Fresh off signing multi-year contract extensions, the trio will try to help the Central Division-leading Blackhawks win for the 10th time in 12 games as they host the Nashville Predators on Friday night.
After reaching the playoffs once in a 10-season span, the Blackhawks (17-6-3) posted 104 points and advanced to the Western Conference finals last spring. Despite losing to division-rival Detroit in five games, Chicago entered this season as a top contender to reach its first Stanley Cup finals since 1992.
The remarkable turnaround has been partly due to the rise of Toews, Kane and Keith, and they were rewarded Wednesday. Kane and Toews signed five-year deals reported to be worth $31.5 million each. Keith got a 13-year contract worth a reported $72 million, making it the richest in team history.
“We’ve said all along that the plan was to keep our core together for a long time and Jonathan, Duncan and Patrick are a major part of that,” general manager Stan Bowman said. “This is a large step toward setting the Blackhawks up for long-term success as an organization.”
Toews, the team captain and Kane, a Calder Trophy winner, are 21 and two of Chicago’s top scoring threats. Kane leads the Blackhawks with nine goals and 26 points, while Toews has six goals and 10 assists, posting four and three, respectively, over the last six games.
Keith, the club’s top defenseman, and has five goals and 18 assists this season.
“You don’t think about that stuff when you are on the ice. You are trying to play for the love of the game and for your team,” Kane said. “Obviously there is pressure, but with that comes responsibility. We know we have to pick it up.”
They played their part on Tuesday, as Toews had a goal with Kane and Keith getting assists before Brent Seabrook(notes) clinched a 4-3 shootout win over Columbus by converting his attempt in the 11th round.
The Blackhawks, who are 9-1-1 in their last 11 games, have won two of three meetings with the Predators this season, with Toews, Kane and Keith getting held to a combined one goal and two assists. In the most recent meeting, Chicago fell 2-0 on Oct. 29 in Nashville.
The Predators are looking to avoid their third consecutive loss after falling 5-4 in overtime at Minnesota on Wednesday. Pekka Rinne(notes) allowed the winning goal to former Blackhawk Andrew Ebbett(notes).
“We turned pucks over like we were handing out Christmas presents,” coach Barry Trotz said.
Ellis made 23 saves in a 4-1 win over Florida on Saturday after serving as Rinne’s backup over the previous eight games, due in part to a stiff back.
Ellis, though, has lost his last two games against Chicago, giving up four goals on 66 shots.
Jason Arnott(notes) scored twice and Steve Sullivan(notes) had a goal and three assists against the Wild. Sullivan, who played for Chicago from 2000-04, has failed to record a point against his former club this season.