ANAHEIM, Calif. – The decision to put Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane on the same line from the end of Game 5 of the Western Conference Final to Game 7 was not just smart. It was flat-out brilliant by Chicago coach Joel Quenneville.
Did it change the series and lead to Chicago’s eventual deciding game 5-3 win? Let’s see.
From the final two minutes of the third period of Game 5 onward, Toews scored four goals. Kane had five points. Brandon Saad, the third wheel in that twosome, scored two goals the final two games. The Ducks seemed ill-prepared to deal with the ultra tenacity of Toews, the creativity of Kane (one goal and four assists the final two games) and the speed of Saad.
Toews scored the first two goals in Game 7, which shocked the Ducks, who seemed to have a little more jump off the opening draw, and stemmed any type of momentum Anaheim hoped to create in its most important game of the season.
“My job was easy. I had to win draws, play smart defensively, watch those two go, create space for those two guys,” Toews said. “I think for the most part, we were smart against their top line when we had that matchup. We were patient enough to wait for our chances. When we had them, we found ways to score. It was a nice spark for us and a nice spark for the team."
When Quenneville put them together, he needed offense badly. In Game 5, the Ducks had a three-goal lead in the first period, and a two-goal lead in the third.
Toews fired two scores at the end of the third period of that game to tie it up and send it to overtime. Though a quick OT goal by the Ducks ended that contest, he kept the group together and even put them up against Ducks first line with Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Patrick Maroon in Games 6 and 7. Getzlaf and Perry were each a minus-4 in the last two games.
“Looked like they really clicked. You're thinking on the offensive side of things,” Quenneville said. “Then Game 6 we put them together. They took off right away. Saader had a real good last part of the series where he was dominant in a lot of ways. Kaner with his play and patience level, play selection, as good as it is. Toews, call it everything. Really gives us a lot of options offensively and defensively. They play the right way. They had really a couple big games for us.”
Thank goodness Quenneville didn’t call Toews ‘Tazer’ as is his known ‘name’ on the super duper nickname happy Blackhawks.
Such moves can only be made when a team has enough depth to do it without hurting lower lines. Quenneville liked to have Kane with Brad Richards on the second line to add balance to Chicago’s attack. But hey, if it’s not working, why not try the nuclear option?
And as Richards noted after the game, “I get to play with Marian Hossa instead.”
Oh the horror of playing with a future Hall of Fame all-world always underappreciated forward.
Quenneville has coached the core of this team since 2008-09. And it was clear this series he knew which buttons to push. The only area he misfired was pulling Antoine Vermette and Teuvo Teravainen for Game 3 at Chicago. He quickly countered by putting them back in for Game 4.
Though his defense was thin, he realized an interesting fact. Duncan Keith at 70 percent endurance strength is probably better than pretty much all other defensemen at 110 percent. So why not just ride Keith like Seabiscuit?
But those were just some of the small maneuvers that got the Blackhawks into the Stanley Cup Final against Tampa.The big one was aligning his two star forwards on this unstoppable threesome.
Will he keep Kane, Toews and Saad together? They have the speed to deal with Tampa’s ‘Triplets’ line, and far more experience and savvy than the Lightning’s ‘it’ offensive trio.
“They’re a fast team. We like to play a certain style of play and we just have to stick to our gameplan and do what we do best,” Saad said.
Based on how they demolished Anaheim, there’s really no reason to tear them apart.
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