By Allan Muir
Just when it seemed like things couldn't get worse for the stumbling Blackhawks, coach Joel Quenneville announced on Wednesday that captain Jonathan Toews will miss the rest of the regular season as a result of an upper-body injury suffered during Sunday's 4-1 loss to the Penguins.
Toews was hurt when he was slammed into the boards by Pittsburgh's Brooks Orpik. Toews left the ice holding his arm and did not return to the game.
Quenneville alleviated the gloom by saying that he expected Toews to be "100 percent" for the start of the Stanley Cup playoffs, but his absence will cause problems down the stretch. The Hawks are locked in a tight battle with the Avalanche for home-ice advantage in their first-round matchup. Chicago is currently in third-place in the Central Division, and trails Colorado by three points with just six games remaining.
The Blackhawks already are missing star winger Patrick Kane, but Toews' absence will cut more deeply. The team is thin at center even with Toews in the lineup. Without him, they're dangerously outgunned down the middle.
Chicago has turned to Joakim Nordstrom to fill Toews' spot on the roster, but no one expects him to replace the captain in the lineup. The 22-year-old Nordstrom has seen only spot duty this season, scoring a goal and two points in 10 games. He scored 17 goals this season for AHL Rockford, second best on the team, so he may be able to chip in something, but there's no way he can completely compensate for Toews' leadership and big-game ability.
At least the Hawks can take some solace in knowing that the Avs are dealing with injury problems of their own. Colorado announced that its top center, Matt Duchene
, will miss four weeks with a knee injury. That timetable extends beyond the upcoming first-round series, making the drive for home-ice advantage all the more critical.