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Posted On Thursday, 04.12.2012 / 4:52 PM

By Jerry Brown -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Coyotes vs. Blackhawks series blog

Quenneville stayed calm in season's tumultous stretch

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Winning a Stanley Cup in a big city doesn't earn you much rope as a coach.
 
Less than two years removed from winning the first Cup since 1961 in Chicago, an 0-8-1 slump that spanned over three weeks in January and February led to rumblings that Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville's job might be in danger. But Chicago went 15-5-4 down the stretch and rolled up 101 points to safely land a playoff spot -- taking press off Quenneville that his players felt never should have been there.
 
"That was tough for the players to listen to," said winger Patrick Sharp, who had eight of his 33 goals in the stretch run. "Everyone has their opinion, and they have a right to voice it, but I know in our locker room there was no one asking for that or even he wasn't thinking about that.
 
"He's our leader. He's a guy we look to in every situation. He's got the experience. We won a Stanley Cup with him, and then you're hearing things that he might be fired?
 
"If that would have happened, all of us would have been upset with ourselves because we were the ones on the ice controlling the situation."
 
Sharp said Quenneville's calm demeanor during the skid, while fans and media stoked the fires, was a big reason why the players didn't panic as well.
 
"That's the thing that impressed us during the streak," Sharp said. "He didn't waver too much from his beliefs. We changed a few things, but he wasn't stressed out. He wasn't coming in with a beard like he hadn't shaved. He was getting his sleep. He was still the same old Joel -- just being patient and knowing we'd be a better team for it."
Posted On Thursday, 04.12.2012 / 3:11 PM

By Jerry Brown -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Coyotes vs. Blackhawks series blog

Toews returning to lineup for Game 1

Chicago Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews will return to the lineup Thursday night for Game 1 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals against the Phoenix Coyotes the Blackhawks confirmed on their official Twitter feed Thursday.

Toews, the Blackhawks captain, hasn't played since Feb. 19 due to a concussion. He scored 29 goals and finished with 57 points and a plus-17 rating in 59 regular-season games this season.
Posted On Wednesday, 04.11.2012 / 7:13 PM

By Jerry Brown -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Coyotes vs. Blackhawks series blog

Toews expects to play in Game 1

GLENDALE, Ariz. – Acknowledging that he would be surprised if he isn't on the ice Thursday night, Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews went through a symptom-free practice at Jobing.com Arena on Wednesday and expects to be ready to go for Game 1 against the Phoenix Coyotes.
 
Skating on a line between Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa, Toews took part in all phases of practice and had an extended chat with Chicago coach Joel Quenneville before meeting with reporters. Toews missed the final 22 games of the regular season because of a concussion, but has been back practicing with the team for a week.

"I feel good. I'm right there," Toews said. "It's another day when I feel like I'm better and better and getting back to where I want to be as far as playing."

Asked if he was surprised if he didn't play Thursday, Toews quickly answered, "Yeah." Upon reflection, he qualified the answer by saying, "That's the goal we've set, but we're going to make that decision tomorrow. We're sticking to that program."

Quenneville was pleased with what he saw from the line in practice and was targeting Thursday as his captain's return.

"That line looks fine together," he said. "Their upside's going to be high-end, puck possession, lots of ability. For sure we'll get clarification tomorrow, but we're optimistic."
Posted On Tuesday, 04.10.2012 / 5:02 PM

By Brian Hedger -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Coyotes vs. Blackhawks series blog

Blackhawks not overlooking Coyotes' skill

CHICAGO -- The easy thing to do with this series is simply line up all the stars the Chicago Blackhawks have, put them next to the numerous "lunch box" types the Phoenix Coyotes utilize and favor the guys from the Windy City.

However, the Blackhawks are not on board with that kind of logic.

Not only did they beat Phoenix just one time in four games played this season, but the Hawks also found out too many times for their liking what can happen when the defensively-sound Coyotes are allowed to build an early lead.

"It's the same old answers you'll hear from now until the Stanley Cup is raised," Hawks star forward Patrick Sharp told NHL.com this week. "You want to score first. You want to play with a lead in games. You want to play with a lead in the series. You want to try and steal a win in their building. That's all very important, especially when you're talking about a team like Phoenix, that's so well-coached and so well-disciplined."

