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Several Hawks easing burden with Toews out

by Brian Hedger
CHICAGO -- Patrick Kane had to laugh when asked Saturday if it might seem odd when captain Jonathan Toews eventually returns to the Chicago Blackhawks lineup.

"I think it's going to be weird not answering the questions from you guys," he quipped to reporters, drawing laughs. "That's the only thing that's going to be weird about it. We'll welcome him back with open arms when he comes back."

Until such time, they'll keep trying to do what they've done over the last eight games -- in which the Hawks are 6-1-1 and starting to regain the form that helped them get to the very top of the League standings with Toews halfway through the season.

Kane is currently filling in for Toews as the top line's center and has five goals and four assists in the 12 games without the team's captain, while others like Patrick Sharp, Dave Bolland, Marian Hossa, Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith -- to name a few -- are also helping shoulder the burden.

This time, it's about more than just goals and assists for Kane -- whom Hawks coach Joel Quenneville had lauded several times for increasing his leadership role with emotional spark plug Toews out.

"I like the fact that he's absorbing some of this responsibility without Johnny around, knowing the importance of the situation with our team and where we were at and where we're at today," Quenneville said of Kane, who has two goals and four assists in the past four games. "He wants to make an impact on games and it's been noticeable."

So does Bolland, who scored his 18th goal just 10 seconds into a 4-3 win Friday night at Dallas. Bolland has already started to round into his ultra-effective and irritating playoff form, while Sharp (four goals and six assists in last 12 games) is finding his scoring touch again after missing a month with a fractured wrist.

"I love it," Sharp said of his increased ice time with Toews out, including a recent game when he logged 26 minutes. "I'll never turn down a shift, that's for sure. I feel the more I play, the better I play. I was surprised after the one game it was 26 [minutes]. I don't know what was going on there, but I'm excited about it."

Keith and Seabrook are also adding quality minutes on the back end for Chicago, while trade deadline acquisition Johnny Oduya has fit in perfectly and Hossa (five goals and seven assists in the last 12 games) is his usual dominating self up front.

As for Bolland, he's back to helping his line be one of the Hawks' most effective. Along with linemates Bryan Bickell and rookie Andrew Shaw, Bolland is again pestering opposing top lines and relishing the shutdown role while adding some scoring punch.

"We find that when that line's effective, we're effective," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said on Saturday. "When they nail it, then you're shutting down the other team's top line and if you get some prouction off it and outscore them, you're going to have some success."

Quenneville, however, didn't want to ponder the notion that Toews might not return this season and the Hawks might have to win playoff games as currently constructed.

"We're playing to win every game and trying to give ourselves the best chance of winning, and that's where we're at," he said. "So, let's continue to see. We're in a desperate mode ourselves. I'm not thinking of anything further than trying to make the playoffs."
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