Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews looks ready to return from his concussionContinue reading.
Jonathan Toews energized and ready to go as Blackhawks begin quest for another Stanley Cup
For what it’s worth, the Captain is ready to go.
‘‘I feel great and I have a lot of energy — not only physically but mentally,’’ Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews said after the team’s morning skate Thursday at Scottrade Center. ‘‘I think we’re all excited to play our first playoff game. Should be a lot of fun to get back at it.’’
There’s no shortage of pre-series optimism in either locker room for the first-round playoff series between the Blackhawks and the Blues. But when it’s Toews doing the talking, it’s difficult to ignore. There are better scorers and arguably better players in the Stanley Cup playoffs, but Toews is the ultimate trump card. When we saw him last in the playoffs, he was feathering a perfect pass to Bryan Bickell for a tying goal against the Bruins in the final moments of Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final, then desperately and successfully draining the final seconds off the clock to clinch the Blackhawks’ second Cup title. If he feels good, it’s a pretty good bet the Blackhawks feel good.
‘‘The last couple of practices we’ve had are probably some of the best we’ve had all year,’’ Toews said. ‘‘You can definitely tell that the guys are ready to go and get this thing going. I think it shows when we’re flying around having fun, all the guys are laughing and at the same time focused and really ready to play the way that we want to pay and play the best hockey we’ve played all year.’’
Still, even when it’s Toews doing the talking, actions speak louder than words. The Blackhawks have a difficult task opening the defense of their Stanley Cup title against the rugged Blues on the road. It’s a far cry from playing the Wild at home, as they did last year.
And therein lies the real challenge for the Blackhawks. They have been habitual slow starters throughout their four-year run as Cup contenders. Last year against the Wild, they needed Bryan Bickell’s goal in overtime for a 2-1 victory in Game 1 of the first-round series at the United Center — and that was after Josh Harding replaced Wild starting goalie Niklas Backstrom at the last minute.
Toews did not score a point in the first four games of that series — spending much of it trying too hard to provide scoring opportunities for his teammates. If memory serves, he was ready to go in that series as well.
So the opener of this series — against a better team in one of the toughest buildings to play in — could be an indicator of just how ready Toews and the Blackhawks are in this playoff. Duncan Keith, Patrick Kane and others talked about the importance of keeping the game simple and getting off to a fast start. But even for the Blackhawks, that’s easier said than done.
‘‘It’s always a huge part of the game — trying to play ahead and not have to play catch-up,’’ Toews said. ‘‘It’s one of the things we want to do. But I think we all know that if we do get down a goal or two, that it’s nothing to worry about, we can find ways to get that momentum back.’’
The other key factor entering Game 1 is the Blackhawks ability to handle — and counter — the physical beating the Blues likely are going to dish out. It’s a two-pronged challenge: Not allowing the Blues to get the Blackhawks out of their game; and not overreacting and taking senseless penalties.
‘‘We do expect them — if it’s even possible — to be more physical than usual. That’s a big part of their game,’’ Toews said. ‘‘We’ll be ready to bring a little bit of that of our own. And I guess be ready and keep our heads up and make sure that we’re making smart plays with the puck and just be talking to each other a lot.’’