Yet, the thing that often gets overlooked is the fact the Coyotes can score goals too. Ray Whitney finished with 24 goals and 53 assists to lead the team in scoring with 77 points, while Radim Vrbata led the way in scoring goals with 35 markers to go with 27 assists for a 62-point season.

Shane Doan also scored more than 20 goals (22 to be exact) and seven other 'Yotes put up double figures in that category.

"They know how to shut games down and just play that patient style, but they also have the ability to put the puck in the net," Sharp said. "We've got a big task ahead of us. You think of their team as a well-coached, patient, defensive-minded team, but they've got some players over there who have the ability to put up big numbers. [Vrbata] had one of the most underrated seasons I've seen in a while. Keith Yandle on the back end has had a couple of good seasons in a row. You can name a number of guys who are good. You can go in there thinking it's going to be a slow game, but they can put the puck in with the best of them."

Blackhawks center Dave Bolland, whose job on the third line will be to disrupt the Phoenix scorers, agreed with Sharp's assessment.

"We've got to be ready for them," Bolland said. "They've kind of had our number this year and we've got to be ready for whatever they throw at us."

Along those same lines, Chicago coach Joel Quenneville is already cautioning his team not to let up just because it looks as if star captain and top center Jonathan Toews might return for this series from a concussion that kept him out the final 22 games of the regular season.

"I don't think we have the luxury to say, 'Oh, Johnny's back ... we can rely [on him] and relax and Johnny's going to take over here,'" Quenneville said. "I don't think we're that kind of team anyways. I just think that everybody's got to continue [doing] what got us through the end of the year and turn it up a bit."

If Toews does play, he will center a line with Patrick Kane at left wing and Marian Hossa on the right side -- which has the potential to be a threat to score each time they go over the boards. Still, the second line of Patrick Sharp, Marcus Kruger and Viktor Stalberg was the top group down the final stretch of the regular season and Bolland's third line was almost as effective.

Quenneville said his team needs to keep all of its lines rolling, especially now.

"[It's] playoff hockey," he said. "The intensity's going to get ratcheted up a bit and I think we've all got to bring it. [Toews] has got to be excited as well, but don't feel comfortable knowing that Johnny's going to return. There's going to be that much more demand on everybody that we're expecting more come playoff time."
Posted On Tuesday, 04.10.2012 / 4:53 PM

By Brian Hedger -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Coyotes vs. Blackhawks series blog

Surprising rookie season complete, Shaw excited for playoffs

CHICAGO -- When practice is held away from United Center at the facility located just down West Madison St., Chicago Blackhawks rookie Andrew Shaw doesn't have a stall inside the dressing room.

So, he sits on a folding chair in the middle of the room to get undressed and do interviews. In several ways, it's perfect for Shaw -- who was drafted in the fifth round of the 2011 NHL Draft and scrapped his way into the League basically by putting himself squarely in the middle of everything on the ice.

Shaw scored 12 goals and added 11 assists in 37 games as a rookie by mainly hanging around the "dirty" areas of the ice in the offensive zone and by finding a home defensively on Chicago's third line -- which is the Hawks' main checking line assigned to pester opposing stars.

Now, Shaw can't wait to get into the action in his first Stanley Cup Playoffs appearance.

"I'm so excited," the 5-foot-10, 180 pound Shaw said Tuesday. "They say it's a lot more energetic game and that's my game -- hard hitting. I just can't wait to get out there in front of their crowd and our crowd and get some wins. Hopefully I'm not as nervous as I was my first [NHL] game, but I'm pretty excited and can't wait to get started."

He doesn't plan on changing his approach, either. Despite the intensity of playoff games often meaning even harder whacks in the back for "net-front presence" forwards like Shaw, the diminutive-but-hard-nosed rookie said he's ready for it.

"They'll hurt, but I'll grind it out," he said of the crosschecks likely coming his way. "Hopefully standing there rewards me."

Standing in front of the net, however, won't help him grow a better playoff beard. The 20-year old Shaw's reportedly been working on his playoff beard for a couple of weeks already and barely has a whisker showing on his face.

