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2010 Stanley Cup Finals, Game 5: How to get Toews and Kane productive

Kane2.jpgChicago Blackhawks vs. Philadelphia Flyers

Series tied 1-1

8:00 p.m. EDT, Sunday, June 6, 2010

Live on NBC

Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane have one heck of a frustrating series.

This was supposed to be the moment they shined, this what they have so worked so hard to achieve. They are still very, very young but there is no guarantee that they’ll ever have this chance again. That they are here now and playing the worst they’ve played in a very long time is extremely surprising.

It’s not just a matter of Toews and Kane under-performing. You have to give credit to the Philadelphia Flyers for doing their part to stop the high powered offense of the Hawks’ top line; what was supposed to be a legendary matchup has fizzled into a one-way domination.

You have to put some of the blame squarely on Joel Quenneville’s shoulders as well, as he’s stubbornly stuck with the top line all through their struggles of three and a half games. He only resorted to changing up things up when the Hawks were backed up against the wall, facing a 4-1 deficit late in the third period of Game 4.

I can understand Joel Quenneville’s stubbornness.

After all, they’ve been so successful all season and for the entire run of the playoffs and there’s no way that Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews would continue to struggle together. Yet for the first three games, the top line of Kane, Toews and Byfuglien weren’t just ineffective -- they were downright bad.

Of course, Quenneville wasn’t very revealing about his thought process behind the changes in the third period.

“Sometimes you try to mix it up a little bit, whether it’s a matchup or get some energy going in the lines,” Quenneville said. “We didn’t like some things. Sometimes you try some things. I thought the energy came.”

Quenneville started off by taking Dustin Byfuglien of the top line with Toews and Kane and placing him on a bigger line with Andrew Ladd. Once the Hawks started to roll in the third period, and once they were able to put together three effective lines, then the Flyers started to have all sorts of issues with the Hawks’ attack.

Until the third period, the Blackhawks had become a very stale offensive team. Sure, there were goals being scored but this was far from the Chicago team we thought we knew. A lot of the credit has to go to the Flyers, who have done a tremendous job of shutting down the top line of the Blackhawks all series long.

"[Carle and Pronger] have done a tremendous job, not just tonight and not just this series but throughout the playoffs,” Danny Briere said after Game 4 when asked about the Flyers defensemen. “Every team we’ve played they’ve seemed to shut down their top guys. But we can’t forget that Chicago also has a lot of firepower.”

Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp were easily the best forwards on the ice for the Blackhawks tonight, and Quenneville was able to start getting them space as well when he changed the lines up and spread out the attack a bit. With Pronger and Matt Carle doing such a good job of shutting down Toews, the Flyers were also able to take adavantage of their shortcomings on defense.

It’s incredibly odd to keep writing this, but the player that was so good for the Hawks in the first three rounds and the player many considered the favorite for the Conn Smythe has struggled mightily against the Flyers. Kane and Toews were a combined minus-6 last night, and it wasn’t until Quenneville finally broke them up that we started to see some effectiveness from the two.

So the question is, will we see these changes continue? After the game Danny Briere and Simon Gagne both acknowledged that the Flyers had trouble adjusting to the changes the Blackhawks had made in the third period. Obviously, Quenneville isn’t going to do the exact same thing that worked at the end but you have to think that Toews and Kane need to continue to be split up going forward.

With Chicago headed back home, and knowing the history of this team, then I would venture we’ll see the two right back together to start Game 5. However, there’s a good chance that if they start to struggle again and the Hawks have issue rolling out a consistent three-line attack, that Quenneville won’t hesitate to move them around again. Of course, it’s much easier to work on those changes in practice than it is to change on the fly in the middle of a game.

Of course, after today’s skate Quenneville hinted that they might be switching things up. Toews and Kane were skating together with Byfuglien like normal, but some felt that it was just a ploy to not giveaway their plans. Quenneville wouldn’t rule out any adjustments that might be made during the game.

“I think the last couple of games we’ve always gone along here maybe making some adjustments based on how we’re playing or what we like and what we don’t like.”

“But I think we have a lot of options as far as moving guys in and out and around in our lineup. I think tonight we’ll look at doing what we think is best.”

If Quenneville is smart, if he truly is the coach to lead the Blackhawks to the Stanley Cup, then he won’t shy away from the changes that need to be made and proved effective in Game 4.