Healthy Jonathan Toews ready to get back to it with Blackhawks


Healthy Jonathan Toews ready to get back to it with Blackhawks

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Jonathan Toews looked like a much healthier guy during the Blackhawks’ 35-minute practice session on Wednesday.

In other words, it was a complete 180 degrees from how he felt just over a week ago, when his illness caught up to him so much that he couldn’t play in the third period against the Carolina Hurricanes. And while Toews didn’t like having to miss the All-Star weekend in Nashville, using that week to get healthy was ultimately the best decision he could’ve made.

Toews said he is “very close” to 100 percent and he’ll play on Thursday night when the Blackhawks face the Arizona Coyotes. Toews battled illness for about two weeks — he took several morning skates off but played in all the games entering the All-Star break. He’s still not quite sure what he had, but whatever it was, it sapped him to the point that he had nothing left last Tuesday in Carolina.

“It was a lot of body aches and trouble sleeping, and it turned into a really bad cough where I was having trouble breathing on the ice,” Toews said on Wednesday. “It was just kind of a progression over pretty much a two-week period where it just kept getting worse. The fact that we were playing that many games, I just didn’t get a chance to recuperate and get back to 100 percent. So obviously ... this past week was pretty beneficial in that sense.”

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The NHL named Toews as the Blackhawks’ second representative for last weekend’s All-Star festivities — Patrick Kane was voted in — but Toews bowed out last Thursday.

“It’s not an easy thing, considering the fact that you want to be there, you want to represent your team and your teammates and be there for the Hawks fans that are behind you. It’s always an honor and a special thing to be a part of something like that. But it just got to the point where things were not getting better,” Toews said. “The last number of games before the break were tough for us as a team, but for myself personally, I was (regressing) more and more. And coming down to it in the bigger picture, it was the right thing to do to make sure I was ready to play and be healthy coming out of the break.”

Per NHL rules, Toews was suspended for Tuesday’s game against the Colorado Avalanche. Toews could have opted to miss the Blackhawks’ game against Carolina, the one he didn’t finish, but it sounds like he figured his illness would pass faster than it did.

“I guess there (are) just some moments where you have to be stubborn a little bit. You try and play through some things and obviously in that case, with what I was dealing with, you just hope it’s going to go away,” Toews said. “It just doesn’t, and it gets to the point where that’s the decision we had to make.”

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Toews did what was necessary to get healthy again. The Blackhawks got a collective effort from everyone in his absence on Tuesday night, taking a 2-1 victory over the Avalanche. It was nerve-wracking for Toews to be watching from the sidelines. Now that he’s healthy, he can go back to being part of things.

“It doesn’t matter, any type of game when you’re watching, it’s always harder as an observer when you’re not quite in control, or at least you feel like you’re not in control of everything,” he said. “I think the boys were prepared yesterday, they were ready to go, and they did a great job. Obviously (I’m) excited and happy to be back amongst the group today and get back in the routine again.”

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks hit road to face Blue Jackets

NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks hit road to face Blue Jackets

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Columbus Blue Jackets tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. One big reunion.

The Blackhawks will square off with the Blue Jackets for the first time since Oct. 7, which was the second game of the season. In that game, they won 5-1 led by Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad, each of whom scored a goal and added an assist.

Of course, that was the first game since the offseason trade that sent Artemi Panarin to Columbus and Saad back to Chicago, along with Anton Forsberg. Artem Anisimov, of course, was part of the original deal that sent Saad to Columbus in 2015, so there are a lot of emotional ties between the two teams.

Forsberg didn't get a chance to face the Blue Jackets in the first meeting, but there's a chance he will this time with it being the second of a back-to-back and Jean-Francois Berube getting the start in Friday's 3-1 win over San Jose.

2. Panarin and Kane bromance.

The emotions of a difficult break-up have probably died down by now, but Panarin and Kane gave us this moment at center ice during pregame warmups in their first game against each other and it hit Chicago right in the feels:

Panarin has spent enough time apart from Kane for people to realize how big of a star he is in his own right, leading the Blue Jackets in all three scoring categories: goals (17), assists (32) and points (49).

He hasn't gone more than three games this season without recording a point, and is looking to extend his point streak to four games, which would tie a season high.

3. Struggling Blue Jackets special teams.

The Blue Jackets got off to a great start but are barely clinging onto a wild card spot going into Saturday's game, and a big reason for that slide is their lack of success on special teams. Usually one can pick up the slack for the other, but they've been brutal in both departments.

The Blue Jackets are 0-for-9 on the power play in their past five games and are ranked 31st overall, converting on only 14.1 percent of their opportunities. They also have own the 27th-ranked penalty kill with a 76.3 percent success rate.

So if there's an area the Blackhawks can exploit, it's that. But, you know, still be mindful of that Russian winger's one-timer from the faceoff circle.

Jean-Francois Berube impressed in his first Blackhawks start


Jean-Francois Berube impressed in his first Blackhawks start

Jean-Francois Berube got his first start of the season on Friday night, and it couldn't have gone any better.

The 26-year-old goaltender stopped 42 of 43 shots, a career-high for him in saves, in the Blackhawks' 3-1 win over the San Jose Sharks at the United Center.

Since Corey Crawford went down with a head injury last December, the Blackhawks have been searching for consistency in the crease. 

The pair of Anton Forsberg and Jeff Glass — who was assigned to Rockford on Feb. 15 and replaced with Berube — have had their ups and downs since then. With the Blackhawks out of the playoff picture, Berube had an opportunity showcase his skills, and he didn't disappoint.

"We were very happy with him," said coach Joel Quenneville. "I thought he did a great job. He was comfortable. I thought he was very patient in his net. Absorbing a lot of pucks with people in front of him was good. Closed some gaps and got … of the top of the paint. Rebound control was effective. Nice response from a long absence."

Berube's last — and only — appearance with the Blackhawks prior to Friday's game came on Dec. 6, relieving Forsberg in a game against the Washington Capitals. He recorded 12 saves of 14 shots. 

When Crawford got injured, Berube was the primary candidate to become the team's backup goaltender. The only problem? He was injured too, so the Blackhawks promoted Glass.

"I didn't want to sit and think about it," Berube said of his injury. "At the same time, it was great for Glasser. He was one of those guys that probably deserved it earlier in his career and he finally got his chance. Sometimes you need a guy to go down to have your chance. So I was mostly happy for him.

On Friday night, he got his chance.

"You always want to have a good impression for your first game," Berube said. "I know what I can do at this level, so it was just a matter of getting the opportunity to play and showing people what I can do."

Celebrating his 22nd birthday, Nick Schmaltz also had a goal and an assist. Artem Anisimov scored an empty-netter.

"It's a lot more fun coming to the rink when you're winning, enjoying each other, playing well as a team," Schmaltz said of the Blackhawks' win, which have now won three of their last four games. "Hopefully we can keep that good energy and bring it to the rink every day, and build off of that.

"You never know where this team can go, a lot of great players, lots of guys that have had a lot of success. Hopefully we can continue to put together solid efforts."