MATT: Have to go with Cam Talbot here, who I think some were surprised even started the game in the first place. He was stellar in the first two periods, but really came on in the third period when Chicago did, as he made some huge saves in the final 20 to protect the one-goal lead and then the two-goal lead late. After Peter Regin scored to get Chicago on the board, I think some — including myself — were surprised at how little time the Blackhawks needed to get another scoring chance. Luckily, Talbot was there to make not one but two saves on Marian Hossa and then Patrick Kane right on the goal line to preserve the win. I think we're past the point of being surprised at what Talbot can do, and just have to assume he's going to give the Blueshirts a chance to win whenever called upon. He finished the night with 31 saves for his 11th win of the season.
My second star goes to Rick Nash, who I thought skated very well despite playing so deep into the Olympics. He had his legs from the start and was firing the puck whenever he could. His goal — his first in what felt like a while due to the break — was obviously huge, as it gave the Rangers the all important two-goal lead with just a few minutes remaining. Nash didn't give up on the play and drove to the slot and that low wrist shot that we've seen beat so many goaltenders got through Corey Crawford for his 19th of the season. Evidently his more defensive role for Team Canada has carried over at least somewhat, as No. 61 was used on the penalty kill in place of the injured Mats Zuccarello. Nash has been scoring in bunches this season, and hopefully last night's goal sparks him.
My third star goes to the other goal scorer, Derick Brassard, who — along with Benoit Pouliot — didn't seem to miss a beat without their linemate Zuccarello, and that's a good thing. What that shows is that right now, they can play with anyone and still be effective. While Brassard's scored the goal, the play happened because of J.T. Miller picking Jonathan Toews' pocket. Ultimately, though, it was Brassard who stayed with his shot and buried the rebound through traffic. He's gone to the dirty areas so much more this season, and it's paid off big time.
JIM: I'm with you on the No. 1 Star Matt. Cam Talbot was rock solid throughout, saving his best work for the third period when Chicago picked up its game and created a string of good scoring chances--including Kane's on the doorstep at the buzzer. New York was outshot 13-2 in that final 20 minutes of play, yet Talbot remained his usual calm self as the action picked up around him; and his two saves in the final seconds were the difference between a great win and a painful trip to overtime. Would have been great if Cam had gotten the shutout, but as Rick Nash said postgame, "Cam was the first star by far". I agree.
I'm going with Dan Girardi as my Second Star from Thursday night. With all the rumors floating around, Girardi cleared his head and played one of his more solid games all season in my opinion. Except for that final shift of the game, Girardi made quick smart decisions against a highly-skilled opponent, and was a physical force in his own end of the ice. Girardi logged 22:59, was a +2, was credited with four hits, and blocked five shots. He was excellent on the penalty kill--a perfect 3-for-3 against Chicago--and played on the team's top power play unit. Real strong game from Girardi I thought.
Rick Nash was the Rangers best forward without question Thursday, and he's my No. 3 Star of the game. Nash did not show any jetlag or fatigue in his game just three days after arriving back home from Sochi with a gold medal around his neck. He scored a crucial goal which ended up being the game-winner late in the third period, and generated a string of other prime scoring chances for himself and his teammates. Nash finished with a team-high five shots on goal, played a key role on the penalty kill, logged 16:01, and even won a faceoff after Derek Stepan was kicked out of the circle. Welcome back, Rick. Nice start to the final playoff push, for sure.