Blackhawks' Kane and Toews come of age
One name often follows the other. Like a law firm. Kane and Toews, or make it Toews and Kane. Either way, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, the two young stars of the Chicago Blackhawks, are intertwined.
They are the faces and the future of a team that has made a quick transformation into a Stanley Cup contender in just two years.
They've grown up together in their short time in the NHL, joked around with one another, have made numerous promotional pushes for the team off the ice and soaked up all the information they could. They are roommates on the road.
Kane is 20 and won the Calder Trophy as last year's top rookie. Toews, who just turned 21 last month, is the team captain and was third in the rookie balloting to Kane last season.
Toews was Chicago's first pick in the 2006 draft -- No. 3 overall -- and Kane was the first player selected in 2007.
"In our rookie year when everything seemed to be really new, we were always included in things going on, on the ice and off. It's still kind of that way now," Toews said.
"There are a lot of things we've been through. We've had the same experiences and it's been a lot of fun sharing that with each other. Not much has changed at this point."
But now what they're going through for the first time -- together -- is the physical and fast-paced playoffs, where the checks are harder and the games more intense.
So far they've adapted. Kane has eight goals and four assists in 11 games and Toews has tallied four goals and six assists in 12 games as Chicago beat Calgary and Vancouver in the first two rounds.
The Blackhawks will make their first conference finals appearance since 1995 -- the year both Kane and Toews turned 7 -- when they face either Detroit or Anaheim.
Kane had a hat trick in Monday's clincher over Vancouver, a 7-5 victory that also featured two goals from Toews, including the go-ahead score in the final period.
Kane has been the target of some hard checks in the playoffs, but Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said he responded with his play.
"You look around the league and most of the top guys it is tough to produce on a consistent basis in the playoffs because everybody is focusing in on trying to shut down that line or that guy," Quenneville said.
"He (Kane) got sick in the Calgary series there. It takes a bit out of you. Johnny went though it, as well. They progressed each and every game in that series where they kept getting better."
Toews impressed his teammates quickly and was named team captain at age 20 last summer.
"A lot of people questioned it at the start of the year with a young captain, but the guys in the room, we knew he was the guy to lead us," defenseman Brent Seabrook said.
"He doesn't talk a lot of the time in the room, but when something needs to be said, he's the guy who stands up and says it. And I think his play on the ice speaks for itself."
Seabrook showed Toews around last season, helping him adjust to Chicago and the grind of a long season.
"Both of those kids are mature. Both know how to take care of themselves and they do ask advice on some things ... I don't give them advice on how to score goals. They do a pretty good job of that," Seabrook added.
During the regular season the 6-foot-2, 209-pound Toews, a center, scored 34 goals and had 35 assists. Kane, a right wing who is 5-foot-10, 175, had 25 goals with 45 assists.
Kane's first-ever hat trick in the NHL came during one of the biggest games of his young career and reflected his approach to the game.
"I guess the biggest thing about Kaner is his confidence never seems to go away," Toews said.
"He's got that superstar mentality. He feels there is nothing he can't do and you saw that in Game 6 the other night. He gets one goal, he always feels there is something more he can do, so he goes for the next one."
Kane and Toews have drawn most of the attention during the Blackhawks' quick turnaround, but they're not the only young players who've had an impact. Kris Versteeg, who turned 23 this week, is a candidate for this season's rookie of the year honors.
And Chicago has made the conference finals with the NHL's youngest team -- average age is 251/2 years.
"Just a young team that loves to play hockey," Kane said.
"It's not just myself and Jonathan or Marty Havlat," Kane said of the Blackhawks' scoring depth. "So many other guys are contributing. It seems to be a new guy every night."