Three Stars: Saad Shines as Hawks Stave Off Elimination

Kane picks up four assists as Blackhawks force Game 6

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The Chicago Blackhawks were on the verge of elimination Wednesday night, but they responded like champions as they notched a 5-4 victory in double overtime.

Without further adieu, here were our Three Stars of Game 5.

Third Star: Michal Handzus

“Handzus is pretty much dead weight at even strength for any line that he’s on (remember that Kane’s numbers improved dramatically when he was away from Handzus), and he’s more of a liability than an asset, especially in a must-win situation like this.”

We’re not sure if Handzus is an avid reader of Madhouse Enforcer, but whatever the case may be, the fact remains that his game-winning goal in Game 5 was definitely one that has us eating a bit of crow.

Granted, Kane’s numbers continued to improve without Handzus last night (he had four total assists in the game), and Handzus was once again given vastly sheltered minutes, and he lost 11 of the 15 face-offs he took, but in crunch time, he did what needed to be done. On the game’s final play, Handzus was the one that forced the initial turnover in the neutral zone and got Kane the puck.

After Brandon Saad brought it into the offensive zone, the Kings’ defense collapsed on him, and he feathered a saucer pass to Handzus. The veteran forward then calmly flipped the puck to his backhand side and shot it past Jonathan Quick to give the Blackhawks the victory.

It was a veteran series of moves by a veteran player, and even though he may not have the speed or hands to be centering one of the top two lines, he showed some serious skill on that play.

Second Star: Patrick Kane

Going into Wednesday’s game, head coach Joel Quenneville once again moved Kane around in the lineup. Linking him up with Saad and Andrew Shaw, the coach was hoping that Saad’s speed and Shaw’s ability to get to the front of the net would end up opening up scoring opportunities and creative space for Kane to utilize when he got into the zone with the puck.

As it turned out, that’s exactly what Kane did. With five shots on goal and four assists in the game, Kane was arguably the biggest catalyst behind Chicago’s offensive explosion, and despite playing nearly 30 minutes of ice time, he still looked fresh as a daisy throughout the contest.

While one could argue over which assist was Kane’s best in the game, the one that seemingly stood out the most was his assist on Johnny Oduya’s first period goal. On the play, Oduya got things started way back in the defensive zone below the goal line, firing a pass to Shaw. Shaw then hit Kane with a stretch pass near the blue line, and the forward brought the puck into the zone.

Instead of firing a shot on goal right away, Kane hesitated and carried the puck for an extra few moments. That gave the trailing players enough time to catch back up to the play, and by the time Kane fired in a shot on Quick, Oduya was there to collect the rebound and deposit a shot into the goal to give Chicago an early 2-0 lead.

That kind of patience is something that Kane has been showing quite a bit of this season, and it was crucial for the Blackhawks to see him break out in such convincing fashion on Wednesday night.

First Star: Brandon Saad

While Kane was the primary facilitator in the game on Wednesday, it was Saad who ultimately had the best night, with his goal and two assists capping off what may have been one of the best nights of his career.

Two plays by Saad really stood out in this one. The first came on the rush early in the third period as the Blackhawks were beginning their push to tie the game up. With a full head of steam, Saad flew into the offensive zone and fired a low hard shot at Quick. The Kings goaltender was able to kick it aside, but Ben Smith was there to collect the rebound as he scored the game-tying goal less than two minutes into the frame.

In the second overtime period, Saad showed off his skills once again. This time he opted for a more traditional pass, executing a perfect saucer pass over to Handzus for the game-winning tally that sent the series back to Los Angeles.

If the Blackhawks are going to force a Game 7, they are going to need Saad to continue his strong play. His speed and quick hands will be key assets for the team, and Quenneville and company have to be hoping that he will find his groove again in the City of Angels on Friday night.

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