With only 11 days left in the regular season, the Blackhawks look to finish off the year the way they came in. Winning. And winning a lot. The Hawks grabbed their sixth straight “W” against Dallas on Monday, thanks to a strong third period from all players. They have taken points from their last 9 games. Although there isn’t an opportunity for another huge streak like before, this run has ensured Western Conference domination, and the Hawks can clinch the Conference tonight with a Blue Jacket win over Anaheim. Here is this week’s Three Stars.
Possibly the most improved Blackhawks player since the trade deadline. Those are not words many Hawks fans thought they would hear about Hjalmarsson, but he has came back a completely different player. He is drawing attention from the broadcasters of NHL on NBC, who sang his praises during the nationally televised games this week. They showed a clip where he was under pressure in the Hawks zone, and he made a great play to get the puck out of the way into neutral ice. This play was very reminiscent of one that Ottowa Senators D-man Erik Karlsson made at the start of the season. Anytime that Niklas Hjalmarsson can do something like that is a good time. When he is on the ice, he makes you know it, because he’s alot stronger on the puck, and in turn, he gets it a lot more, and makes big plays with it, including his goal seen above, which was his lone point of the week. Hjalmarsson is peaking at the right time, and with his playoff experience, he should become a factor in a Blackhawks Stanley Cup run.
#2: Corey Crawford
“The Blackhawks goaltending issues continue.” That line seems to be a familiar one for Chicago faithful, except this year it’s different. Instead of not being confident in either goalie, Blackhawks brass are very comfortable with both. Need proof? Corey Crawford has a 30-save shutout effort, and Ray Emery starts the following game. Crawford has shown strides of improvement all year, and has been among the league’s elite net-minders all season. He did have a bit of luck on Sunday, as do all goaltenders with a goose-egg. What was really remarkable about Crawford’s performance was his ability to stay cool, even in a game that had very physical play. Well the rest of ‘the boys’ were scrapping it out with the division rivals, Crawford was calm in the crease. When he got ran by a particular Blue behind the net, (area also known as Mike Smith‘s Tornado Alley) he did not flop, but rather hopped up and got back in to position, where he made a solid save seconds later. That, combined with the great goaltending fundamentals of rebound control, position, and depth in the net, earned the shutout, on the road, which adds a degree of difficulty as well.
#1: Bryan Bickell
Bryan Bickell could quite possibly be the hardest working player on the Blackhawks roster. Without the natural talent like some, he makes up for it with a grit and determination unlike any players in a role like his, even in the whole league. Unlike Hjalmarsson, when Bickell works hard it shows up on the scoresheet, purely because he’s a forward. He seems to be in the ‘right place at the right time,’ quite often, but really it’s because he works to get in position, whether that be skating hard on a rush or jostling for placement in front of the net. When he gets the puck, he posesses the ability to make a multitude of passing or skating plays, and it’s these options that usually burn opposing defenders. He notched 2 points this week, one of which was the first, and deciding, goal in St. Louis. With the current line matchups, Bickell has really found a home, and thanks to Viktor Stalberg and Andrew Shaw, they are putting the pressure on the weaker lineups of the opponents.
Jonathan Toews: Great effort from the Captain, would have been a for sure Star if not for the great play of the three above.
The Blackhawks get some more rest before trying to stay atop the Western Conference on Friday. The lowest possible first-round seed for the Hawks is 2!! GO HAWKS!!!
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