Chicago Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews has been back in the lineup for two games since missing the last 22 games of the regular season with a concussion. He appears symptom-free after two physical battles with the Phoenix Coyotes in Chicago's opening-round series in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Is it time to expect the captain to lead the Blackhawks to a pair of wins in the United Center as the series moves to Chicago?
A look at the numbers suggests that Toews is already back to form after not seeing the ice for nearly two months. With a goal and assist in Game 1, he leads the 'Hawks with a plus-four skater rating after they split the first two games in Phoenix.
Toews has been active in the front of the net and has not been afraid to go after the puck in tight spots. He has scuffled with Coyotes captain Shane Doan and averaged over 24 minutes of ice time. So much for easing his way back into game shape.
Was having Toews on the ice a factor in Chicago coming up with late goals in the final seconds of both contests to tie the Coyotes? Possibly, but Toews is certainly more than a mere talisman to the 'Hawks.
Toews seems primed for big performances in the next two games in Chicago. As the Blackhawks prepare for Game 3 Tuesday, Toews has several things in his favor.
First off, he seems healthy. He appears to be getting his legs under him. The 'Hawks have been tabbed as the underdog by more than a few prognosticators, which only fuels the fire.
Toews can also use a call that unfairly went against him to ratchet up the intensity. That would be the first-period interference call against him after he came into contact with Phoenix goalie Mike Smith. No matter that Toews wasn't in the crease and that Smith initiated the contact, a penalty was assessed and the Coyotes took a 2-1 lead on the resulting power play.
Chicago came away from Game 2 with a 4-3 overtime victory. As the saying goes, it's not a series until somebody loses at home. Well, the Coyotes have lost at home and are going to look to strike quickly and take back home ice.
After some hard hits in the first two contests, don't expect the physical nature to drop off. No doubt Toews will be in the middle of the action. He seems ready to handle the rugged conditions. Will we see the Blackhawks captain impose his will on the rest of this series?
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