It was game seven of that nine-game winless streak that the Blackhawks decided to change some things; namely, their system. It wasnt a drastic change; actually, it was just simplifying things.
It was just the way we looked at games and what we needed to do better. We kept it simple, forward Bryan Bickell said. Stick to the team game and dont get into individual style of play and such.
The Blackhawks kept that mentality through the rest of the skid, which lasted just two more games. They also followed that plan when captain Jonathan Toews missed 22 games with a concussion. And while the captain could be back on Thursday, the Blackhawks still need to play exactly how they did without him.
Toews is likely playing when the Blackhawks open their first-round playoff series against the Phoenix Coyotes on Thursday. His return is obviously a welcome one. But while lines and responsibilities will change, the Blackhawks play, the style that earned them a 13-5-4 record in Toews absence, cannot.
We dont have the luxury to say, Oh, Johnnys back. We can relax and Johnny can take over. Were not that kind of team, anyway, coach Joel Quenneville said. I just think everybody has to continue on with what got us here at the end of the year. We have to turn it up, too.
Indeed, this is the time of year for which each team plays. The pressure is on, and everyone has to be on board. For the Blackhawks, everyone has the past month and a half. When Toews first went down, the sky-is-falling mentality was running rampant on blogs and on Twitter. But the Blackhawks regrouped, got strong performances and faced the adversity fine. They were at their best during March, when they went 10-2-2 en route to solidifying their hold on the No. 6 seed.
When losing a guy like that other players have to step up and take on some responsibility, said Patrick Kane, who did that as well as anyone. But to be honest with you, we played a better team game. We just worried about the little things defensively. Even offensively, we were playing simpler, too. Sometimes when you play simple you get some confidence and it opens things up to be creative. That should be the mindset for all of us: work hard, play simple right away and let the game come to us instead of chasing it.
When he does play, Toews will be back on that top line with Kane and Hossa. He was also on the top power-play unit for the second straight day. Hes said hell just do whatever is necessary to fit back into things, and the Blackhawks hope to keep going the way they have.
I think we just need to stick to that, to the way weve been playing, Bickell said. When (Toews) comes in, hell adapt to the system that Q and the coaches want. Thats the most important part going into the playoffs.
The Blackhawks found success without Toews by simplifying things and spreading around the responsibilities. The duties and lines will change. The Blackhawks game cannot.
Things are going to get ratcheted up. Johnny has to be excited as well. But dont feel comfortable knowing Johnnys going to return, Quenneville said. There are going to be that many more demands on everyone. Were expecting more come playoff time.