CHICAGO — Now that the Tampa Bay Lightning have gotten production out of their “Triplets” line, the Chicago Blackhawks would love to get stars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane going in this Stanley Cup final.
Through two games, Toews and Kane have basically been a non-factor, shut down by defencemen Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman and forwards Cedric Paquette and Ryan Callahan. Toews has one assist to show for the series, while Kane has zero points and in Game 2 failed to register a shot on goal for the first time in the post-season since 2009.
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said he doesn’t care which line steps up, but the spotlight is on Toews and Kane to produce beginning in Game 3 Monday night at United Center.
“That’s one of my jobs here is to try to produce offence,” Kane said Sunday. “At the same time I think you’ve got to stay positive, stay patient, try not to get too ahead of yourself and start thinking offence all the time.”
The Blackhawks and Lightning were thinking offence plenty in a seven-goal Game 2 with the kind of rapid pace players hope sticks for the rest of the series. Combine goaltender Corey Crawford’s inconsistency and Tampa Bay’s uncertain goaltending situation with the star power and it’s fair to expect more goals.
Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov of Tampa Bay’s “Triplets” line each scored Saturday night in a 4-3 victory that tied the series at a game apiece. Meanwhile, Kane has been conspicuously quiet.
Quenneville would love Kane to score but isn’t dissatisfied with his play so far.
“I think he’s been a threat,” Quenneville said. “He was down with the two-on-one with (Brandon Saad) that looked like almost a breakaway, some other things that were materializing that were dangerous.”
Taking up the Lightning’s defensive energy is part of the value of Toews and Kane, Quenneville said — and he’s right. Hedman, Stralman, Paquette and Callahan have been tasked with stopping them and were so effective that the Blackhawks separated their star forwards in the third period.
“They’re tough players to play against,” Lightning defenceman Braydon Coburn said. “That doesn’t change whether they’re together or whether they’re apart.”
Still, expect the separation to continue in Game 3, with Saad, Toews and Marian Hossa together and then Kane with Brad Richards and, perhaps, Bryan Bickell, who Quenneville said “could play” after missing the past two.
“Splitting those two up gives you a little bit more freedom as far as whether it’s room or something for them to be concerned with,” Quenneville said. “I think a little bit more balance to our offence is why we usually keep them apart.”
Going home, the Blackhawks should be able to get Toews away from the Lightning’s top defensive pairing and shutdown line, but getting Kane going could be just as important. Kane went 99 straight playoff games with at least one shot on goal before Saturday.
Kane isn’t happy about that, and Quenneville wants him to have the puck on his stick more. But the 26-year-old insists he won’t be thinking shot-first every shift.
“I just go out and try to make the right play and worry about the results from there,” he said.
Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper may have to adjust without the last line change, but he isn’t worried about having Johnson, Valtteri Filppula or Brian Boyle out there against Toews.