CHICAGO – Much as they would love to get big contributions from Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, the Chicago Blackhawks have shown they can win even when their biggest stars aren’t lighting up the scoreboard.
Depth pays off, and this is the reward.
The Blackhawks are now three wins from their second championship in four years after taking a 4-3 triple-overtime thriller from the Boston Bruins in Game 1.
It didn’t matter that their biggest stars were largely quiet. They got enough from their secondary players to escape with the victory and land the first blow in this clash between Original Six franchises. Game 2 is Saturday night in Chicago.
“I think the whole year it’s been the depth that drives this team through the record and through the great regular season and obviously in the playoffs,” centre Michal Handzus said. “Obviously, our top guys are leading and they’ve been great, but you need to have depth. It’s better for them to feel that if they don’t score, they’ll still have help from the bottom guys. The depth was one of the reasons why the regular season was very good for this team and one of the reasons why we are in the finals.”
That depth helped spark a record-setting start by the Blackhawks and propel them to the Presidents’ Trophy for finishing the regular season with the most points.
It has also paid off in the post-season, with Toews and Kane largely being held in check. That was certainly the case in the opener against the Bruins, and the result was a comeback win in a game for the ages.
Whether it was Andrew Shaw picking off a clearing attempt and feeding Dave Bolland to start the rally in the third period or Johnny Oduya scoring the tying goal in regulation from the point, the Blackhawks simply kept finding ways, and all that happened before the game-winner.
You know how that went.
In the third OT, Michael Roszival shot the puck from the point into traffic, and it deflected off Bolland and Shaw before going past Tuukka Rask to finish off the fifth-longest Stanley Cup finals game in history.
“I think it’s just hard work. Everyone wants that Cup,” said Shaw, who has five goals in the playoffs after scoring nine in the regular season. “There are a bunch of veterans on this team that played many years and haven’t been to this point. Your career does fly by and you don’t want to take it for granted. So when the opportunity’s there, you have to seize it. (Brandon Saad) had that big goal last night, got the guys rolling. It was huge for him.”
It was huge for the Blackhawks, particularly with their top scorers making little noise.
Toews won the Selke Trophy as the league’s top defensive forward on Friday, beating out Boston’s Patrice Bergeron and Detroit’s Pavel Datsyuk, but that’s been about the only good news for him of late. The captain nearly came unglued with the Red Wings pushing and pulling at him in the Western Conference semifinals, and he hasn’t been able to convert on offence in the playoffs.
He has just one goal in the post-season after tying Kane for the team lead with 23. And for what it’s worth, Kane hasn’t been lighting it up, either, aside from that hat trick against Los Angeles in Game 5 of the conference finals.
“There are moments when you’re getting close to scoring,” Toews said. “You’ve just got to stay with it. You’re almost (through) three periods of overtime and you feel like you can be one of those guys that contributes and finds a way to score. You don’t really care much when your teammate scores because the game’s over, but obviously, I want to be one of those players that makes those big plays at this time of the year.”
It’s a little easier to stomach when your teammates have your back. No matter who’s on the ice, opponents simply can’t rest against the Blackhawks.
They wiped out a 3-1 series deficit against Detroit and took out one of the league’s hottest goalies in Jonathan Quick while knocking off the defending champion Kings. Now, they have the upper hand on the Bruins partly because Saad, Bolland, Oduya and Shaw found ways to get the puck into the net when the Blackhawks’ biggest guns couldn’t.
“I think our team depth is huge in this kind of game,” Bolland said. “We’ve got four lines that we can roll on any night and if it’s playing tough or playing skill or playing anything, we’ve got four great lines that can roll. If it’s not our line, it’s Krug’s line. If it’s not Toewser, it’s our line. I think we’ve got great depth on this team to roll with it.”