GLENDALE, Ariz. – Jonathan Toews wanted a victory Thursday night. He settled for a healthy and successful return to the ice.
Phoenix Coyotes dished out in-between without a problem. The Blackhawks lost Game 1 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals 3-2 in overtime, but they know their captain is back on the ice and engaged as the series moves along.
"It was a tough one to jump in to. I think that adrenaline and that excitement of playing in the playoffs and even just playing in your first game in a long time helps to kind of power through," Toews said. "I think, physically, the worst is over. No more excuses. Now I'm looking forward to going out there and playing my game and not thinking too much and just letting things happen out there."
Trying to keep it simple, Toews spent most of his time around the net, sniffing for rebounds and getting the attention of goalie Mike Smith and the Phoenix defense. Playing between Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa, he endured a big hit from Phoenix captain Shane Doan behind the Coyotes net but popped right back up to occupy the crease.
"You recognize how incredibly good Jonathan Toews is," Doan said. "If he doesn't get hurt, he's probably getting talked about for the Hart Trophy. He comes back after missing 22 games and has a goal and an assist and plays huge minutes and is a such a big part of their team.
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"But we're going to be physical with everyone. We have to be. We just can't let them skate. They've got too much skill."
Toews didn't get any more attention that he figured on – maybe even less.
"I expected worse, and that's not to undershoot what happened," Toews said. "But I'm going to be at the net. I'm going to be right there in front of the goalie every whistle. Every chance they get they're going to take shots. I expected that and it's no big deal. I'm just happy with the way I dealt with it."
So was Chicago coach Joel Quenneville, who was also happy to see Toews on the ice for Friday's optional skate with no need for a day off.
"He played a lot of minutes and handled the minutes well and he feels fine today," Quenneville said. "That was a big hurdle and a good test and hopefully he keeps improving off of those levels."
Toews, Kane and Hossa combined for 12 shots – seven of them by Kane – and spent a lot of time in the Phoenix zone. But Phoenix goalie Mike Smith had a good look at most of them, stopping 43 of 45 shots.
Quenneville wouldn't commit to keeping the trio together for Game 2 – other forwards like Patrick Sharp and the fourth-liners struggled – but Toews was lobbying for the status quo when it came to his trio.
"We have to be patient the three of us and we'll keep getting scoring chances and they'll go in when it counts," he said. "We got one to start off yesterday and one to tie the game and hopefully we can keep that going."