The Chicago Blackhawks showed up to play on Wednesday night at the TD Garden. Contrary to their Game Three performance there just two days prior, where nothing got done offensively, the Blackhawks’ skill was a factor all night long, and their star players had a coming-out party. Among this group were Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, who were finally placed on the same line, something that many Blackhawks faithful had been calling for during and after the Game Three loss.
Watching the Blackhawks’ two young stars on the same line was something that we haven’t seen a lot during the course of the regular season and into the playoffs, but you can bet it won’t be the last time #88 and #19 skate on the same ice. After being shutout in game three, the Blackhawks desperately needed a way to fill the net, so Joel Quenneville showed up at practice with a whole new set of lines, which including the top line of Bickell-Toews-Kane, saw Marian Hossa miss the morning skate, but return to the Stanley Cup Final after missing game three. Jonathan Toews needed someone to help him snap his career-worst 10 playoff-game goalless drought, and Patrick Kane was looking for a little more after tallying a lone point in the three games played in the series.
The magic certainly happened on Wednesday night, as Toews and Kane tallied back-to-back second period goals, giving the Blackhawks a cozy lead. Even when Boston bit back and started to inch closer to tying the game, something they eventually did in the third, the Hawks’ stars were still the most dynamic line either team put out there.
Why are these two such a good fit?
It has a lot to do with their natural styles of play, and a little to do with the third member of their top line. Kane and Toews may play a similar game, but some aspects of their play are very different and this helps make the line more complete and dynamic. Both of them can create chances off the rush, but Kane mostly sticks to the wall, where Toews will cut into the middle to deliver a drop pass, or fire at the net for a rebound. Both of their goals came once the Blackhawks were fully setup in the offensive zone, and they utilized the defense on both plays, which was something that was lacking as of late for the Hawks.
Toews earned his slump-busting goal by getting to the net, and using his body to cause some havoc in front of Boston goaltender Tukka Rask. #19 took advantage of a lapse in coverage by Zdeno Chara, and the Blackhawks had the lead.
Kane used his great vision and fast feet to put the Blackhawks up by two. After another great screen by Toews, the Blackhawks got an opportunity with Rask out of position. The puck didn’t go in there, but it bounced right to Kane who was free and clear of any Boston defenders, and made no mistake.
A line has three players on it, however, and Bryan Bickell deserves a lot of credit for the overall performance of the top line tonight. Just like Toews and Kane, he added another dynamic to the line, bringing a big body, and a physical, hard-checking presence. He was at his best when he got into his office just outside the blue paint, and that’s where he could be found on both goals. Bickell’s roller-coaster playoff ride continues, and now he is on the upswing, with the Blackhawks hoping this will continue.
In short, the Blackhawks’ top line was new, fresh, and very dangerous. They provided just enough offense to handle the Bruins, and with a better game from goaltender Corey Crawford, the Hawks are looking very good. Now that the combinations have been figured out, it is up to coach Joel Quenneville to use his extra day wisely, and give Chicago their best opportunity to win on Saturday night.
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