Toews skates; Keith respects the NHL's decision

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Toews skates; Keith respects the NHL's decision

Jonathan Toews skated for the fifth consecutive day -- and practiced with teammates for the first time in nearly two weeks -- as the Blackhawks prepared to face the Nashville Predators at the United Center Sunday night.

Toews said he's feeling better with each passing day, and right now feels the way he did right before he suffered a setback about two weeks ago. And while he was looking at his potential return date on that first go-around, he said he's not doing that again this time. Still, he sees himself playing again before season's end.

"I was confident a week in that it wouldnt take much longer. It sucks that its taken this long but I feel this is it," said Toews. "Mentally Im positive and telling myself that well get through this. I'm not going to let the setbacks that have happened weigh me down."

Meanwhile, defenseman Duncan Keith talked about the five-game suspension the NHL handed him for his elbow to Daniel Sedin's head on Wednesday. Keith said he respects the league's decision -- he didn't want to get into details about the call, or Sedin's hit on him prior to his hit -- and will try to use the break as best he can.

"I want to keep sharp, want to keep in game shape. Ill do that," he said. "(I'll try to) get as much rest, eat properly, get lots of sleep and be working out with Paul (Goodman) and hopefully I can try to use it as my advantage, somehow."

Regarding Keith's hit, Toews said, "Youve seen the history between these two teams, how things are going both ways in that game. Again, you dont go into a situation like that intentionally trying to hurt the guy, knowing concussions and head injuries have become a big problem. But the reality is, those things happen when youre playing with an edge. Guys arent going to say theyre trying to hurt someone but when youre trying to hit someone really hard, especially against a team you have a history with like Vancouver, youre not going to let up. Unfortunately Duncs may have gone a little overboard there. It's a tough suspension, we all feel for him, but it is what it is and it happens."

Steve Montador (concussion) said he's been cleared for contact but there's still no set time for his return. Marcus Kruger (upper body) practiced with the Blackhawks on Saturday but is out for tomorrow night's game.

Corey Crawford will start against the Predators.

By the bye: Blackhawks keep rolling following break

By the bye: Blackhawks keep rolling following break

When you're on a roll, you hate disrupting it for anything.

The Blackhawks probably felt that in some respect heading into the new NHL-mandated bye week on Feb. 12, but the need for rest usurped any worry on that front. Still, when the Blackhawks reconvened last Friday, the question remained if they could pick up where they left off on that pre-bye, five-game winning streak.

As coach Joel Quenneville said of the unusual break, "we talked about it going into it: you don't know how you're going to come out of it."

Apparently it hasn't been a problem.

The Blackhawks have won two of their first three out of the bye, including their 5-3 victory over the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday night.

Coming out of this break hasn't been easy for a lot of teams. The Blackhawks, like 11 other teams up to this point, lost their first game out of it. But in that loss to Edmonton, the Blackhawks played well. That continued on Sunday in Buffalo and on Tuesday in Minnesota. Now back in a rhythm schedule-wise, the Blackhawks are hitting their stride performance-wise.

"I thought we played a good game against Edmonton but we still felt there'd be some good will down the road. I thought we continued on with these next two on the road, probably played the same way going into it. So it's been a good stretch for us, and much better than we were at the beginning of the year," Quenneville said. "I like the improvement in our game."

A big part of the Blackhawks' success is finding their four-line rotation.

Jonathan Toews was joined by Nick Schmaltz and Richard Panik early in the Ice Show trip, the three were given time to mesh and it's paying productive dividends. The second line is always a threat. Their third and fourth lines are a great combination of defense, skill and youth.

As the lines have started rolling, so have the Blackhawks. Each line had someone score against Buffalo. The top line thrived vs. the Wild. 

"I think all year we kind of expected the offense, coming from Arty's [Artem Anisimov's] line and maybe my line, but what's making us a really good team is our third and fourth line going out there and just battling every shift, just working, giving other teams no time, no chance to make plays with the puck," Toews said. "I think when you can rotate four lines like that, everyone starts to pick up their pace and their speed and then you just rotate in and it doesn't matter who scores on a given night. We're getting contributions from all over the place and it makes you a dangerous team and a tough team to beat."

Instead of taking steam out of the Blackhawks' sails, the bye appears to have re-energized them.

"Yeah it was good for our team," Ryan Hartman said. "We had a few guys who didn't get [rest during] the all-star break. They were still playing, and it was nice for those guys to get away from the rink and kind of get in the sun and take your mind of hockey for a bit, refresh the brain and body. I think we all needed those couple days of rest. As it's looked the last couple of games we've looked fresh and we've been bringing it almost a full 60. I wouldn't say we're quite playing a full 60 but we're really close and that was crucial for us."

Playing a full 60 was one of the Blackhawks' biggest problems earlier this season. Much like the four-line rotation, it's showing up at the right time. The Blackhawks have a great opportunity this week to get closer to the Wild, who started their break on Wednesday.

The issues that plagued the Blackhawks earlier this season are starting to dissipate. They weren't sure how they were going to come out of this break. So far, they've followed rest and relaxation with a rejuvenated game. 

"We're just rolling four lines now. Every line can score and every line's playing the best hockey," Panik said. "That's helped us."

Fast Break Morning Update: Blackhawks win in Minnesota

Fast Break Morning Update: Blackhawks win in Minnesota

Here are some of Tuesday's top stories in Chicago sports:

Wednesday on CSN: Illinois State and Loyola host in Valley doubleheader

Jonathan Toews has five-point night, including a hat trick, in Blackhawks' win over Wild

Report: Bears seeking trade partners for Jay Cutler

Bulls Talk Podcast: What is the Bulls' approach at the trade deadline?

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred open to idea of Cubs hosting All-Star Game at renovated Wrigley Field

White Sox Talk Podcast: 1-on-1 with executive vice president Ken Williams

Northwestern's offense nowhere to be found as Illini complete sweep of season series

Quick Hits: Blackhawks respond the right way in win over Wild

Under-the-radar Reynaldo Lopez impressing White Sox: 'He's got some stuff'

Why Sammy Sosa compared himself to Jesus Christ in candid interview