Dynamic duo double trouble

RANDY SPORTAK, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:41 AM ET

CHICAGO -- So young.

So talented.

So soon.

The Chicago Blackhawks had high hopes when they drafted forwards Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane in successive years.

The moribund franchise was optimistic it finally had a dynamic duo to turn things around.

In the second year of their NHL career, Toews and Kane have led the Hawks back to respectability in the NHL and the playoffs for the first time since 2002.

Who could have guessed it would happen this quickly?

"Look at Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, they all got a chance in their first couple years," pointed out Martin Havlat. "They're great players. They wouldn't get those chances without the talent they have.

"They got a chance and proved to everybody right away they can do it."

Hockey is back in the Windy City with a first-round playoff series against the Calgary Flames beginning tomorrow.

No longer are the Hawks, downtrodden for so many years, all but a footnote in the sports pages. They've created a buzz, being a team put together with many solid pieces, quality goaltending, a deep and young defence corps and solid forward lines.

But the headliners are a couple of youngsters who won't exactly be growing much for playoff beards.

"I think (Kane) has a better chance than I do," Toews said. "We'll see. Give us a little time, I guess. We'll work on it."

Like to the Stanley Cup finals?

"Yeah, exactly. By then, it should be all right."

No worries. It's expected Flames captain Jarome Iginla will do big things in the playoffs, but he can't grow much of a beard, either, and he'll turn 32 this summer.

Toews will celebrate his 21st birthday April 29, the night Game 7 of this series is scheduled. Kane will turn 21 in November.

These next couple of weeks -- and more should things go well -- will age them in a good way.

"These guys have played in meaningful games all year long, responded in the right way," said Hawks head coach Joel Quenneville of his young offensive dynamos.

"We like the progress they've shown, so we expect them to be important players for us, and productive as well.

"We've just got to get experience as we go along. Make our history from day to day."

While pundits are questioning whether Toews and Kane can carry the mail through the tight-checking, hard-hitting and high-intensity NHL playoffs, they're planning to take it all in stride best they can.

"I'm sure we played in some playoff-type games, a close game or really tight checking," Kane said. "Games like that can help you prepare, but I don't think anything really compares to the playoffs."

Kane is the more outspoken of the two and with more flair for the dramatic, much like his play on the ice.

Toews is low-key and always composed, barely even cracking a smile when he talked about playoff beards.

Kinda like he is on the ice.

Guess that's why he's already the team captain.

"They're two completely different players, and maybe that's why they work so well together," said left winger Andrew Ladd. "Johnny's more serious, does a lot of little things and has a really complete game. Kaner is so dynamic offensively, sees the ice so well and makes things happen offensively.

"I think last year when they came it was a young team and they were given the reins to lead the way and have fun with it. It gave them a lot of opportunity and they ran with it."

Two years ago, the Blackhawks finished last in their division and 13th in the Western Conference.

Last year, they missed the post-season by three points.

This year, they reached the 100-point mark for first time since 1992-93

Now, it's up to Toews and Kane to show what they can do in the second season.

"It's going to be a big first night," Toews said. "A lot of focus will be to just play hockey and not be overwhelmed by it. I think we've got a lot of level-headed guys."


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