When the Blackhawks skated out for pregame warm-ups on Sunday against San Jose, an important player on the top line was missing: Marian Hossa, who has arguably played his best hockey of the season over the last several games.
Hossa was ruled out with an upper-body injury — and is listed as day-to-day, although he'll miss Tuesday's contest against the Dallas Stars — which meant it was an opportunity for somebody to step up on a line that was dominant in the Blackhawks' last game at the United Center, a 4-0 win over Edmonton.
The decision was easy for coach Joel Quenneville, who rewarded Andrew Shaw and his solid play as of late by plugging him in with Jonathan Toews and Teuvo Teravainen.
It paid off.
Approaching the midway mark of the third period with the Blackhawks trailing 3-2, Shaw took matters into his own hands by driving hard to the net, sticking with the play even though Sharks goaltender Martin Jones poke-checked his initial stuff attempt, and slapped home the game-tying goal that sparked a Chicago team that had hit snooze in the second period and woke up a sold-out United Center crowd of 22,096.
"It just shows that you've got to go to those dirty areas to find those goals," Shaw said following a 4-3 overtime win over the Sharks. "They're tough to come by in this league. You've got to work hard and get dirty once in a while."
It wasn't pretty, but it got the job done.
Earlier this month, Shaw emphasized that the Blackhawks can't rely on the second line of Artemi Panarin, Artem Anisimov and Patrick Kane for scoring on a nightly basis.
In the last eight games, Shaw has six points — three goals and three assists. He had seven points total in his first 27 games of the season.
Shaw has done his part to back that up.
"He's been playing awesome lately," Toews said of Shaw, who also registered a team-high five hits. "He's hitting, he's taking hits, he wants the puck. He's playing smart all over the rink, he's creating. There's not much more you can say about Shawzy. He's playing great hockey. Of course, we miss Hoss in all facets of the game but Shawzy worked and scored a big goal for us tonight."
"He didn't want to do it with his two linemates but that's okay, whatever works," Toews joked.
It's precisely why Quenneville said he "absolutely" gave Shaw the first crack on the first line. A never-quit attitude, sticking your nose into dirty areas, and getting rewarded for it.
"Way better," Quenneville responded when asked about Shaw's recent play. "Much improved. Very effective. Dangerous with the puck, off the rush, on the puck area, lot of energy as well. He's been bringing it."
Whether it's on the third line or the top line, Shaw is providing that much-needed energy the Blackhawks typically lack and search for during the dog days of the season.
Credit that to his growing confidence, which took a while to build after a shortened offseason.
"It's obviously a lot higher than it was than at the start of the year," Shaw said of his current confidence level. "I didn't start the way I wanted to. The guys in the room have been a huge help. They're always making sure you're well-appreciated and if you keep working hard and doing the little things right, they'll start going your way."