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Jonathan Toews has Blackhawks on track

Center fuels postseason push heading into game against Bruins on Sunday

by Brian Hedger / Correspondent

CHICAGO -- Chicago Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews had gotten away from his strengths.

During a prolonged scoring slump to start the season, which included an upper-body injury that sidelined him for nine games, the Blackhawks captain uncharacteristically struggled to win puck battles down low in the offensive zone, didn't get to the net enough and began gripping his stick too tightly.

Toews, 28, had 22 points (seven goals, 15 assists) in his first 39 games, including 11 points (three goals, eight assists) in a 24-game stretch when his injury was a factor.

"No matter how good you are, sometimes you go through stretches where nothing goes your way," said Toews, who has rebounded with a strong second half. "It's sometimes easy to get discouraged when you're not getting results. You've just got to find a way to get that belief and that confidence back, and let things flow out there."

A four-point game in late January helped restore that confidence for Toews, who will lead the Blackhawks against the Boston Bruins at United Center on Sunday (12:30 p.m. ET, NBC, TVA Sports, NHL.TV). 

Video: VAN@CHI: Toews capitalizes on bounce for late lead

Toews had a goal and three assists in Chicago's 4-2 win against the Canucks on Jan. 22, scoring the game-winner with 1:18 left in the third period for the Blackhawks' third straight win. Since then, Toews has led the Blackhawks past the Minnesota Wild to clinch first place in the Central Division and Western Conference. Chicago went 18-3-1 between Feb. 2 and Mar. 23, clinching its ninth straight berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and Toews has scored 35 points (13 goals, 22 assists) in the Blackhawks' past 30 games.

"It always helps when your captain is producing," said rookie forward Ryan Hartman, who also has spent time on Toews' line. "There was never any doubt. Even though he wasn't putting up points, he was still doing everything right. He was playing good hockey, so it was only a matter of time for a guy like that. Sometimes 'puck luck' just doesn't happen for you, but he's hot now and we're going to need him throughout the playoffs."

What Toews needed, aside from a confidence boost, was consistency.

He has played with at least 14 forwards the past two seasons, which made it difficult to develop any chemistry. He now has that with right wing Richard Panik, who has 24 points (12 goals, 12 assists) since joining Toews' line full-time in a 6-4 win at the Colorado Avalanche on Jan. 17. 

Video: EDM@CHI: Toews sets up Panik to reach milestone

"I've been getting a lot of help from my linemates and just finding that consistency with [Panik] has helped," Toews said. "He's been a lot of fun to play with, because he's got incredible talent when he's working his best. You can see all the tools that he's got."

The same can be said for Toews, who appears to be recovered from his injury and is back to using his best weapons in the offensive zone: size, strength and determination. Once he rededicated himself to doing that, the points piled up.

"I've definitely been playing with much more energy," Toews said. "If you look at a lot of my goals, they're not pretty goals. It's just been finding ways to find those loose pucks. Going into the playoffs, you want to be on top of your game and you want to be as confident as ever. I feel like I'm getting to that level right now."

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