Compared to recent weeks for the club, this was a big one. The Blackhawks finished off their week grabbing 7 out of a possible 8 points, expanding their Western Conference domination to a 6 point lead, with one more game remaining than the second-place Anaheim Ducks, and also clinched a playoff spot for the fifth straight year. They are still in the front-running for the President’s Trophy, with 4 points and a game at hand against the Eastern Conference All Stars, A.K.A. the Pittsburgh Penguins. Here are the top three players that made this week such a good one.
Apr 9, 2013; St. Paul, MN, USA; Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson (4) protects the puck from Minnesota Wild forwardZach Parise
(11) the second period at the Xcel Energy Center. The Blackhawks defeated the Wild 1-0. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
After surviving another trade deadline, Niklas Hjalmarsson really stood out in the last 4 games. Coach Quenneville showed that he still has faith in the young defenseman, as he played alot of minutes, capped with a 25 minute, 17 second effort in Nashville. Shuffling the lines really worked out well for the Swede, and his pairing with Duncan Keith was very solid, and it showed in his +3 rating. He really shone in the neutral ice, where he was really strong on the puck, and almost always made the best possible play, whether that was dumping and changing, or making a good pass to enter the zone. He also picked up an assist on Sunday afternoon when the Predators came to town. Hjalmarsson showed flashes of the playoff-tested youthful blueliner he should be. Where this was all season; no one knows. However, with only 20 days until the post-season begins, he came out at the right time.
#2: Jonathan Toews
Apr 1, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews (19) scores a goal against Nashville Predators goaliePekka Rinne
(35) in the shootout at the United Center. Chicago defeats Nashville 3-2 in a shootout. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports
Jonathan Toews not only earns this week’s Second Star for his brilliant on ice play, but because he is one of the most humble and classy people the League has ever seen. Before the Hawks’ matchup against the Predators on Sunday at the United Center, 12-year-old Jack Klinge, a Leukemia patient, dropped the puck at center ice before the game. When Toews won the faceoff, he not only returned the puck to Klinge, but also gave him his brand new stick. The smile on the little boy’s face was one of the most uplifting things anyone in that building has ever seen, and with that simple gesture he gave an already special moment a bigger touch. After the game began, Toews was seen fiddling with his replacement, which drew the admiration of play-by-play announcer Pat Foley, and colour analyst Eddie Olczyk, and hockey fans league wide. The replacement couldn’t have been that bad, as he scored the game winner that night with it. Toews also added an assist, for his second multi-point night in the last three games, and he finished off the week with four points. Toews play draws consideration for a Selke Trophy, and he does just as well in the offensive zone as well. His leadership is as strong always, and he looks like the Captain that led the Blackhawks to Lord Stanley’s Cup back in 2010.
#1: Ray Emery
Apr 9, 2013; St. Paul, MN, USA; Chicago Blackhawks goalie Ray Emery (30) celebrates with defenseman Duncan Keith (2), forwardBrandon Saad
(20) and forward Jonathan Toews (19) following the game against the Minnesota Wild at the Xcel Energy Center. The Blackhawks defeated the Wild 1-0. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
It’s hard to argue with the choice of Emery for the First Star. Any goaltender that records two shutouts in three starts is going to get some recognition. If the season ended today, ‘Razor’ would be the goaltender the Hawks take into the playoffs. He won all three of his games this week, and only let in 3 goals on 62 shots. He has had 3 shutouts in his last 5 games dating back to March 26, and he is turning out to be quite the gem for Blackhawks this season. He may have had some close calls, and there is luck involved in any whitewash, but Emery is looking completely different from the one we saw last year. He now has his rebounds under control, sports a wicked glove hand, moves faster than he ever has in his career, even though he has turned 30, and he is showing alot of calmness in the net, (not just because he isn’t fighting any other goaltenders) and he was able to recover from a sketchy second period and stop all the shots the rest of the way for a Blackhawks comeback win. He is now third in the league for GAA (1.90) and seventh for SV% (.924) all while playing less than Corey Crawford so far this season.
Bryan Bickell: Scoring the only goal in a game will get you some attention, and Bickell did just that Sunday. His line had a very good back-to-back in both games against the Predators.
Marian Hossa: See Above. Hossa’s great anticipation netted him the lone tally Tuesday night, and he has rebounded from injury very nicely.
The Blackhawks travel back home for the final meeting with the Detroit Red Wings as Central Division rivals on Friday. Puck Drop is at 7:30 on CSN, and NHL Network.
LETS GO HAWKS!!
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