The Chicago Blackhawks are not only winning without Kane and Toews, who are both out until the playoffs, but are also succeeding at another level than when the two injured stars were in the lineup in recent months.
The Blackhawks are riding their first three-game winning streak since December after defeating the St. Louis Blues 4-2 at the United Center on Sunday. The Blackhawks improved to 3-0-0 without Kane and Toews.
The Blackhawks returned Sunday to the formula they used to take down the Minnesota Wild on Thursday and Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday. The Blackhawks limited the Blues’ quality chances. The Blackhawks focused on the offensive basics, especially getting players to the net. Players stepped up across the board.
“I thought three games in a row we played the exact same way,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “Played the right way, worked hard, very effective, efficient. Everybody contributed and scored some ugly goals. Played the right way to get rewarded.”
Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp hasn’t changed his game a whole lot since October -- he continued to add his career season with a goal on Sunday -- but he did think the overall team had altered its play since losing Kane and Toews.
“I think we’ve kind of simplified our game quite a bit,” Sharp said. “Not trying to make as any plays offensively. We’re battling hard. That’s for sure. Usually when you battle hard individually and as a team good things happen. I think we’ve raised our battle level lately. I think we’re just keeping things simple, getting pucks in, getting pucks out, letting our skill level take over when opportunities come.”
The Blackhawks’ core has factored into their recent success. Sharp has two goals and one assist in the last three games. Duncan Keith has three assists during the win streak. Marian Hossa was toying with defenders while handling the puck on Sunday. Corey Crawford stopped 46 of 50 shots in wins over the Wild and Blues.
But the Blackhawks needed more than just the regulars to emerge for them to win the last three games. Players like Jeremy Morin and Ben Smith had to come to play as well.
“If you want to win hockey games, you have to have other guys step up when you’re missing your big players and other guys -- Sharp -- have been playing really well,” Crawford said. “But it’s the young guys and the other guys on the other lines that have to give up a little bit more.”
The Blackhawks may not see a benefit in the standings despite the wins. The Colorado Avalanche haven’t allowed the Blackhawks to gain any ground because the Avalanche have been on their own six-game winning streak. The Avalanche hold a one-point lead and have two games in hand.
“We’ve kept it interesting,” Quenneville said. “They go win six games in a row. Give them credit. They’ve had our number most of the year. We’ll see.”
Either way, the Blackhawks are heading into the playoffs with some momentum.
“We’d love to get [home-ice advantage,] but if we don’t get it, we’ll deal with it,” Quenneville said.
So far, they have dealt with not having Kane and Toews just fine.