NHL – Three Stars of the Night
Although there were only three games in the NHL last night, they were not short of drama, especially in net. In the Western Conference, the Chicago Blackhawks looked to continue their fine season against the St Louis Blues, who were waiting for the conference leaders with menacing stares and a strong physical edge. The Detroit Red Wings also looked to return to winning ways against the Nashville Predators after slipping out of the playoff positions following three straight losses. The single game in the Eastern Conference featured Tampa Bay Lightning and the Buffalo Sabres, two sides trying to give themselves momentum for a late run to eighth place and a playoff berth.
There were plenty of huge hits, clever plays at the blue-line, one remarkable no-look pass from Thomas Vanek and an NHL debut in Nashville for Filip Forsberg. Three players however, were vital to their team’s fortunes and have been awarded stars for their efforts.
Chicago Blackhawks 2-0 St Louis Blues
Detroit Red Wings 3-0 Nashville Predators
Tampa Bay Lightning 1-3 Buffalo Sabres
The Chicago Blackhawks are an unstoppable, relentless transformer of a team and last night they showed once more that regardless of how their opponent tries to nullify their threat, they will still get the job done. The St Louis Blues managed to pin them in their own zone for most of the first period last night with heavy forechecking and a high tempo. As is customary this season however, the Blackhawks weathered the storm with great goaltending and used their own speed to counter. Brian Bickell’s ninth goal of the season came from a powerful rush to the outside of the Blues defence in the second period and after Marian Hossa added a shorthanded tally in the third, the seal was put on another victory. The Blackhawks still sit atop the Western Conference with 68 points and in all honesty, with their strength top to bottom right now, it’s difficult not to see them going all the way.
Jimmy Howard’s exceptional display in goal was the platform for a Detroit Red Wings win that bounced them right back into the playoff picture. With a 22-save shutout against the Nashville Predators, who continue to show terrible offensive deficiencies, Howard celebrated his new contract in style. A tap-in for Henrik Zetterberg in the first, followed up by Johan Franzen’s high backhander in the third did the damage for the Wings, Justin Abdelkader adding an empty-netter to put some red gloss on the scoreline. The one bright spark for the Predators, who have been reeling since they traded away Martin Erat, was the debut of 18-year old centre Filip Forsberg, the Swedish youngster had two shots and showed good poise under pressure. Detroit now have 47 points and sit in eighth position, only one point behind sixth-placed St Louis Blues.
The Buffalo Sabres gave themselves a glimmer of hope of making the playoffs last night and ended Tampa Bay’s in the process. After two consecutive wins, the Sabres now sit tenth in the Eastern Conference with 42 points, four points behind eighth-placed New York Rangers. Goals from Tyler Ennis (the result of a stunning no-look backhand pass from Thomas Vanek), Jochen Hecht and Kevin Porter were enough to see off the disappointing Lightning, Beniot Poulion notching their single effort. Tampa bay stay on 37 points and although not mathematically eliminated, maths can quite often be a liar.
NHL – Three stars of the Night
(32 SV, 1 GA, .970 S%)
Following an excellent shutout against the Philadelphia Flyers, Jhonas Enroth put on an even better display last night. His 32 saves included two wonderful reaction stops from Alex Killorn and an alert play to prevent Ryan Malone scoring on a wrap-around. His form is definite cause for optimism in Buffalo, especially as they have toyed with the idea of trading away star goaltender Ryan Miller in the past. Although he is an undoubtedly talented individual, he has been highly controversial and they would certainly receive quality in return. Though it is too early to tell, if Enroth continues to play as he has done since relieving Miller against the Canadiens, the decision may become a lot easier to make.
(1G, 1A, 2P, 7 SOG)
The captain of the Detroit Red Wings showed the leadership skills last night that haven’t always been present this year. Usually an extremely effective player, Henrik Zetterberg’s added responsibility has seemed to weigh on his shoulders in tight games but yesterday, he was the player he is expected to be; energetic, inspiring and clinical. Reacting first to poke home a rebound off the boards for his ninth goal of the season in the second period and then assisting on Justin Abdelkader’s empty-net finish late in the third, he, along with goaltender Jimmy Howard, were the heart of an important Wings victory.
(30 SV, 0 GA, 1.000 S%)
Summarising puck-devourer Corey Crawford’s eighth shutout of his career is quite simple, it looked as though he was the only player on the ice watching in slow motion. For most of his 30 saves last night, it looked as though he was waiting for the puck to catch up to his reactions, which is only ever a good sign. Once Marian Hossa had doubled the lead for Chicago, there never seemed any danger of the St Louis Blues coming back as Crawford’s game always seems to raise a couple of notches when defending a lead. The Blackhawks will hope that he can continue his scintillating form into the postseason, especially when looking at the tandem he has forged with veteran Ray Emery.
(All images courtesy of NHL.com)