Three Stars: Hjalmarsson’s Hustle Helps Hawks to Win

The Chicago Blackhawks went into Tuesday’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning looking to make a statement against arguably the best team in the Eastern Conference, and that’s exactly what they did as they dominated large swaths of the game en route to a 3-2 shootout victory.

We’ll have plenty of breakdown of what the victory means over the next few days, but for now, here were Tuesday’s Three Stars.

Third Star: Brad Richards

Normally Richards’ play would have been enough to earn him a slot in the top one or two stars of this game, but considering the mental lapse he had on Tampa’s first goal of the contest, it makes sense to knock him down a peg or two.

At any rate, Richards’ contribution came in the form of a second period goal that tied things up at 1-1. After a period dominated by the Blackhawks, Tampa still was ahead on the scoreboard until Richards came along. Just after a power play concluded, Richards received a pass from Kris Versteeg in between the face-off circles and fired a shot toward the net. It was blocked down, but Richards followed the play up, collected his own rebound, and wristed the puck off of Ben Bishop and into the net to tie the game.

It was the culmination of a nice offensive night at the office for Richards, and aside from one defensive blunder he continued his recent trend upward for the Hawks.

Second Star: Corey Crawford

Crawford didn’t get a whole lot of work in the first two periods of the game, stopping 12 of 13 Tampa Bay shots, but he came up big in the third period as he made 10 saves and helped the Blackhawks to force overtime.

Where the goaltender really made his hay was in the shootout. Facing some of the best shooters that the Lightning had to offer, Crawford made three straight solid saves, and Patrick Kane’s goal stood up as the game-winner for Chicago.

A big question facing Crawford this season was whether or not he would be able to live up to the sizable contract that the team gave him, but with a 1.75 GAA and a .932 save percentage, he’s proving plenty of doubters wrong and helping the Hawks start to turn around their sluggish start to the season.

First Star: Niklas Hjalmarsson

Hjalmarsson is the type of player who is just as comfortable blocking a shot as he is taking one toward the opposing net, but on Tuesday night the Swedish-born blue liner did a little bit of both as the Blackhawks triumphed.

Hjalmarsson had four blocked shots and a hit in the game, and even after he lost defensive partner Johnny Oduya to an injury, he continued to play stellar defense as the Hawks slowed down one of the most potent offensive attacks in the NHL.

His big contribution came early in the third period however as his hustle and quick shot helped Chicago take the lead. Just after a Chicago power play concluded, Hjalmarsson was near the face-off dot on a pinch into the zone. When the puck started heading toward the blue line, Hjalmarsson sprinted over and fired it back toward the net. The low, hard shot would have been stopped by Bishop, but with Marcus Kruger opening up his stick blade, the puck deflected into the net to put the Blackhawks ahead by a 2-1 margin.

It was a heads-up, high-hustle play by Hjalmarsson, and even though it didn’t turn out to be a game-winner, it was a perfect way to salvage momentum after a failed power play.

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