The Chicago Blackhawks haven’t had the easiest time of things over the past two games, and Saturday brought more of the same pain and misery as they coughed up two different leads and dropped a 4-3 decision to the Los Angeles Kings.
The loss puts the Blackhawks down 2-1 in the best-of-seven series, but before we get into previewing what’s next for the defending Stanley Cup champions, let’s take a look at our Three Stars of Game 3.
Third Star: Michal Rozsival
Before he flew off the rails with a dangerous high-stick to the face of Kyle Clifford, Rozsival was instrumental in setting up a play that ended up giving the Blackhawks a 2-1 lead late in the first period.
On the play, the Blackhawks had once again established good possession in the offensive zone, with their first line serving as the catalyst. Marian Hossa collected the puck and fed it out to the point, where Rozsival had an open shooting lane. Instead of winding up and firing a shot right away however, Rozsival decided to press the issue.
Skating through the slot with Kings’ players simply watching him, Rozsival ended up generating some confusion on Los Angeles’ part, and the Blackhawks took advantage. The defenseman’s shot was blocked down in front, but Jonathan Toews was there to collect the puck and flip it into the net past Jonathan Quick to give Chicago a 2-1 lead.
It was a very smart and patient play by Rozsival that ultimately led to the goal, and even though his penalty later in the game proved to be very costly (Drew Doughty scored the game-winning goal just two seconds after Rozsival’s penalty expired), his first period prowess was important in terms of getting the Hawks back the lead.
Second Star: Patrick Sharp
For the past few games, Sharp has been kept in check by a concerted defensive effort by the Kings to rob him of time and space with the puck. Even though he was nearly held off the scoresheet again for the Hawks in this one, he ended up picking up a late goal on a deflection with less than five seconds remaining in the third period.
That goal, which saw Nick Leddy uncork an excellent low slap shot, was a bit of quick stick work by Sharp. He pushed his blade toward the puck, deflected it up and over Quick’s shoulder, and into the net. In total, Sharp picked up four shots on goal and sent three more just wide of the cage, so despite his near lack of success on offense, he really was pressing the issue in a big way in this one.
If that goal can get Sharp off the skid he’s been on, then the Blackhawks are going to be in much better shape in this series. At this point however, with the way Sharp has been struggling, that is a big if.
First Star: Jonathan Toews
The undisputed star of the night was the Blackhawks’ captain, who scored two goals in the first period in one of the finest examples of leading by example that the NHL has seen this postseason.
Saying before the game that the Blackhawks needed to play “pissed off,” Toews went about his business early in the game and potted two goals as a result. The first one came on a short-handed rush after Toews made a nifty play to break up a pass in the neutral zone. He ended up getting in on Quick on a quasi-breakaway, faked a shot to get Quick’s timing off, then feathered a shot between the goaltender’s leg pads to make it a 1-0 game.
Toews’ second goal was equally impressive, as he kicked a rebound off a Rozsival shot to his stick and then flipped a wrist shot into the cage to give the Blackhawks the edge again.
Toews’ line was the one bright spot for the Blackhawks in this game, and they continued to play solid defense against the Los Angeles Kings’ top line. If they can continue to have that kind of success on both ends of the ice, it’s going to be tough for Joel Quenneville to break them up when addressing some of the other offensive concerns that the team has at the moment.