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Blackhawks to play Toews, Kane together in Game 7

by Brian Hedger / Chicago Blackhawks

ANAHEIM -- Joel Quenneville prefers to balance his scoring lines, but the Chicago Blackhawks coach will opt for more horsepower at the top with one game left to decide the Western Conference Final.

The Blackhawks will start with right wing Patrick Kane playing next to center Jonathan Toews on the first line in Game 7 against the Anaheim Ducks at Honda Center on Saturday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports).

"I know Game 5, later in the game, they had some shifts together and I thought they were dangerous, and I thought they were really good last game as well," Quenneville said Friday after practice. "We'll start them together and we'll work it out and see what happens."

Quenneville usually has Toews on the top line and Kane on the second line, making it tougher for opposing coaches to match lines.

This time, with the stakes the highest they've been all season, Quenneville figures it's time to see if playing Toews and Kane together nets the same success it did in Chicago's 5-2 win in Game 6 at United Center.

"The reason [they get split] is it gives us depth, gives us balance, gives them more coverage to be concerned with, and it makes us a deeper team," Quenneville said. "That's usually why they don't play together. Sometimes, on a need basis or a short-term basis, we put them together."

Toews and Kane broke into the NHL together in the 2007-2008 season and played most of the time on the same line. It stayed that way the next couple seasons, even after Quenneville took over as coach in 2008-09.

It started to change in the 2010 Stanley Cup Final against the Philadelphia Flyers. Quenneville split up Toews and Kane to start Game 5, and the Blackhawks won 7-4 to take a 3-2 lead in the series. They played apart again in Game 6, when Chicago clinched the Cup with an overtime goal by Kane.

Quenneville has used Toews and Kane together less over the past five seasons, including 144:53 at even strength during the 2014-15 regular season. Instead, he keeps the option of putting them back together in his back pocket for special circumstances like this Game 7. It usually helps create instant offense, as has been the case in this series.

Trailing in the third period of Game 5, Quenneville put Toews and Kane on the top line with forward Brandon Saad. Toews scored two goals in the final 1:50 of regulation to tie it 4-4 and send the game to an overtime that was ended by Anaheim's Matt Beleskey 45 seconds into it.

Quenneville split up Toews and Kane to start Game 6, but reunited them halfway through the first period to more good results. Kane and Saad each scored a goal in a three-goal flurry during the second, Toews finished the game with a plus-2 rating, and the Blackhawks evened the best-of-7 series at 3-3.

"There's no doubt that we enjoy the opportunity to play together, having played together a lot throughout our career, but I think we understand to a certain degree the look or the lineup that the coaching staff wants to give our team, especially our forwards, by keeping us separate," Toews said. "[But] I think when he makes changes like that, that's one he can resort to, where it won't take us long to get off on the right foot and kind of pick up where we left off, however long ago we might've been playing together."

It happens so rarely that opposing teams often appear unsure of how to defend the Blackhawks when Toews and Kane are together, giving Chicago the element of surprise. This time, Anaheim has two days to mull it over before Game 7.

With the game in Anaheim, the Ducks will get the last line change. Coach Bruce Boudreau likely will stick with center Ryan Kesler's line against Toews' line. He can also better dictate which defensemen he wants on the ice whenever Toews and Kane go over the boards.

"Well, I mean, they've done it the last two games a little bit," Boudreau said. "We expect them to do it again. I mean, to me, guys that are out there at this stage have to be able to play against guys that are out there. We get the last change, which is good, which means they have to change on the fly to get them."

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