Jonathan Toews wasnt sidelined with his concussion long when the questions began. What were the Blackhawks going to do without their captain? How were they possibly going to get through this trying stretch of the season while hes out?
The sky was supposed to fall. The Blackhawks were supposed to fall away, or at least fall out of the playoff picture. It was supposed to be bad, all bad, right?
Wrong. Despite losing a big part of their lineup with their captain out, the Blackhawks are still finding ways to win.
The Blackhawks got another big character win on Tuesday night, coming back from a 3-1 deficit to beat the Blues 4-3 in a shootout. After going 1-3-0 in their first four games without Toews the Blackhawks are now 5-1-1 in their last seven games. The points andor victories have come against good teams with good goaltending, and most have come in comeback fashion.
But theyre getting it done, and it speaks volumes for their late-season mettle.
It didnt start off well (without him). But the last few games we realized we wanted to put it together and start winning some games for him, said Patrick Kane, whos risen to the task of No. 1-center duties in Toews absence. The last (three) games weve been down in the third period, weve come back and weve found ways to get points. And were only going to get better when he comes back.
The Blackhawks have weathered the loss by playing a team game. Kanes been strong at the top and Marcus Kruger is growing into the No. 2 center spot fast. The Hawks best players have been just that. The defense has gotten a boost with Johnny Oduyas arrival, and the pairs are playing with confidence.
Even the rookies, who have had to learn a lot in a hurry, have contributed their share. Theyve taken advantage of the opportunity.
Other guys get a chance to step up and play, get extra time. In the long run we can look at it as a positive, Marian Hossa said. When Johnny comes back those guys will have experience. And when the playoffs come they know what to expect.
The pack mentality has worked.
We found ways to adapt our game and get our team winning, Bryan Bickell said. No individual can take his spot. Hes our leader, one of the best players in the league. It takes a team effort to fill in what weve been missing with him.
The Blackhawks arent the first team to lose key pieces at critical times. The good teams adapt to losing players, especially their superstars. It hasnt always been pretty and it hasnt always been easy, but the Blackhawks are finding ways to win without their leader.
Right now, theyre passing the mettle test.
Its nice to think about it that way, that youre winning games without a big piece in your lineup, Kane said. And when you know hes coming back soon, its exciting.