March 4, 2011
Hot 'Hawks a tough test for Leafs
By LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency
Of all the bizarre scenarios envisioned in the closing weeks of the NHL season, how about the Stanley Cup-champion Chicago Blackhawks missing the playoffs and the one-time punching bags from Toronto wedging in?
It could happen, thanks to a logjam in the Western Conference with Chicago only two points from falling out of a spot before Friday night. The demolition derby in the East, meanwhile, has seen Toronto manoeuvre around the mess to within three points of their first trip in six years. The plausibility of either case will be delved into further on Saturday night when the Hawks play their only 2010-11 date against Toronto. But all that Leafs defenceman Luke Schenn can see right now is Chicago’s six-game winning streak.
“You want to play the good teams at this point of the season to see what you’re made of,” Schenn said Friday at the MasterCard Centre.
Based on their recent play, the Hawks would have to take quite a tumble to join the ranks of the 2006-07 Carolina Hurricanes and ’96-97 New Jersey Devils, the last two modern-era teams to win a Cup and then miss the playoffs.
Toronto was one of the league’s success stories in February, with a record of 10-2-4 since the start of that month. But Jonathan Toews of Chicago was named the league’s first star of February. Before Friday night’s home game against Carolina, he had stretched his lead over teammate Patrick Sharp to four points, 63-59, with Patrick Kane at 55.
“Right now, he’s firing on all cylinders,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “He’s at that level right now where he’s a force.”
Toronto’s rookie goalie, James Reimer, looks forward to his first game against the defending champions after surviving a win Thursday on the road against the conference-winning Flyers.
“It has been a lot of tough teams for me, but Philadelphia and Chicago, they know how to grind it out because they’ve been there,” Reimer said.