Three Stars: Crawford Stands Tall as Hawks Stun Canadiens

Sharp, Morin also excel as Hawks make late comeback against Canadiens

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The Chicago Blackhawks nearly dropped their home finale on Wednesday night at the United Center, but Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp weren’t prepared to let that happen, as the duo scored two goals late in the game to pick up a 3-2 overtime victory for the Hawks.

The win, which was the Hawks’ first overtime victory of the season, keeps them within shouting distance of the Colorado Avalanche for the second seed in the Western Conference. We’ll break down the game throughout the day, but for now, here are Wednesday’s Three Stars.

Third Star: Patrick Sharp

The Hawks have been getting a lot of production out of their role players in recent games, but the stars really came out firing in the late stages of Wednesday’s game as the Hawks stunned the Canadiens.

In the late stages of the third period, Sharp made his first big impact on the game. On a possession with six skaters on the ice thanks to Corey Crawford heading to the bench, the Hawks moved the puck perfectly and tied things up with less than a minute to go. Michal Handzus got things started when he took the puck below the goal line, and he fired a pass along the boards to Sharp.

The Hawks’ sniper could have driven out from behind the net to the front of the cage, but instead he waited for Hossa to pinch in toward the net, and when he feathered a perfect pass to his linemate, Hossa didn’t miss on the ensuing one-timer as he tied the game.

Sharp wasn’t done there either. Less than a minute into overtime, Sharp got the puck in the offensive zone and fired a quick shot towards Canadiens goaltender Peter Budaj. The keeper, who had been largely stellar throughout the game, had a big miscue on the shot as he barely got a piece of it as the puck flipped into the net for the overtime winner.

The Blackhawks’ announcers preach every single day about how the players need to get shots on net at any opportunity, and Sharp is certainly one of the foremost practitioners of that theory. He will fire shots from anywhere, and he made the Canadiens pay for giving him open space in the overtime period.

Second Star: Jeremy Morin

Morin has been firing on all cylinders in the Hawks’ past few games, and along with linemate Bryan Bickell, he continued his onslaught with a third period goal on Wednesday that tied things up at 1-1.
Instead of Bickell lending a helping hand on that goal, Sheldon Brookbank was the man who picked up the assist. After Morin battled hard for a puck along the boards, the Canadiens attempted to clear it by firing it toward the blue line. Brookbank intercepted it, and quickly pushed a pass back up to Morin, who was turning back toward the middle of the ice.

Rather than try to drive to the net, and potentially let the Montreal defense re-collapse on him, Morin fired a quick wrist shot that Budaj simply wasn’t expecting. The shot blew past the goaltender’s outstretched leg pad and curled just inside the far post, and just like that the United Center erupted in cheers as Morin tied the game.

With the playoffs, and the return of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, nearing, Morin may very well be playing for a spot in the lineup when the postseason begins. If his audition has been any indication though, then head coach Joel Quenneville is going to have a big decision on his hands when the team attempts to win its second straight Stanley Cup championship.

First Star: Corey Crawford

Despite the two goals that he gave up in the game, Crawford was simply astounding on Wednesday night. Matching Budaj shot for shot, Crawford came up big throughout the first two periods of the game, and without his stellar play, the Hawks wouldn’t have had a chance to make their remarkable third period comeback.

In the first period of the game, the Canadiens got several high quality chances as they ratcheted up the tempo to a blistering pace. One of their best chances came on a quick rush up the ice, with Brendan Gallagher firing in a shot from the boards that Crawford had to stop. Unfortunately for the Hawks, Tomas Plekanec got in behind the defense and grabbed the rebound, but Crawford’s reaction time was on point as he made the second stop to keep the game tied up.

In the second period, Max Pacioretty, who was looking for his 40th goal of the season, uncorked a quick wrist shot from between the face-off circles. With his trademark flourish, Crawford went down into his butterfly stance and snared the shot out of midair with his glove, causing the Canadiens’ sniper to simply shake his head and skate away.

In the closing seconds of the third period, with his team having freshly tied the game at 2-2, Crawford once again had to stand tall to even send the game to overtime. As the clock wound down, Thomas Vanek fired a pass across the ice to a wide open Pacioretty. Once again, the American-born forward was denied by Crawford, as the goaltender dove across the crease to make a stellar save to keep the game tied up.

Crawford is still having occasional lapses as the season nears its end, but there have been many more moments of brilliance than ineffectiveness for the goaltender. He has had some great postseason runs in his career, and one has to wonder if he has another one brewing once the playoffs start next week.

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