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Blackhawks need best players to play like their best

by Brian Hedger / Chicago Blackhawks
Chase Agnello-Dean / Chicago Blackhawks

CHICAGO -- It looks strange to peek at the Chicago Blackhawks' stats for the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs after eight games and not see Jonathan Toews anywhere near the top.

Toews, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy in the Blackhawks' 2010 Stanley Cup championship run, still hasn't scored a goal and has three assists to rank in a tie for seventh on the team in scoring. Toews does a bunch of other things to help his team's cause and isn't the only big-named player not putting up points in bunches, but he is the Blackhawks' captain and "conscience" of their team -- as Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock put it prior to the start of a Western Conference Semifinal series his team leads 2-1 after two straight wins.

Chicago scored just two goals combined in those back-to-back losses -- one each at home in Game 2 and in Game 3 at Joe Louis Arena on Monday -- and there's now a sense that more of the Blackhawks stars need to come out soon in order to shine in Game 4 on Thursday in Detroit (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC, RDS).

"Absolutely," said Duncan Keith, who won the 2010 Norris Trophy and helped the Blackhawks win that Cup. "This is the biggest game of the year, so I mean, we need everybody, but we also need the guys who are relied upon the most to be at their best."

Guys like himself and the seven others on this team's roster who also played big roles during that 2010 playoff run -- back when Chicago found itself in a similar predicament in the conference quarterfinals. The Nashville Predators held a 2-1 series advantage against Chicago with Game 4 at Bridgestone Arena only to watch the Blackhawks reel off three straight wins to close the series in six games.

If there's been any time to draw from the history of Chicago's core group of stars, it's probably right now.

"They know what it takes to move on," said forward Bryan Bickell, who played briefly in the 2010 playoffs but not enough to include himself in that core group of Cup winners. "I know they bring back stories from that time to tell the younger guys what it takes. I think to have those guys that went through it is huge, but we need all cylinders going to move on. We need a wide-awakening [in Game 4]. It's a must-win."

It's also time for the stars to shine.

The Blackhawks' top five scorers are Patrick Sharp (six goals, four assists), Patrick Kane (two goals, six assists), Marian Hossa (four goals, three assists) and Keith (one goal, five assists), but it would help the Blackhawks' cause greatly if Toews, defenseman Brent Seabrook (no goals, no assists, minus-3) and center Dave Bolland (no goals, no assists, minus-2 in three games) caught the next elevator up soon.

It should be noted that Bolland missed all five games of Chicago's Western Conference Quarterfinal series against the Minnesota Wild with a groin injury, but he hasn't had the impact yet against Detroit that he normally does in the postseason.

It's not just about numbers, though. It's about the playoff-tested, experienced veterans taking charge of this situation and showing the way for the large number of younger, more inexperienced players who have provided great depth throughout the lineup all season.

It will take a collective effort to come out with a hard-fought victory in one of the League's loudest arenas, but having that core group lead the way is the main reason they've all stuck around since 2010 -- back when Blackhawks management had to make a number of salary cap-related roster moves to decide who stayed and who went elsewhere.

That started to show in the third period of Game 3, when the Blackhawks started a hard, intense push to bounce back from a 2-0 hole. The initial spark came from Kane's goal that made it 2-1, after Keith lofted him a long pass from the Chicago zone to set him up with a mini-break.

Not long afterward, the Blackhawks appeared to tie it on a goal by Viktor Stalberg. The goal was disallowed, though, because referees ruled Andrew Shaw was in the blue paint. Soon after, Detroit’s Pavel Datsyuk made it 3-1 with his first goal of the series, but the fevered push by his team in that period is what Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville hopes to see for 60 minutes in Game 4.

"We need everybody," he said following practice Wednesday at United Center. "I thought the appetite of playoff intensity and emotions [were] there in our third period [of Game 3]. I thought that's exactly the recipe going forward that we need, and at that level of pace and tenacity and speed. It all rolls hand-in-hand. We're not saying it's going to be one group [of players] or the other group. We need everybody, and I think that's what it's going to take to be successful here."

It's not like the struggling stars of 2010 aren't trying hard enough, either.

Toews, for instance, hit the left post with a snap shot early in Game 3 and continues to buzz around the net looking for his first goal of these playoffs.

"He's been working," said Bickell, who has three goals and one assist. "His chances just haven't been hitting the back of the net, but I know if he gets one then the floodgates will open. I think it will be good for him and good for the team."

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