Like just about every other game they’ve played this season, the Chicago Blackhawks didn’t make things easy on themselves on Tuesday night, withstanding a late push by the Florida Panthers but ultimately prevailing by a score of 3-2 in a shootout.
Without further adieu, here are our Three Stars of the Game:
Third Star: Andrew Shaw
For the first time this season, Shaw caught our attention in the Three Stars lineup, and it was because of his overall excellent level of play in the Hawks’ victory.
Shaw has always been a guy who has thrived when he is able to put his physicality on full display on the ice, and he certainly did that on Tuesday night, racking up five hits despite the Blackhawks largely dominating possession during the first two periods of the game. Shaw ended up playing 16:38 in the game, quite a big uptick from his normal ice time as Joel Quenneville seemingly tried to even out the minutes that his team was playing in the game.
Perhaps most notably for the youngster was the pass that he fired to Bryan Bickell that helped lead to Bickell’s second period tally that gave the Hawks a 2-0 lead. On the play, Niklas Hjalmarsson found Shaw near the blue line with a pass, and Shaw quickly fired the puck up the ice to a streaking Bickell, who actually collected his own rebound off the end boards and shot the puck past Florida goaltender Tim Thomas to give the Hawks an insurance goal.
The play was the culmination of the third line’s excellent play during the game. Bickell and Shaw seem to feed off of each other when they are paired up, and having a guy on their line like Marcus Kruger only does them a big favor, allowing them to be a bit more adventurous on offense than they normally would when paired up with other offensive dynamos.
Second Star: Niklas Hjalmarsson
Before the game, we cited Hjalmarsson as our Blackhawk to watch in the game because of his ability to quickly move the play back up the ice in the Hawks’ vaunted transition game. On Tuesday night, he showcased that ability perfectly on the aforementioned play with Shaw and Bickell.
Hjalmarsson was also part of a concerted effort by the Hawks’ blue liners to get involved in the offensive play early in the game, with just about every defensemen racking up shots on goal early in the contest. For the game, Hjalmarsson had three shots on goal and two missed shots to go along with his second period assist, and he ended up playing 22:15 during the game.
With the way he has been playing on both sides of the puck lately, Hjalmarsson would likely be looked at as a team’s first pairing defenseman at this point, but with the great play of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, Quenneville and company will happily keep Hjalmarsson on that second pairing with Johnny Oduya for as long as they can. That group is getting more difficult assignments as the year wears on, and that ability to take some of the stress off the top pairing is a huge asset to the coaching staff.
First Star: Jonathan Toews
The Hawks’ captain had gone four straight games without a point for Chicago, but he broke out of that slump quite nicely in the team’s victory.
For starters, there was the nifty power play goal that Toews scored in the second period. After an excellent pass from Patrick Kane drew Florida defenders out of the middle of the ice, Toews immediately made a beeline towards the front of the net. Seeing this, Keith put a perfect pass onto Toews’ stick-blade, and the center one-timed the puck past Thomas to give the Hawks a 1-0 lead early in that frame.
In addition to that sweet goal (and the winning shootout goal to boot), Toews was also insanely effective in the face-off dot for Chicago, winning 15 of the 21 draws that he took in the game. It was part of a dominant performance by the Hawks in an area that they usually struggle in, and the captain certainly keyed that effort.