It was the only additional piece Bowman thought the Blackhawks needed to make another run at the Stanley Cup. Handzus filled Bowman’s desire to add a center who had size, experience, was strong on faceoffs, was versatile enough to play in different roles and had some offensive and defensive skills.
Through 14 playoff games, Handzus hasn’t let Bowman down.
Handzus is riding a playoff career-best five-game points streak. He has two goals and three assists in the last five games and has eight total points in the playoffs. He’s also second on the team with a 48.4 faceoff winning percentage and is tied with Duncan Keith for a team-best plus-7 rating in the playoffs.
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville has utilized the 36-year-old Handzus in a variety of ways. Handzus has played everywhere from the top line to the fourth line and has made an impact in each position.
“He's one of those guys that quietly goes about his business,” Quenneville said on Monday. “He's a smart hockey player, very competitive. Seems like he's always in the right spot. He sees plays, makes plays. He does everything he can to get himself ready to contribute on a regular basis here.
“When we first got him, we figured he'd give us a little more depth. All of a sudden he moved up the ladder where all of a sudden he's playing in that nice slot for us. A big line for us. Have to make sure he doesn't get too high, too low. But he's very competitive. We've got to appreciate his positioning and his awareness.”
Handzus has skated on the second line with Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane during the first two games against the Los Angeles Kings during their Western Conference finals series. Handzus had an assist on Sharp’s goal in a 2-1 win over the Kings in Game 1 and scored himself in a 4-2 win in Game 2.
Sharp played with Handzus on the Philadelphia Flyers from 2002-05 and then with the Blackhawks for the 2006-07 season and again this season. Sharp touted Handzus’ all-around game when speaking about him on Monday.
“He's a guy that can play in every situation,” Sharp said. “He has an offensive touch that he probably doesn't get enough credit for. He's good on faceoffs, can play defensively, can play special teams. The thing he's added to our team more than anything is leadership. He says the right things at the right time.
“A guy that clearly wants to win at this stage in his career. He's been on a lot of good teams. You can tell he really has that passion to get it done this year.”
Handzus recently showed that leadership quality when he spoke individually to second-year player Andrew Shaw about walking a fine line between being aggressive and picking up unnecessary penalties. Shaw had compiled 14 penalty minutes, including a 10-minute misconduct, in Game 3 of the Western Conference semifinal series against the Detroit Red Wings.
“Handzus sat down and had a good talk with me,” Shaw said recently. “You got to control your emotions. There’s good times and bad times to go out there and give it your all or keep your hands down and eat a punch instead of giving one.”
Quenneville thought that was Handzus knowing his role.
“Yeah, said he's quiet, but at the same time I think he's aware of where everybody's positioning is around the team, what's going on in the course of the game,” Quenneville said. “Real good instincts, things like that.”
Handzus drew a crowd of reporters after scoring on Sunday. He was fine answering team questions, but he redirected questions about himself. Like his game, he prefers to be a team player.
“It’s the playoffs; it’s the third round,” Handzus said after Sunday’s win. “You enjoy it. Obviously we want to win so bad. I’m playing with great players. I just got to keep going. It doesn’t matter how we felt today. We won a game. We got to regroup and get ready for the next one.”