Blackhawks load up top line, find instant offense
BOSTON, MA -- Matchups sometimes dictate decisions on line combinations, so Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville wouldn't fully admit he was wrong to separate Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane in the first three games of the Stanley Cup Final.
"You always get second-guessed," Quenneville said Wednesday night.
But now, the Chicago coach might be second-guessing himself after watching his reunited top line of Toews, Kane and Bryan Bickell produce a pair of goals and help set up Brent Seabrook's overtime winner in Chicago's wild 6-5 equalizing victory against the Boston Bruins in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final at TD Garden.
Toews, Kane and Bickell combined for two goals and three assists. Toews broke a 10-game drought in the second period and Kane netted his first goal of the series 2:08 later. Bickell had the first assist on Kane's goal and on Seabrook's winner 9:51 into overtime.
"Maybe it looks like I didn't know what I was doing," Quenneville said, laughing at his comment, minutes after the Blackhawks tied the best-of-7 series at 2-2.
It was a moment of levity following nearly 70 minutes of roller-coaster hockey, but you wonder if somewhere in Quenneville's coaching mind he's thinking about what could have been had he put this line back together earlier in the series.
How could he not be?
Quenneville went to them in Game 4 of the Western Conference Final against the Los Angeles Kings, when Chicago was starving for goals, and Kane produced his first in eight games to help Chicago pull out a 3-2 win. They stayed together for Game 5 and Kane recorded a hat trick, including the double-overtime, series-clinching goal.
When the Stanley Cup Final started, Toews was surprisingly back playing with Marian Hossa and Brandon Saad. Quenneville put Kane and Bickell with center Michal Handzus.
"I think, from a coaching standpoint, you're always looking for different matchups," Kane said. "You can understand where they're coming from when they split us up after the last series."
Quenneville was making sure that Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara wasn't going to be a factor in shutting down both Kane and Toews, so he tried to balance his lines accordingly.
The Blackhawks were fine offensively at the start of the series, scoring four goals in a series-opening triple-overtime win. However, Chara helped lock them up after the first period in Game 2 and Chicago managed no goals for more than 122 minutes against the structured Bruins and goalie Tuukka Rask.
So Quenneville did what he normally does when the Blackhawks need to rediscover their offense.
"We went to the well," he said.
And it worked.
Toews skated well, seemed to have puck more than he had in any of the previous three games, got to the front of the net and finally broke his scoring slump with a deflection goal from the slot that gave Chicago a 2-1 lead 6:33 into the second period.
"It makes a world of difference for you when you finally see one go in," Toews said. "I've got to say this, the last couple days Seabrook has been coming up to me, asking me what I'm thinking about. You know, I have to give him the right answer. I'm thinking about scoring a goal. He's been trying to help me out, make me think a little bit better, have those positive thoughts. You work hard; eventually you're going to find a way."
Kane also had the puck and skated well, using his speed and creativity to create some scoring chances. He scored a backhanded goal off a rebound at the 8:41 mark of the second period. Not surprisingly, Bickell and Toews helped create it by getting to the front of the net. The rebound came out to Kane after Bickell got the puck in the slot, wheeled and fired off of Rask.
"When you have two guys going into the net, you're bound to get the rebound," Toews said. "Kane got the second rebound."
Bickell used his size to get to the net and his speed to get pucks on net either by shooting off the rush, in front of the net or even from the circle, like he did moments before Seabrook scored the overtime winner.
Bickell's shot was blocked by Patrice Bergeron, but the puck caromed out to Seabrook, who hammered it in from above the right circle with Toews screening Rask from the slot.
"We knew it was working because we had chances in the first [period]," Bickell told NHL.com. "We just need to stick with it. I know Q, Kaner and Toews, they talked to me and said, 'Don't do too much, just be yourself, up and down, finish your checks, get in front.' I felt I did that and when you give [Toews and Kane] time and space they're deadly. It worked out."
It worked out well enough to probably make Quenneville kick himself for not going to the well earlier in the series.
"I like that line," Quenneville said.
Author: Dan Rosen | NHL.com Senior Writer