prevail in a 6-5 slugfest with the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday night.
Without further adieu, here are our Three Stars of the game:
Third Star: Corey Crawford
It was supposed to be a night for Crawford to relax on the bench with a baseball cap on, as he had played twice in the past three days, but when Nikolai Khabibulin struggled in the second period of the game, Crawford had to enter the game in relief.
Crawford ended up being tested early and often, but it was enough as he made 14 saves in 15 shots against to help the Hawks to a come-from-behind win.
One of Crawford’s biggest saves of the game came late in the second period when the Blackhawks were on a power play. After a couple of bad passes, Ottawa’s Jason Spezza ended up all alone on a breakaway toward the Hawk net, but Crawford managed to stop his deke attempt. Then, with the puck lying in the crease, he was able to slap the puck away as he tumbled to the ice, and the Hawks got out of a sticky situation.
Early in the third period after the Hawks had tied things up, Crawford made another massive save, this time when Cory Conacher received a pass on the rush and quickly fired it on net. Crawford made an excellent save on the play, and kept the game tied long enough for the Hawks to take the lead a few minutes later.
The play of Khabibulin will be ruthlessly parsed over the next few days for the Hawks, but one thing is for certain: even coming in cold against a team that was firing the puck from everywhere, Crawford proved that he is cementing his status as one of the best goaltenders in the league.
Second Star: Johnny Oduya
Oduya and Niklas Hjalmarsson have been quite the defensive tandem for the Blackhawks this season. Whether it’s executing beautiful stretch passes to get the offense going in transition, or blocking more shots than any other duo on the roster, the two Swedes are playing some great hockey, and Oduya was especially good on Tuesday.
Early on in the game, Oduya had a couple of key plays during a 4-on-4 interval in the first period. He blocked a couple of shots, and then when a puck trickled in behind Khabibulin, Oduya was there to swat it out of the crease and prevent the Senators from getting on the board early.
In the third period, Oduya showed some offensive punch as well. Grabbing the puck, Oduya burst up the ice with a great rush, and when he slowed to turn toward the net by the face-off circle, Oduya threaded a perfect pass onto Toews’ stick, setting up the captain’s second goal of the evening.
Those types of plays are what make Oduya such an integral part to this team’s blue line corps, and even though he may not be with the Hawks for the long term, he is still paying huge dividends as one of Stan Bowman’s best acquisitions in the trade market.
First Star: Jonathan Toews
Really, there was no one else that was even remotely close to earning first star honors in this game. After his statements on Saturday that the Hawks needed to dig deeper and be a better team, Toews has really taken his own message to heart.
In this contest, he not only scored three times, but it was the variety of ways that he did so that was perfect to see. There was his play behind the net when Craig Anderson went down in his crease, as Toews quickly switched the puck to his forehand and pulled off a nifty wrap-around goal to stanch the momentum Ottawa had in the second period.
Toews also had a great goal on the rush off of Oduya’s aforementioned pass, but his third goal was the icing on the cake. On that play, Brent Seabrook crashed the net, and when Marian Hossa found him with a pass, Seabrook made sure to put a tough shot on Anderson. The rebound ended up sitting in the blue paint, and it was Toews, who also had rushed the net but slammed on the brakes near the far side of the cage, that was able to tap the puck in and give the Hawks a 5-4 lead in the third period.
Toews’ effort was part of an excellent night overall for the first line, with Hossa and Patrick Sharp generating a slew of chances as well during the game. If they can continue to provide that kind of punch, especially in home games where the Hawks can dictate the matchups thanks to having the final line change, then this line could be a potent nightmare for opponents for many games to come.