CHICAGO -- The Chicago Blackhawks playoff lineup started to take shape with Monday’s first postseason practice. And the moment Jonathan Toews lined up at center with Patrick Kane to his left, you knew it was going to be an interesting day.
Toews didn’t exactly declare himself in Thursday’s Game 1 lineup against the Phoenix Coyotes, but let’s put it this way: He’s playing unless he has a setback from his concussion.
"I'm feeling more confident Thursday might be the day, but we'll see,” Toews said after practice to the largest media contingent of the season.
We’re down to semantics with Toews. And that’s just fine. No reason to put the cart ahead of the horse at this late date in his recovery. In other words, why jinx it until lineups need to be turned in?
But with Kane on left wing instead of center or the right side, it all but assures Joel Quenneville is planning on having his captain in the lineup. You don’t ask an All-Star to play a position he hasn’t played since November of 2009 on a whim. Kane, Toews and Marian Hossa on the same line is happening.
“It’s a little bit different,” Kane said. “I’ve never really played it before. We just want to play with the puck. Working hard is the biggest thing, especially with the amount of skill we have. It seems like it could be a fun line.”
Kane and Hossa quickly remembered the last time it was tried. It was in Hossa’s Hawks debut back in 2009 against the San Jose Sharks.
“I remember three years ago, in my first game, we played together right away but after that we didn’t play much together,” Hossa said. “It can [click] right away or it can take some time. Hopefully it clicks right away.”
The Hawks won that game, 7-2 over San Jose, and the trio had instant chemistry. But that quickly faded as four days later the line was broken up after the Hawks hit a dry spell of five scoreless periods. They haven’t been together 5-on-5 since.
“To be honest with you, it’s pretty nice playing right wing,” Kane said at the time in 2009. “I went back there in the third period [in L.A.] and felt pretty comfortable there.”
That was a while ago, maybe the results will be different this time around. At least the Hawks are hoping so.
“It’s not something we can take for granted, it’s something we have to work for,” Kane said. “If we just go out and think that our skill is going to take over, it’s not going to work. We have to be committed to both sides of the puck and not take anything for granted.”
That statement alone is something Kane probably would not have said three years ago. The fact that he embraced center much more than anyone expected gives hope for his play on the left side. Breaking out of the defensive zone from the left will be his one adjustment. If it works, think of the offensive firepower on that line. The trio had 200 collective points this season in 222 collective games. Not bad.
“Hopefully it’s going to work as soon as possible and go from there,” Hossa said. “If we work hard we have all the potential to hold the puck in their zone.”
And remember, this all came about because Quenneville doesn’t want to break up any of his other lines, especially the surprise hit of the stretch run: Patrick Sharp, Marcus Kruger and Viktor Stalberg.
“I guess that’s a compliment, we’ll take it,” Sharp said. “I like playing with Kruger and Stalberg. We’ve had success for about a month.”
Chances actually are better the top 6 forwards get jumbled more than they stay the same. Kruger’s line could go stale -- it wouldn’t be a shock if it did -- or Kane might not be effective at left wing. But Quenneville is consistent with one thing if nothing else: He’s willing to try the unconventional to max out his players’ potential. And he’s just as quick to make a change.
“It’s something we haven’t tried but it’s something we’ll try,” Quenneville said of Kane at left wing. “All the other lines were pretty well in order and have done a nice job down the stretch. We don’t want to tinker too much with the lines. That line could work.”
If it does, watch out Phoenix. The Hawks will be loaded.