In a playoff series that has been punctuated by late game heroics and overtime thrillers, it was the Chicago Blackhawks playing the role of spoiler on Wednesday night, tying the game late in regulation and then winning on Patrick Kane’s fourth career overtime game winner in a 4-3 victory.
We’ll have plenty more reaction to this game before Game 5 on Friday night, but for now, here were our Three Stars for Wednesday night.
Third Stars: Michal Rozsival/Johnny Oduya
We don’t do this very often, but we would be remiss if we cut either one of these defensemen out of the countdown for their performances, which both featured plays that were critical to helping the Hawks win.
Oduya had a nice game for the Hawks as they continue to deal with not having Brent Seabrook in the lineup due to suspension. He had two shots on goal, three hits, and two blocked shots during the game, and was a key contributor as the Hawks’ penalty killing unit continued its stellar work (outside of one really great shot by Vladimir Tarasenko, that is). His big contribution came in the second period of the game though, as he received a pass from Jonathan Toews in the neutral zone.
Instead of dumping the puck into the zone like he usually does, Oduya instead carried the puck in along the boards. Spotting Kane streaking toward the net, the defenseman wheeled back just a little bit, and threw a perfectly timed pass across the ice and right onto Kane’s stick. The forward deposited the goal in the back of the net to give the Hawks what turned out to be an important goal, making it a 2-0 game.
Rozsival had a similarly excellent play during the late stages of the third period. With the Hawks trailing by one and not really generating much in the way of push, Rozsival was key in maintaining a lengthy possession in the offensive zone for Chicago. At a key moment, the defenseman spotted Bryan Bickell camped out next to the net, and unleashed a perfectly placed low slap shot that was headed just wide of the far post. Bickell got a stick on it and deflected it past Ryan Miller, and the crowd erupted as the game became a tied affair at 3-3.
The pass-shot hybrid off Rozsival’s stick was a perfectly executed play, and obviously was huge in helping the Hawks to tie things up. He may not have the offensive acumen of a Duncan Keith or the defensive prowess of a Niklas Hjalmarsson, but in his second playoff run with the Hawks, Rozsival is proving that he is an indispensable asset on the blue line.
Second Star: Bryan Bickell
Getting reunited with Kane and Jonathan Toews has done wonders for Bickell’s confidence, just like it did last season, and the forward continued his strong play on Wednesday night even as head coach Joel Quenneville did a bit of late forward shuffling in the third period of the game.
In the game, Bickell ended up with a blocked shot, four shots on goal, seven hits, and an all-important game tying goal in the third period as he racked up 18:07 of ice time. That kind of production is a far cry from what the bruising forward was delivering during most of the regular season, and the Hawks have got to be thrilled that he’s once again producing at a high level.
The goal that he scored, which was set up by a great pass from Rozsival, was a great representation of the different facets of Bickell’s game. Not only was he able to display soft enough hands to deflect the shot into the net (on a puck that was likely going wide of the cage, no less), but he also was able to use his big physique to leverage himself into good position in front of the net to make the play happen. Clearing him out of the crease area is no easy task for anybody, and Bickell showed once again why he’s such a lethal weapon in those kinds of situations for the Blackhawks.
First Star: Patrick Kane
There were some serious questions about Kane’s health as he rejoined the lineup when the playoffs started, but through four games he’s put a lot of those doubts to rest as he continues to put on an offensive showcase for the Blackhawks.
Kane was hard at work in that area on Wednesday, potting two goals and adding an assist as the Hawks were victorious. He also blocked a shot (likely by accident) and had four shots on goal total in the game as his continued partnership with Toews and Bickell paid dividends again.
Kane’s second period goal was largely a product of his instinct for getting into open space on the rush (and Oduya’s tremendous pass), but the second goal of the night for the Hawks’ sniper was a thing of beauty. On the play, Kane brought the puck up the ice and the Blues seemed to have trouble sorting out who was going to cover who. In the midst of all the confusion, several passing lanes appeared and disappeared, but Kane remained patient. Finally, after sorting through all of his options and finding none of them palatable, Kane ripped a shot past Miller to win the game for the Hawks and tie up the series.
Kane’s flair for the dramatic has been one of his biggest calling cards during his career, and he showed some really clutch play once again in this one. If his knee is nearing full strength (although it is still in a brace), then he is definitely capable of earning the title that Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock bestowed upon him after Wednesday’s win: “the most dangerous player in the game.”