NEW YORK – Chicago Blackhawks left wing Patrick Sharp, Buffalo Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller and Pittsburgh Penguins left wing James Neal have been named the NHL's "Three Stars" for the week ending Dec. 29.
Sharp led the NHL with six goals and tied for second with seven points as the Blackhawks (27-7-7, 61 points) earned five out of a possible six points to maintain first place in the Central Division. He began the week by scoring two goals in a 5-2 victory over the New Jersey Devils Dec. 23. Celebrating his 32nd birthday, Sharp (3-1—4) recorded his third career hat trick, including the game-winning goal, in a 7-2 triumph over the Colorado Avalanche Dec. 27 to become the first player in Blackhawks history – and second NHLer in the last 22 seasons (Pavol Demitra: Nov. 29, 2002) – to post three goals on his birthday. He capped the week by scoring his 22nd goal of the season, tied for fourth in the League, in a 6-5 shootout loss to the St. Louis Blues Dec. 28. Sharp ranks second on the Blackhawks and tied for eighth in the NHL with 22-19—41 in 41 games this season, including 11-6—17 in his past 10 outings.
Miller posted a 2-0-1 record with a 1.55 goals-against average and .961 save percentage to help the Sabres (11-24-4, 26 points) gain five out of a possible six points. He opened the week with 36 saves in a 2-1 overtime victory against the Phoenix Coyotes Dec. 23. He then recorded 39 saves, plus another two in the shootout, in a 4-3 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs Dec. 27. Miller finished the week with a career-high 49 saves and stopped all six shootout attempts in a 2-1 win over the Washington Capitals Dec. 29, improving to 3-0-0 all-time in games in which he has faced 50 or more shots (also Jan. 8, 2010: 48 saves on 50 shots; Nov. 5, 2013: 47 saves on 51 shots). The 33-year-old East Lansing, Mich., native has played in 28 games this season, posting a 10-17-1 record with a 2.69 goals-against average and .927 save percentage.
Neal (4-4—8) led the League with eight points as the Penguins (29-11-1, 59 points) won two of three games to remain in first place in the Eastern Conference. He was held off the scoresheet in a 5-0 loss to the Ottawa Senators Dec. 23, but broke out with 1-2—3, including the overtime winner, in a 4-3 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes Dec. 27. Neal (3-2—5) then recorded his fourth career hat trick and first five-point game in a 5-3 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets Dec. 29. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, he also became the first Penguins player to register at least five points in a game in which he factored all of his team's goals since Jan. 19, 2010, when Sidney Crosby posted 2-4—6 in a 6-4 triumph over the New York Islanders. The 26-year-old Whitby, Ont., native has played in 21 games this season, totaling 14 16—30, including 13-14—27 in his past 15 outings.