The Chicago Blackhawks not only picked up their third straight victory over a playoff team on Thursday night, but they also guaranteed that they will be competing for the chance to hoist the Stanley Cup as they knocked off the Vancouver Canucks by a score of 3-1.
We’ll have plenty of breakdown of the game throughout the day, as well as a preview of Friday night’s tilt against the Buffalo Sabres, but for now, we’ll focus on our Three Stars of the game.
Third Star: Johnny Oduya
It’s not clear whether Oduya had some sort of epiphany while he was out nursing a lower-body injury, but ever since he’s come back to the lineup, he’s been playing his best hockey of the season. That trend continued on Thursday night as he picked up an assist on what turned out to be the game winning goal.
That goal came early in the third period as the Blackhawks were threatening in the Vancouver zone. Oduya made a nice play to get just a touch of separation at the blue line, and he rifled in a low, hard shot toward the net. The puck bounced initially off of Marian Hossa’s stick before striking the crossbar, and Jonathan Toews got inside position and slid the puck into the net to make it a 2-1 game.
Oduya also made another tremendous play late in the third period, swinging his stick around and blocking a pass intended for Henrik Sedin near the front of the Chicago net. That deflection caused Sedin to hesitate before taking the shot, and it ultimately didn’t go in.
Both of those plays show the confidence and the skill that Oduya is playing with. He is firing more shots at the net, he’s getting more active on defense, and he’s staying responsible at the same time. It’s a fine line to straddle, and he’s doing a great job at it.
Second Star: Teuvo Teravainen
When Teravainen was first put on the fourth line with Marcus Kruger and Andrew Desjardins, there were plenty of people (this blog is included in that group) that were critical of the decision. Since then, those folks have been eating plenty of crow as Teravainen and his linemates continue to shine.
Teravainen scored the Blackhawks’ first goal of the evening in the first period, flicking in a shot off a nice feed from Kruger to make it a 1-0 game. Equally impressive in the grand scheme of the game was the contribution that the rookie made to Kruger’s third period goal, which ultimately sealed the victory for the Blackhawks.
Just a few minutes after Toews’ goal that gave Chicago the lead, the Canucks were attempting to break out of their defensive zone with the puck. Bo Horvat was the forward trusted with that responsibility, but as he came out across the blue line, Teravainen was harassing him from behind on the backcheck. Ultimately Horvat ran out of real estate, and Kruger was able to strip the puck and skate in all alone and score to make it a 3-1 game.
The play shows the kind of defensive intensity that Teravainen is bringing to the table on a nightly basis, and it’s one more example of why he’s become such a fixture in the Hawks’ lineup in recent weeks.
First Star: Corey Crawford
It felt like the Blackhawks’ offense was in control for most of the game, but the reality in Thursday’s contest was that Crawford shouldered the load once again and allowed the Blackhawks’ third period rally to happen.
There were several sequences in that period that really stood out. The first came just before Toews’ goal and just after Kris Versteeg was robbed on a deke opportunity. The Canucks flew back down the ice, and Yannik Webber got inside position in the slot and appeared to have a wide open cage to shoot at. Fortunately for the Blackhawks, Crawford was there to deny him that opportunity, making a sprawling save to keep the game tied.
Just a few minutes later, Crawford helped to keep the Blackhawks in front by a goal. Once again moving from one side of the crease to the other, Crawford moved quickly through the blue paint and absolutely robbed Nick Bonino on a short-side opportunity. Kruger scored just a few seconds later, and the Blackhawks went on to win the game.
As chants of “Corey, Corey” rained down from the United Center crowd, one couldn’t help but be impressed by Crawford’s turnaround. After a couple of shaky outings against the Columbus Blue Jackets and Winnipeg Jets, Crawford looked composed and in control in this one, and if he’s getting back into a rhythm, it would be great news for the Blackhawks’ playoff chances.