Warren Wimmer/Icon SMI)
It was a week to remember for the Chicago Blackhawks. On a five-game winning streak, four of which came in the past six days, the Blackhawks surging play has given them an excellent chance at grabbing home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Chicago received a great effort up and down their line-up, but there were three players that definitely stood out.
Here, then, are the Three Stars of the Week in the Central Division for March 16-22.
First Star: Andrew Shaw, LW, Chicago Blackhawks – If you were to mention the name "Andrew Shaw" to the casual hockey fan prior to the season, or even until early January for that matter, they would likely tell you that they had never heard of him before. An unheralded fifth-round pick in last year’s NHL Draft, Shaw was known in OHL circles as a pest whose best attribute was his ability to get under the skin of his opponents. While that aspect of his game has remained unchanged, Shaw has become an unexpected offensive wonder since joining the Blackhawks. The 20-year-old led the charge the past four games scoring four goals and dishing out three helpers. He also scored the overtime winner last night against Vancouver in what was a spirited game between the two rivals.
Second Star: Corey Crawford, G, Chicago Blackhawks – It was not too long ago when both Crawford and the Blackhawks were struggling mightily, that it appeared as if Ray Emery was going to be entrusted as the team’s starting goaltender. When Emery too began to struggle, Crawford was given another chance and has rattled off wins in five consecutive starts. The 27-year-old was between the pipes for all four of the Blackhawks’ wins dating back to last Friday’s 4-1 win in Dallas. He stopped 16 shots on Sunday against Washington, 24 in Tuesday’s win over Columbus, and was at his best Wednesday night against Vancouver, yielding one goal on 24 shots.
Third Star: Marian Hossa, RW, Chicago Blackhawks – Hossa is leaving little doubt that he has been Chicago’s Most Valuable Player this season. Currently on a seven-game point streak, Hossa’s presence at both ends of the rink has truly been something special to watch. The leading point-getter in the Western Conference, Hossa notched two goals and three assists on the week and has been a marvel in all facets of the game. The 33-year-old also reached an impressive milestone when he picked up his 900th career point vs. Columbus on Tuesday.
Central Division Notes
Chicago Blackhawks – With both teams battling Detroit for fourth-place in the West, Chicago’s only action this weekend will be one of the most important games of their season to date when they take on the Nashville Predators on Sunday night. Although the club has not yet learned of his fate, it is expected that Duncan Keith will not be with the team for the next few games as he faces a suspension for his elbow on Vancouver’s Daniel Sedin.
Columbus Blue Jackets – After dropping the opener of a three-game home-stand, Columbus has two winnable games in front of them when they take on Carolina tonight and Edmonton on Sunday. Defenseman James Wisniewski’s status remains uncertain since taking a puck in the face against Calgary earlier in the week. He has not been ruled out but it seems unlikely that he will suit up for either of the two weekend contests.
Detroit Red Wings – Losers of six straight games, the Red Wings could have some major reinforcements back in time for their lone game this weekend. Nicklas Lidstrom and Jimmy Howard could play Saturday night when Detroit hosts the Carolina Hurricanes. Lidstrom’s return seems like a good bet as the team re-assigned defenseman Doug Janik to Grand Rapids yesterday.
Nashville Predators – It didn’t take Alexander Radulov long to find the back of the net in a Predators uniform, but he dalso got a first-hand look at how scary the Pittsburgh Penguins can be. Radulov’s second period goal was the lone tally for Nashville in a 5-1 loss to the high-octane Penguins, making it the second straight game in which the Predators allowed 5 or more goals. The team faces an important weekend schedule starting Saturday when they host the Winnipeg Jets and culminates with a huge road game against Chicago on Sunday.
St. Louis Blues – Brian Elliott and Jonathan Quick were both nearly unbeatable in the Blues 1-0 shootout defeat at the hands of the Los Angeles Kings last night. Both goalies stopped 30+ shots in regulation and then kept the game scoreless through the overtime period until two Kings shooters were able to score on Elliott in the shootout. Now four points up on Vancouver for first-place in the overall Western Conference standings, St. Louis will wrap up their seven-game road trip on Sunday when they travel to the desert to take on the Phoenix Coyotes.