"I haven't been able to grow a playoff beard yet," Shaw said, laughing. "It's kind of embarrassing when you're playing juniors and you're 19 or 20 years old and 16-year olds are growing bigger beards than you, but I'll see what I can get going. I don't know what it is. My brothers both have big beards. My younger brother has a bigger beard than me. It just hasn't hit me yet."
Posted On Tuesday, 04.10.2012 / 4:01 PM

By Brian Hedger -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Coyotes vs. Blackhawks series blog

No setbacks for Toews, Game 1 status still uncertain

CHICAGO -- His status is status quo, which is good news for Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews.

Toews, who missed the final 22 games of the regular season after sustaining a concussion, practiced for the second straight day as the center of the top line in Chicago's final home practice before flying to Arizona to start the Stanley Cup Playoffs on Thursday against the Phoenix Coyotes.

"Same as [Monday]," Toews said, when asked how he was feeling following Tusday's practice at Johnny's Ice House West, near United Center. "[I'm] just waiting until gametime time on Thursday. I feel good. I’ve been making improvements and working on little things every single day, so that’s going to be the routine for the next little while."

Neither Toews nor the Blackhawks have officially said the 24-year-old star will play in Game 1 on Thursday night at Jobing.com Arena, but the feeling around the team since Monday is that he will.

"Compared with a couple of weeks ago, it’s night and day," Toews said of the symptoms he's dealt with since leaving the lineup. "[I've] made huge progress and if I didn’t I wouldn’t be sitting here talking. It’s been going good the past week. [I'm] just taking as good a care of myself as I can. It’s great when you see a difference every single day. Finally, those things I’m doing are paying off and I’m seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, I guess."

Toews did say he's still experiencing some dizziness on the ice, but attributed it more to physical conditioning than the concussion. He also said it's tough to weigh his long-term health -- especially after he's done playing hockey -- with the present situation.

"As a young hockey player, you have a certain level of invincibility," said Toews, who's had at least one prior concussion in his NHL career. "You don't really think that far down the road. You're thinking about
the here and now, getting back in the room and on the ice to be part of the mix and help your teammates."

Toews cited the uncertainty of how, exactly, concussion-related injuries and symptoms affect the brain in the long run as one of the issues he's been mulling over the past few weeks.

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said Toews has cleared every protocol that's been put in place for a player to return from such an injury and that it's now up to Toews to make the call as to when he's healthy enough to play.

"I think those hurdles will be crossed before he even begins," Quenneville said. "I think he's made some real consistent progress recently and that's where we're comfortable with where he's at. Each and every day, he feels even better and that gives him reassurance and us confidence that when he's ready, he will be ready to play. We're hopeful and looking forward to that."

It's not an easy decision to make, but the more Toews talks about it, the more it sounds like he'll be in uniform Thursday night against the Coyotes.

"It's tough to see where this is an injury that maybe does have long-term effects ... who really knows?" Toews said. "But you've got to be careful and do what you think is right. It's tough to see where ... it's a case that's debatable. You could talk about it all day, but no one really knows if things like that happen because of an injury like this. Every case is different and no one can tell you what to do. You've got to be smart about it and do what you think is right."

Meanwhile, his teammates say that getting their captain back will be a welcome sight whenever it happens.

Toews said he's not going do too much whenever he gets back into the lineup, anticipating some rust in his game after the long layoff, but at least one of his teammates is leery of setting the bar too low.

"I don't expect that," Hawks star forward Patrick Sharp said. "I've been out for long stretches and come back. Now's the time when I felt a little nervous, leading up to the game ... but Johnny's played in a number of big games in his career already. I anticipate him to come back and pick up where he left off."
Posted On Sunday, 04.08.2012 / 1:00 PM

By NHL.com Staff -  /NHL.com - Coyotes vs. Blackhawks series blog

Coyotes, Blackhawks set to open series Thursday

Fresh off winning the first division title in their franchise's history, the Phoenix Coyotes will open their playoff campaign against Chicago Thursday night at Jobing.com Arena.

The Coyotes and Blackhawks will face off in Game 1 at 10 ET. The Game will be broadcast on NBC Sports Network in the U.S. and TSN in Canada.
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