The Chicago Blackhawks were up for a tough challenge on Wednesday when they faced the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins, but thanks to a four-goal first period, they got out in front early and stayed there en route to a 5-1 victory.
So how did they do it? By getting some huge contributions from key players, and we’re highlighting some of those performances in this edition of Three Stars.
Third Star: Nick Schmaltz
Schmaltz was bumped back up to the top line after Jonathan Toews and Richard Panik seemed to struggle to find their offensive groove without him, and he proved his worth again in this game as he registered an assist in the victory.
And what an assist it was, as the winger got the puck behind the net, patiently skated out to the side, and found a lane to fire a pass onto the stick of Panik, who rifled a one-timer past Marc Andre-Fleury:
Second Star: Corey Crawford
After two straight games of subpar goaltending in Florida, the Blackhawks needed a big performance in net out of Crawford, and that’s exactly what they got.
Staked to an early lead, Crawford looked to be in complete control through the game, and he moved around the crease with ease and challenged shooters routinely throughout the evening en route to making 31 saves.
One of his best came in the second period’s dying moments, as he snared a hard slapshot from Justin Schultz with just under five seconds to go in the frame:
First Star: Patrick Kane
Kane has been playing on another level recently, and he ended up with two assists in the Blackhawks’ victory.
The assists, his 49th and 50th of the season, made him just the fourth Blackhawks player to ever register 50 or more assists in four seasons in a Chicago uniform, and naturally they were both things of beauty. His touch pass to Marcus Kruger was a work of art at center ice, but his backwards no-look pass to Artemi Panarin that helped open the scoring was even better:
Kane is now just five points behind Connor McDavid in the NHL’s points race with five games to play in the regular season thanks to his heroics.